Archive for the ‘Beaches’ Category

My boys love to build.  Beaches full of driftwood are a real favourite with our family and keep everyone occupied for hours.

First you have to select your materials:

Good sticks

Then it’s time to build


And then this bit goes there

Then relax and enjoy the view

There are many things I love about this activity: it’s outside, it engages the boys’ creative thinking, it’s pretty much self-directed and it pushes their imagination.  The fort doesn’t have to be entirely ‘finished’ for them to enjoy it.


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We were lucky last weekend that a negative tide occurred on a gloriously sunny afternoon and fit in perfectly with the PuppyDog’s naptime.  The shore at the Reserve is always beautiful but on a negative tide day, when the sea goes out especially far, the rocks and tidepools are revealed and accessible from the beach and it becomes an irresistable destination for small people.  The boys both had a wonderful time clambering around on the rocks and checking out the marine life in the pools.

Surf, tidepools, and harbor seals

The PuppyDog flouting Reserve rules

Before we went down to the beach, we stopped off at the visitors centre to pick up a guide to the tidepool creatures on the beach. The Monkey loved identifying all the animals he found. He especially loved the giant starfish and sea anemones.

"It's a sea enemy Mommy!"

It was a great toddler day out — just make sure to being several changes of clothes and either water sandals or wellington boots if you plan to go down for the next low tide.

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Dancing on the Beach

This October in North California has been glorious. We’ve spent each weekend at the shore and keep discovering ever nicer beaches.  Manresa State Beach may now be my all time favourite for this bit of the coast. It’s a little off the beaten path, is usually completely empty and is spectacularly gorgeous.

Do beaches get any nicer?

I love the super gentle slope down to the sea and how shallow the water remains for 100 feet or so off shore.  The Monkey really enjoyed running in and out of the waves and was dancing on the shore with glee when we first arrived last weekend. 

running in and out of the surf

The boys had great fun digging, checking out the many crab carcasses that littered the beach, paddling, jumping in holes and driving their trucks along the shore.
Perfect sand for trucks

Plus, there was plenty of wildlife to watch. The Puppy Dog loved chasing the sea gulls and watching the birds and, on this visit, we were joined by a pod of playful dolphins for about an hour.  They were leaping out of the water and surfing in the waves. As the group was only 100 yards or so from shore, Mommy and Daddy took turns to swim out and join them (I find the water in the Bay here significantly warmer than at Half Moon Bay and fine for swimming on a hot day). It was one of those afternoons that make me infinitely thankful that we live in such a beautiful part of the world: what can be better than watching two happy, sandy babies run free on the beach and swimming with wild dolphins in the October surf?

Dolphins. Honest.

There are only very basic amenities at this beach — just a small car park and toilet block.  And there is the usual $10 day use fee.  But if you want an empty, remote (ish), beautiful beach perfect for toddlers, I don’t think you can beat Manresa.  We’ll certainly be there a lot again next year.


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We love going to the shore, and North Cali beaches seem to be at their finest in October. There’s just one problem. Pumpkins. It takes more intrepid souls than us to sit in three hour traffic to Half Moon Bay on October weekends, so we’ve used the past few weeks to check out some more Santa Cruz beaches.  New Brighton State Beach has quickly become a favourite.  It’s absolutely beautiful and usually (by my European standards) really, really empty. An added plus in October are the monarch butterflies–we were surrounded by them on the short walk down to the sand.

The beach here is wide and slopes gently to the sea.: perfect for sand play and paddling.  The boys loved it.

The Puppy Dog had a magnificent time
Look Mom! Sand!

There was plenty of parking right by the beach. I should mention there is a $10 charge to park: coming from England I think that is entirely reasonable for a day use fee, but I did meet one American who thought it was outrageous.  The state beach is nicely maintained. There aren’t many amenities, but there are basic bathrooms and a great outdoor shower to de-sand toddlers.

We stopped in Capitola on the way home and found a fish and chip supper with this view.  Hard to beat.
Who needs pumpkins anyhow.

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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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Where the Big Sur meets the Pacific

Since arriving in North Cali I’ve been amazed by the lack of information on local beaches, especially when they are so varied and so beautiful.  On the other hand, it’s been (mostly) fun discovering them for ourselves and working out which are the most suited to toddlers.

The beach at Andrew Molera State Park, where the Big Sur meets the Pacific, is one of our favourites.  It’s a long and super clean sandy beach, covered in driftwood (which the boys love) and nearly always empty, even in the height of summer.  I think the mile-long hike out to the shore limits the number of visitors, though for our boys that’s part of the fun as the path winds through varied terrain and abounds with snakes and lizards (keep an eye out for rattlers!).  And the walk is well worth it.

Park at the trail-head for a $10 fee  (although it’s free if you are camping at a local state park) or park on highway 1 for free and hike in. Bring an ergo or backpack for very small children.



A handy wind-break

The beach itself is fairly windy, so dress accordingly.  There are some awesome driftwood ‘wind-break’ structures to shelter behind however.

Go at low tide and there are rock pools to explore and rocks for scrambling along at the mouth of the Big Sur.

An inner-tube would be fun to ride the Big Sur out to the Pacific.

If you like riding, there are stables nearby offering pony treks along the shore.

There is a campground near the beach that we haven’t yet tried, but which seems to be popular. It’s first come, first served and you’re advised to arrive early friday morning to secure a site for the weekend. All sites are ‘walk-in’ but the campsite does have some very basic amenities, though not much shade or shelter.

The view south

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