Have you thought about visiting the Bay Area with your family? If you are planning a trip to the bay area with kids, you’ve come to the right place!
My tips for traveling with kids to the Bay Area focus on charming towns north of the Golden Gate Bridge. Born and raised in the Bay Area, I spent my 20’s and 30’s there before moving to Reno in 2017 (minus two years I was in the Midwest). It makes me appreciate such sweet, memorable locations, great restaurants, and year-round activities!
Here’s an insider’s guide to a few of my favorite small towns north of the Golden Gate Bridge that are great for families. These locations are exceptionally beautiful, charming, easy to navigate, and safe.
As a parent, you can be sure that planning, traveling with kids, and breaking from the routine requires extra effort.
Read on to learn about the best places to visit, must-see attractions, and advice to make a long-weekend pleasant for your family!
Best Time to Travel to the Bay Area with Kids
Fall or Spring. Many residents feel that September and October are the best time of year to enjoy outdoor activities when wind and fog are at a minimum.
Head to Marin County, California
Marin County, Ca. has the best of what Northern California offers. Bay views, beaches, eucalyptus groves, redwood forests, and wildflowers make the best hiking trails. Phenomenal farm-to-table restaurants and boutique shopping are located in easy to navigate neighborhoods.
The North Bay is home to Sausalito, Mill Valley, Larkspur, San Anselmo, and Ross (to name a few) which are ideal towns to stay for a long weekend. These are the places I recommend checking out during your stay in Marin. Keep reading for my favorite things to do in each of those places below.
Marin is close proximity to San Francisco, 20 miles by car. You can also reach San Francisco in 30 minutes by ferry! (See My Picks, Best of Larkspur)
Central to the landscape is stunning Mt. Tamalpais. Salt-water ocean breezes are in the air. The beach itself is only a short drive west. A Mediterranean climate (mild, warm days and cool nights) makes travel easy year-round.
Where to Stay in the Bay Area
When traveling to the Bay Area with kids, finding a family-friendly place to stay is so important! Whether you choose to rent a home or stay in a hotel, here are some tips to help guide you through the process.
Choose a Vacation Rental
If you have a baby, toddler, or small child, renting a vacation home in a quiet residential neighborhood can be a lifesaver. I have tried many rental companies and I keep coming back to Evolve because I’ve always had a good experience.
My goal when traveling is to find a home-base that is walkable to town, clean, comfortable, quiet, and has a separate room for the crib.
Try to mimic the routines that you have at home. (routines include prepping food and snacks, playing, napping, snack time, short outings, bathtime, and bedtime.)
Being near a grocery store is a must. Stocking the fridge with healthy food and snacks and making some homemade meals can help your child thrive in a familiar routine. This option is the most cost-effective as well!
Tip: Purchase travel insurance! Whether it be inclement weather or your child (or you) comes down with the flu and you can’t travel, you can get a full refund.
Consider a Hotel (but, make sure it’s kid-friendly)
Traveling to the Bay Area with Kids doesn’t have to be complicated. But if you choose to stay in a hotel, be prepared for some adjustments. You can stay at a hotel but it will be more expensive than a rental; you will have fewer options for preparing food for your child and it will be tricky to create a quiet sleeping area for your child.
Some hotels cater to families and can be an excellent choice. One such hotel that I recommend in Sausalito is Cavallo Point Lodge at Fort Baker. This hotel has consistently been recognized by Conde Nast Traveler and Travel + Leisure as one of the top luxury hotels in the Bay Area and one of the most sustainable in the world.
This hotel is amazingly kid-friendly and dog-friendly. Views of the Golden Gate Bridge are outstanding.
You have farm-to-table dining options, in-room dining, actives for kids, a gym, spa, and yoga center; plus, hiking trails, large grassy areas, no-car zones, and private condos with golf-cart driving bellhops. This hotel is worth the splurge if you are celebrating a special occasion.
Sausalito is a gorgeous waterfront town with boat harbors, sparkling panoramic views, and steep wooded hillsides lined with the most spectacular homes.
If you come to Sausalito, as mentioned, I recommend Cavallo Point Lodge at Fort Baker. You can nearly miss this hidden gem! To get there, you take the last exit before entering the Golden Gate Bridge.
You may be familiar with the touristy part of Sausalito (southeast end of the peninsula). This popular area, Bridgeway Street, is fun to explore early in the morning and preferably on a weekday. You will find unparalleled views of the Bay and San Francisco, art galleries, boutiques, and restaurants. You should go once, but be out of there by 10 am!
My Picks: Best of Sausalito When You’re Traveling with Kids
Marin Headlands is a must-see for any visitor. This rugged and dramatic peninsula is at the southernmost end of Marin County. Views of the Golden Gate Bridge are the best you’ll see. You can drive the scenic 5-mile road, or get out and explore footpaths like the one that leads to Hawk Hill, an easy kid-friendly and dog-friendly hike. Go early to avoid the crowds.
Rodeo Beach is not to be missed! Sheltered by cliffs and on a lagoon, you will find pretty red and green pebbles in the sand. This beach is just 3 miles northwest of the Golden Gate Bridge. And, this beach is dog-friendly!
The Bay Area Discovery Museum is the only children’s museum to actually be located in a national park, and it is recognized as the leading museum for developing early childhood creativity and innovation. This museum is steps from Cavallo Point Lodge! So convenient and perfect when you are in the Bay Area with kids.
Farley Bar, at Cavallo Point Lodge. This restaurant offers a full menu and kids menu. Small-plates of local farm-to-table cuisine and a glass of wine can be enjoyed on the veranda. Note the restaurant’s front veranda is dog-friendly!
Tip: Sausalito and surrounding areas are oftentimes windy and foggy. Bring more layers than you think you need! (hats, scarfs, puffers, fleece)
Visit Mill Valley
Another place to visit in the Bay Area with kids is Mill Valley. Mill Valley is a lovely town with towering redwood groves, storybook homes, and a town square (Lytton Square).
Located at the foot of Mt. Tamalpais, there are level streets that make for great walkability. It has the best boutiques, restaurants, and shops, perfect for meandering with your family, kids, and dog.
A short drive away from Mill Valley (7 miles) is Muir Beach. It is a quiet cove, beach, and lagoon 3 miles west of Muir Woods National Monument. (I’m leaving Muir Woods National Monument off my list because it has become so overrun with tourists.)
My Picks: Best of Mill Valley When You’re Traveling with Kids
Muir Beach, as mentioned, is my favorite beach in Northern Cal. It is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Besides being quiet and not touristy, it is dog-friendly and perfect for exploring with your family. Hiking trails branch off in different directions all through the headlands.
Pelican Inn is a memorable landmark at Muir Beach. This Tudor-style English pub and inn have a restaurant that features hearty farm-to-table British fare and a kids menu too!
Located one-half mile north of Muir Beach, Muir Beach Overlook provides spectacular views of the Pacific coast and on clear days you can see as far south as San Francisco.
Cascade Park Trail is a 0.5-mile short out-and-back trail that features a redwood forest, lush ferns and wildflowers, and a seasonal waterfall. Located in Mill Valley’s Cascade Park, it’s easy for the family and dog-friendly!
Sprout San Francisco is a wonderful baby and kids store in downtown Mill Valley. The store specializes in baby products that are natural, organic, and free from toxins.
Playa is a local favorite for Mexican food in downtown Mill Valley. The farm-to-table menu is amazing. Highlights are the open kitchen that features a mesquite and almond wood-fired rotisserie, and exquisite housemade guacamoles and salsas. Note that the outdoor area is dog-friendly.
Larkspur, in Central Marin, has direct access to San Francisco (via the Larkspur Ferry) and has the best weather in Marin County. On the eastern edge of Mt. Tamalpais, it has a sweet historic downtown that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
I recommend booking a ferry ride into San Francisco. The Larkspur Ferry is easy to find and the schedule has many options for weekdays and more limited options for weekends; this 30-minute ride to Ferry Building Marketplace is one you and your kids will love!
My Picks: Best of Larkspur When You’re Traveling with Kids
The Larkspur Ferry, as mentioned, is a fun and relaxing way to experience travel into San Francisco. Approaching San Francisco Ferry Building, you will see the dramatic clock tower that has been a city icon for 100 years.
Tip: you can bring a small dog (in a carrier) onto the ferry!
Once arriving in the city, Ferry Building Marketplace itself is a world-class market where you can shop for bread, cheese, wine, chocolate, coffee, and more. You can learn about small regional producers.
If you arrive on farmers’ market day (Tues., Thurs., and Sat.) you will be blown away by the volume and variety of fruits, vegetables, herbs, flowers, meat and eggs from small regional farmers and ranchers, many of whom are certified organic.
Marin Country Mart is across from the Larkspur Ferry. It is an outstanding open-air boutique-style shopping area featuring farm-to-table dining options. Outdoor space is plentiful for kids to run and play. Play structures and a coy pond are central to the shopping area and every Saturday, year-round, there is a farmers’ market.
Rustic Bakery is located at Marin Country Mart. (one of four locations in Marin; check out the Magnolia Avenue location, too) It is my favorite bakery in Northern California. Carol LeValley, the owner of Rustic Bakery, is known for her delicious fresh baked bread. This bakery is a go-to for artisan granola, cookies, muffins, croissants, sandwiches, and coffee.
Dolliver Park in Historic Larkspur is known for its towering redwoods and picturesque playground situated in a shaded grove along a creek. There are play structures and swings. At the corner of Madrone and Magnolia, it is easy to find and walkable from the main street shops.
Visit San Anselmo and Ross
San Anselmo is another picturesque town northwest from Larkspur. San Anselmo weather is warmer than towns to the south but has a cool ocean breeze. Neighborhoods are filled with unique luxury homes, cottages, gardens and hillside neighborhoods with sweeping views of Ross Valley and Mt. Tamalpais. One of San Anselmo’s most famous residents is George Lucas!
1 mile south of San Anselmo, the town of Ross is known for elegant old estates, elm-lined streets, and windy roads meandering up hillsides.
My Picks: Best of San Anselmo and Ross when you’re Traveling with Kids
About a 5-mile drive from San Anselmo is the noteworthy Sunday Marin Civic Center Farmers’ Market. This year-round farmers market is bountiful and a must-see! You will be amazed by the quality and variety of goods sold by hundreds of organic local farmers and artisans.
The Marin Art & Garden Center is an 11-acre historic property in Ross with beautiful gardens, trees, and water features. Year-round programs are offered including exhibitions, lectures, workshops, and family programs.
Imagination Park is a donation by George Lucas to the town of San Anselmo and commemorates his two masterpieces, Star Wars, and Indiana Jones. You can’t miss two life-sized bronze statues of Yoda and Indiana Jones.
Comforts is famous in San Anselmo, it’s the best home-style comfort food you’ll find. It’s a cute café where you can grab a quick lunch or take home a family dinner from their wide selection of salads, artisan sandwiches, and homemade desserts. So good and kid-friendly too!
Plan your weekend!
I hope this article encourages you to plan a quick trip to the Bay Area with kids to enjoy the most beautiful region that is perfect year-round for families with kids: Marin in the North Bay!
Have you visited Marin with your family and kids? What are your favorite places?
Maureen Lowe is a Bay Area native that relocated to the high desert mountains of Southwest Reno with her family in 2017. Mama to her active pup and toddler boy, Maureen is a textile designer and graduate of CCA San Francisco. With a lifelong love of nature and the arts, Maureen has made it a mission to explore Reno’s scenic trails and cultural offerings to find kid and dog-friendly outings that work in all seasons.