7 Best Family-Friendly Hiking Trails Near San Francisco

by | Jun 14, 2022 | Day Trips From Los Angeles, Destinations, Family Adventures, USA, Weekend Trips, West Coast

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If you live anywhere that isn’t right next to a national park, then you know it can take hours to reach a nice hiking trail: often deep in the woods, oftener with limited cell reception. When it was just the two of us, no problem. My wife and I don’t mind “roughing” it, especially if there’s a gorgeous view waiting at the other end. But now we have our kids to consider, kids who — if TikTok and Instagram aren’t readily accessible — start to get a little… grumpy.

Let’s be honest, taking kids on long car rides into the middle of nowhere can be a huge pain in the booty. Younger kids are fussy and don’t like to be kept confined for… oh, I don’t know, more than five minutes. Older kids are just starting to find themselves, which as we know, often manifests as a rebellion against us “uncool” parents. Ever tried to convince your fifteen-year-old to give up her whole Saturday for family hiking time? ‘Nough said.

For years, my wife and I struggled to come up with adequate solutions: balancing proximity with panoramic views. Then, we moved to San Francisco, and it was as if our prayers had been answered. Finally, here was a city that had hiking trails in abundance, many of them great for families, and all within less than a thirty minute drive from the middle of the City! Below, you’ll find our family’s top seven picks for the best hikes near SF where you should absolutely take your kids hiking this summer.

 

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Lands End 

Lands End Trail - The 7 Best Family-Friendly Hiking Trails Near San Francisco

The Lands End Trail winds its way right along the Pacific coast, practically to the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge. You can see one of its many lookouts at the bottom of this photo. Image by Mick Haupt via Unsplash.

 

This incredible recreation area is equal parts Pacific beachfront and hiking getaway, all contained within SF city limits. From atop any one of its numerous bluffs, there are great views of the Pacific Ocean, Golden Gate Bridge, Farallon Islands, and the Marin Peninsula. 

Down by the parking lot is a little piece of lost San Franciscan lore: Sutro Baths. This water-clogged ruin was built in the late 1800s by a former SF city mayor as a saltwater swimming pool. Sadly, after only 70 years of service, it caught fire and burned right down to its foundations. The ashy remnants, left to be reclaimed by the sea, have now become a popular destination for Instagrammers and tourists alike. 

 

Sutro Baths, SF at sunset - The 7 Best Family-Friendly Hiking Trails Near San Francisco

Once a popular swimming destination, Sutro Baths is now a weather-beaten shell, used by tourists as a neat backdrop and by birds as a nesting ground. Image by Akshay Nanavati via Unsplash.

 

The Lands End Trail itself is broad and paved, so it’s perfect for families with younger kids. In addition to the main coastal trail, there are tons of minor offshoots that take you right down to the shore. Tucked away at the end of one of these offshoots is a pebble-stone maze at the edge of a flat-top cliff. This is our favorite place in all of Lands End to come and take photos — and we’re not alone! The last time we were there, there were no fewer than two proposals! 

 

Presidio

Battery To Bluffs Trail, Presidio, San Francisco - The 7 Best Family-Friendly Hiking Trails Near San Francisco

Along the Batteries to Bluffs Trail in Presidio, there are a ton of hollowed-out fortifications to explore and take pictures with. Image by Julian Bialowas via Unsplash.

 

Another natural wonder of the City by the Bay, the Presidio neighborhood is a former military outpost turned national park. At more than 81,000 acres, The Golden Gate National Recreation Area, of which the Presidio is a part, is by far the largest urban national park unit in the United States! 

With miles of hiking trails, beaches, open fields, and even five museums dotting its expansive acreage, is there any question why it’s such a popular stop to take kids for some outdoor fun? 

Picking up the trail from where Lands End… well, ends, it’s a short hop, jump, and skip to Baker Beach, a popular seaside area for both tourists and locals. Further inland is the Batteries to Bluffs Trail that winds circuitously through dilapidated batteries and, eventually, to the Golden Gate Vista Point, where you can catch incredible views of Angel Island and the San Francisco Bay Area. The trail is wide and well-marked, making it perfect for kids of all ages to come and explore!

On Presidio’s eastern flank sits Crissy Field, one of our family’s favorite spots for a weekend outing due to its wide-open spaces, ample picnic areas, and picturesque views of the SF Bay, Marin Headlands, and Alcatraz Island. Last, but not least, we highly recommend visiting the Walt Disney Family Museum, where kids can learn all about the origins of the production company — and their favorite cartoon characters.

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Mount Davidson

On San Francisco’s southern edge lies Mount Davidson, the highest natural point within city limits. Although it stands at only around 1,000 feet, don’t run away with the idea that this is some molehill. On the contrary, this hidden urban rain forest is home to some of the best views of the entire City (on a clear day that is!) 

Often shrouded in the quintessential SF fog, nicknamed “Karl” by the locals, Mount Davidson is a great spot to visit during October to get into the Halloween spirit. We often take our girls early in the fall for some leaf-peeping and family photo-shooting. With a minimal incline and wide, well-marked loop trails, this king of urban hikes is excellent for kids of all ages.  

If that weren’t enough, the summit of Mount Davidson is crowned by an enormous 103-foot concrete and steel cross, erected in 1934. The cross was later purchased by The Council of Armenian American Organizations of Northern California and dedicated to the memory of all those whose lives were lost during the Armenian genocide

In this video, my wife gives you a good sense of how enormous the Mount Davidson Cross actually is: 

 

 

Reinhardt Redwood Regional Park

Having grown up along the East Coast, it never ceases to amaze me how tall coastal redwoods actually are. They seem to loom over you like the pillars of some vaulted cathedral, their canopies often shrouded in generous fog. 

When the hustle and bustle of San Francisco gets too much for us, we like to pack the kids in the car and have a quiet stroll through Reinhardt Redwood Regional Park. There’s really nothing like the crisp, clean air as it mingles with the scent of damp earth, bark, and moss. 

 

Reinhardt Redwood Regional Park - The 7 Best Family-Friendly Hiking Trails Near San Francisco

Walking in Reinhardt Redwood Regional Park, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d stepped back in time to the Jurassic Period. Image by Logan Easterling via Unsplash.

 

Located less than 20 minutes from downtown Oakland, Reinhardt Redwood Regional Park used to be a logging site in the 1880s. Developers used the trees to build many of the structures around the Bay Area. I’m happy to say that while the logging days are behind it, the trees remain: standing as a physical testament to the importance and effectiveness of conservation.

 

Tomales Point Trail at Point Reyes National Seashore

Tomales Point Trail at Point Reyes National Seashore - The 7 Best Family-Friendly Hiking Trails Near San Francisco

Hiking atop the Point Reyes Headlands, you’ll find incredible views of the California coast and the Pacific Ocean. Image by Jahmanz Williams via Unsplash.

 

 

A must-see for anyone with kids over the age of five, Tomales Point Trail is one of the coolest places we’ve hiked in California — which is saying something! With the spraying Pacific on your left and the Point Reyes National Seashore to your right, this hike has an abundance of gorgeous natural scenery. 

What’s more, it winds its way through an elk reserve, where it’s not unlikely you’ll spot an elk grazing and gazing out over the placid water. The hike is ten miles round trip, so we recommend waiting until your kids are a little more experienced before taking them here. For younger kids, we highly recommend visiting the Point Reyes Lighthouse. It has a lovely lookout deck that offers phenomenal views of the surrounding headlands.

 

Before heading home, we want to let you in on a little family secret: if you take Route 1 back to San Francisco, you’ll drive by what looks like a long strand. This is Stinson Beach, a lesser-known vacation spot popular with locals. If you’re looking for a place with spectacular views of the setting sun, I couldn’t recommend Stinson Beach more! 

 

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Mount Diablo State Park

Mount Diablo State Park - The 7 Best Family-Friendly Hiking Trails Near San Francisco

A cooling lagoon on the way up Mount Diablo: a perfect place to rest, relax, and have a family picnic. Image by Christina DelliSante via Unsplash.

 

Short and sweet, the one-mile hike to Diablo Valley Overlook is popular with both kids and parents. Starting at the Mount Diablo Summit Visitor’s Center, which itself has lovely views, take the Juniper Trail out to the overlook. There, you’ll find picturesque views of rolling hills, semi-arid vegetation, and most likely some circling hawks. 

 

When our kids were a little older, we scrambled our way up the Devil’s Pulpit, a rocky outcrop just off the Fire Interpretive Trail to the east of Mount Diablo’s summit.

 

Muir Woods National Monument

Muir Woods National Monument, man hiking along trail - The 7 Best Family-Friendly Hiking Trails Near San Francisco

As my eldest daughter pointed out to me, these impressive coastal redwoods more closely resemble Greek pillars than living trees. Image by Caleb Jones via Unsplash.

 

Rounding out our list is perhaps the most famous coastal redwood destination in all of California: the Muir Woods National Monument. With a network of trails crisscrossing beneath the primeval canopies, this forested park is the perfect place to bring young kids. The first time we came here, our little girls just stared up in awe at the gigantic trees all around us, hardly able to believe their eyes. My wife had sneakily shown them a video on dinosaurs before we came, and at any moment, our girls expected a brontosaurus to appear from out of the brush.

 

When You Go

 

As advertised, each of the hikes on this list are within a short drive of San Francisco, making them the perfect addition to your next Northern California visit.

 

Getting To SF From LA

With two international airports to choose from, SF is not only easy but convenient to fly into, no matter where you’re coming from. My family regularly flies to Burbank from San Francisco; when booked in advance, tickets can run as low as $50 on Southwest

Check out Cheap’OAir to see if you could score a similar deal!

 

 

Where To Stay In San Francisco

Located at the top of the historic Nob Hill neighborhood, The Fairmont is the perfect stop for those looking for a luxurious weekend retreat. Cable cars trundle right outside the lobby door, ready and waiting to take you to your next destination. A few blocks away sits SF’s iconic Chinatown, where you’ll always find something interesting going on. Lastly, Nob Hill boasts world-famous Polk Street, where you can find an abundance of restaurants, bars, and coffee shops. 

Also situated in Nob Hill is The San Francisco Holiday Inn, a perfect blend of quality and affordability. The cable cars stop literally right outside the front doors of this establishment, making transportation easy and convenient. 

Smack-dab in the heart of SF’s Chinatown is The Grant Plaza Hotel. It’s here you’ll find yourself at the center of all the action: less than a block away is San Francisco shopping district, where you’ll find big names like Macy’s and Apple standing alongside smaller boutique stores and restaurants. If that weren’t good enough, just a short walk away is Market Street, the main artery of SF transportation. Hop on a bus or a train and within minutes you’ll find yourself at Golden Gate Park, the Castro District, or the world-famous Haight-Ashbury

 

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Matthew LaMourie II is a freelance writer and photographer based in San Francisco, CA. He is a regular contributor to a number of online publications, where he covers such diverse topics as travel, lifestyle, cooking, and classic short stories. When not writing, Matthew likes to explore new and interesting places together with his growing family.

 

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