SAN FRANCISCO — Hitting the beach in the City of San Francisco for visitors means either going to Ocean Beach that seems to run for miles along the Great Highway or a few “micro beaches” in and around Land’s End such as China Beach.
There is another beach beloved by locals — especially those into hang gliding and who love being able to allow their dogs to run off leash — who head out along the Great Highway south of the San Francisco Zoo and the city’s massive wastewater treatment plant and swing south onto Skyline Boulevard. The parking lot is accessible from Skyline.
Fort Funston offers 200-foot high sandy bluffs with all the wind you could ever want. The winds are consider “reliably wild” making it one of California’s favorite hang gliding spots. If you’re into hang gliding, it’s rated Hang-III for intermediate hang gliding. There’s a launch area as well as a viewing deck.
If you’re daring enough to try the sport, there are several shops nearby in western San Francisco that offer instruction — as well as sales and repair. The closest is Big Air Hang Gliding on Lawton Street (404.718.7282) off the Great Highway.
The primo time to catch hang gliders performing aerial ballet in the wind is between March and October.
But if you’re there to walk in the sand, frolic in the surf or simply gaze on the horizon, be prepared for a nice strenuous hike back up from the beach on the steep steps/trail that gets you there. You also need to keep in mind the surf and undertow are extremely dangerous just as they are along Ocean Beach.
You will find plenty of people tossing tennis balls into the surf for dogs to retrieve as well as people on horseback. The loop trails — many of which many are paved — that are above the cliffs are poplar as well for those on horseback plus hikers pass. There are also plenty of rugged dunes.
The crowds thin out as you head farther south down the beach away from the stairs. If you go far enough south you will be treated to some big birds passing overhead as flight patterns that send jets out of San Francisco International over the Pacific Ocean and not the Bay will pass.
I’m not much of a beach person but Fort Funston is enjoyable.
My first visit was in the 1970s with my Aunt Grace who just liked to walk along the beach and gaze out over the ocean. I’ve taken my grandkids there three times in the past three years. Ashley — who loves everything about beaches and tidal pools — thinks it’s cool.
For me, I remember to take a hoodie and leather jacket so I can enjoy mellow time propped up against the base of a cliff being serenaded by the roar of the surf and taking in the view while everyone else frolics.
Fort Funston was once a military site used for coastal defense.
There are no use fees and parking is free.