Advice about Beaches to Visit

Parent Q&A

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  • I'm looking for a resort recommendation for a vacation I'd like to take in April with my 2 kids (boys, 5&8).

    I've heard great things about Mexico and I like the all-inclusive idea since I don't want to spend my entire time cooking and cleaning. Ideally the resort would have activities for the kids and a kid's club, pools and those fun slides. Prefer warm water and white beaches if possible.

    I'm also open to other places as well. Hawaii, FL, etc

    I've got the airline covered, just need hotel.

    Thank you!

    We went to the Melia in Puerto Vallarta (…) several years ago when our kids were 2 & 6 years old, and we had the BEST time.  We wanted someplace not to far by plane, warm in April, and easy.  I would never have thought I'd enjoy an all-inclusive, but I loved it.  The Melia (when we went) was mostly Mexican nationals (so it didn't feel "U.S. touristy"), mostly families, and having all your food on site (multiple restaurants), not having to worry about paying for it, turned out to be the key to stress-free vacationing for us.  Plus there's an absolutely giant pool and easy ocean access, and giant iguanas on site!  It was divine.  They do have a kids club, but we all mostly hung out at the pool or ocean every day.  We got a great deal on Orbitz too.  I'm sure there are a ton of great all-inclusives in PV and Cabo and other beach resorts in Mexico, and they're probably not all that different from each other.  Highly recommend.

    We just got back from Mexico. We went to Puerto Vallarta and stayed at the Grand Velas Riviera. It was all inclusive, had a kids club and was full of families. It was also easy to get to! Just over 3 hours from SFO. I'd recommend it. We booked it through Costco and saved $1,500 on the price quoted on the United site (for the exact same holiday).

So, the weather in the Bay Area is so pleasant that people don't really escape for a month to cooler parts - there's too much fun stuff to do here in the summer. But there are a bunch of places that are popular for a week of vacation with the fam where you'll find other kids running around.

1. Family Camps:  A lot of people I know go to family camps at the same time every summer and see the same families year after year. This is probably the closest thing we have to the Catskills. The cities of Berkeley, Oakland, San Francisco, San Jose, as well as UC Berkeley and others all built camps in the early 1900's during the "back to nature" movement.  They are mostly in the beautiful Sierras and near Yosemite. Some of them are so popular you have to sign up almost a year ahead of time.  These range from fairly rustic tent cabins to more modern abodes and typically serve 3 meals, have a river or pool, and optional activities for kids and for adults.  These camps are open to all, not just residents or alumni.  We used to go to Berkeley Tuolumne camp until it burned, sadly, in the Rim Fire a few years ago. (But it will be back, and so will we!) Look on BPN for reviews of some of these camps.  

2. Sea Ranch on the Sonoma Coast:  We also really like to go to Sea Ranch, but there, it's more like comfortable houses with hot tubs and fireplaces nestled in the cedar trees and spaced far apart, so it's a great place for quiet and solitude, not so much for communing with your fellow Bay Areans.  But it's fun for kids. There are swimming pools, playgrounds, beaches, and flat empty roads for bike riding.

3. The Seaside: Some people do a week near the ocean.  Inverness has been a popular getaway for more than a century, and is very beautiful and ideally situated near Pt. Reyes and Tomales Bay (oysters, kayaking, etc.)- look on AirB&B or similar. It's more adult oriented in the sense that it's all about food, wine, fog, and views but it's close to the ocean for the kids. Then there are the more beachy spots popular with families where you rent a house for a week, like Stinson Beach, Dillon Beach, further south near Monterey and Santa Cruz, like Aptos and Capitola, Pajaro, Pismo, etc.

Lots of options!  

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Relaxing coastal getaway

March 2013

My husband and I are looking for a relaxing local coastal getaway on a budget, just for two nights, with one or two friends and our preschooler in June. We're hoping to find a little rental house or some other cost efficient deal somewhere where there's lots of beach to explore. Does anyone have a special place to recommend either north or south of the bay area? Thanks in advance! Birthday girl

We stayed at Asilomar: It wasn't that expensive and you can walk to the state beach. Also the Monterey Bay Aquarium is nearby. -Pacific Grover Lover

I would recommend Dillon Beach -- it's on Tomales Bay. There's a nice big beach that's doesn't seem to get the big sleeper waves that other places on the coast get. Also, it's a cool funky 'old California' beach town, and there's one restaurant there that's quite good. WC Mom

You might want to look into Pajaro Dunes - it is in between Santa Cruz and Monterey. At the dunes

Seeking Beach Rental for August

Jan 2009

We're looking to rent a beach house with another family (3 kids, 4 adults) for about 2 weeks in August. Ideally it would be on the ocean (maybe the Santa Cruz area), walking distance to a nice beach, and dog-friendly. Does anyone have recommendations of actual houses they've stayed in, or websites or realtors that are helpful for this? Thanks - Debbie

Try - it seems to have a lot of listings in the Santa Cruz area: You could also try a house swap - I posted on Craigslist for a house swap a couple of years ago - it worked out great. Traded houses (and cars!) with another family and saved a bundle. Judiah

Check out The properties listed on are owner-owned (Vacation Rentals by Owner). You can usually find more affodable rates than going through an agent, and it is easy to do searches. There is a symbol for dog friendly properties so it is easy to see upfront who will accept pets. Check the guest comments or ask for references. Also the availability calendar will probably be a clue as to whether the owner is getting repeat business. Make sure you go to and not another website that is trying to imitate it. vrbo fan

Good local beach vacation

March 2008

We are planning to go on vacation end of August and trying to decide on a local beach vacation. How is Santa Cruz? Or Stinson Beach? Carmel? We have 2 and 4 year old, like to play in ocean and sand. Somewhere it wouldn't be too cold and swimable water, not too rocky surf, someplace quiet not too crowded. need a vacation

Check out Costanoa , halfway between Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay. It is close enough to go either place for the day, and there are bike trails, horseback riding, and beach. Very quiet during the week. Anon

If 'local' is within a 3 hour drive for you, I would like to suggest Seascape Resort in Aptos . It's a family resort on the beach. The 'villas' are sort of like condos. We rent a 2 bedroom one (you can ask for a ground floor suite so you can have a patio next to the lawn). They pretty much have their own beach, there are pools, a restaurant and near lots of fun places to visit (or not!) Something VERY cool they offer is a 'bonfire' package. One of the valets comes and picks your family up from your room in a golf cart. They drive you down to the beach, build you a bonfire, and leave you with all of the fixins' for s'mores. You can hang out and frolick on the beach until you're ready to go back to your room. Then you just call them from the phone that's down at the beach staircase and they come and get you! My boys were about the age of your children when we first did this. They are now 11.5 and 9 and we're going again in a couple of weeks and you can bet we're having s'mores! anon

Oh you simply HAVE to go to Santa Cruz for your vacation. Last July, to celebrate our son's second birthday, we took a week off and had the most beautiful time. Here is what we did. Maybe some of these ideas will work for you:

  * Camp for 2 nights in the redwoods at the San Mateo Memorial Park; * Drive down to Monterey for a night, visit the aquarium; * Drive back up the coast to Santa Cruz -- spend a night and hit the beach  and boardwalk amusement park; * And the BEST THING OF ALL, on your way from Santa Cruz back to the Bay  Area, visit the Roaring Camp Railroad in Felton. Our boy loved riding the  big, loud steam trains so much. I guarantee your kids will love it. 

Have a wonderful time! Lisa in Oakland

We have vacationed along the California coast many times. One of the best times we had was renting a house in Santa Cruz . It was a little ways south of the Boardwalk area ( a couple of freeway exits) and in a private community that had their own steps down to the beach. It was a fantastic location. We were able to get to the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the Boardwalk quite easily, but then we had the beach and a very quiet community to retreat to when we just wanted to take it easy. My brother rented the place, so I can't send you to the rental company, but just search on ''vacation rental house santa cruz'' and you'll get a ton of rental agencies and rental by owner places.

Local beaches where you can BBQ

June 2007

Are there any Bay Area beaches where one can BBQ? Either make your own fire pit or nearby facilities (such as at Stinson - any other beach that has that?) And, of course, the best beach weather is September/October, right? Ellen

The beaches at Crown Beach in Alameda have picnic tables and bbq grills located just off the sand. park mama

I think Limintour at Pt. Reyes has grills between the beach and the parking lot.

2004 - 2006 Recommendations

Beach vacation for psoriasis sufferer

March 2006

My husband has a severe case of psoriasis and as a result we've NEVER gone on a beach vacation, which is my dream. I'd appreciate any recommendations for some place with private/secluded beaches. anonymous

The Big Island of Hawaii has a number of secluded beaches. The most secluded ones tend to be ones that require a hike in, and the reward is almost total privacy. Kiholo Bay is lovely (although cold, as there are underwater freshwater springs. There is also a ''Queen's bath'' there--a cave partly filled with fresh water that is lovely. The Captain Cook monument doesn't have much beach (sand) but has fabulous snorkeling. The book ''Hawaii: The Big Island Revealed'' is a great source for lesser-known beaches (the authors have also written books on Maui and Kauai). Carrie

Although my SO doesn't have psoriasis (my brother does, though, so I'm familiar with it), he never goes out shirtless, and I have never seen him in actual swim trunks even once in our 10 years together. However, I drag him to hawaii every chance I get... he wears longish shorts and t-shirts -- or even long sleeves -- even on the beach!!! And I wear my bathing suit and enjoy myself. He will go in the water, wearing what I've noted above, and has absolutely no qualms about it. For him, it's better than the vicious sunburns he gets b/c his skin is so fair. I guess I'm just saying that your husband could get longish shorts, linen or rayon casual long pants, a tank top and maybe long sleeve linen shirts? He would still be able to enjoy himself and not be super self conscious, if that's what his/your concern is about. Anon

Day trip to the beach, warmer than Santa Cruz

Aug 2005

We are looking for a family friendly beach near the bay area for a day trip. Most years we go to santa cruz but, the last few years the weather has been very cold. We don't mind driving for about 2-3 hours for a good beach day. Thanks tmcampuzano

My family just discovered a wonderful beach about an hour south of Half Moon Bay. It's called Natural Bridges State Beach. It is a beautiful beach, not very crowded and there is a tide pool area that is the nicest I've ever seen (starfish, anenmones (SP) sea urchin, crabs, seaweed, etc). The bathrooms are good too. There is a $6/car admission fee but we thought it was worth it. It's a good idea to check tides as you plan but we happened to be there on high tide and it was still great. Denise

We like all these beaches:

Rodeo Beach (Golden Gate Nat Recr Area/Marin Headlands)
Muir Beach (Highway 1, north)
Stinson Beach (Highway 1), north of Muir Beach
San Pedro beach (Highway 1, south of Pacifica)

To make sure you enjoy your day at the beach, remember to take some coats with you! ;-)

Enjoy the beach, EP

Try Stinson Beach or Muir Beach in Marin.

I like Drakes beach at Pt Reyes because it has a nice big bathroom and a snack bar where you can get clam chowder and stuff like that. It has a nice flat beach along with easy rocks to climb on. It is more shielded from the wind too, as it's inside a curve of cliffs, on the underarm part of the Point, so it's enjoyable even on a foggy day. It takes us 1.5-2 hours to get there from Berkeley, but it's a lovely drive.

We've also gone to Stinson Beach twice this summer and it's a great beach for families - lots of other kids there, a snack bar, spacious changing rooms and bathrooms, usually kites and volleyball and other interesting things to see. Plus it's a short drive - maybe an hour.

Last summer we went to Montara Beach, south on highway 1, and it is a very beautiful beach, not many people there, with a more sloping beach. I myself prefer a quieter more picturesque beach like Montara but my kids really like being at a beach with a lot of activity and other kids, so we generally go to Marin. Ginger

Beach vacation in So. California

Jan 2005

I am looking for a great place on the beach to vacation with my family this summer in Southern CA. We would like to stay on the beach, in a rental that has a kitchen, etc. We are considering Santa Barbara and San Diego, but are open to all suggestions. Any recommendations of specific properties or rental companies would be most appreciated. Thanks! Seth

When I was growing up, our family used to vacation in Laguna Beach during the summer. It's gotten a lot more upscale, but is still a lovely place. It has lots of art galleries and an art festival during the summer months. Deni

Keep in my mind that beaches in California are often foggy/overcast during late June, July, and beginning of August. I had a fantastic vacation in La Jolla planned for last summer in July and after a few days of fun with no sun we bailed and took the family to the desert for some warmth. I hear that Carlsbad is a great place to go. The beach is beautiful and it's not as expensive as La Jolla, San Diego area and Santa Barbara.

Camping near the beach

Jan 2004

We would like any camping recommendations that are located near a beach. We are planning a family camping trip (4 families)in August and would like to be near a beach. beach camper

There are three excellent sites that I have gone to - one close to the Bay Area and two a bit further. The closest is at Point Reyes. You won't be on the beach, but can certainly get there quickly in the morning and there are sites with views of the ocean. The further ones are much closer to the beach, but will take some more time to get to. In San Diego, you can camp just above the ocean, on the cliffs. Very beautiful. Also, near the Sequoia National Forest in Northern California, you can camp right on the beach. Have fun!

Manresa State Beach just South of Capitola is a great campground and walking distance to the beach. I would recommend going in late Sept. or Oct. since the fog is gone by then. We go every year in October. It is a walk-in campground, however, you can park your car, bring in your gear and then park in the parking lot. The sites are close, not a far walk. The sites are somewhat private with small brush and small trees around. The nice thing is that they have big open spaces for children to play baseball, soccer right next to the sites. you can make reservations at donna

Weekend getaways near water

March 2003

I am hoping someone has a great area to look at. We are looking for a weekend getaway, not more than 2 hours away with lake or river accessible. We would want to spend summers and some weekends there. Do you have a favorite place that sounds like this. We have two very small children and would love for them to have a place where they can grow up knowing that there are places outside the city. kristi

Recommendations received:

Beach rental for a long weekend

June 2002

We're looking a beach rental for a long weekend at the end of August for 4 adults and 2 children. We're open to anything within several hours driving distance of the Bay Area that is comfortable and not too expensive. I've already reviewed the past recommendations on the website Any other specific recommendations would be most appreciated. Thanks! Seth

Recommendations received:

Sea Ranch

Beaches with shells for Beachcombing

April 2003

My toddler and I would like to find a beach (ideally near the Bay Area) that is good for beachcombing - finding seashells and colored pebbles - and where it would be OK to collect a few of these things. Thanks! Valerie

We went to the little beach at China Camp State park in San Rafael, about a 20 minute drive from Berkeley on the San Pablo Bay. Tons of small pieces of smooth sea glass. Such a fun place to beachcomb! Stephanie

Beach vacation in N. California

July 2002

We would like to go on a week-long beach vacation this August with our two children, both of whom are under the age of 3. We were hoping to rent a house on the beach where the water was warm enough to swim in. We were also hoping to drive there, instead of fly. We haven't lived in Northern California for very long and therefore, would appreciate any recommendations other members may have. I checked the Parents Network website but didn't find enough information to differentiate between Stinson, Muir beach, Half Moon Bay, Aptos and the like. Are these the best choices for August? Is the weather dependable? Is there anyone out there who can enlighten us? Thank you in advance. sorent

I would try going farther south for warmer water. Even in the summertime, a lot of Northern California water is still cold. I have swam in the Pacific, Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, and every large major lake and river in the U.S. Southern waters are definately warmer (as well as West Coast waters).

Or you could try Lake Commanche (see Lake Commanche )

I am a former New Yorker who spent summers on Long Island Beaches. I think the water in Northern California is too cold to do much swimming at all for little ones, even in August. The best place for us in Northern California has been Dillon Beach, where there are a bunch of houses to rent, has a large sandy beach and lots of families around. Personally, if I were doing a beach vacation I'd go to San Diego or Mexico.

I am planning a spring break vaca at the beach, tent camping. It will be another mom and two kids, 9 and 12 yrs. We are camping at San Simeon State Park right on the beach, hghwy 1 and within a hour to hour and a half is Pismo beach state park and in between, everything. Seals, otters, dunes, docent lead hikes, tidepools, elephant seals, mineral springs. Chk it out on the web. $12.00 a night for tent space w/showers and flush restromms. Up to eight people and two cars.

Beaches 1/2 hour drive from Berkeley

Can anyone recommend a beach near to Berkeley? Not Alameda. I love that beach but I'd like something closer--Berkeley, Richmond, Pt. Richmond. Does Pt. Pinole have a beach? Is it too far from Berkeley? I realize that how far someplace is is often related to time of day or whether it's a weekend or not--because of traffic. But I'd just like someplace that's no more than a half hour to get to. And maybe a place that I can get to in my car that uses backroads rather than those clogged freeways. Smokey

There are a couple of beaches in Richmond. Keller Beach is close to Pt. Richmond. If you take Cutting all the way down (west), and turn left at the Richmond Plunge to go through the tunnel, you'll be there. The beach is on the right as you come out of the tunnel. (I'm not sure of the name of the street you turn left on, but I really do think it's where Cutting ends, and it is certainly right at the end of the Washington School grounds.) I've also noticed a nice new beach at the Richmond Marina. I've only biked to this, so I'm not exactly sure how to get there by car, but I think again you'd take Cutting west, and turn left on Marina Bay and enter that Marina Bay development. The beach is near the new playground, and it is on the left arm of the marina, as you face the bay. To get there by bike, take the path that starts at Pt. Isabel (near Costco). It will bring you right there. (This path apparently starts at the Berkeley Marina, but it doesn't look like it's paved all the way.) There are beaches at Pt. Pinole, too, although I've never seen anyone swimming. That might be worth investigating. I might worry about old rotten pilings and things in the water there if it's not an official beach. Happy swimming -- Christina

There is--or was--a lovely, secluded little beach in Point Richmond. It's called something like Shadow Cove, I think. To get there, you take the freeway towards the San Rafael Bridge, get off in Point Richmond. Go into the middle of the town and look for the tunnel that goes into the hills (south). The beach is just on the other side of the tunnel. Sorry my information is so vague, but maybe you can find it if you have time to drive around a bit. Keller Beach in Point Richmond is nice. Take 580 to the Point Richmond exit. I can't give real specific directions, but go to the Richmond Plunge (pool), then through the tunnel and the beach is right there. It is shallow quite a ways out and my 4 year old loves that. Louise