We’re lucky to live in close proximity to some stunning coastal towns and beaches, but there’s something so charming about a peaceful lake day. Here we’ve rounded up some of the most picturesque lakes in San Francisco and surrounding areas like Oakland, Bolinas, and Berkeley. Scroll our list for some nearby options ranging from quaint picnic spots to lively watering holes to enjoy on a sunny day, and visit the map at the bottom to help you plan.
Spreckels Lake is territory of the SF Model Yacht Club (SFMYC), and as such it is designed for and totally dedicated to the craft of model boating for all ages and abilities. The shallow lake is the second-largest in the park, and it’s a lovely picturesque place to visit and watch model boats in action on weekends (Saturday for sailboats and Sunday for powerboats).
SFMYC dates all the way back to 1898 and the clubhouse next to the lake is full of lovingly crafted model yachts. It’s open to the public when members are present, generally between early March until late October.
Location: Near JFK Drive and 36th Ave, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco
2. Stow Lake
Golden Gate Park’s largest lake covers 12 acres and has plenty of fun corners to explore, although you can’t go for a swim there. It’s worth walking up to the top of Strawberry Hill, which is the island in the center of the lake, for 360° views. Don’t forget to take pictures of the colorful Chinese pagoda donated by SF’s sister city of Taipei, or stand beneath the 110-foot Huntington Falls whose size takes many visitors by surprise. The Stow Lake Boathouse on the north shore rents out pedal boats and row boats for anyone wanting to take to the water, but watch out for the fabled White Lady who’s said to haunt visitors.
Location: Stow Lake Dr., Golden Gate Park, San Francisco
3. Lake Merced
Lake Merced Park is a dual lake system surrounded by a 614-acre recreation area with ample opportunities for boating, fishing, picnicking, biking, walking, and running. It’s easily the biggest lake in close proximity to San Francisco and is accessible via public transportation on bus lines 18, 29, 57, and 58.
Although you can’t swim in Lake Merced, the general public is welcome to launch personal boats in the north lake and fish for bass, trout, and carp off of designated docks around the lake’s perimeter (see SF Parks Alliance website for info about permits). Hop on your bike and go for a spin around the 4.4-mile paved perimeter path, host a family BBQ at the Harding Park entrance, or tuck into a picnic at the southern lagoon.
Location: Skyline Blvd & Harding Rd, San Francisco
This is one of San Francisco’s last surviving natural lakes. It served as a central watering hole for thousands of years, serving the Ohlone tribes, Spanish explorers, and more. Mountain Lake’s durability is remarkable considering it’s survived a highway reducing its size, locals releasing their pets into it (including turtles, goldfish, and even an alligator), pesticides from the local golf course, and more. It’s since been revived thanks to conservation efforts, but for obvious reasons you can’t go swimming here. Instead, take a stroll down the Juan Bautista De Anza National Historic Trail and enjoy a day of birdwatching, picnicking, and sightseeing on the lakeshore.
Location: Near 98 Funston Ave, Presidio of San Francisco
Note: Lake Temescal has posted a Danger Advisory for blue-green algae and the beach is currently closed. Do not swim or drink the water, avoid scum in the water or on the shore, and keep pets close (last updated July 2023).
This small Oakland lake was first constructed as a reservoir for drinking water but later opened to the public as a park in 1936. Swimming is permitted in the designated swim area (currently closed due to toxic algae), where lifeguards are on duty daily from Memorial Day to Labor Day and on weekends. There’s a paved wheelchair-accessible trail throughout the park that’s great for walking or biking; several first-come, first-served picnic sites and barbecues; and designated fishing areas where fishing enthusiasts can catch bass, sunfish, trout, and catfish. Be ready to pay some fees for swimming, parking, dogs, and fishing.
Location: 6500 Broadway, Oakland
6. Lake Merritt
Oakland’s Lake Merritt is one of the country’s most unique urban spaces thanks to a wealth of programming, activities, and resources lining its three-mile shoreline. Although there’s no swimming in Lake Merritt, locals enjoy barbecuing, running, boating, dancing, and biking in the ample park space surrounding the lake. This is also the oldest wildlife refuge in North America, so keep an eye out for migratory birds on the lake’s four artificial islands.
An essential stop is the seven-acre Gardens at Lake Merritt, which include a Sensory Garden, a Toddler Garden, and a Bonsai Garden. The themed gardens are largely volunteer-run and free to visit. Finally, if you’re a fan of architecture, look for the other-worldly Cathedral of Christ the Light on Lake Merritt’s shores.
Location: Between Grand Ave, Lakeshore Ave, and Lakeside Dr., Oakland
7. Lake Anza
Note: Lake Anza has posted a Caution Advisory for blue-green algae. The water has a low risk status and the beach is still open (last updated July 2023).
This popular swimming hole in Berkeley’s Tilden Regional Park is a charming getaway on a sunny day. Lifeguards are posted in the swimming area where you’ll find a sandy beach with changing rooms and a refreshment stand from May through September. In the off season, guests can enjoy fishing, camping, picnicking, and barbecuing at the lake and surrounding areas.
Locals love to explore Tilden’s 2,079 acres for wildlife watching and hiking, but there are a few fun attractions including an antique Merry-Go-Round, a comprehensive Botanic Garden dedicated to California native plants, and a Nature Area with a variety of farm animals.
Location: Lake Anza Road off of Central Park Drive, Tilden Park, Berkeley
8. Lake Chabot
Note: Lake Chabot has posted a Caution Advisory for blue-green algae. Swimming is never permitted at Lake Chabot (last updated July 2023).
Lake Chabot is a popular local destination for fishing, kayaking, and boat rentals. During the spring, Lake Chabot plants about 1,200lbs of trout in the lake every two weeks, but you also have a good chance of snagging catfish during the summer. Although you can’t go for a swim, boat rentals are available for single and double kayaks, rowboats, pedal boats, electric motor boats, and more. Stop by the Marina Cafe for made-to-order meals by the lakeside or take a one-hour guided tour of the lake aboard the Lake Chabot Queen. Be prepared to pay fees for parking, boat inspection and launch, dogs, and fishing.
Location: 17600 Lake Chabot Rd., Castro Valley
9. Bass Lake
Bass Lake is an unofficial and unmaintained swimming spot within Point Reyes National Seashore. You can reach it via a 6-mile roundtrip hike from the Palomarin Trailhead to the Coast Trail (more details from NPS). This popular swimming hole makes for a nice day hike destination, a pit stop on the way to Wildcat Beach, or a photo op during your hike to Alamere Falls. Just make sure you’re prepared to swim at your own risk and watch out for poison oak.
Location: Coastal trail near Bolinas
Note: Blue-green algae is present in Lafayette Reservoir. Swimming is never permitted in Lafayette Reservoir, but take extra precautions to avoid contact with the water (last updated July 2023).
Lafayette Reservoir was built in 1933 as a standby drinking water reservoir and opened for recreational use in 1966. It’s a popular destination for fishing, boating, hiking, and picnicking, and the Lafayette BART station will get you within a mile of it if you’re going via public transportation. Fishing enthusiasts can catch catfish, bass, and sunfish in addition to the trout planted between October and April. Be prepared for a first-come, first-served policy when it comes to picnic tables, BBQ grills, row boats, and pedal boats. If you enjoy a hike alongside your lake day, go explore the 10 miles of hiking trails throughout Lafayette Recreation Area before relaxing by the lakeshore.
Location: 3849 Mt. Diablo Blvd, Lafayette
11. Lake Berryessa
Lake Berryessa is one of the state’s largest bodies of fresh water, measuring 23 miles long with 165 miles of shoreline. You might know it for the unique Glory Hole drainage feature which spills overflow water into the Putah Creek. The lake is a popular swimming spot due to the fact that the water can get up to 75 degrees in the summer, but be prepared to swim at your own risk as there are no life guards on site. If you’re into boating or paddleboarding, there are multiple water sport rental services on the lake perimeter. Make a day of it with an easy hike to take in the scenery before dipping your feet or going for a swim to cool off.
Location: Off of CA-128, Napa