Rodeo Beach is a goldmine in the San Francisco Bay Area for families looking for a relaxed beach experience. This short stretch of beach has more than a Pacific Ocean view – in fact, kids often skip the waves altogether to splash around in a pool of water right on the sand, cut off from the ocean much of the year. Bonus: there’s plenty of free parking and dogs are welcome.

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How to get there: A cinch to reach off the Sausalito exit.

When to go: Crowds are drawn to picnic in the sun-soaked sand during the summer months, so a nice warm weekday would do the trick.

What to do: When they’re not testing out their dog paddle in the beach pool, the kids can play mountain climber and seek out tide pools along the base of the cliffs that protect one side of the beach. Afterwards, the whole family can look out for semi-precious stones like jade, black agate, and jasper, found along the pebbly shore. (Don’t forget to remind the kids to throw back their finds – collecting is not permitted here.) As you comb through the pebbles, the kids may enjoy learning that the composition of this beach is unique from all the other beaches in California.

The view of the ocean and surrounding Marin hills are beautiful here, with Fort Cronkhite sprawled in the backdrop.

Nearby attractions include the Marine Mammal Center (free admission!) and Point Bonita, as well as a friendly Fire Station across the street from the beach (the fireman on duty let our kids sit in the fire truck) and a horse stable that you can hit up on your way to or from the beach (incentive to get the kids  packed-up?).

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Where to have lunch: If you haven’t packed a lunch, you can head to Sausalito  to grab a bite. Most locals skip the tourist-filled Bridgeway Ave and head over to Calendonia Ave for casual fair including Caffe Divino. But if you dig the tourist-scene, Salsalito Taco Shop (Sausalito’s version of Joe’s Taco Lounge) on Bridgeway is the place to try. There’s also a plethora of yummy kid-friendly eateries a few exits north off Hwy 101 (the Tiburon exit in Mill Valley) like La Boulange and Pasta Pomodoro, in Strawberry Village .

How to dress: It can get pretty breezy on the bay, definitely bring a windbreaker. And don’t forget the sunscreen!

Cost of trip: Inexpensive. Free parking at Rodeo Beach.

Bonus: There’s also Rodeo Lagoon nearby, where birdwatching families can walk the wetland path and test out their binoculars.

Online: http://www.parksconservancy.org/visit/park-sites/rodeo-beach.html

-Renee Rutledge