(credit: David McNew/Getty Images)

Although bonfires on Bay Area beaches have been a popular tradition for decades, gone are the days where beach-goers could start an open fire. Due to safety and environmental concerns from the public and other beach-goers, bonfires are now restricted to fire pits, and many popular Bay Area beaches no longer allow beach fires. In fact, beach fires are banned all along the San Mateo County coast and it appears Sonoma County is doing the same this year. Still, with persistent fog layers enveloping much of the Bay Area during typical summer nights, bonfires remain a popular pastime where friends can gather around to stay warm while enjoying the natural beauty of the beaches along the Pacific Coast. In order for beach-goers to continue this longstanding tradition, certain rules must be observed for any of these following best places for a bonfire in the Bay Area.

Sutro Baths (credit: Randy Yagi)

Ocean Beach
Golden Gate National Parks
Point Lobos Ave., Great Highway
San Francisco, CA 94121
(415) 561-4323

San Francisco’s largest beach is also the only one to allow beach fires. However, due to public concern, beach fires are currently restricted only to the rings located at stairwell 15 and 16, across from the Beach Chalet Brewery and Restaurant, on the western edge of Golden Gate Park. Beach-goers must bring their own firewood and are not allowed to use driftwood or other natural debris. According to the most current information from the National Park Service, 12 new fire pits will be installed for the summer but no fires will be allowed after 9 p.m. Daytime beach-goers may also walk to the landmark Cliff House and the Sutro Baths ruins at the north end of Ocean Beach.

Drakes Beach
Point Reyes National Seashore
Sir Francis Drake Blvd.
Point Reyes, CA
(415) 464-5100

Named after the famed 16th century English explorer Sir Francis Drake, Drakes Beach is part of the magnificent 71,028-acre Point Reyes National Seashore approximately 54 miles north of San Francisco. While bonfires are allowed on beaches in this national seashore, permits are required and can only be obtained the day of the planned outing at visitor centers, at the dispatch office or from field rangers. Additionally, it’s recommended that all wood fires are placed below the high tide and must be 30 feet away from vegetation or other flammable materials and the fire must not be more than three feet in diameter. Visitors are advised not to bring firewood from home and only charcoal briquettes are allowed for grills in the picnic area. Although Drakes Beach has a fairly large parking lot nearby, it can be crowded during the summer. Drakes Beach is equipped with restrooms and showers and on weekends and holidays over the summer, the Kenneth C. Patrick Visitor Center is open.

Muir Beach
Golden Gate National Recreation Area
Highway 1
Mill Valley, CA 94965
(415) 388-2596

One of just two locations in the country’s most visited unit of the National Park System to allow beach fires, Muir Beach is just 11 miles from the Golden Gate Bridge and three miles west of Muir Woods. The generally quiet beach only has three fire rings near the south end of the newly revamped parking lot and no other fires on the beach are allowed. Beach hours change seasonally and visitors are advised to call the park’s phone number prior to arrival for the most updated information. Charcoal fires are permitted in the beach’s picnic area with fixed grills provided by the park or visitor-provided portable barbecues.

Seabright State Beach (credit: Randy Yagi)

Seabright State Beach
E. Cliff Drive
Santa Cruz, CA 95062
(831) 427-4868

Beach fires are allowed at three different state beaches in Santa Cruz, including Seabright Beach, near the historic Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History. Due to its close proximity to the Beach Boardwalk, Seabright Beach is a very popular spot for beach fires since it’s not allowed on the adjacent Main Beach, only separated by the San Lorenzo River. Ten fire pits are available on a first-come, first-served basis and parking is limited over the summer and especially on Friday evenings when the Beach Boardwalk hosts its free Summer Concerts. A filing fee applies to all special events at Seabright Beach and reservations may be made by calling (831) 335-3455 or online through this website.

Twin Lakes State Beach (credit: Randy Yagi)

Twin Lakes State Beach
E. Cliff Drive at 7th Ave.
Santa Cruz, 95062
(831) 427-4868

Across from the Santa Cruz Yacht Harbor boat entrance is the equally popular Twin Lake State Beach. And like Seabright State Beach, parking is at a premium during the summer months and requires a parking permit from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends and holidays through Labor Day. Permits may be purchased from the Live Oak Parking trailer, at the intersection of 9th Avenue and East Cliff Drive, with additional parking at the Yacht Harbor. A handful of fire pits are available but more may be installed for the summer. Even after sunset, parking at Twin Lakes may be limited during the summer, especially on Thursday nights for the free Crow’s Nest Summer Beach Parties and on Friday and Saturday nights for more live music.

Randy Yagi is a freelance writer covering all things San Francisco. In 2012, he was awarded a Media Fellowship from Stanford University. His work can be found on Examiner.com Examiner.com.