I met my friend Yulia at Dolores Park about a year ago, and we became fast friends. She has an adventurous spirit, loves to explore the outdoors, and knows the City well. When our little ones were tiny and portable we took them with us on long adventures, and she introduced me to her favorite neighborhoods, cafes, trails and parks around San Francisco. Now that our kiddos are toddlers, they like to explore on their own two feet. Our outdoor time these days involves discovering trails and parks through their eyes, which is an exciting, new way for us to experience the nature San Francisco has to offer.
San Francisco has so many amazing hiking trails, but it can be difficult to know where to start if you are new to the City or new to hiking with your family. I thought it would be fun to interview a fellow mom about local, kid-friendly hiking trails and parks, and I couldn’t think of anyone better to chat with than Yulia! Check out our conversation below to get the inside scoop on hiking in San Francisco from a parent’s perspective.
You meet a mom on the playground who is new to San Francisco (like I was, not so long ago!) and looking for a trail with great views of the City. Where should she go?
Corona Heights is great as it has the Randall Museum so there will be extra entertainment for the kids and clean bathrooms! There is a short trail to go to the top for a 360 view of the City and Bay. You can also easily walk over to Buena Vista Park (literally just across the road) where there are more trails that will make you feel like you’re not even in the city, more great views and a nice playground. This can be a super quick walk up to the view or a full day adventure!
I love this recommendation because it offers something for inside and outside. Anytime you can hit two cool spots in one outing is a win in my book!
What is one (or more!) of your favorite trails for a toddler hike – a.k.a very slow walking and lots of exploration?
Glen Canyon is pretty great for this. The Botanical Gardens can also be great. There’s even a whole kid’s sensory garden tucked away in the back! My tiny toddler can be entertained for an hour in the very small public garden behind the Seward Slides. I think anything that’s easy to get to works well. Toddlers can be entertained by looking at sticks in a small place, and I hate feeling like I just spent a lot of time and effort getting somewhere for my child to sit and dig in one small corner for half an hour.
I couldn’t agree more! Sometimes it’s easier and more fun to make an adventure out of your own neighborhood than to go to a specific trail. Open spaces that kids can explore in different ways are also key. We also frequent Glen Canyon a lot because it’s a fast drive, there’s a playground and bathrooms, and trails to explore. Some other good playground + trail combos we enjoy are McLaren Park, Walter Haas Playground, and Julius Kahn Playground.
What is one place you haven’t explored with your little one yet but would like to?
We have yet to go camping with our little one, so that is a goal for the summer. I have my eye on Limekiln campground and trails but am also considering the Angel Island campground for a test run close to home.
That’s an awesome summer goal! We haven’t taken our little guy camping either, so you’ll have to test the waters and let me know how it goes. We’ve only walked through the Interior Greenbelt once, so I’d like to explore more of it. I also haven’t done the Batteries to Bluffs trail yet, which is at the top of my list. I’d also love to go across the Bridge and hike in Mt. Tamalpais State Park.
Toddler hikes are always an adventure but rarely a workout. Let’s say the baby is strapped into a carrier and you’re ready for an adult-paced hike, maybe even a bit of a challenge. What trail is calling your name?
I love heading to Pacifica. It’s a very short drive from SF, not super crowded and has fantastic views! A recent favorite has been the Mori Ridge Trail. It is a bit steep at first but flattens out once you get to the top of the ridge. The ridge has water views on both sides (the ocean and the bay) and that feels very magical!
I haven’t been to Pacifica yet, but I do love a hike with an ocean view! One adult-paced hike I really enjoy in San Francisco is Creeks to Peaks. It’s too long and steep for young kiddos to do on their feet, but good exercise for adults.
When you have friends or family visiting from out of town and want to do a hike that’s a crowd pleaser, with some serious San Francisco vibes, where do you take them?
Land’s End, with its views of the Golden Gate Bridge, is always a crowd pleaser. Gotta get that classic bridge pic!
I was hoping you’d say Land’s End! The first time I did Land’s End after we moved here I couldn’t quite believe this beautiful city was my new home. The next time my mom comes to visit I plan to take her on this trail.
You want to leave the little one(s) at home and plan a hiking date with your partner. Where can you go to escape city life and reconnect amongst nature?
One of my favorite SF date nights is walking by the water along the Embarcadero to the Exploratorium and taking the Filbert St. Stairs to Coit Tower. There’s not really a lot of people there, and in the spring and summer, it smells fantastic because of all the flowers. You can bring up a bottle of wine and sit by Coit Tower and enjoy the views or walk back down to North Beach.
If you are lucky enough to get away for a night I have LOVED going to quirky nature places we found through Hipcamp. We have stayed in a treehouse outside of Santa Rosa and a mini sustainable farm on the outskirts of Yosemite. It was the best sleep I’ve ever had and the hiking was amazing! For something in between, Pinnacles is amazing for a day trip, but definitely not the most toddler-friendly.
I have never used Hipcamp, I’m going to have to check that out! I knew you would have all the best tips! Another romantic, short option close to home is Lover’s Lane in the Presidio. Two hiking spots in the North Bay that are special to my husband and me are Armstrong Woods and the Kortum Trail in Sonoma Coast State Park. Both are beautiful spots if you are able to get away for the weekend.
As you can see, there is so much good hiking and nature to explore in San Francisco, not to mention the countless trails and scenic views outside the City. The best way to get started is to pack a backpack with lots of snacks, grab your kiddos and hit the trail. Kids can find beauty and enjoyment in the smallest things, so the destination is less important than getting outside together as a family.