Archive for September, 2011

This rugged, mostly undeveloped park a little west of Woodside is perfect for an Autumn heatwave.  The trails are shady and wide enough for jog strollers, and the slopes are not too extreme.  We were a little short for time on this visit and so just did the short loop that leaves from the car park and threads over the hill and back to the equestrian arena.  The Monkey and his chums loved the hike and walked the whole way: they looked for horse poop, sticks and stones, and examined all the drainage pipes along the way.

Look Mom! Horse Poop!

The Folger Stables, located just near the car park, are an added bonus.  They are spectacular, luxurious, circa-1900 stables, have been beautifully restored and were even recently listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  The horses there live better than I do. It’s certainly worth nosing around: the kids love checking out the horses (all have their names on their stalls) and the adults can marvel at the extravagance.

Toilets in the car park – but no other amenities.


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The view from Borel Hill

Want a hike with great views that the kids can also do? Then this one’s for you. 

We had guests in town and wanted to give them a taste of the local countryside and a sense of the peninsula’s geography, so we headed up to the Russian Ridge Preserve off Skyline Boulevard.  It was wonderfully sunny, the land was that beautiful late summer mix of green and gold, the turkey vultures circled overhead, and we could see for miles across the bay.

We chose a shortish route that was interesting for the adults but allowed the kids plenty of opportunity to get out and walk. From the Vista Point parking area we took the trail up Borel Hill which has the most fabulous views, before heading along the Ancient Oaks Trail for about a mile and then cutting back across the ridge to our starting spot. The entire route was about 2 miles, and a little hilly–perfect for our nearly three year old to walk himself.  We’re a bit worried about the future, however, as he insisted on doing the whole loop with his (pretend) cell phone in hand, just in case one of his friends called.

Wouldn't want to miss a call

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Running in the surf

Venice Beach, Half Moon Bay. It’s one of our all-time favorite outdoors spots to take the boys. And when it’s as sunny as it was this weekend, you just can’t beat it.  It’s a long, glorious, sandy beach with a gentle incline into the sea which is perfect for toddler paddling. In addition, however, it also has a shallow creek running across the beach which is perfect for little ones to play in when the surf is up. Venice Beach is usually fairly empty, and it doesn’t have the picnic and camping areas that make other local beaches so crowded on holidays, but it does have toilets and outdoor showers in the parking lot to clean sandy children off.  Parking is $10 – bring change as there is rarely anyone in the car park kiosk.

The creek at Venice Beach is perfect for even the littlest ones to explore with confidence

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Having explored the coast around Jenner, we also wanted to check out the beautiful Russian River area in-land and so hired a rental house (we felt like spoiling ourselves) in an isolated Redwood grove a few miles outside Guerneville. It was heaven: secluded and peaceful, and with no neighbours for our kids to disturb. As we didn’t know the area at all, the plan was to check out a few parks and get a feel for the area and what there was to do and see for outdoors families.

Armstrong Redwood State Preserve

The forests in this area of California are just magnificent and we decided to spend one morning hiking around in them.  We chose the Armstrong Redwood State Preserve, partly because the hiking trails looked good for small children, partly because it contains trees which are more than 1400 years old, and partly because the ‘blurb’ said it offered tree hugging platforms and who could turn that offer down? Well, the tree hugging platforms were closed.  We had to just hug random trees as best we could. But everything else was as advertised.

The commercial beach at Guerneville

We chose a short, mile long trail leaving from the parking lot to do with the boys so we could take our time and let them explore the forest floor. If you park outside the park entrance, its free and you can just walk in and pick up the trail. The path was easy for toddlers to manage, although it offered some fallen trees for climbing and interest, and you could probably use a solid jog stroller. We had the boys in our backpacks some of the way, and encouraged the older one to walk as much as he could/would.

The park was actually a bigger hit with our nearly 3 year old than I would have imagined. He was fascinated by the sheer size of the trees and by what had caused so many of them to fall over.  He also loved running round their large trunks and climbing inside them to investigate.  It was also a beautiful and relaxing walk for mommy and daddy.  We were, however, grateful we had left early in the morning as the park really started to fill up around noon and some of the special, early morning peace was lost.


As the day heated up we were drawn to the river and headed into Guerneville to find a paddling spot. Unfortunately, nearly all of the river banks are part of privately owned residential properties and it is, as we discovered, very difficult to get to the water’s edge.  Someone had recommended we try Guerneville River Park for a pleasant walk along the river bank. Having checked it out, I’d recommend giving it a miss. It’s a strange little park under the large road bridge that crosses the Russian River at Guerneville and has a real ‘hobo’ feel to it.  There even seemed to be someone running a little soup kitchen in the picnic area. The trail itself is very limited and, while one can see the river from the park, there is no access to the water.  Most disappointed, we decided to see if there were any other options.

The Russian River: wherever there are rocks my kids are happy

On the other side of the river, just off Guerneville main street, is a commercial riverfront park. Parking and access to the water are free, but there are large beach huts selling food, ice cream, and drink (including alcohol). The ‘beach’ there is stoney and there is no shade, but it is a beautiful spot and you can get down to the water to paddle and swim.  It’s probably the best option available. But if you do go, take sunscreen and water. And be mindful of the local “colour” — there were more than a few threatening-looking locals roaming the shore, swearing, fighting, openly drinking spirits and smelling strongly of pot.  Our kids were too young to notice, but it might not be the most edifying spectacle for slightly older children. Be warned.

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Our toddler loved running around these rocks at Miwok Beach

This summer we spent several weekends exploring this beautiful, but often gloomy, coastline. Before we left, we found it hard to get much useful information about the beaches along the way. Which is a shame for two reasons: the beaches are gorgeous and the beaches are very varied.  Some are sandy, some rocky; some have plentiful, free parking while others charge a fee; and some have child-friendly surf and at others the tide patterns make even paddling a little risky. To save you driving along the coastline filled with anxiety that there is a better beach just around the next headland, I thought I would review our two favourite and, in our view, most toddler-friendly spots.

Miwok Beach

Miwok Beach: A great spot for crawling into the surf

This beautiful, sandy expanse lies just North of Bodega Bay.  The official car park is usually full (it seems to be a favorite surfing spot with the locals) but you can park for free along highway 1 and climb down to the beach.  The beach itself is long and usually feels empty, apart from the driftwood, seaweed and jellyfish that litter the tide line (this all makes it an interesting toddler beach).  Unlike some places along this coast, the beach slopes gently into the surf, making it an excellent spot for paddling when the sun comes out.  Plus, at low tide, there are some great clambering rocks for pre-school age kids.

There are  bathrooms in the official parking lot, but the beach has few other amenities — no cliff top picnic tables, BBQ spots etc


Goat Rock Beach

Goat Rock and the site of the old quarry

Every time we visit Goat Rock Beach it’s always cloudy and windy, but I assume the weather there is sometimes nice.  It’s a great beach to explore however.  In addition to the sand and driftwood, there is a seal colony that can easily be viewed from the shore and the remains of the old railway that used to take quarried stone from the Goat Rock headland to the southern end of the beach for transportation by sea.  Goat Rock itself used to be part of the headland until the old quarry was built.  Tracks in the sand are all that remain of this sizable industrial project now, and kids can enjoy playing detective on the beach following the old railway line.

Looking North towards the seal colony

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