Peter Horree / Alamy
May 21, 2015

Sun worshippers ready to escape San Francisco’s foggy wrath tend to fall back on familiar options, like the lovable but insanely crowded Stinson Beach to the north, or Santa Cruz’s classic boardwalk to the south. This Memorial Day, veer ever-so-slightly from the beaten track for these alluring, under-the-radar beach town alternatives:

Marshall

Just 10 miles up the coast from its touristy neighbor Point Reyes Station, Marshall lures locals for its water-to-table fare and panoramic views of Tomales Bay. Watch fisherman haul in buckets of fresh shellfish from your perch on the sprawling deck at Nick’s Cove restaurant, or buy a sack of buttery-briny kumamoto oysters at Hog Island Oyster Co. and shuck them yourself at their bayside BYOP (Bring Your Own Picnic) tables.

Bolinas

Notoriously reclusive residents and unmarked roads deter the masses from Bolinas, leaving its enchanting beach and meandering coastal trails pleasantly void of Memorial Day crowds. Two Mile Surf Shop provides surfboard rentals for cruising the beach break, or trek one of Northern California’s most photogenic coastal hikes by following the Palomarin Trailhead at the end of Mesa Road to the remote and swimmable Bass Lake.

Pacifica

Just 15 miles south of San Francisco, Pacifica is a coastal village pleasantly lost in time—with cracked seashell and fishing line wind chimes and old driftwood fences to prove it. But it’s the beach that’s the real draw, with some of the friendliest surfing waves in Northern California at crescent-shape Pacifica State Beach. Nor Cal Surf Shop offers lessons and rentals.

Moss Beach

You’ll find otherworldly tide pools on Moss Beach’s rocky shores. The Fitzgerald Marine Reserve is home to neon nudibranchs, flashy starfish, and dozens of other supernatural seafarers. For post-beach cocktails with a view, warm yourself by the fire pits at Moss Beach Distillery, perched on a bluff overlooking the Pacific. 

Ocean Beach, San Francisco

Ocean Beach may not technically be its own town, but it’s isolated enough from San Francisco proper to feel like a little salty universe. The up-and-coming Outer Sunset neighborhood abutting the shore is full of surfers, artists, and good lunches at local restaurant spots like Outerlands and Devil’s Teeth Baking Company. Pack some firewood for a (legal) bonfire where you can set up after your meal and watch the sun sink into the cold blue Pacific.

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