People use words like windswept and exhilarating to describe Rodeo Beach, a thousand-yard-long, crescent-shaped beach just north of San Francisco.
The surrounding scenery would be spectacular all by itself, with the beach cradled between cliffs and dramatic rock formations rising above the waves, but that isn't all it has to offer.
The north end of this beautiful beach is covered with tiny, shiny, multi-colored pebbles, carried there by Rodeo Creek. Instead of digging your toes into the sand, you'll be walking on green and blue stones and stopping to look at round pebbles of translucent carnelian, a red-orange gemstone.
On busy days, this smallish beach can get crowded. Also in summer, especially in June and early July, Rodeo Beach can be foggy all day.
Things to Do at Rodeo Beach
Skimboarding is a popular activity at Rodeo Beach. This guy makes it look easy, but it requires a lot of coordination to get the board down onto just the right amount of water and then keep riding without driving it straight into the sand.
Other visitors enjoy surfing at Rodeo Beach (which is best in the summer). If you're interested in joining them, you can check the surf forecast at Surfline.
You can fly a kite or walk along the beach at Rodeo Beach. Some people enjoy beachcombing, looking for rare orange-colored pebbles.
Swimming is not advised at Rodeo Beach because of strong currents and "sleeper" waves that appear seemingly from nowhere.
You can also watch birds, skimboard or surf, take a walk or take a photograph. Or climb to the top of the cliff and look down on it all. The cliff-top trail is said to be one of the best places to watch pelicans on the West Coast; with as many as 1,200 of the big-beaked birds showing up at the same time.
Hiking at Rodeo Beach
A lot of people like to hike in the surrounding hills, especially on a 4.5-mile loop that uses parts of the Coastal Trail, the Wolf Ridge Trail and the Miwok Trail. It's easiest to start that hike at the Coastal Trail entrance, which is at the north end of the parking lot. You can find a map and trail description at AllTrails.com.
For other hikes, stop at the Marin Headlands Visitor Center which is nearby to get ideas from the rangers and pick up maps. It's just east of the Rodeo Lagoon at the intersection of Field and Bunker Roads.
Rodeo Lagoon: Bird Watching Paradise
The fresh-water lagoon near the beach attracts birds (and bird watchers). Among the species you might see are pelicans, hawks, gulls, herons, ducks, terns, willets, loons, grebes, scooters, sanderlings, and sandpipers.
The lagoon is pretty most of the year and you might catch a glimpse of a family of river otters that occasionally visit. But in the summer, algae forms a visible surface scum that is both unattractive and stinky - and it can cause the water quality to plummet to alarming levels.
More Nearby Beaches
Rodeo Beach is so close to San Francisco that your nearest alternatives are not in Marin County but in the city. If you want to try one of them, you'll find all the details in the guides to Baker Beach, China Beach, and Ocean Beach.
What You Need to Know Before You Go to Rodeo Beach
You won't find any places to eat at the beach. Grab a meal before your visit or bring a picnic. You will find picnic tables near the parking area.
There are no entrance fees and no parking fees. There are restrooms at the main (northernmost) beach parking lot, and they also have outdoor showers. Dogs are allowed at Rodeo Beach.
Rodeo Beach is on national park land, and there are no federal laws against public nudity. That's why part of Rodeo Beach is a nude beach. If that bothers you — or if you want to check it out — find out where it is in the Rodeo Beach nude beach guide.
Because of contamination, the freshwater lagoon is not suitable for swimming. Water quality on the beach is generally good, but if you have concerns, you can check the most recent report card at HealtheBay.org.
How to Get to Rodeo Beach
Rodeo Beach is in the Marin Headlands, which is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
To get there, go north across the Golden Gate Bridge and exit just past the north vista point at Alexander Ave. Turn left onto Conzelman Road and drive up over the hill, following the signs to Rodeo Beach.
The drive on Conzelman Road gives some jaw-dropping views, but it's not for anyone with a fear of heights. If that's you or anyone you're traveling with, do this instead: After you get off the highway, turn right onto Alexander Ave, then left onto Bunker Road. Take that road through the tunnel and follow it to the beach.
The San Francisco Muni bus system goes to Rodeo Beach on Sundays only.