Getaway Guide: One Tank Trip to Stinson Beach

July 7, 2012 6:00 AM

Reporting Mike Colgan

If you’re looking for a special corner of the world that’s a mere hop, skip and a jump from San Francisco, you can hardly do better than Stinson Beach. Check out the numbers: 100 picnic tables, 3.5 miles of sandy beach, 51 acres of grassy park, four restaurants, a grocery store for picnic packing and one all-important ice cream shop.

Hikers frequently pass through Stinson Beach along trails above the beach, through the redwood forests of Muir Woods, up and down Mount Tamalpais. Those giant redwoods live to be 1,000 years or older — all that fresh Marin County air means residents boast exceptional health.

RelatedMarin Men Have Nation’s Highest Life Expectancy

Head away from the houses, lifeguard tower and snack bar to the beach’s northern end where waves are gentler. Bring your gear of choice along, as there’s surfing, kayaking, swimming, biking, hiking and of course, sunbathing if you hit the right kind of day.  Remember, this is Northern California, and the water is cold.

Getting There

The pretty crescent of Stinson Beach in Marin County is only 20 miles from San Francisco over the Golden Gate Bridge and along the scenic Pacific Coast Highway. Take exit 445B onto CA-1 north toward Mill Valley/Stinson Beach. From Muir Beach, follow a steep and very winding road with beautiful ocean views, taking you right into Stinson Beach. The population of 632 swells in summer, but it’s still a small town getaway, as it has been for more than a century.

Where to Play

stinson beach Getaway Guide: One Tank Trip to Stinson Beach

Photo Credit: ThinkStock

Stinson Beach
Golden Gate National Recreation Area
Stinson Beach, CA 94970
(415) 868-1922 for information and weather

Stinson Beach gets top marks for clean, sandy beaches and gorgeous views. Facilities here include free parking, seasonal lifeguards on duty, a snack bar, restrooms, cold showers, picnic and barbecue grills available on a first-come, first-served basis. Dogs must be on a leash and are allowed on the county beach area only. Fishing and alcohol are both permitted. No glass, fires or camping on the beach, however.

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live water surf shop1 Getaway Guide: One Tank Trip to Stinson Beach

Photo Credit: Live Water Surf Shop/Facebook

Live Water Surf Shop
3448 Shoreline Hwy.
Stinson Beach, CA 94970
(415) 868-0333

Talking boards with customers since 1978, this shop knows Marin County surfing and beaches. Get rentals, lessons, introductory equipment right through to advanced advice at Live Water Surf Shop. Clothing, gear, wetsuits and boards make this an ideal one-stop shop for boarders who didn’t pack their gear. The shop supports the Shore-to-Shore Paddle Race to benefit the Stinson Beach Junior Lifeguards.

Where to Eat

surfers grill Getaway Guide: One Tank Trip to Stinson Beach

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Surfers Grill
Stinson Beach Park
Highway 1,
Stinson Beach, CA 94970
(415) 868-1777

Surfers Grill is the place for lunch on the beach. Just look for the big sign that says food on the building’s exterior. On a clear day, you can see the Farallon Islands from here. Hamburgers, hotdogs, fish and chips, chicken nuggets with fries, fish and chicken burgers, salads, sandwiches, beverages, snacks make up this casual, reasonably priced menu.

Sand Dollar Restaurant & Bar
3458 Shoreline Highway
Stinson Beach, CA 94970
(415) 868-0434

Family owned and operated, this spot has been on the scene since 1921. History buffs know Sand Dollar was built as three barges off Tiburon, then floated to Stinson Beach before being joined up as one. Open for lunch, dinner, weekend brunch and cocktails, live entertainment here includes bluegrass by the fireplace on Sundays, jazz on weekday afternoons until 3 p.m. and nightly from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Where to Sleep

sandpiper Getaway Guide: One Tank Trip to Stinson Beach

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Sandpiper Inn
1 Marine Way
Stinson Beach, CA 94970
(415) 868-1632

Price: from $95

This inn is right off the beach with lovely views, so close by you can hear the waves hitting the shore from your cozy cabin with its gas fireplace. There is a sweet little garden, a library with books and lots of DVDs, free WiFi and board games. No pets allowed here. Avoid bringing multiple vehicles to the inn as its little lot fills up quickly in the summer.

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Laurie Farr is a freelance writer covering all things San Francisco. Her work can be found on

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