Exploring the Bay Area with 4 & 7 year old
Hello. I’m looking for recommendations for day trips in the Bay Area that are appropriate for a 4 and 7 year old. We’re not traveling over the summer, and I have some time off, so I would like to “discover” the area with them (we live in Oakland). Trips that involve a one night stay at a local hotel are OK too. Any hidden gems you know of? Cool beaches, great parks, short hikes, great playgrounds? Great food destinations that would be fun for kids are also appreciated! Thank you in advance.
Apr 20, 2023
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Here are four fun day trips from Oakland:
1. Rock City at Mt Diablo State Park - hiking and scrambling on sandstone formations.
2. The Coyote Point area on the Peninsula (bike trails, CuriOdyssey, beach access, a great park, and plane watching).
3. Explore the tide pools at Fitzgerald Marine Reserve at low tide https://fitzgeraldreserve.org/lowtides
4. Ride Amtrak to Old Town Sacramento, visit the Train Museum
My baby is too young but I’m looking forward to these things: Exploratorium, Discovery Museum, Oakland Zoo, Monterey Bay Aquarium, Children’s Fairyland… and of course all the outdoor live music we can find. Hope that’s helpful!
When my kids were that age, I tried to stay close by. For them a half day outing seemed plenty.
- Transit Adventure, basically taking the ferry, bus, etc, favorites were ferry into the city and barting to Oakland airport
- Bay Area Discovery Museum in Sausalito, first Wednesday of the month used to be free, maybe still?
- IKEA, children's area, cafeteria, even $1 frozen yogurt, you've aged out but they also have a changing room with diapers, wipes, etc...
- San Ramon Aquatic center, pools and water features in a hot area of the bay
- Tot Land and Adventure Playground, both in Berkeley, both amazing in different ways
- Lake Merritt boating center, cheap boat rentals
- Bay Farm, bay front biking and walking paths
- Beach Chalet at Ocean Beach, kid's concerts 11-2 on weekends
- Golden State Model Train Museum, Miller/Knox Regional Shoreline in Pt Richmond, my kids loved trains
- Tilden Steam Train, on Sundays noon-3, the Golden Gate Live Steamers give rides on their trains in addition to the regular Tilden Steam train, did I mention my kids loved trains
We love going to Duxbury Reef in Bolinas. We usually start by exploring the tidepools there, then drive over into town to have a picnic lunch, and walk the beach there, too.
Nearby, on another day, Point Reyes has so many amazing places to explore.
Also, the Roaring Camps steam train in Felton is always fun, and you can head over to Santa Cruz after for the beach, boardwalk, and/or meal.
My personal favorite beach is Rodeo Beach out in the Marin Headlands, which is also a beautiful area to explore. The Bay Area Discovery Museum isn't far away from there (Sausalito), so you could also pair them up.
Hope you enjoy your summer!
Fun! Here are some ideas that we've done and enjoyed with small-ish kids: take the ferry to the Embarcadero and go to either the Exploratorium or the Aquarium of the Bay nearby. Also in SF: the Creativity Museum, Golden Gate Park (Japanese Tea Gardens and/or Botanical Garden, lots of cool museums, boating on the lake), ride the cable cars. East Bay: rent a boat at Lake Chabot, wander around Jack London Square and play some games at Plank and have pizza at the Forge, or visit the fairy houses in Point Richmond, followed by a stop at the nearby beach to find cool rocks. The City of Antioch has a great, very mellow and clean water park that my kids LOVE. I also like to check the 510 Families website for ideas and current happenings.
We had a fantastic time in Pescadero for spring break and it checks a lot of your boxes! Great food (artichoke bread 😋), parks (Butano for redwoods, ano nuevo for elephant seals), beautiful beaches. We stayed at Costanoa (playground!) and think it would be a fun adventure with your kiddos.
Stinson is a fantastic beach destination and is worth a day trip.
A ferry ride into San Francisco is fun at that age, or out to Alcatraz if you're willing to brave the tourist crowds. Other things my kids enjoyed at that age: The cable car museum (you can ride the cable car to it!), geocaching, hiking to Oakland's highest point in Redwood Park, exploring the Sutro Baths ruins at Land's End, doing urban walks and hidden stairs from books like "Hidden Walks in the East Bay & Marin," bowling, exploring the Andy Goldsworthy art at the Presidio (there's a downloadable map), flying kites at the Berkeley Marina, taking Amtrak up to Sacramento and going to the train museum, minor league baseball games, biking the trails on Bay Farm Island, factory tours (Oakland Fortune Factory, Jelly Belly, Tcho, etc.), Oakland Museum. Let their interests drive your planning - once we spent a day touring cheese shops and makers in Marin because my kid was into cheese at the time. We also sometimes picked a theme, like trying a different ice cream place or donut place each week, and built excursions around that, just to give it some structure (and to reward them for lots of walking, which we almost always do when we go somewhere). Now I wish I had littles to explore with again - teenagers aren't nearly as excited about my ideas. :)
A few ideas off the dome...
Tennessee Valley in Main county is a beautiful and popular easy hike that ends in a rocky beach cove (https://www.nps.gov/goga/planyourvisit/tennessee_valley.htm)
In the peninsula, Coyote Point recreation area is well worth the parking fee. There is a fantastic large playground (magic mountain), and a cute childrens' museum (Curiodyssey, currently closed from storm damage)
Monterrey bay aquarium is well worth the drive on its own, but you can combine it with an overnight trip where you stop and explore along the way, such as in Santa Cruz or Big Basin or Monterrey itself
Midway between Santa Cruz and Monterrey is Moss Landing. This is a really great place to take a whale watching trip (less crowded, and you hit deep water much closer to shore than the popular places) and Elkhorn Slough is really fun for kayaking
Gilroy Gardens! Children's Wonderland in Vallejo is a great playground (small admission). San Ramon Aquatic Complex.
I'd start with the East Bay Regional Parks. Ardenwood Farms, Tilden Park (carousel, steam trains, the paved trail at Inspiration Point, the Little Farm), Redwood Regional Park (the creek trail from the Redwood gate), Temescal (swimming), Big Break (visitor center, history), Crown Memorial State Beach (beach, visitor center). If your kids are up for just hiking and nature, there are many more options.
State parks and historic parks: Bale Grist Mill State Historic Park, Sonoma State Historic Park, China Camp State Park, Asilomar State Beach and Asilomar conference grounds (Pacific Grove; this would be an overnight; you can stay at the conference grounds), Brannan Island State Recreation Area (swimming, picnicking), Mount Diablo (especially Rock City), Montara Lighthouse and Pigeon Point Lighthouse.
National parks and historic parks: Rosie the Riveter WWII Homefront National Historic Park, Alcatraz, Fort Point in San Francisco, San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park, Muir Woods, Point Reyes National Seashore. Pinnacle National Park would probably be an overnight (I've camped there many times) but the Bear Gulch cave hike is particularly great with kids.
Other: Petrified Forest near Calistoga, Calistoga geyser (these last two can be looped with Bale Grist Mill and Sonoma State Historic Park), Caswell Memorial State Park (swimming, tubing, camping), Sutro Baths in San Francisco, Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
This list only includes things I've done; there are a lot more parks I haven't visited that would probably be great destinations as well.
My kids are the same age and we love Guerneville and the Russian River. In the summer there are beaches on the river or you can drive 15-20 minutes to Jenner where the river meets the ocean. Also can explore redwoods at Armstrong State Park or Grove of Old Trees (smaller, very kid-friendly hike, and never crowded). Get ice cream at the Bank and dinner at Rio Nido - live music, outdoor seating, and tons of kids running around and playing. My kids love to go to the five and dime shop in Guerneville which has classic toys and salt water taffy. We typically spend the night, as there are plenty of easy, family friendly options up there, but the drive is only about 90 minutes from Oakland.