The best hikes in the Bay Area for kids

The Bay Area is one of the most beautiful places to live in the country, and there’s no better way to explore its natural beauty than by hiking on its many trails across the region’s nine counties. Over the years, my family and I have waded together in coastal tide pools, climbed a hill to see the iconic South San Francisco sign up close and personal, scaled a dormant volcano, explored a Native American village, trekked behind coyotes, and — of course — taken dozens of pics of the Golden Gate Bridge.

I started my kids early, on short jaunts in the infant carrier and stroller rides on hard-packed paths. After they graduated to two legs and throwing sticks, we roamed further into the myriad of trails around the Bay. Even now, with their noses in their phones, my kids can be coaxed off their devices and into the wild. At least to grab a selfie. Hiking has become a family tradition that we hope to continue, even after the kids leave the nest.

If you’re looking to get out and explore the trails with your own tribe, here are five of the best hikes for kids that extend to every corner of the Bay Area.

View of Mt. Diablo from the Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve in Oakland, California.

Photo by Kiana Lee Olson

Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve, Oakland

Perhaps our favorite family hiking destination is the Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve in the Oakland Hills. Established in 1936 as one of the first parks in the East Bay Regional Parks District, Sibley is home to the extinct Round Top volcano, which was active 10 million years ago, and whose lava flows underlie many of the East Bay ridges. Volcanic and tectonic activity has carved and shaped the terrain, exposing many layers of geological history.

The main attractions for my kids are the man-made rock labyrinths — three at my last count. The unstaffed visitor center has displays that explain the park’s geological features, as well as restrooms. Maps are available that illustrate the 928-acre park’s various trails. Younger kids can easily traverse the Round Top Loop Trail (1.7 miles), which rises to a fine view of Mount Tamalpais. Fur babies are also welcome off-leash, as long as they don’t bother the cows permitted to graze in the park. Just be sure to keep a lookout for coyotes, if you have small dogs. If you want to turn this hike into the ultimate family adventure, there are even hike-in camping facilities available to reserve. 

Art sculptures line the northern shoreline of the Bulb.

Art sculptures line the northern shoreline of the Bulb.

San Francisco Chronicle/Hearst Newspapers via Getty Images / Contributor

Albany Bulb, Albany

One of the gems of the Bay Area, the Bulb is located at the westernmost end of Buchanan Street in Albany behind the Golden Gate Fields racetrack. Created in 1963 as a depository for construction debris, the Bulb used to be home to anarchists, artists and some unhoused people. Today, sculptures still stand along the 1.9 mile loop trail that cuts along hills and down to the Bay. Artists continue to use the site today, regularly adding to or altering previous work.

Wear sturdy shoes and explore the various monuments, mosaics, graffitied concrete slabs and abandoned campsites along the way. The former landfill site also affords amazing views of the Bay Bridge and San Francisco across the water. Bring your bathing suits if the weather allows and splash around at Albany Beach, a wide, sandy expanse at the trail’s head. You may have to share the water: The Bulb is also a popular area for dog walkers, and many of their canines take after-walk dips. After your hike, hang out for the best view of the Bay Area sunset, but bring your jackets since the fog rolls in fast off the water. 

Birds wading at Coyote Hills Regional Park.

Birds wading at Coyote Hills Regional Park.

Courtesy of Steve Olson, Special to SFGate

Coyote Hills Regional Park, Fremont

We first encountered Coyote Hills during a school field trip to learn about the Ohlone people who have lived in this area for centuries. The visitor’s center offers dioramas and a scale model of an Ohlone village, as well as interactive displays on tools and animals of the region. Outside the center, you can find a replica house made of tule reeds collected from the nearby freshwater marshes, as well as a bird and butterfly nectar garden.

The paved Bay View Trail (3.5 miles) is great for strollers and offers expansive views of the Bay. Other kid-friendly trails abound in the 1,000-acre park, where you can see a multitude of birds in the marshlands and the Tuibin village archaeological site, which dates back 2,000 years. The Tuibun were one of the many Ohlone tribes who lived in the Bay Area. Behind the hills, you can find lengthy trails out into the colorful salt flats where many bird species stop to rest along the great Pacific Flyway up and down the West Coast. Coyote Hills is my husband’s hiking destination of choice, preferably at sunset.

Rodeo Beach and Bird Island at the Marin Headlands, California.

Rodeo Beach and Bird Island at the Marin Headlands, California.

John Elk/Getty Images

Rodeo Beach, Marin Headlands

Our favorite pandemic family hike was at Rodeo Beach, just three miles northwest of the Golden Gate Bridge in the Marin Headlands. My husband is enamored with the World War II history of the Fort Cronkhite military post (about which the National Park Service has put together an informative history walk). My kids got their ya-yas out by chasing the dog up the steep paths, and I snapped pics of the amazing coastal views that got better and better the higher up we climbed.

If you are up for it, check out the abandoned Battery Townsley, a strenuous but short half mile up the Coastal Trail. After hiking, relax at the pebbly Rodeo Beach itself, which is flanked by a lagoon on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other. Remember to bring your binoculars. The Rodeo Lagoon is a birdwatcher’s paradise. If you time it right, you might see the formerly endangered but still struggling brown pelican, who roost there in the fall.

Panoramic view of San Francisco skyline with historic Crissy Field in the foreground on a beautiful sunny day.

Panoramic view of San Francisco skyline with historic Crissy Field in the foreground on a beautiful sunny day.

bluejayphoto/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Crissy Field Promenade Trail, San Francisco

When I first moved to San Francisco in the early 1990s, the area around Crissy Field was a mish-mash of parking lots, abandoned buildings and ill-kept beaches. The Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy has since restored the former military land into a thriving wildlife habitat for the public to enjoy.

Catch iconic views of Golden Gate Bridge and the San Francisco Bay from the Promenade Trail, which extends almost four miles round trip and is stroller and wheelchair accessible. There are things to enjoy for everyone in the family — from exploring the Crissy Marsh and birdwatching to playing in the sand at the beaches on both ends of the trail. Bring a picnic lunch or get food at the Beach Hut Café or Warming Hut on the trail, or go a bit further afield to try some food trucks at the newly opened Presidio Tunnel Tops (from spring through fall, there are also food trucks at Fort Mason.) Plenty of other options are also available in the nearby Marina and Richmond neighborhoods. 

This story was edited by Hearst National Editor Kristina Moy; you can contact her at [email protected]

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