Sand, Surf, and Picnics: What Not to Miss at Stinson Beach

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When you think of summer, what magical childhood memories come to mind? Ice cream in the park while sitting high atop your dad’s shoulders (sorry about those drips, pops!), or how about endless bike riding with your pals (remember those no helmet days)? A lazy, lovely day at Stinson Beach makes for a memorable summer day that your kids will recall for years to come.  And, it’s easy to see why: pristine sand, an undeveloped landscape, and a picturesque settings that doesn’t require a fancy photo app filter to set the tone.

Stinson Beach is located about 20 miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge.  Once you hit Highway 1 just follow the signs along one of the most scenic drives ever, where you’ll finally hit over 3 miles of white sand coastal relaxation, not to mention a picnic area and BBQ grills (available first-come, first-serve).  The beach is open everyday year round, with the gates open as early as 9:00am.  Closing times vary depending on season so you may want to call ahead.

Insider tip: summer traffic can sometimes build.  Highway 1 has other popular destination points along the way (like Muir Woods), plus it’s mainly a two-lane highway that can at times be precarious, dramatically winding, and—dare we say—even nausea inducing.  You’ll have less chance of getting stuck if you start early to beat the afternoon goers. In-the-know locals skip the Stinson Beach exit (and by-pass the Muir Woods traffic) by going through downtown Mill Valley and taking Panoramic Hwy over Mt. Tam. Either way, the drive is gorgeous!


There’s enough here for the entire family to partake in any number of beach appropriate verbs: relax/play/read/hike/lounge/dip/nap (pick a few!). Of course in this classic surf town you may want to hit the waves.  This surf shop on the main strip (right along Highway One) can help with wetsuit and board rentals, and even lessons.

Insider tip: There are a handful of changing stalls right outside of the bathrooms, which makes getting into summer gear a bit easier in case you’re debating on suiting the kids up before driving out.  Also, make sure to bring layers.  While the sun may warm up the afternoon, the mornings can be chilly.

A quick walk across the parking lot will bring you to a short, somewhat hidden walkway (look for the chain link fence) that leads directly to the Parkside Cafe and Snackbar.  The cafe has indoor seating with a full menu, while at the snack bar you order and take your food to go (chili cheese fries, anyone?).  The snack bar also has the ultimate in summer memory making: soft serves!



As if enjoying an amazing, beautiful beach isn’t enough, right across from Parkside Cafe you’ll see the sweetest teeniest playground; perfect for the little ones to get out even more of their energy, particularly if your goal is get them fully conked out that night—or at least for the ride home.

Stinson5What’s your favorite thing about Stinson?

–Mae Respicio

All images courtesy of Mae Respicio.