There are so many dirt trails and paved paths in Golden Gate Park that it can take time to decide which way to turn. Families looking for a more challenging hike can take on the Golden Gate Park Loop. It’s 6.3 miles but relatively flat and stroller-friendly. The walk starts and stops at 9th Avenue in the Inner Sunset, which is the perfect spot to grab a cup of coffee to go at The Beanery.
Coffee-in hand, head west down Martin Luther King Drive until Ocean Beach pops into view. Turn right and walk along the ocean before cutting right again at John F. Kennedy Drive. Follow this path all the way up to the SkyStar Wheel. Split the DeYoung Museum and the California Academy of Sciences to return to 9th Avenue. Families will pass playgrounds, lakes, meadows, windmills, and even a bison paddock on the route.
Parking: Stow Lake has a small parking lot, but it fills up quickly. There’s street parking along Stow Lake Drive.
Restrooms: Located inside the boat house, and near the parking lot.
Stow Lake in Golden Gate Park is like its own little park within a big park. There are a few different hikes here. Walk around the paved stroller-friendly perimeter or cross one of the two stone bridges and hike the inner loop, which is a rocky dirt trail.
For families who love to climb—from the inner loop, follow the stairs on either side of the waterfall for gorgeous views and maybe even spot a few butterflies. A snack bar by the boat house awaits hungry families at the end of their hike.
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Hiking in Glen Canyon feels worlds' away from San Francisco.
Parking: Free street parking surrounding the canyon. A great entry point is at the corner of O’Shaughnessy Blvd. and Bosworth St.
Restrooms: Near the playground at the Glen Canyon Park Recreation Center.
Glen Canyon Park in San Francisco is truly a secret gem. With dirt paths, dramatic rock formations, giant staircases, a small creek, and tons of Eucalyptus trees, it’s hard to believe it exists in the middle of a metropolitan city. There are no paved paths here, but families can choose to stay on the flat trail and circle the canyon floor, or they can scale the cliffsides. Either way, hiking in Glen Canyon is enjoyable for the entire family.
Parking: Free parking at the Lands End Lookout Visitors’ Center parking lot. Plus, there’s a smaller parking lot across the street.
Restrooms: Located inside the Lands End Lookout Visitors’ Center.
What a view! Lands End is one of the most iconic hikes in Northern California. It offers a fun 3.4-mile trail, but families can use the start of this trailhead to create their own adventures. Kids will love heading down the staircase near the visitor’s center to explore Sutro Baths. There’s even a cave with little openings to peak at the waves crashing against the rocks.
The main trail is north of the visitor center and heads towards the Golden Gate Bridge. It offers many scenic vista points along the way, with tons of great photo ops. The paths are mostly flat and stroller-friendly, but a few alternative paths head to rocky cliffs, beaches, and the labyrinth for families who crave a little more thrill.
Parking: Free parking in the Langdon Court parking lot.
Restrooms: Located at Fort Scott Field (at Lincoln Blvd. and Storey Ave.).
The Batteries to Bluffs trail is .7 miles and offers the most expansive ocean views of the Golden Gate Bridge, the bay, and the Marin headlands—but it's easier on the way down than on the way up. The trail starts on Lincoln Boulevard and snakes down via dirt paths and stairs to a quiet Marshall Beach. The historic gun batteries along the way only add to the adventure. As an alternative to this hike, start at the trail's southern end near Baker Beach.
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Mount Sutro is a serene San Francisco escape.
Parking: Free street parking surrounds Mount Sutro, but be aware of permit-only streets.
Restrooms: Close to the Grattan playground near the trailhead on Stanyan Street.
Hiking in Mount Sutro does require a bit of elevation gain, but it’s uniquely beautiful and offers a quiet escape from a busy city. Heavily shaded under hundreds of trees, this hike is unique on foggy days when the mist gives the illusion of a forest ceiling. Located behind UCSF on Parnassus, there is so much to explore here.
Check out the Mount Sutro trail map to determine the best starting point. One excellent option is to start on the Historic Trail at 17th and Stanyan. The staircase is a little hidden, located between two houses. Note: Mount Sutro is not stroller-friendly and is better suited for older kids (5+).
Parking: Street parking near the Palace of Fine Arts. Parking in beach parking lots is free during the week and costs approximately $1-$3 per hour on weekends.
Restrooms: Public restrooms are on the Chrissy Field Promenade at East Beach, the Golden Gate Bridge Plaza, and the Crissy Field Warming Hut.
The Crissy Field and the Palace of Fine Arts trail is very stroller-friendly, with stunning views and interesting architecture. Start at the Palace of Fine Arts. Kids will love looking for ducks, turtles, and herons while strolling on the paved path around the pond. The building itself has impressive architecture with cool statues, ornate pillars, and a beautiful giant dome ceiling.
To continue the hike, head towards the bay, and turn left. A soft dirt trail will lead families as far as they want to trek, and the path will take them all the way to the golden gate bridge. For added fun, have a beach picnic before returning to the car. Or stop by the Warming Hut for a hot chocolate and a snack.
Family-Friendly Hikes near San Francisco in Marin (within an hour of the city)
Kids might spot a river otter hiking around Phoenix Lake.
Parking: Lot at Natalie Coffin Greene Park at the end of Lagunitas Road, but it fills up quickly. Additional parking is on Lagunitas Road, but some spots are in a no-parking zone. Make sure to read the street signs.
Restrooms: Located near the parking lot.
Hiking around Phoenix Lake in Mount Tamalpais Watershed is just under 3 miles, and with lots of twists and turns and gentle slopes, little ones will always wonder what's around the corner. There are lots to look at; Kids might spot turtles, birds, wildflowers, and maybe even a river otter. The trailhead starts near the parking lot at the end of Lagunitas Road.
Parking: Available wherever there are picnic benches (Buckeye Point, Weber Point, Bullhead Flat, China Camp Point, China Camp Village, and at the Back Ranch Meadows Campground). Fees for parking are $5/day.
Restrooms: Located at China Camp Point and China Camp Village. Portable toilets are near Back Ranch Meadows Campground, and at Miwok Meadows.
On the banks of San Pablo Bay, China Camp offers tons of trails, picnic areas, beaches, and stunning water views. The Turtle Back Point Loop is only .7 miles and is a family favorite. Stroll along the dirt, gravel, and boardwalk surface. Watch the kayakers in the water and soak up views of the East Bay, including Mount Diablo, a tidal marsh, and oak woodlands.
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Follow the path to the pebbly beach in Tennessee Valley
Parking: Lot at the trailhead, and along the road leading to the trailhead.
Restrooms: Located near the parking lot at the start of the hike, and near the beach.
How does hiking to a beach sound? There’s no better way to spend the afternoon. This 3.4-mile out-and-back trail through the valley floor to the Pacific Ocean is unique. The Tennessee Valley trailhead starts at a paved path by the parking lot. Before long, the concrete turns to dirt and meanders further into the valley. Surrounded by hillsides, the ocean will peak into view, and families can follow the path to the pebbly beach.
Stop for a snack, skip some rocks into the waves, or for a fantastic vantage point—climb the staircase on the right-hand side to reach a secret bunker and stunning scenery up and down the coast.
Family-Friendly Hikes In The East Bay
Parking: The parking lot at the main entrance on Mr. Diablo Blvd. costs $7 per day. Free street parking is available on the other side of the reservoir in Moraga.
Restrooms: Located at the Visitor Center.
The Lafayette Reservoir Loop is a 3-mile fairly easy trail that takes about an hour to complete. Both kid-friendly and stroller-friendly, the path encircles the reservoir. There are benches and picnic tables along the way. So feel free to stop for a snack, enjoy the views, and fuel up for more hiking.
Parking: Enter the park on Skyline Blvd. to find a parking lot at the Sibley Staging Area, but be aware it fills up quickly. On weekends, families might need to find street parking.
Restrooms: Located near the parking lot.
Want to hike around a volcano? Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve near Orinda is the backyard of the Bay Area. This geological wonder is about 10 million years old, and while there are many beautiful trails to choose from, try the 3.5-mile Round Top, Volcanic, and Skyline Trail Loop.
Panoramic views and volcanic rock-lined paths await you on this volcanic adventure. This hike is sure to be a hit for the entire hiking crew. After you've completed your trek, make Oakland a full-day trip.
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An afternoon is well spent in Tilden Regional Park.
Parking: Free parking is available throughout the park.
Restrooms: Located at the start of the trail.
Tilden Park is a great place for an afternoon family hike. Enter off Wildcat Canyon Road or Grizzly Peak Boulevard in Berkeley. The Wildcat Creek Trail is wide and leads to Lake Anza. To hike around the lake, try the beautiful one-mile Wildcat Gorge and Lake Anza Loop.
It’s busy on the weekends, and no wonder why! Sights include minnows and ducks and lots of other families. While the trail is mostly well groomed, some areas have exposed tree roots and rocky areas.
Family-Friendly Hikes in the South Bay
Parking: Lot at Mori Point, and additional free parking on Bradford Way at the end of Mori Point Road.
Restrooms: Located in the Mori Point parking lot.
The 2.5-mile Mori Point Loop trail offers excellent ocean views. Some paths are inclined and a little bumpy, but nothing little tykes can’t handle. Keep your eyes peeled for beautiful blooming wildflowers, Garter snakes, and red-legged frogs. While in Pacifica, check out Devil's Slide.
Parking: Park along Stanford Ave.
Restrooms: Located inside the Dish's main gate on Stanford Ave.
This 3.7-mile trail's namesake is for the unmissable large radio telescope. It's steep but is still a stroller-friendly paved path, and a popular hiking spot for families with kids. It gets busy on weekends, and spring brings lots of gorgeous wildflowers.
All photos by author Nicole Findlay.