Heading to the coast to beat the heat? Here’s how to get there without losing your mind.

Whether it’s Stinson Beach at the Marin, Ocean or Baker beaches in town or the San Mateo County locations near Pacifica or Half Moon Bay, here are some tips on how to maximize your time on the coast, without freaking out to get there.

Go early

Many of the Bay Area beaches have relatively small parking lots that can fill up by 10am on hot summer days – and the private parking lots near them often want to keep swimmers out. The Safeway shopping center car park near Pacifica’s Linda Mar beach, for example, has signs every few spots warning people using their beach parking lot could be towed.

For the best shot in a parking lot, plan to arrive early. Although it may be cold and cloudy by the time you get there, forecasts show that the sun will be out by the afternoon. And as everyone turns around the area looking for parking, you’ll be lying on the sand.

Give up the car altogether

If you want to completely avoid dealing with parking and traffic and avoid the emissions that come with it, there are a few ways to get to San Francisco’s Ocean beach using public transportation.

If you are coming from out of town, you can take the BART to Civic Center or Embarcadero stations (or any of the intermediate stations) and switch to the N Judah Muni line, which takes you through Sunset and up to Ocean Beach.

If you are coming from the south, you can take the Caltrain to the last stop, San Francisco station between 4th and King, and switch to the N Judah stop at the same intersection. You can also save a few minutes by taking the Caltrain to Millbrae, then BART to the Civic Center, then take the N Judah. But be warned: this only saves a few minutes when none of the trains you need to catch are late.

If you are already in San Francisco and just want to enjoy a nice day on the beach, there are several Muni lines that take you there, besides N Judah, L Taraval, 38 Geary, 31 Balboa, 5 Fulton, buses 7 Haight-Noriega and 18 46th Ave all have stops that drop you off near the water. 29 Sunset takes you to Baker Beach in the Presidio.

If none of this works …

If you find yourself leaving by car in the afternoon, you may be tempted to skip the main beaches and find something off the beaten track along the coast. But it’s important to note: While you can take in the views and the breeze, not all beaches along the coast are recommended for swimming or wading. Be sure to read all the signs posted wherever you are to check for important safety warnings.

As always, be careful

Whichever beach you choose, it’s also important to watch out for snatch currents and sneaker waves that can make swimming in the Bay Area dangerous. Before leaving, check for any warnings, read and obey all signs on the beach, keep an eye on small children and listen to the lifeguard’s instructions.

Danielle Echeverria is a staff writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @DanielleEchev

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