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Sacramento, CA 95814

Best Swimming Spots in Northern California

american river bike trail old sacramento

Summer is here, and though San Francisco can sometimes seem like it’s a little late to the party, there are plenty of glorious hot days throughout the rest of Northern California perfect for bathing by a beach and cooling off with a swim. Check out these secret beaches and freshwater rivers and lakes conveniently close to HI USA hostels in Northern California where you can take in some pretty stunning scenery and spend the day splashing about. 

crissy beach near hi san francisco fisherman's wharf hostel

HI San Francisco Hostels

East Beach – Crissy Field 

If you happen to be staying at HI San Francisco hostels during a welcomed warm spell, avoid the crowds flocking to Ocean Beach and head to Crissy Field’s East Beach for prime sunbathing and local-watching instead. Along with offering up excellent views of the Golden Gate Bridge, the Marin Headlands, and Alcatraz Island, this beach has safe waters for swimming and a wide shoreline if you’re just content with parking yourself on the sand. Once you’ve had your dip, you can also go for a walk or bike ride along the Golden Gate Promenade, or grab a replenishing snack at the nearby Beach Hut Café. 

Lake Anza – Tilden Regional Park 

If you’ve got access to a car and are looking to explore the East Bay, which tends to be a warmer and sunnier than San Francisco all summer, try Lake Anza, a wind-sheltered spot within Tilden Regional Park in Berkeley. The beach gets an abundance of sun and there’s even a little café where you can get hot dogs and ice cream, while the water is just right for a dip when you need to cool off. Lake Anza is open for swimming from May to September, and there are lifeguards on duty as well as restrooms and plenty of parking. Be sure to take some time to enjoy the trails in the park and check out the Botanic Garden, which contains an impressive collection of native California plants. 

bass lake near hi point reyes hostel

HI Point Reyes 

Bass Lake 

Sometimes you have to work for your swim, and you can be assured that the two-and-a-half-mile hike to Bass Lake in the Point Reyes National Seashore is totally worth it. Drive in from HI Point Reyes hostel, the only non-camping accommodation within the park, and take the Coast Trail from the Palomarin Trailhead. Along the way you’ll be treated to breathtaking views of the Pacific stretching out into infinity, and then when you get to the lake, you’ll find a clearing perfect for your picnic lunch and a rope swing for hours of unadulterated fun. The still waters are also ideal for a lazy float so bring an inner tube to soak in the sun and watch the trees from the middle of the lake. Also note that the trail to the lake has poison oak so it’s best to wear long clothing for the walk in.  

HI Sacramento

Paradise Beach and the American River

Sacramento is the land of perpetual sunshine and extra hot days, so all summer long you have the chance to go have a swim and a float along the great American River, which is accessible by car or bicycle from HI Sacramento. If you’re just looking to laze all day at a sweet cove by the river, then Paradise Beach is for you. It’s a bit of a walk from the parking lot, but the sandy shore tends to be a little less crowded, even in the middle of summer, and you can find a secluded spot for you and your gang. You can also float on a tube around the beach, or you can plan for a long float down the river and spend an hour or two just letting the current take you downstream – a good starting point is on Sunrise Boulevard with a two-hour float that ends at Ancil Hoffman Park. This requires a bit of planning and a crew of friends, but it makes for a perfect way to spend a hot afternoon. 

stinson beach near hi marin headlands hostel

HI Marin Headlands 

Stinson Beach 

On hot days, beachcombers, surfers, boogie boarders and swimmers from San Francisco and Marin County flock to the white sands of Stinson Beach, which has pretty much everything you’d need for a quintessential beach day. Picnic tables with BBQ grills? Check. Surf and boogie board rentals? Check. Volleyball nets? Check. Snack Bar? Check! The parking lot tends to fill up quickly on really good days, so head out from HI Marin Headlands early to beat the crowds and spend the day people watching while sunbathing and testing out the waters (lifeguards are generally on duty from Memorial Day to Labor Day). There’s also plenty of park land to explore if you’d like to work up a sweat before hitting the beach, and the nearby town of Stinson Beach has restaurants and a small grocer for picking up supplies. 


HI USA Tip: Explore more beaches with our Northern California beach bucket list, or check out more of the pretty coast down south at the beaches near HI Point Montara Lighthouse hostel.