Soaking up the sun in Dolores Park is all fine and good, but the feeling of sand between your toes and salt spray on your lips is way, way better. And very, very doable.
Here are three beaches worth the drive.
Rio Del Mar Beach
This sandy swath sliced by Aptos Creek offers a dog-friendly, beach party-perfect expanse of sand that will leave you feeling like you're in Southern California, even though you're just south of Santa Cruz. Spend the day playing beach volleyball, or stake your claim on a fire pit for sunset s'mores. No need to rush home; you're allowed to hang out until 10p.
113 Esplanade, Aptos
This wide sandbox just north of the Golden Gate is sheltered from the wind, making it the place to be on those marginally warm days. Lost the weather gamble? Warm up with cheap booze and a colorful cast of locals at Smileys Schooner Saloon and Hotel, an old timey saloon located just around the lagoon.
Ocean Parkway Ave., Bolinas
Make a weekend trip north to this picturesque Sonoma County beach town. Spend the day sunning yourself on a large sandbar walking distance from the center of town, or make the five-minute drive south to Sea Ranch to explore the pocket beaches along the bluff-top Black Point trail. Either way, bring sunscreen.
42401 Hwy. 1, Gualala