The small town of Ross in Marin is a charmer, with tree-lined streets, forest trees looming high along the perimeter, numerous walking and biking paths, and a quaint downtown area. And when you feel like hiking in Marin without taking the kids to the usual crowded spots, Ross hides a beautiful backyard gem: Phoenix Lake.Go: Year-round.

Approximate travel time: About 30 minutes from San Francisco, near San Anselmo.

What to do: Phoenix Lake waters are a dazzling emerald in color, but because it’s a reservoir, there’s no swimming or boating allowed. (Also, dogs must be kept on leash.) But walking the perimeter is nice enough, with both wide and narrow trails that are easy enough for the kids to tackle (you can walk the front side of the lake with a stroller, but the backside in single track and best with a backpack or baby carrier). Benches are spread out by the water’s edge, and picnic tables are located by the trailhead. If you’re feeling motivated, circling the lake is about 3 miles around.
Possible lunch spots: For picnic goodies, stop by Woodlands Market on College Ave in Kentfield before your hike for a gastronomic treat including various homemade salads, sandwiches, fruits, and pastries. If you feel like a sit-down snack, there’s the family-friendly Woodlands Café adjacent to the market or bit further down the road, the Half-Day Cafe offers a lovely creekside setting and fresh baked scones with orange butter.
Need to know: *There’s construction on the main road by Phoenix Lake through November, but the lake is still accessible. Also, be prepared to wait for a parking spot in the adjacent lot at the end of Lagunitas…or to walk it in from further afield.
—Renee M. Rutledge