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What You Need to Know About Rodeo Beach
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 a crescent-shaped beach cradled between cliffs and dramatic rock formations rising above the waves, but that isn't all.
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 green and blue stones and 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
There are no entrance fees and no parking fees. There are restrooms and showers.
You can fly a kite or walk along the beach at Rodeo Beach. Some people enjoy beachcombing, looking for the rare orange-colored pebbles.
Swimming is... not advised 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.
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 in the Fort Barry Chapel for maps and advice. It's just east of the Rodeo Lagoon at the intersection of Field and Bunker Roads.
What You Need to Know Before You Go to Rodeo Beach
You won't find any places to eat at the beach. Get something before you go or take a picnic. You will find picnic tables near the parking area.
Restrooms are 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 used 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.Continue to 2 of 4 below.
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Rodeo Lagoon: Bird Watching Paradise
The fresh-water lagoon nearby attracts birds (and bird watchers). Among the species you might see are pelicans, hawks, gulls, herons, ducks, terns, willets, loons, grebes, scoters, sanderlings, and sandpipers.
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 sometimes showing up at the same time.Continue to 3 of 4 below.
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Skimboarding and Surfing
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 (which is best in the summer). If you're interested in surfing, you can check the surf forecast at Surfline.Continue to 4 of 4 below.
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Sunset at Rodeo Beach
Photographers also enjoy Rodeo Beach and especially photographing these two big rocks offshore. The rock with an arch in it is called Bird Rock.
More Nearby Beaches
Rodeo Beach is so close to San Francisco that your nearest alternatives are there and not in Marin County. 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.
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: Turn right onto Alexander Ave, then left onto Bunker Road. Take the road through the tunnel and... follow it to the beach.
The San Francisco Muni bus system goes to Rodeo Beach on Sundays only.