Hidden Giants: Redwood Hikes to Take with Your Kids

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The majestic redwoods of Muir Woods tend to draw the tourists, but did you know the Bay Area boasts many magical places where you can be wowed the towering effect of our California state tree, but on a much smaller (and and more manageable) scale? From downtown SF to nearby Larkspur to points further north and south, we’ve rounded up eleven of our favorite spots to view redwoods.

San Francisco

Ecology Trail at the Presidio
This 1.4 mile route winds its way through Serpentine grasslands (that in springtime are full of gorgeous wildflowers in bloom) and the Presidio’s largest redwood grove. It leads to Inspiration Point Overlook with sweeping views of San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz, and Angel Island—a perfect way to reflect on afternoon spent with those gentle giants.

The Presidio
San Francisco, CA
Find directions and trail maps at presidio.gov

Redwood Park at the Transamerica Pyramid Center
Nestled between the skyscrapers of San Francisco's Financial District is a unique surprise: a mini park with a whole half-acre of (transplanted) redwoods, smack dab in the middle of the city!  Kiddos will also enjoy the fountain honoring Mark Twain; you’ll enjoy the fact that you still have the whole day to explore the city, and that fresh pasta and red wine in North Beach is just blocks away.

600 Montgomery St.
San Francisco, CA
Online: tclf.org

East Bay

Mather Redwood Grove
You might not think of a college campus as a place to see redwoods, but there's a small grove of them at UC Berkeley's Botanical Garden, with trees varying in height to create the illusion of an enchanted forest.  

200 Centennial Dr.
Berkeley, CA
Online: botanicalgarden.berkeley.edu

photo: Kate Loweth

Peninsula/South Bay

Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park
Just a quick drive over Highway 17 from San Jose (as long as you avoid the beach traffic) you will find Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. As the park’s name will tell you, it is full of gorgeous redwood trees. From the parking lot, head towards the Visitor’s Center (a great stop to learn about the park) and you will see the Redwood Loop Trail—a 0.8 mile flat loop that takes you on a kid-friendly tour of hundreds of massive redwoods. Be sure to check out the famous Fremont tree at the midpoint of the loop. This tree was made famous by General John Fremont who is rumored to have slept inside the burnt-out, hollow redwood tree in 1846. Grab a flashlight from the visitor’s center (or use your iPhone’s flashlight) to fully explore the inside of this massive tree. Insider Tip: Just past the Redwood Loop Trail on the River Trail, you will find access to a great creek so bring your swimsuits to cool off!

101 N. Big Trees Park Rd.
Felton, CA

Purisima Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve
For towering redwoods and sweeping coastal views, head to this 4,000-acre open space preserve. The Redwood Trail is an easy flat route that is specially surfaced and almost completely shaded, making it perfect for the little aborists. There are picnic tables and restrooms along this meandering path, and if you’re lucky, you’ll also get a good dose of banana slugs, bubbling creeks and butterflies.

Skyline Blvd., 4.5 miles south of Highway 92
Half Moon Bay, CA
Cost: free to the public 365 days a year from dawn until one-half hour after sunset.
Parking: There is plenty of roadside parking in addition to the lot.
Online:  openspace.org

Butano State Park
Editor's note: Currently closed due to CZU Lightning fire damage. If you are looking to combine the best of two worlds—the beach and the forest—then head to Pescadero and check out Butano State Park. Just 15 minutes from the beach, Butano SP boasts beautiful towering redwoods on miles of hiking trails. While most are not stroller-friendly, they are easily walkable and the ever-favorite banana slugs along the trail are sure to delight hikers of all ages.

1500 Cloverdale Rd.
Pescadero, CA

Redwood Grove Nature Preserve
In addition to redwoods, this 6-acre nature preserve has a boardwalk (along Adobe Creek), a rose garden and observation decks, making it the perfect place to explore redwood groves in a family-friendly and natural setting. The preserve connects to Shoup Park, which families (and parents) love for the awesome play areas and crawl tunnels.

482 University Ave.
Los Altos, CA
Parking: Visitor parking is available on University Avenue. No motor vehicles are allowed in the park.

Nestled in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains, Villa Montalvo is known for its gorgeous mansion and grounds where artists perform and display their works of art on the property. But just beyond the mansion are hidden hiking trails full of towering, as well as young, redwoods. Follow the Redwood Trail to the Lookout Trail for a view of the Bay Area like no other!

15400 Montalvo Rd.
Saratoga, CA
Online: montalvoarts.org

photo: iStock

Marin County

Dolliver Park
Downtown Larkspur boasts a charming main street full of restaurants and shops.  Why not start there then meander your way over into Dolliver Park—an enchanting little place that the locals call “Dark Park,” which means just the right amount of redwoods. The kiddos will marvel at the windy road that was designed around the redwoods' wandering roots.

Larkspur, CA
Magnolia Ave. at Madrone Ave. in Downtown Larkspur

Roy’s Redwoods
Tucked in the middle of Marin's San Geronimo Valley is a picturesque meadow and some of the largest redwoods in the county. There are shaded trails perfect for even the tiniest of hikers, or for more of an adventure climb along Dickson Fire Road that leads to sweeping views.  (And if those things aren't impressive to your family, make sure to tell them it's also where George Lucas shot "The Ewok Adventure.")

Directions: From Hwy 101 in Larkspur, take the exit for Sir Francis Drake Blvd. west 8.6 miles, turn right onto Nicasio Valley Rd. Gate is approximately 0.5 miles up on the right. Outside of a small kiosk marking the grove, there’s no clear signage so it can be easy to miss.  Just look out for the service road off Nicasio Valley Rd. that leads to the trailhead, about a half-mile north of Sir Francis Drake Blvd.
Parking: With no parking lot, cars typically park along the road.

—Kate Loweth & Mae Respicio


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