since we have friends coming to visit in the next week, i've been thinking about all my favorite san francisco spots. after growing up in the bay area (north bay) and now moving back - we live just 7 miles north of the golden gate - we have explored and explored some more, choosing spots best for kiddos and our wallets! i can't tell you much about restaurants (aside from maybe some ice cream spots and clam chowder) because well, that costs money (kind of a lot - it's not a cheap city!), but we have made it our job to find cheap fun. thankfully, it's really pretty easy with so much natural beauty to be found. all of these things are very kid friendly! all photos below are mine and copyrighted (it was hard to pick just a few of these places, too!!); please ask permission for use, thanks!
so here they are, not in a particular order, but in a "if you come to san francisco this is what you absolutely must do" order.
1. Sutro Baths, Land's End, and the Cliff House, cost: free!
parking may take awhile to find - there are several great free lots it's just so busy you have to drive around awhile to find a spot. totally worth it, though! great trails, great sights, and a public restroom, too! you could spend anywhere from hours there hiking, or just a few minutes to take in the sights.
land's end trails
2. Point Bonita Lighthouse, Rodeo Beach, and Golden Gate Bridge views, all located in the Marin Headland, cost: free!
we are really really spoiled because we don't even have to cross the bridge to see this! this is our beach - the one we venture to the most often. however, because the Marin Headlands are so close to the bridge and on the Pacific side, there is most likely always fog (especially in the summer) so check the weather first. it's not horrible if it's foggy, just not as many views. the lighthouse is only open at very limited times (changes seasonally, i believe, so check the website) and is a hike (1-2 miles depending on where you park) to get to, but very much worth it. the kids were fine - without a stroller. you cross a tiny bridge over the pacific to get to the lighthouse. it's stunning. follow the 101 coastal route in the Headlands (there are signs) to see breathtaking bridge views. there is also a ton of history up there because it use to be a military fort and a nuclear site.
view of Pt. Bonita from the walk there
the bridge to the lighthouse
there are always surfers at rodeo!
view from the top of the coastal route
this view is at the end of the tunnel (pictured below). the lighthouse is at the end of the point. reminds me of hawaii!
interesting tunnels leftover from the military fort. to get here, follow the coastal route to the very top (the spot where you see the bridge), and you'll see tunnels across from the parking. venture over!
views of the marin headlands just outside the tunnel (pictured above)
3. Highway 1, cost: free (not including gas)
any time spent on Highway 1 is good time. you can take it to Stinson Beach, Bodega Bay, Muir Woods (see below), or just drive for the beauty of the drive. it's always worth it.
4. Stinson Beach, cost: free!
this town is itty bitty and cute, but often pretty busy in certain seasons (spring/summer). great for picnicking and there's also an adorable park/playground for kiddos in the heart of town.
5. Muir Woods, cost: $7 each, ages 15 and up, OR you can buy an annual pass for $20 that gets in everyone in your vehicle. definitely the way to go!
i can't really put into words the immense beauty that is the Redwood Forest. it's calm and peaceful, i seriously think you breathe better in there with all that oxygen! it smells crisp and is completely relaxing to walk or hike through. parking can be tricky, mainly because it's so busy and the lots get really full, really fast. however, there's a free shuttle on the weekends and holidays at the Stinson Beach exit off of highway 101.
6. Bodega Bay, cost: free, although i strongly recommend spending $6.95 on the WORLDS's best Clam Chowder at Spud Point
this is the beach i grew up going to. it was closest to my hometown, about 20 minutes and it is by far, our favorite place to go. very quaint, fisherman feel, with little frills, but lots of views. get your chowder or crab sandwich from Spud Point and then drive up to Bodega Head for this view while you eat:
7. Smitten Ice Cream, cost: $4-6
they make each bowl of ice cream from fresh seasonal ingredients right in front of you. let me reiterate: each bowl is handmade in their proprietary ice cream machine and has the smoothest, creamiest texture of any ice cream around! i have loved Bi-Rite Creamery forever (and i totally recommend you visiting both ice cream shoppes, actually!) but Smitten has also taken up residence in my heart. time to get a part-time job for an ice cream budget. ; )
8. Baker Beach, cost: free!
great parking lots, and a short walk to the beach. also equipped with picnic tables near the parking lots for a great lunch spot.
9. Japanese Tea Garden and Stowe Lake in Golden Gate Park, cost: (depending on time of day) it can be free!
if you visit the tea garden by 10 am on monday, wednesday, and friday, (i.e., if you enter before 10 am) it is totally free! it's so serene and literally transports you to Japan. then, you can walk about a mile to visit the gorgeous Stowe Lake. it is free, although there are paddle boats and canoes available for rental.
(phone photo, unfortunately!) the japanese tea garden
waterfall in stowe lake
10. Crissy Field, the Palace of Fine Arts, and the Presidio, cost: free! (unless you want to go into the museum)
you can easily park at Crissy Field (if you park closer to the Presidio it might cost money, but if you stay near the beach the parking is free) and then walk over to the museum. we have done that after a day at the beach (we didn't go in the museum), but the outside is beautiful and worth it.
the palace of fine arts (phone photo)
crissy field views (also a favorite photo session location!)
as you can see, there are plenty of free, kid-friendly things to do in San Francisco and the North Bay! i wish i could bottle it all up and send some to you. : ) if you have visited or live near me, what are your faves?!