San Francisco is a family-friendly city. There’s so many things to do with kids, parents could plan numerous trips and have an entirely different vacation every time. The tricky part about exploring San Francisco with kids is convincing them to leave the city limits. It’s worth it, however, as amazing things are waiting on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge; beaches and stretches of coast that remain some of Northern California’s best-kept secrets.
Welcome to Tomales Bay
About 30 miles northwest of San Francisco, Tomales Bay is a narrow inlet of the Pacific Ocean. Located in Marin County, it’s approximately 15 miles long and about a mile wide. Oyster farming is big in the bay, while dairy farming has a firm grasp on hillsides to the east. As cute as the cows can be, the coast tends to steal the show. Tomales Bay is like a magnet that pulls people outside to kayak, boat, fish or hike.
There are a good handful of towns on and around Tomales Bay, in many of which it seems time has almost stood still. Coming from San Francisco, Point Reyes Station is where families will most likely get their first introduction.
Point Reyes Station
Its old school Main Street is home to a mix of shops and businesses. Toby’s Feed Barn sells exactly what the name implies – animal feed, but along with hay bales stacked ceiling high, there’s an art gallery, organic coffee shop, yoga studio and general store that sells toys to t-shirts to gourmet food and wine. Every Saturday during summer, Toby’s holds the only all local, all organic Farmer’s Market in the San Francisco Bay Area. They’ll also happily point the way for families to Toby’s Community Playground.
Spend some time wandering through town, but make sure you visit Cowgirl Creamery. Located in a restored hay barn you can taste and depending on the timing, watch cheese being made.
Point Reyes National Seashore
If your family has the energy, Point Reyes National Seashore is worth the trip. The ages of your kids and how much time you can spare will shape what you do during your visit. The park has about 150 miles of trails, numerous beaches and three visitors centers. Walking to the Point Reyes Lighthouse or the Tule Elk Reserve are popular choices for visiting families. Ranger Guided Programs are offered year-round and are a great way for first time visitors to get to know the area.
Home Away from Home
The perfect spot for a family home away from home is Nick’s Cove in the sleepy town of Marshall. You’re only about an hour’s drive from San Francisco, but your cell phone isn’t going to work here. Which is fine, because the only reason you’ll want it is to take pictures…
> Of the dock that leads to a boat shack with fireplace and piano and plenty of inside and outdoor tables perfect for a family game session.
> Of the beach swing made from a giant piece of driftwood.
> Of the blue heron you might see wading in the water, while sitting on the deck of your waterfront cottage.
> Or maybe of the beach, while making s’mores with homemade marshmallows and graham crackers.
Nick’s Cove is that kind of place, and along with being every bit as romantic as it sounds, it’s incredibly family-friendly. One of the first things I noticed when checking in was a huge abalone shell full of crayons and then there were the fun re-usable and colorable place mats available for purchase in the lobby. A former fishing village dating back to the 1930s, the property is now home to a dozen luxury ocean themed cottages. Five sit on the waterfront, while seven waterview cottages sit on the other side of Highway 1.
Ranging from just under 300 to almost 800 square feet, the cottages are cozy, comfortable and loaded with modern amenities designed to spoil you, like claw foot bathtubs, heated bathroom floors and wood burning fireplaces. You’ll also find a television and DVD player, but it’s hard for technology to compete with the view out the cottage window.
Dinner is only steps away at the on-site restaurant. Grab a table with a view and indulge in crab cakes, clam chowder and Dungeness Crab mac & cheese. The kid’s menu offers pasta and burgers for land lovers, but seafood eaters can opt for grilled jumbo shrimp. Everyone, parents included will love choices like lettuce from the Nick’s Cove garden, sautéed veggies and s’mores using graham crackers and vanilla marshmallows hand-crafted by the Pastry Chef. If the beach is a bit chilly, you can roast them in the restaurant fireplace. ($5 from each s’mores sale benefits the Sonoma Marin Boys & Girls Club.)
After dinner the family can settle in for the night, and maybe even sleep in because you won’t have to worry about breakfast in the morning. It will be delivered whenever you’d like. Hot coffee or tea, juice, fruit and fresh baked pastries. It’s just enough to fuel the day’s family adventure. Maybe a trip to Dillion Beach, Bodega or the Sonoma County Wine Country. Let me know if you need family-friendly winery suggestions. There are many…
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Dana received dinner and complimentary accommodations at Nick’s Cove, but as always her thoughts and opinions are her own. Photos by Dana Rebmann.
Complete kid-friendly hotel review of Nick’s Cove on Ciao Bambino