We recently took our first family trip, a week on the California coast. We had planned on being in Mexico, but the event I was speaking at got postponed to a later date. So with a week off and a Elsie tagging along (tips for traveling with baby coming next week!), we decided to head to the San Francisco area instead. We spent a few nights in the city with friends and family at the beginning and end of our trip, but the majority of the week we stayed in Stinson Beach. I know some people thought we were crazy—Stinson is a beautiful but sleepy coastal town. It’s a great day trip, just 30 minutes from San Francisco. Or a great stop for lunch when traveling up the coast (which is how I’d visited it before). But I remembered it being quaint and quiet, and I had a hunch it would make a great home base for exploring nearby areas like Muir Woods, Point Reyes, Tomales Bay, and Sausalito. And that it was.
We rented a charming cottage from Airbnb that was just off the beach. We walked on the beach every morning, strolling to town to grab a coffee and getting back in time for Elsie to take her morning nap. We explored somewhere new each day for a few hours, and we ended every day with another walk on the beach. We saw some of the most beautiful sunsets and sunrises. We had some perfect, warm and sunny days and some of those perfect, gray and cool Northern California days. We cooked dinner together after Elsie went to bed, drank some wine, went to bed early. We had limited cell signal and slow wifi, and for the most part stayed off our phones. It was the perfect mix—embracing a truly relaxed, unhurried life for a few days and soaking up a few staggeringly beautiful places too.
Scroll through for some favorite photos from our trip and read on for my tips on must-dos if you get a chance to spend time in the area!
WHERE TO STAY
We loved staying in this charming Airbnb, with its own private garden, which was only 500 feet from the beach. I was excited to read in the reviews that the owner was a mom; she loaned us her Pack ‘N Play and high chair, allowing us to travel lighter. Parents, you know what a score that is! Some other good options, which weren’t available at the time we were visiting: this contemporary beach cottage, this beach house with a gourmet kitchen (would’ve loved that since we cooked a lot!), and this peaceful retreat (perfect for a larger group, this home was just next door to us).
WHERE TO EAT
Parkside Cafe is made up of a string of small businesses—an old-school snack bar, a restaurant with patio, a bakery, and a coffee bar. Among many other things, the restaurant makes several great salads that are perfect for lunch; you can add on salmon, ahi tuna, scallops, even a generous (and delicious) crab cake. The coffee bar whips up a great latte and serves just-baked pastries starting at 6 a.m. for early risers (or parents of small children). Other spots in Stinson are the San Dollar Restaurant, Breakers Cafe, and Surfer’s Grill. The small grocery actually has everything you forgot or need in a pinch, like diapers and sunscreen.
WHAT TO SEE & DO
On our way to Stinson Beach from San Francisco, we stopped in Mill Valley at the recommendation of our Airbnb host to stock up on groceries for the week. Great idea. There are multiple Whole Foods, plus a Safeway.
Stinson Beach is a great place to chill on a hot day. The beach is large, so there’s plenty of space to spread out and for kids to play in the sand. We saw a few surfers in the water, but we did hear sharks are common and didn’t see much swimming.
Just north of Stinson is Bolinas Bay. The town of Bolinas is a reclusive little outpost of just 1,600 people with a super-sleepy main street and not much going on. It’s hard to find, and its residents seem to want to keep it that way. We heard Agate Beach Park has amazing tide pools, but we forgot to check the tide table and arrived there at high tide with nothing to see; the Bolinas Lagoon Preserve is supposed to be a good place for bird watching.
An hour north of Stinson Beach is the Point Reyes National Seashore, a must-visit for stunning shoreline, a cliff-hanging lighthouse, seal spotting, an elk reserve, and lots of hiking. The park is huge, so it takes a while to drive around. Depending on how much time you have, you’ll need to strategize what you want to see. You really feel like you’re at the end of the earth hiking out on the cliffs.
South of Stinson is Muir Woods National Monument, an old-growth coastal redwood forest. We stayed on the valley floor, but there are many trails around Mt. Tam for more serious hiking. It’s shaded and cool, so wear a sweater.
Headed back toward San Francisco, Saulsalito is a historic town on the waterfront with restaurants and art galleries. We didn’t stop there on this visit, but I’ve been there a few times before. Some Instagram friends recommended the Bay Area Discovery Museum, and I would’ve loved to take Elsie to it if the museum hadn’t been closed during our trip. And last but not least, across from Saulsalito is Battery Spencer, where you can get those picture-perfect views of Golden Gate Bridge.