Get the scoop on the best family activities in San Francisco.

Surf, Sand, and Adventure at San Francisco’s Ocean Beach

With surf advisories and sleeper waves, Ocean Beach doesn’t immediately call to mind the perfect family destination spot. Yet, it’s teeming with exciting activities to enjoy with your family. From long walks beachcombing to hiking in Land’s End just across from the Golden Gate Bridge and the Marin Headlands, you’ll take in the stunning views of the coastline and your children will roam the wilds like the great explorers they are.

When to go: Anytime, but be prepared for foggy days along the coast.

How to get there: Parking is available in the parking lot off of Point Lobos Avenue and walk north to the Land’s End trailhead. If this parking lot is full, you can turn north onto El Camino Del Mar and park in a larger lot there.

What to wear: Wear multiple layers to add and subtract as needed and also hats, scarfs, and windbreakers for especially windy or foggy days.

What to bring: For trailblazers with little ones in tow, you could bring a stroller for the Land’s End trail. Also, ensure you have plenty of water and snacks to keep tired little troopers motivated and to prevent grumpy meltdowns on the hike.

What to do: With such breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean, a quick stroll through Sutro Heights Park feels like an especially thrilling adventure. The gardens and a statue of Diana Goddess of the Hunt are a few remains of the Sutro Estate’s former grandeur.

Sutro Baths Ruins was once a world-class recreational destination developed by Adolph Sutro in the late 19th century. Now over a hundred years later, it’s fun to imagine it in its former glory. You can easily climb along the ruins of the swimming pools or have a picnic. Just to the right of the ruins is a cave that tunnels through to a look-out spot on the ocean waves. To step back in time, check out this video of an old film shot on location at Sutro Baths.

With its flat, mostly smooth trails, Land’s End is such an exciting hike for your children. Watch for a few cliff drop offs, but for the most part, railings are safely installed to prevent anyone from falling. The trail looms above rocky coves at that water’s edge. Wild fennel and orange nasturtiums bloom along the trail, but be careful your children don’t touch the poison oak that grows along its sides. An important reminder for little hands: “leaflets three, let them be!”

A little farther afield, For a quick jaunt into Golden Gate Park, you’ll find a Bison Paddock where the buffalo roam that will entrance your little ones. It’s located off John F. Kennedy Drive in the northwest corner of the park.

Lunch spots: Beach Chalet is worth a visit if only to ogle the historic WPA frescoes created in the 1930s while you wait for a table. Weekend brunch is superb with options like Dungeness crab benedict, beignets, or steak and eggs. If you’d prefer to let the kids run around while you lounge in an Adirondack chair, Park Chalet, just à côté, also offers a brunch buffet on Sundays.

The newly renovated Cliff House attracts a curious mix of well-heeled patrons and tourists who flock there for the extraordinary views. Two restaurants in one with The Bistro and Sutro’s floor-to-ceiling windows, your kids will enjoy watching the breaking waves and the seabirds hanging out on Seal Rock. Don’t forget to check out the world famous Camera Obscura just behind the building.

Tal-y Tara may make your kids shout Tally-ho! With its lovely red tartan tablecloths and cozy cottage ambience, you might feel as if you walked into a hunting lodge on the Isle of Skye. Order the ever-popular motorloaf and you’ll have plenty of both savory and sweet portions to sample and share. Most children adore spreading cream and marmalade on their brown bread.

To satisfy your sweet tooth: As a special treat for your long day on the beach, you might want to stop in for a scoop at Polly Ann Ice Cream Parlor on Noriega between 38th and 39th Avenues. Spin the giant ice cream flavor wheel to sample some of their zany flavors like Red Bean, Green Tea, Black Sesame, but just say no thank you to Durian. You might even win a free scoop, if you’re lucky!

Cost: Fairly low depending on how much you spend on dining out.

Online: Land’s End

– Nicki Richesin

Photo credit: Paul Wever via Flickr

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