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Friday 27 March 2020

25 Kid Friendly San Francisco Bay Area Hikes

Ever since we moved from California to Colorado I've been dreaming of going back. I miss our life in the San Francisco Bay Area so much, but right now I'm grateful that here in Colorado we have a house and a yard, with plenty of space to spread out. In the Bay Area we'd be finding ourselves on lock down in a two bedroom apartment with no outdoor space of our own, which, as much as I want to move back, isn't particularly appealing right now.

For those of you who find yourself in that same position I'm sharing my favorite hikes in and around San Francisco. They're all kid friendly and area great way to get out and get a little exercise without traveling too far from home. As always, click the bold and underlined title for more information.

Please make sure to follow any and all Shelter in Place orders before heading out for a hike. Keep at least 6 feet away from other hikers and don't forget to pack the hand sanitzer. While parks are currently open this may change, so make sure to check online first.

San Francisco Hikes

Bernal Heights Park
One of my favorite city hikes is taking a walk up Bernal Heights Park. The lowers slopes of the hill are densely built up with homes, but the top is a park with hiking trails, stunning 360 views over San Francisco and the Bay, and plenty of grassy space for kids to run around while keeping their distance from other people. There's also a rope swing at the top, but it's probably bet to avoid that at the moment. As you can probably guess, the walk up Bernal Heights is an uphill hike, but there are stairs as well as flat paths. It's a fairly easy hike for kids and Mathilde was able to do it when she was three. There is parking at the bottom of the hill, or if you prefer you can take a hike through the neighborhood to get there. We hiked from 24th St Mission Bart station - although I'm not sure taking Bart is such a good idea right now unless it's essential.

Batteries to Bluffs Trail
This hike in the Presidio is one of my favorites for several reasons. First of all, the views. Seeing the Golden Gate Bridge come into view as you make your way along the trail is something else. I mean, look at it! Other reasons that I love this hike is that it takes you along the coast, there's plenty of opportunity for beach fun, the historic Battery Crosby is pretty fun to climb on (watch out for broken glass though), there are beautiful flowers and plant life along the way, and it doesn't tend to get overly busy. The trail starts on Lincoln Blvd and makes its way down to Marshall's beach via Battery Crosby. It's less than a mile long, but there are lots of stairs along the way and you'll need to hike back up. Street parking is available along Lincoln Blvd as well as in the nearby WW2 Memorial parking lot. One thing to keep in mind, is that a little further along the beach (towards the bridge) it becomes a nudist beach! We didn't see any nudies on our visit though.

Ok, so San Francisco is a city of hills, which means that most of the hikes in the city involve going uphill at some point. This particular hike is ALL uphill - until you make your way back down - but it's worth it and still very kid friendly. Located in the Inner Sunset neighborhood there are two intricately tiled mosaic staircases. There are the well known 16th Avenue Tiled Steps and the lesser known, but just as beautiful Hidden Garden Steps. Both of these tiled staircases are located on 16th Avenue just a few blocks away from each other. The 16th Avenue Tiled Steps are rather popular with locals and tourists alike, but the Hidden Garden Steps are relatively unknown. Each time we've visited we've seen only a few other people taking the Hidden Garden Steps, while the 16th Avenue Tiled Steps have been quite busy. Both sets of steps can be taken in the one hike, and if you continue just a little further you'll find yourself at another staircase. Now, this staircase isn't anything special to look at, and for that reason many people give it a miss, but the view from the top sure is grand. In fact, it's such a grand view that the park at the top is called Grand View Park! Grand View Park offers 360 degree views over San Francisco and the Bay. It's a small park but it doesn't tend to get overly busy so you're sure to be able to keep your distance from any other hikers up there. There are no facilities at the top (just a few benches) so keep that in mind before heading up.

Another hike in the Presidio. This hike takes you from the Lands End Visitor Center down to the ruins of Sutro Baths and then back up along a trail that leads along the coast. The ruins of Sutro Baths are pretty amazing to see and you're able to climb on them, but watch out for waves if you chose to go close to the edge (we stuck to the land side). You'll see stunning coastline views, windswept trees, a cave that opens out to the ocean, maybe a dolphin or two frolicking in the waves and the Golden Gate Bridge. Parking is available at the Lands End Visitor Center. Facilities such as restrooms, a cafe and a gift shop are usually available at the Visitor Center, but I imagine that most of these will be closed at the moment so plan accordingly.

Crissy Field
You know you need another hike with more views of the Golden Gate Bridge, right? For a different perspective, take a hike through Crissy Field along the waterfront. This hike is mostly flat with wheelchair/stroller accessible paths but if you'd like to venture off course, there's plenty of grass to run around on, beach to play on and of course, the water to splash about in. Start by the Palace of Fine Arts and head toward the water. The hike through Crissy Field will take you past Crissy Field Marsh, along the beach, past the Warming Hut and Torpedo Wharf (where you may be lucky enough to spot sea lions) and up to the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center and vista points.

North Beach, Telegraph Hill & Embarcadero
I'm a city girl and city hikes are my favorite type of hikes. Walking in a city is a great way to see it, so whenever we had visitors come stay with us I always liked to take them on a hike through some of my favorite parts of San Francisco. Now, this particular hike does get pretty steep at times, but my kids can do it, so you can too! One of my favorite views in San Francisco is from the top of Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill. Now, I imagine that Coit Tower is closed at the moment (if you haven't been there make sure to do it when everything opens up again) but Telegraph Hill itself has some pretty great views and is accessed via public streets, so it's accessible at any time. We always started this hike from Montgomery Bart station and then made our way up Kearny Street to North Beach, San Francisco's Italian neighborhood. Now this is where the steep part comes in. The road leading up Telegraph Hill is one of those crazy San Francisco streets you see on tv. Crazy steep with stunning city views. There's a small park around Coit Tower at the top and it's a great place to stop for a break. From there you can always just hike back down the way you came up, but for a little more exploring, head to the Filbert Steps on the east side of Telegraph Hill. These will lead you all the way down to the Embarcadero which runs along the waterfront. The stairs are pretty steep, and it always amazes me that there are houses along the way that seem to only be accessible from this staircase. I'm sure they must have other entrances too. Once you reach the bottom head south along the Embarcadero back towards Market Street and you'll be back near your starting point.   

Most of the hikes I've shared above offer views of the Golden Gate Bridge, but you know where the best views are? On the bridge itself! Starting off at the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center, visitors can hike across the bridge in both directions. Now, I will add that it's a much longer walk than you probably expect it to be, but it's flat and the views are stunning. It does get rather windy and quite chilly though, so just like going anywhere in San Francisco, make sure to dress in layers. If you'd prefer to just walk one direction my tip is to take the bus across to the Marin side of the bridge and hike back. That way you'll have the city in view the whole way.

Fort Funston
Ever wanted to watch people jump off cliffs in hang gliders while walking along the beach? Fort Funston is the place for you. This beach, located just south of San Francisco Zoo has hiking trails along the cliff tops, sweeping views of the rugged coastline, graffiti covered fort ruins, and miles of sand and waves to play in. From the parking lot you'll hike past adrenaline junkies preparing their hang gliders for take off, and then down a steep path to the beach below. It's a pretty sandy hike down to the beach so make sure to wear appropriate footwear. This particular beach is rather popular with dog owners so expect to see quite a few pooches here. Don't forget to pack layers for when that San Francisco fog rolls in off the ocean.

East Bay

Albany Hill
For years we wondered about the weird hill poking out in Albany. The surrounding area is rather built up and quite flat, but there was that one strange hill poking out. Eventually we decided to go check it out and I'm so glad we did as we discovered that it's a great place for family hikes and playing among the trees, and it even has a tree swing. Oh, and like every other hill in the Bay Area, there are views over the Bay. The trails here are not very long, but it's a great spot for a little hiking and lots of fresh air.  

Middle Harbor Shoreline Park
Middle Harbor Shoreline Park is something of a hidden gem - even though it's in plain sight. Located right by the shipping containers and cranes of Port of Oakland this large park is overlooked by many - probably because they don't realize it's there. It is a little tricky to get to, but Google Maps will help you out. From the large parking lot there are several trails that take visitors down to the water front, along a small pier, and toward the colorful shipping containers. Further trails lead to a look out tower from where there are stunning views over the park, the Bay and San Francisco. If your kids enjoy watching ships, cranes and boats go about their work, then this is a great spot to go for a hike. You'll get some exercise and entertainment. Middle Harbor Shoreline Park has amenities including bathrooms and a covered picnic area. Most of the trails are flats and wheelchair/stroller friendly.

Bay Farm Island
Another treasure hiding in plain view right along the waterfront. Bay Farm Island sits out in the Bay just south of it's better know neighbor Alameda. Bay Farm Island is best known as the home of Oakland International Airport, and is not actually an island seeing as it's attached to the mainland.
While the airport takes up much of this "island" there are also residential areas with canals and plenty of paths for taking an urban hike. My favorite hike leads along the waterfront along the Bay Trail which makes its way the whole way along the coastline. There are lovely little beaches along the way, parks with lawns, and even a little weirdness along the coast as you can see below. The views over the Bay are lovely and if you have plane loving kids you can watch the planes coming into land (although there may not be too many at the moment).

Point Pinole Regional Shoreline
Another water front hike, this time a little further away from it all. We spent an afternoon hiking at Point Pinole a few years back and it was a hit with the kids. One word: pelicans! The pier at Point Pinole is a popular spot for fishing, and where there are fish, there are pelicans. While the pelicans here are still very much wild animals, they aren't overly scared of people which means you'll be able to get a close up look of them. My kids didn't approach the pelican in the picture below - it landed next to them. As well as the pier and the pelicans there are hiking trails here through the grassland and trees as well as along the beach.  The ruins of a former pier stand in the water close by the existing pier and are fun to explore.

Mount Diablo State Park
Like mountain climbing? Well, you're out of luck in the Bay Area, but for a hike with some elevation head east to Mount Diablo. There are LOTS of hiking trails here so you'll easily be able to hike while keeping a safe distance from other hikers. The Devil's Pulpit, the rocky outcrop pictured below, is a short hike from the trail head and is fun for kids to scramble on. The views from both the trail head lookout and Devil's Pulpit are pretty stunning and on a clear day you can see all the way to the Bay. 

Redwood Regional Park
Did you know that there are redwood groves right in Oakland? No need to join the crowds in Muir Woods when there are gorgeous hikes in Oakland. Redwood Regional Park is a pretty popular spot for families to go hiking, so you're more likely to find other people here than at some of the other hikes I've listed, but it's a pretty big park so keeping 6 ft apart won't be too tricky. In January and February Redwood Regional Park is home to a ladybug migration (the cutest insect migration ever) and if you're in luck you'll still find some of these little guys hanging around. The Stream Trail is where you'll most likely find ladybugs.

Roberts Regional Recreation Area
Another large park filled with towering redwoods in Oakland. Roberts Regional Recreation Area sits adjacent to Redwood Regional Park and shares much of the same landscape. Towering redwoods, wide open grass areas, scrubby areas, a (currently off limits) playground and pool area, and lots of hiking trails. This park is a popular spot for weddings, especially among the redwood groves, but with the current restrictions on congregating in groups I imagine that not too many weddings are taking part here at the moment. That means that there's more space to explore.

Tilden Park
Tilden Park's most popular attractions for families, the Little Farm, the vintage carousel and the steam train, are currently closed, but the hiking trails are still open to the public. This large regional park sits high in the Berkeley Hills and is filled with hiking trails of varying difficulty. The trails around Lake Anza and Jewel Lake are relatively easy for kids but there are plenty of other trails to choose from too.

Cragmont Rock Park
This rocky park is located in a residential area in the Berkeley Hills. It's a fairly small park, but features a hiking trail around the main rocky outcrop and the rocks themselves are fun to climb on. There are flat grassy areas both at the top of the park and lower down making it a great place to kick a ball or play tag. The views over the Bay from the top of the park at pretty stunning.

Indian Rock Park
Another rock park in a residential area in Berkeley. In fact, Indian Rock Park and Cragmont Rock Park aren't too far apart so you could easily include both parks in one afternoon of hiking. Indian Rock Park is one of my favorite places in Berkeley. It's a large rocky out crop rising up among homes in the neighborhood. Steps have been carved into the rocks allowing visitors easy access to the summit where stunning views over Berkeley, Oakland, San Francisco and the Bay await. This park is a popular spot to watch the sunset (the Bay Area has the best sunsets!) so to avoid seeing too many other people I'd go earlier in the day. Aside from climbing up to the top, there are trails that lead around the base of the park and to small rocks across the street.

Berkeley Secret Stairs
Wondering how to get between Cragmont Rock and Indian Rock parks on foot? Take the secret staircases in the Berkeley Hills! Ok, so these staircases aren't exactly secret, but many of them are kind of hidden away between properties so you do need to keep an eye out for them as they can be easy to miss. The Berkeley Hills have many staircases providing pedestrian access in steep areas. Some of these staircases are rather ornate while others are quite basic. The one thing they have in common is that they all lead to an adventure of some sort! Even if you're just taking a hike through the streets, taking shortcuts via the secret stairs adds a little mystery! All of these staircases are shown on Google Maps but for a more in depth look, I recommend the book Secret Stairs: East Bay.

Ohlone Greenway
Most of the hikes I've shared here involve stairs, dirt or sand trails, or rocks to scramble over. But I know that's not for everyone. If you're looking for a nice flat path to push a stroller, ride a scooter or even teach little ones to ride a bike on, look no further than the Ohlone Greenway. This great path makes its way from Ohlone Park in Berkeley, through Albany, and on to Richmond where it becomes the Richmond Greenway. For much of the way the trail follows the course of the raised BART tracks. This means it can be quite noisy at times, but it also means that you get to see BART trains zoom overhead, which is actually pretty cool. The trail leads past gardens, murals and playgrounds, and if you're lucky you might even come across wild turkeys. We generally stuck to taking the trail between Ohlone Park and Solano Avenue in Albany which is about a 40 minute walk in each direction.

The eastern span of the Bay Bridge features a pedestrian and cyclist path that runs along the southern side and makes for a family hike (or bike ride) of a different type. The eastern span of the Bay Bridge takes commuters from Oakland to Treasure Island where it connects with the Bay Bridge which continues on to San Francisco. It can be a little tricky to find the start of the pedestrian/bike trail in Oakland (Google maps directed us onto the bridge and then told us to do a u-turn!) so make sure to study the map carefully before setting out. There is no parking at the Treasure Island end of the trail, so you'll need to start and end in Oakland. When we did this walk last year we saw only one other family and a few cyclists, so it's a great spot for social distancing while getting outside. 

South Bay

Alviso Marina County Park
We didn't spend much time in the South Bay when we lived in Berkeley, but we did come across a few gems on our trips down south. Alviso Marina County Park was one of my favorites. This small park includes trails that make up part of the Bay Trail. The trails are wide and flat making them fairly accessible. Every now and then there are decks that lead out over the water and marshland. This is a great spot for bird watching and there is a wide variety of plant life in the park. A word of warning to those with seasonal allergies - take your meds before coming here! Ava and I didn't and we had to cut our hike short due to all those yellow flowers.

Big Basin Redwoods State Park
Have you ever kissed a banana slug? Or have you ever even seen one? I'd done neither before we visited Big Basin Redwood State Park. I'm not sure why kissing a banana slug is it a thing, but it's a rite of passage of some sort. Anyway, back to hiking. Big Basin Redwood State Park is located south of San Francisco and is filled with hiking trails of various levels of difficulty. Many of the trails are perfect for kids and there's so much so see - including the aforementioned banana slugs. You'll find shady groves of towering redwoods, rocks and fall trees to climb on, large hollow trees that you can walk through, and if you hike far enough you'll even find the ocean.

North Bay

Big Break Regional Shoreline
Big Break Shoreline Park is located where the San Francisco Bay meets the Sacramento River. It's an interesting ecological area and I highly recommend visiting the museum in the visitor center to learn more about it once everything is back to normal. In the mean time, there are some great hiking trails here that lead along the waterfront and through the nearby grasslands. Did you know that the Bay Area is home to beavers? Nope, neither did I until we visited Big Break. While we didn't see any beavers on our hike, we did hear them among the reeds, and spotted their dams along with plenty of crustacean shell filled beaver poop! This is a great place for a nature scavenger hunt while hiking - just maybe not one that requires collecting things! Trust me, you don't want to bring home beaver poop!

Crockett is a tiny town located along the Carquinez Strait in the northern stretches of the San Francisco Bay. It's home to the giant C&H Sugar Refinery which you've probably seen while zooming along the freeway. For us that was all we knew of Crockett for years, until one day we decided to go take a hike along the waterfront. If you're a fan of checking out ruins while hiking then the Crockett waterfront is for you. Along with the ruins of a long disused pier, Crockett is home to the Garden City ferry wreckage, a steam powered ferry built in 1879 and used on the Bay until 1929. It's pretty interesting to check out from the shore - although my kids were more interested in finding sea glass! The hike down to the Garden City Wreckage took us along the train lines and through scrub land. The views over the Bay are stunning, especially if you happen to catch the sunset over the bridges. 

Have you been out hiking with your kids during this time? I'd love to hear if you have any other suggestions for kid friendly hikes in the Bay Area.

Stay safe!

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