Coyote Point Swimming Notes
I’ve been swimming at Coyote Point off and on since 2010. Here are some of my notes & links to useful information that might be helpful to other swimmers.
If you’re interested, check out the Facebook group for the Coyote Point Swimming Society. This is an informal group I organized to share information and organize weekend swims.
Peninsula Tri-ers is a Meetup.com group that sometimes swims at Coyote Point.
The swimming is usually best in the early morning, before the wind picks up. After 8-9 am, there’s often wind, and that can make it choppy. If you don’t like that, you might be able to swim on the western side, which is more sheltered from the wind by the breakwater. But that depends on the wind direction.
Also, if it’s windy there may be sailboarders, particularly in the late afternoon, and you don’t want to be in the water with them.
You’ll occasionally see fishermen in boats. They’re usually moving slowly and will watch out for you. But you should wear a bright swim cap anyway, for visibility. Some people also like to clip one of those bright floaty inflatable buoys to themselves for extra visibility.
Before you go, you might want to check a few things.
- San Mateo weather
- Water temperature in Redwood City (it’s the closest water-temperature-monitoring buoy, but it tends to be much warmer than Coyote Point. NOTE: no water temperature readings since April 13, 2021)
- Water temperature at Alameda (not close, but the temperature tracks fairly closely with Coyote Point)
- Coyote Point tides
- Water quality warnings for San Mateo County beaches. You can also get water quality news by phone: (650) 599-1266. If you need to make a water quality report (you spotted something icky), call (650) 372-6200.
In general, low tide levels will bring muddier/cloudier water, and high tide levels will be somewhat clearer. You can swim in either, but some people prefer the clearer water.
When there’s a very low tide (less than 1-2 feet above the “0.0” line, aka MLLW, on a tide chart), the water is really shallow. It can get as low as knee high across the entire stretch from Coyote Point to Fisherman’s Park. The bottom is squishy and gross, and with water that shallow, it’s not the best time to swim. Your best option is to wait for the tide to go above 1′ (if you’re not squeamish) or 2′ on the tide charts.
Currents are usually pretty mellow to nonexistent, but can occasionally pull hard, particularly past the eastern point (Coyote Point proper) as you head toward the breakwater/jetty guarding the marina. Pay attention — it might be a lot harder to swim back than it was to swim out!
If you’re just getting started in open/cold water, stick close to the beach. You won’t be bothered by any currents, boats, etc, and it’ll be easy to go ashore if you get tired or cold.
Here’s a more complete (and complicated) set of tide, current, and weather conditions at Sat Francisco, from NOAA.
More about currents: Generally it seems that on an incoming (flood) tide, the currents flow counterclockwise around the cove, from Fisherman’s Park out around the point towards the jetty by the harbor — in other words, West to East; and on out outgoing (ebb) tide, they flow clockwise, from East to West. Here are NOAA’s tidal current predictions off Coyote Point.
How cold is it?
Depends on the time of year. In the summer months through October, it’s usually in the 60s to as high as 70-71F. (Much warmer than Aquatic Park in San Francisco.) In the winter, it goes down to the high 50s or even (brr) low 50s (usually about the same temperature as Aquatic Park).
You may want to wear a wetsuit — lots of people do. But I’ve been swimming here for years without a wetsuit, year-round. YMMV, but in my opinion, it’s not difficult when the water is above 62-65F, but below that it definitely takes some getting used to.
Make sure you allow time to warm up afterwards. Bring a thermos of hot water or tea, and prepare to spend some time in your car warming up after, if the water is cold.
Check out NOAA’s historical averages for Redwood City water temperatures by month. (That’s in Celsius: 20 degrees C = 68 F; 15 degrees C = 59F; 10 degrees C = 50 F.
There’s a bathroom building on the eastern edge of the beach, just at the foot of the hill next to the parking lot. There’s an outdoor surf shower here too — it’s not warm, but the water’s clean.
There are also surf showers further south along the beach. At the Boardsports building, there are warm pay showers inside the restroom. Bring quarters.
(NOTE June 2020: These showers might be closed now due to Coronavirus. I haven’t checked there in awhile.)
Here’s a Google Maps link to Coyote Point Beach.
Directions: Follow Google Maps directions to Coyote Point Park. As you enter the park, there’s a gatehouse. There will be rangers there who will charge $6 per car after about 8am, but if you enter before the rangers are there — or you’re on foot or on a bike — you can get in for free.
NOTE: As of May 2021, construction has started on the new Coyote Point Promenade. The main parking lot next to the hill is now closed, and it’s covered with heavy construction equipment. This limits beach access! You can still get in the water next to Boardsports California (which is labeled on the map below). To get to that parking lot, you have to take the first left after the gatehouse entrance, and drive past Magic Mountain.
For the main parking lot (currently closed): Immediately past the gatehouse is a road going off to the left, to Magic Mountain and the Beach Picnic Area — don’t take that one. Take the *next* left. Follow the road a couple hundred feet to a big parking lot on the left. Park there. The beach is right in front of you.
Note: If you come often, you can get a San Mateo County parks pass for $60 that will get you into Coyote Point and any other county park for free for the next 12 months. Ask the ranger.
Alternate starting point: Immediately after crossing the freeway on Peninsula, turn left on Airport Blvd (before entering the park). Continue past the SPCA on the right, to where the road turns to the right, adjacent to the new Facebook Oculus building. There’s usually parking spaces on the street along here. You can then enter the water at the beach underneath the high-tension power lines. It’s shallower, and there are no showers, but the parking is free!
Distance from the beach to the point off Fisherman’s Park (the point you see off Burlingame, to the left): about 0.5 mile. So there and back is almost exactly a mile — maybe a little less depending on how low the tide is, or a little more if you’re not going in a perfectly straight line.
From the beach to the first rock on the right, then to the second rock, and then back: about 3/4 mile.
Note: I call the first little rock, which is sometimes mostly submerged, “Cormorant Rock,” because it often has a cormorant perched on it. The second rock I call “Sofa Rock,” because it’s shaped a bit like a sofa.
From the beach to the right, around the rocks, to the end of the breakwater guarding the harbor, and back: About 1.2 – 1.3 miles? Warning: There can be strong currents at the end of the jetty. Be alert and swim with care.
I’ve seen seals checking me out, and lots of seagulls, pelicans, and hawks soaring above the water and above the trees on the point. I’ve never encountered jellyfish, sharks, or anything bothersome, but you never know.
Footnote: If you occasionally swim in Aquatic Park in San Francisco, as I do, you may also want to see water quality warnings for San Francisco beaches.
Last updated 5/17/2021