Swing, slide and splash in these outdoor parks with creeks—ideal destinations for sizzling summer fun. When things heat up on the monkey bars, switch gears and head to the water where you and your playground pals can kick off your shoes and get soaked. Bring your picnic blankets, sun hats and plenty of towels for a full day of outdoor play.
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Glen Canyon Park
This natural recreation area, just a few minutes from Glen Park Bart Station, feels worlds away from the city center. Come prepared to enjoy hiking trails, grassy fields, tennis courts and a revamped playground designed to emulate nature. After exploring the climbing dome, embankment slide, big boulders and sandbox, sink your feet into Islais Creek, one of the few remaining free-flowing creeks in San Francisco.
Elk Street and O'Shaughnessy Boulevard
San Francisco, CA
This historic spot on the outer edge of Wildcat Canyon Regional Park is a shady oasis with access to over 25 miles of trails. Its expansive playground area has plenty of picnic tables and is perfectly positioned for water exploration in Wildcat Creek. Feeling extra venturesome? Take a romp through the underground tunnel beneath the roadway and check out the ancient artifacts which include a stone wall and ornate bridge that crosses the creek.
5755 McBryde Ave.
Though the defining feature of Codornices is the 40-foot concrete slide (watch your elbows!), there is so much to love about this North Berkeley sanctuary. Shaded by oaks and redwoods, the fenced-in tot area and big-kid play structures are situated right along the creek where most little adventurers end up for at least a quick rock-toss. For a full-day outing, bring your tennis rackets and basketballs, follow the tunnel to the rose garden, and find the hidden trail to the seasonal waterfall.
1201 Euclid Ave.
A recent restoration project has improved the native rainbow trout habitat in Sausal Creek which runs along the length of this idyllic park (sorry, anglers, no fishing allowed). Along with plenty of stones to skip and toss into the water, the park features open fields, picnic areas, hiking trails, two playgrounds, a swimming pool and amphitheater seating. Bring your charcoal for barbecuing beneath the redwoods where you’ll find picnic tables and grills (check website for reservations).
3860 Hanley Rd.
Built by community volunteers and located in the Rockridge Temescal Greenbelt, this urban wonderland contains two charming wooden playgrounds with swings, twists and slides that'll keep kids of all sizes entertained for hours. Enjoy a picnic in the grass and a splash in the creek before or after a spin through the local shops.
5500 Claremont Ave.
Strawberry Creek Park
If your lazy weekend is so lazy you can’t be bothered to pack snacks, this is your spot. Hidden Cafe, within the park, sells gourmet coffee (what better way to wake up as you “watch this!” on the playground?) as well as tacos, salads and pastries. The namesake creek runs right through the park, next to an expansive green lawn that beckons blanket lovers and yogis.
1260 Allston Way
Tilden Regional Park
While Lake Anza and some parts of this "jewel of the East Bay" may be temporarily closed, there are plenty of ways to access Wildcat Creek and Laurel Creek, both of which run through the park. Grab a map, strap on your pack and meander along one of the easy trails like Wildcat Creek Trail or Jewel Lake Trail, stopping along the way to stomp and splash. After drying off, there’s much more to explore—a botanical garden, merry-go-round, train rides and an animal farm, to name a few.
2501 Grizzly Peak Blvd.
Twin Pines Park
Tucked away in the heart of Belmont and home to the Belmont Historical Society, Twin Pines Park brims with eucalyptus trees, picnic tables, walking trails, a gated playground, a charming bridge and a babbling creek. If you’re lucky, you may discover live music at the senior center. Ample parking and onsite restrooms make this an easy outing.
One Twin Pines Ln.
A must-visit in Redwood City, Stulsaft Park is 42 acres of wilderness within reach. You and your littles will find miles of hiking trails, a colorful playground, seasonal water features, and yes—even a creek that flows right through the middle of the park. An optimal spot to bring your pooch for off-leash frolicking, even Rover will be delighted in this hidden haven.
3737 Farm Hill Blvd.
Redwood City, CA
Cornelius Bol Park
Shaded by redwoods and oaks, the spacious grassy meadow in this 13-acre park is a cozy spot to picnic after kidding around on the playground or slushing in Matadero Creek. For those who prefer paved trails to stroll, walk or bike with your tykes, this is the place! Follow the trail north to see if Bol Park’s famous occupants—donkeys (you heard right, donkeys!)—are visiting. (Insider tip: Sunday mornings are usually a good time to spot them.)
3590 Laguna Avenue
Palo Alto, CA
A well-kept secret and a well-kempt park, Laurelwood is a leisurely destination within Sugarloaf Open Space. For those wanting to get their hearts pumping, try the trail that takes you to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain—the views are worth the walk. But no need to trek far, the park itself has a fun playground and a spacious lawn for ball-tossing and lounging. Best of all, Laurel Creek is right there waiting for eager little explorers to take the plunge.
3471 Glendora Drive
San Mateo, CA
Vasona Lake and Los Gatos Creek County Parks
These adjoining county parks feature 152 acres of outdoor glory including nature trails for biking and hiking, ponds where you can rent paddle and row boats, and picture-perfect spots to cast a line and go fishing. Also available are educational venues, playgrounds and endless open space for frisbee-throwing and badminton. If the ponds don’t get your little ones wet enough, Los Gatos Creek is easily accessible. Not done having fun? Visit adjacent Oak Meadow Park, for a spin on the carousel or a miniature train ride on the Billy Jones Wildcat Railroad.
333 Blossom Hill Rd.
Los Gatos, CA
McClellan Ranch Preserve
A little bit of history goes a long way at this former horse ranch turned wildlife preserve. You’ll never know that Cupertino is just minutes away as you amble down quiet trails or plunk rocks into popular Stevens Creek, which flows right through the preserve. For the active bunch, there are volleyball and bocce ball courts, a 4-H ranch and a large playground. Combine this trip with a visit to the orchard and cafe at the connecting Black Berry Farm Park.
Sometimes you just want a spot to sit by the creek and take in the scenery. This is one of those peaceful places. The tranquil surroundings will allow you to take a deep breath while the kids let their energy out on the playground. Bring a volleyball for the sand volleyball court, try out the horseshoes and spread out some of your family’s favorite goodies at the picnic tables.
20762 4th St.
Old Mill Park
Few places inspire the way a redwood forest does. In this historic sawmill turned park, the kids can climb inside giant redwood trees and throw rocks into the stream while you take in the gorgeous surroundings. The multi-level playground and sandbox will get you here, but the beauty of the grove will keep you here for hours. Also available are picnic tables, trails along the creek, an amphitheater and plenty of benches for sitting and admiring.
352 Throckmorton Ave.
Mill Valley, CA
With easy access to Marinwood Creek, this park in northern San Rafael is the largest in the Marinwood community. It features shaded lawns, a fenced playground and tot play structures, picnic areas, grills and nearby walking trails. If your water babies are wanting even more splash time after exploring the creek, the park is adjacent to a lovely community pool which is open to the public (check the website for reservations and details).
775 Miller Creek Rd.
San Rafael, CA
Where else can you explore Native American history, play bocce ball and jump in a creek? This expansive community gem has plenty of shaded picnic tables with views of the stream, ample lawn space, a large play structure, horseshoe and bocce ball courts and a walking path along Novato Creek. The park’s Museum of the American Indian, where you can learn about the native Coastal Miwok, provides fascinating insight into the area’s history.
2200 Novato Blvd.
—Julie Honan Johnston & Nella DuBon-Koch
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