It's summer, and the weather is fabulous! Pack a picnic and enjoy the outdoors at one of the many great picnic spots in and around Marin and Sonoma County. Here are some of our favorite places to bring our lunch (or brunch) and dine al fresco.
Bear Valley in the Point Reyes National Seashore is home to the park's visitor center as well as a large picnic area complete with tables, restrooms, charcoal grills, and drinking water. Have a leisurely lunch outdoors, and then take a hike—there are a number of different hikes and walks you can do here that are suitable for everyone in the family, including the Earthquake Trail, the Bear Valley Trail, and the trail leading to the Morgan horse ranch. Read more about Bear Valley in our article here.
China Camp State Park offers a variety of beautiful picnic spots overlooking San Pablo Bay. You'll find most of these picnic spots located along the winding Point San Pedro Road, most of which have nice lawns, picnic tables, charcoal grills, restrooms, and amazing views. You can also have your picnic down in China Camp Village, which also boasts historic exhibits, a pleasant little beach for wading and swimming, and a funky little snack bar that looks like it hasn't changed since the 1930s. Read more about China Camp State Park in our article here.
McNear's Beach Park is one of those special places that I hold close to my heart. I grew up literally around the corner from it, and spent a lot of time there as a child. It's still one of my favorite places to spend the day in Marin, especially now that I have kids of my own. McNear's Beach is a 55-acre county park located on the shores of San Pablo Bay. It's the a perfect place to go on a warm day to wade in the bay, swim in the pool, picnic, fish, take in spectacular views of the San Francisco Bay Area, and more.
McNear's Beach has been popular with Bay Area residents since the 19th century, when the McNear family owned most of the property in what eventually would become San Rafael's Peacock Gap neighborhood. The McNears operated a beach resort at the present location of the park, as well as a nearby quarry and brickyard.
McNear's Beach offers a variety of things to do for visitors of all ages. The beach itself is a somewhat rocky affair, with lots of broken shells and interesting stones to pick over. You can wade and splash in the shallow and gentle San Pablo Bay waters, but the biggest attraction is the swimming pool, which gets pretty busy on a hot day. In addition to the popular main pool, there's a toddler pool, too. The McNear's Beach pool opens to the public this Memorial Day weekend (May 25–27), and stays open through Labor Day.
If you haven't been to the beautiful and picturesque Slide Ranch in Muir Beach, now is your chance. Come to this non-profit teaching farm overlooking the ocean to celebrate food, family, and fun at this year's Spring Fling this Saturday from 10 am to 4 pm.
This year's Spring Fling includes live kid-friendly music, local organic cuisine, and hands-on farm and craft activities for all ages. Learn where your food comes from by milking goats, feeding chickens, and touring the garden, or making bread, butter, and cheese. See how a sweater is made through sheep shearing, carding and spinning wool, and other wool crafts. Attend an informative bee keeping workshop with Marin Bee Company Family. Come reconnect with the land on a guided coastal hike, or simply relax on a picnic blanket while eating delicious offerings from local farms.
Live performers at Spring Fling include Sofi Rox, Fire and Oak (Marin Academy acoustic band), Tim Cain, and Helen King and the Star King Stompers.
It's still summer vacation for a couple more weeks, so get in your summer activities while you can. Almost everyone loves going to the pool, and one of our favorite Marin public pools is the one in Novato's Hamilton neighborhood.
My kids love Hamilton Pool especially for the shallow kids' pool with its play stucture, water slide, and water sprayers. It's a blast for kids of all ages. There's also a larger more traditional pool for more serious swimming and water play. The remodeled and renovated Hamilton Pool opened in spring of 2010 after a long construction process. We used to go to the old pool, which was left over from the old air force base and dated from the 1930s. The new pool and the surrounding facilities are a real improvement on the somewhat dilapidated old ones. The whole area is clean, modern, well kept up, and definitely worth a visit.
Marin Mommies presents a guest article by San Rafael dad Joey Chandler on the growing popularity of the Thursday Night Playdate and Potluck (P&P). It's a great way to make friends and meet other families in the neighborhood, and he offers some tips for starting a P&P of your own.
There is a growing movement in San Rafael that I want to share with you. This simple idea builds community, is fun for kids, and keeps parents sane.
We call it the Thursday Night Playdate and Potluck and it is exactly that. We meet on Thursday nights around 5 pm at a local park and families bring food and drinks to share. The kids run and play, the adults share adult conversation and we all have a great time. Some people bring cooked dishes and others bring just a bottle of wine because the kids were having one of those days. Commuting parents join us when they get back and visiting relatives are welcomed with open arms. There is no agenda or meal assignments, just families coming together to share food and getting to know each other. These are a blast and honestly it has become one of the highlights of my week.
One of Marin's underrated treasures is China Camp State Park, located east of San Rafael. It's not as famous or flashy as other local outdoors spots like Mt. Tam, Muir Woods, or Point Reyes, but it has a charm all its own and offers plenty for families to do and see. Situated on the shores of San Pablo Bay, China Camp State Park offers stunning views, plenty of hiking and mountain biking trails, walk-in camp sites, picnic areas, beaches, and a historic 19th-century Chinese fishing village. Topography ranges from oak woodlands to grassland to salt marsh, with even some redwoods thrown in for good measure.
It's hard to believe that this park is just a stone's throw from the hustle and bustle of San Rafael. I grew up in a neighborhood just a short distance from China Camp; it was always a favorite place to visit when I was growing up, and it still remains one of my and my family's favorite destinations for outdoor fun and adventure.
The weather is supposed to be beautiful the next few days and I'm ready to take advantage of it. One of our favorite things to do on a beautiful day is to have a picnic and play outside in the sun. Here is our list of favorite places to enjoy a picnic, hiking and some fun with your family. Enjoy!
Bear Valley in the Point Reyes National Seashore is home to the park's visitor center as well as a large picnic area complete with tables, restrooms, and drinking water. Have a leisurely lunch outdoors, and then take a hike—there are a number of different hikes and walks you can do here that are suitable for everyone in the family, including the Earthquake Trail, the Bear Valley Trail, and the trail leading to the Morgan horse ranch. Read more about Bear Valley in our article here.
The Marin French Cheese Company, otherwise known as the Cheese Factory, is a wonderful spot for families and a picnic. Located on Point Reyes–Petaluma Road, between Novato and Nicasio, the Cheese Factory is a great spot where the kids can run and play on their expansive lawn and you can relax on your picnic blanket in a nice shady spot. Bring your own picnic or buy food at their cheese store and deli, which stocks sandwiches, ice cream, a multitude of different cheeses (of course), coffee wine, and soft drinks. Read more about the Cheese Factory in our article here.
McNear's Beach in San Rafael is a 55-acre county park located on the shores of San Pablo Bay. It's the perfect place to go on a warm day to wade in the bay, picnic, fish, take in spectacular views of the Bay Area, and more. There are acres of lush rolling lawn here with plenty of shade, perfect for spreading out picnic blankets and relaxing or playing games. There is a $10 parking fee, so make sure you bring exact change to leave in the parking fee machine. Hours: 8 am-5 pm. Read more about our last visit here.
The Sonoma Plaza is an expansive park in the heart of Sonoma, with lush green lawns, two playgrounds, fountains, a pond with ducks, and plenty of shade. It’s the perfect place for families to relax and play. We generally bring along our picnic lunch from home, or we stop on the way at Angelo’s Wine Country Deli, our favorite place to grab sandwiches, salads, drinks, and chips. Make sure to bring your picnic blanket and enjoy the town square. Read more about our last visit there.
Remember back before you had kids when you used to head up to the Wine Country for a day of fun and wine tasting? You'll find that there are plenty of family-friendly wineries up in Sonoma and Napa counties, so don't stop just because you have kids in tow. Kid friendly wineries are also great places to take out-of-town family and other visitors, especially during the holidays.
What do we look for in a family-friendly winery? First and foremost, there has to be something that kids can do, other than just hang out in the tasting room and wait for mom and dad. Second, the winery should be openly child-friendly and relaxed, both for the comfort of families and for other grownups who probably don't want the disruption of kids to interfere with their Wine Country experience. Last, there should be plenty of space and somewhere to relax and have something to eat, whether you pack it in yourself or buy it on-site.
Stafford Lake, the reservoir that provides the town of Novato with much of its drinking water, is also the site of one of Marin's favorite outdoor recreation spots: Stafford Lake County Park. There are so many activities to do at this 139-acre park, and I'm surprised my family and I don't come here more often, especially since it's literally just around the corner from our house. If you haven't been there, you've certainly passed it on Novato Boulevard on your way out to the Cheese Factory or Point Reyes. You owe it to yourself to stop by and see what Stafford Lake has to offer.
One of the things that Stafford Lake offers in abundance is physical beauty—a sparkling blue lake surrounded by hills, trees, and bucolic dairy farms. Wildlife abounds, and we saw plenty of deer and of course a whole flock of the ubiquitous Canada geese that seem to inhabit every park in Northern California. We packed a picnic lunch and ate at one of the many tables scattered throughout the parks shady picnic area. Tables have charcoal BBQ grills, and group areas can accommodate up to 500 people. My kids loved the huge play structure, which seemed to be in like new condition. In fact, the whole park was extremely clean and well kept up.