AdviceHolidaysSan FranciscoSex and DatingTravel

Ten Pointers for a Gay Ole Time at Marshall’s Beach

Updated: May 09, 2024 13:16
The Bay's best newsletter for underground events & news

Suns out, buns out at Marshall’s Beach, shot by David Hazeltine.

With warmer weather approaching, talk of beach trips among your circle will surely float past you. In gay circles, it’s Marshall’s Beach. Perhaps you’ve never been to Marshall’s Beach. You heard about it from a friend, maybe you’ve wondered where gays keep getting those up-close Golden Gate Bridge selfies. Maybe you just want to be nude on the beach with your friends in the sun. In any case, gay beach etiquette is inherited queer knowledge passed down from hoe to hoe, but I present it to you here. 

In addition to your regular beach fare (sunscreen, towels, sunglasses, etc.), you should:

Poop first.

Gross! Well trust me, you will thank yourself. Go even if you don’t have to go. There are no restrooms on Marshall’s Beach. The closest facilities are a rough mile hike down the shore above family-friendly Baker Beach. No matter what you plan to do with your butt at Marshall’s Beach, clear the chamber before you get there. You don’t want to find yourself at the bottom of a cliff when last night’s dinner finally drops. On such a small strip of land there are no trees or cover of any kind, let alone anything to wipe with.

Stretch your legs.

The hike down Battery Bluffs Trail takes you through gorgeous chaparral scrub and native California plant life. It follows a natural arroyo and offers landmark views of the Golden Gate Bridge, so close you can see where it’s rusting. It takes about twenty minutes to hit the water with another ten spent scrambling over slippery sharp rocks to Marshall’s Beach. It’s a sweat-breaking hike that’ll get you reaching for your water in no time. Believe me, you’ll ache significantly less the next day if you stretch your legs first.

Unlike Baker and Ocean Beach (playas you can just walk out onto), Marshall’s Beach is difficult to reach. For good reason, too—it tends to keep the straights out. That said, I have run into unassuming families on my way down who think they’re on a robust hike to a China Beach-like destination. The mom carefully guided her kids over shoe-patinated serpentine rocks and poison oak. I sidled up to her, said hello, and leaned in close. “You know you’re going to a gay nude beach, right?”

Her eyes got wide. “Okay kids, we’re gonna stay for just a little while, alright?”

If you’re going to Marshall’s Beach, you know exactly why. It’s the one beach in San Francisco where gays can let it all hang out.

Local Journalism for Working stiffs

We write for the poets, busboys, and bartenders. We cover workers, not ‘tech’, not the shiny ‘forbes 100 bullshit’. We write about the business on your corner and the beer in your hand. Join the Bay's best newsletter.

Pack in, pack out.

Of course you should bring snacks and beverages. Something about lying in the sun all day just makes one hungry. But think of it less like a day at Dolores Park and more like a miniature camping trip. Don’t bring anything glass (imagine slicing your foot open on the beach, and with that hike back up!) and pack a little plastic bag for your trash. There’s a garbage can and recycling box at the trailhead where you can drop it off on your way up. Like any great camping spot, it’s beautiful because it’s clean. Pack in, pack out.

A note for the stoners (hi, it’s me): Prerolls are your friends. Don’t bring your vape pen, it will get clogged with sand.

Not take a Waymo around all those cliffs.

Unless you wanna tumble six hundred feet in a driverless car to your Tweetable death? I wouldn’t even take an Uber there, because I’ve tried. They have no idea how to navigate the Presidio. Your best shot at getting a driver who knows what they’re doing is getting a cab. Yes, a cab. Fuck Lyft and Uber. Get a cabbie who’s been navigating San Francisco since Candlestick was new. He’ll know where Lincoln Boulevard is, all you have to do is know where the dropoff is. The nearest MUNI stop is the Golden Gate Bridge turnaround on the 28-19th Avenue bus, a 10-15 minute walk from the trailhead.

Meander, spiral, and explode down these three hundred-foot cliffs.

Leave your goddamn Bluetooth speaker at home.

That’s why I don’t enjoy going to Dolores Park as much. The noise competition is far too crazy for my probably-autistic ears. You could dismiss this as a personal objection, but I believe leaving your goddamn Bluetooth speaker at home benefits everybody. Have you ever lain on the beach long enough to feel the crash of waves travel through your body, to feel your breathing synchronize with their dependable heave-and-ho? It’s the closest to meditation I’ve gotten, and it’s incredible. Then “Padam Padam” comes on and fucking ruins it.

Don your best swimwear (duh).

This is an obvious one. Marshall’s Beach is not the place to break out your bro’s board shorts. It’s for wearing skimpy speedos, unbelievable underwear or, of course, nothing. Swim trunks are strictly verboten. That’s the specialty of Marshall’s Beach, it’s the last place in San Francisco where you can be naked and gay in nature. No, you don’t need scarless skin or rippling muscles. You need only a body, and the active knowledge that having a living, breathing body is cause for celebration.

Obviously do what’s best for you. No one will scold you for wearing clothes, but it will get you some wrinkled brows. At least take off your shoes (what, are you a shoobie?).

Be ready, not expectant.

Marshall’s Beach is very much prime cruising territory. If you don’t know what cruising is, I’ll be hard pressed to sum it up in one paragraph. In plain words, it’s finding another gay man to have sex with at a location known for that purpose. Sometimes you find someone and go to their place, or yours. You usually don’t make it that far.

The sacred art of cruising predates the apps. I may belong to the first generation of gays that didn’t learn it as a twink, like how schools are dropping cursive from the curriculum. Some gay sage should’ve told twenty-two-year-old-me not to bother with Adam4Adam and just go to Marshall’s Beach on a hot day. I had to learn it later.

Apps like Sniffies and Scruff (I’ve used both) cannot randomize so exquisitely as chance. Your precepts creep in disguised as preferences, killing your odds of true, serendipitous connection. The apps have a way of conditioning you to expect sex the way you might a Grubhub order. It’s not honest or realistic, and that’s the key to cruising. Put yourself out there. Anticipate nothing, be ready for anything.

Oh, and bring lube. This ain’t Brokeback Mountain.

Not be caught off guard by high tide and/or falling rocks.

Marshall’s Beach is a narrow one, even narrower at high tides. If it’s a hot day, you can bet good money it’ll be packed, making scarce the optimal real estate for you and your Spice Girls beach towel. I’ve seen people backed up against the foot of the crumbling cliffs above, which is not safe—don’t do it! People have died under sudden rockfall, which happens naturally and often, most recently near San Diego. Unlike an unstable cliff face, tides are predictable, so regular, you can Google their ebbs and flows.

Walk the full length of the beach.

Whether you go it alone or not, treat yourself to one of the most eye-catching walks of your life. There’s something in it for everyone. Don’t worry about getting lost. Marshall’s Beach is just small enough that it won’t take long to find your spot among the crowd.

People there to cruise know this already. It’s the walk that beckons opportunity. To see and be seen, and be seen seeing, is how it starts. I’m too distractable to follow through on what I’m about to tell you, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t check it out.

The underside of the approach to the Golden Gate Bridge with fog. Yes, gays will cruise in any weather.

At the end of the beach stands Fort Point and the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge. The impressive architecture of the Art Deco icon is on full display from there, particularly the unique arch section designed to spare Fort Point from demolition. As an earthquake nerd, I love pointing out the seismic retrofitting in the Instagram pictures I see, which is not why my friends take selfies there.

On your walk, you will inevitably run into someone you know. Marshall’s Beach is a lot like the Fruit Shelf at Dolores Park (which, funnily enough, is also known as “Gay Beach”). The friends you plan to meet may not show, but the ones you didn’t know would be there, are. You can bet it’ll be someone you’ve hooked up if you’re local.

Know when to head out.

When the wind overpowers the warmth of a setting sun, when the snacks have gone into everybody’s bellies, when you and your friends are love-drunk and sunkissed, it might be time to go. Stand upwind when shaking the sand from your beach towel, and be sure to check your surroundings for unsuspecting eyes. It is rude to whip sand in people’s eyes.

You’re ready to leave once you’ve packed your bag, bagged your trash (Pointer #3) and rounded up your people. If you followed these tips, there’s enough energy in your body for the climb because you’ve eaten and hydrated. You got some stunning photos for the Gram, saw an international landmark up close, loved the sun with all your skin. You took a stroll in the surf and let the flood of ions re-regulate your system. Maybe you made new friends and/or strengthened connections with old ones. Perhaps you cruised, or thought about it. The memory is worth it anyway. Besides, there’s always next time. 

Broke-Ass Stuart works because of reader support. Join us now.

Howdy! My name is Katy Atchison and I'm an Associate Editor for Broke-Ass Stuart.

I want to take the time to say thank you for supporting independent news media by reading Supporting independent news sources like Broke-Ass Stuart is vital to supporting our community because it amplifies the voices of a wide variety of diverse opinions. You also help support small businesses and local artists by sharing stories from Broke-Ass Stuart.

Because you're one of our supporters, I wanted to send over a pro-tip.

Our bi-weekly newsletter is a great way to get round ups of Broke-Ass Stuart stories, learn about new businesses in The Bay Area, find out about fun local events and be first in line for giveaways.

If you’d like to get our newsletter, signup right here, it takes 5 seconds.

Previous post

Mayor London Breed Threatens Curfew on Tenderloin Businesses

Next post

Breaking News: San Jose Actually Has Something Cool

Jake Warren

Jake Warren

A Potawatomi nonfiction writer and Tenderloin resident possessing an Indigenous perspective on sexuality and a fascination with etymological nuance. Queer decolonial leftist, cannabis industry affiliate, seasoned raver, and unofficial earthquake authority.