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Play, Relax Along NorCal’s Cool Three-Mile Beach
Stinson beach
A couple walks on the picturesque white sand of Stinson Beach. Not only are white sand beaches rare in NorCal but none are as big as the one at Stinson, three miles long. Photos Courtesy National Conservancy

There are plenty of 100-degree days anticipated this summer, typical for the Central Valley summer.

If you harbor thoughts of working on your tan or having some fun in the sun, doing so in triple-digit heat is a bit over the top.

Keep in mind, though, that you are just two hours away from some of the coolest beaches in California.

We’re not talking Venice Beach cutting edge cool or the even more refined cool of Newport Beach.

We’re talking cool as in temperatures.

Rarely do you sizzle on NorCal beaches.

And on a 100-degree day, beaches all within a two-hour driving range of the 209 from Santa Cruz to Stinson Beach are a good 30 degrees cooler.

If you fill up at the lowest priced pumps in Manteca-Modesto-Turlock before you leave town the round-trip fuel cost to a place like Stinson Beach will run you right around $50.

Not a bad price for spending a day relaxing and playing in temperatures that often hover around 70 degrees in Stinson Beach with the low dipping down to 50 degrees overnight.

So, what does lining the state’s pockets with $50 for a round trip between gas and sales tax on gas get you?

You can actually enjoy time outdoors and not be indoors bolstering the bottom line of PG&E’s Wall Street hedge fund investors as your electric meter hums away.

It’s true Stinson Beach won’t make the top 10 list of the most beautiful beaches in the United States.

But is far from being a proverbial ugly stepchild.

The beach itself offers soft white sand — one of the few NorCal beaches that does — that stretches for three miles.

It is bordered by red cliffs with the Muir Woods in the background.

And if you prefer hiking like I do, you can get a feel of the celebrated Dipsea trail that starts in Mill Valley and ends at Stinson Beach after weaving through the Muir Woods.

You can access part of the Dipsea trail that is part of a 7.8-mile loop. It involves a 1,178-foot gain and the chance to climb up a waterfall via a 10-foot ladder. It can all be done in four hours or so.

Most people, though, will stick to the beach.

You can usually can expect a lot of people at that.

It’s a popular respite from The City for San Franciscans.

Once you see the beach, the reasons why are a no brainer.

Stinson Beach’s white sand is a perfect place to take a barefoot jog, take a quick dip in the ocean, simply play catch-me-if-you-can with the waves, have a barbecue, picnic, toss a Frisbee, or just relax.

It’s one of the best swimming beaches in NorCal. At the same time, it is a favorite with surfers, fishermen, body boarders and rafters as well.

At times it is possible to borrow a volleyball net and balls in exchange for them holding your driver’s license at the main lifeguard tower.

I’m not really into beaches and crowds but Stinson can still be mellow even when it has a lot of visitors.

For years, I’d join the grandkids on trips opting to stretch out and nap while they busied themselves playing in waves, hunting for shells, and playing games.

I’ve returned in later years to hit the trails and then cool my feet down sans hiking boots strolling through soothing water racing up the beach from waves breaking.

Stinson Beach is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

The entrance gates open daily at 9 a.m. The closing time changes with the season.

One word of advice: if it is hot as it is now in the valley, people opting to head to the beach more often than not fill the parking lot by noon. There are no overflow lots.

There are no entrance fees or parking fees. That said, the Park Service is pondering in the future charging $3 an hour to park.

Stinson Beach is on twisty California Highway 1 in Marin County, just a couple miles southeast of Bolinas.

Stinson beach
The summer marine layer lowers the temperature. Photos Courtesy National Conservancy.
Stinson beach
Stinson Beach is a popular destination as a respite from the summer heat. Photos Courtesy National Conservancy.