The Bay Area’s Best Outdoor Water Adventures

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The Bay Area’s Best Outdoor Water Adventures

With summer rapidly approaching, the San Francisco Bay Area is the ultimate destination for family-friendly outdoor water activities. The amazing part of having the Pacific Ocean in our backyard is the amount of options to choose from for the entire family and every skill level! Northern California beaches are great for scenery, tide pooling, fishing, and exploring but for swimming, you have to know where to go. Besides the ocean, there are a ton of wonderful nearby bays, rivers, and lakes. So grab that big red cooler (you know you have one) and try any of my destination recommendations, listed from the North to the South of Bay Area, below.

Russian River

On weekends and especially in the summer, the Russian River is a lively, happy place to hang out! The Russian River is a popular destination for canoeing, kayaking, SUP (Stand Up Paddle), floating, swimming, fishing, and camping. The most popular public beach is Veteran’s Memorial Beach in Healdsburg, near Hwy 101, which is great for young swimmers and equipped with restrooms and shady areas perfect for picnics. Also look for Sunset & Willow Creek Beach, which is well known for its swimming hole and diverse crowd. Warning: clothing is optional!


Heart’s Desire Beach, Tomales Bay State Park

This is, in my opinion, the most pleasant place to swim in Northern California. The water is warm, there are no waves and if it wasn’t for the tides and the salty water, you’d think you were swimming in a lake. Inverness Ridge shields the beach from the fog and cold winds that whip Point Reyes to the West. The water is shallow for a long distance, which makes for relatively safe wading and a great place to bring the kids. The beach is small however and can get crowded during the summer, so arrive early!


Del Valle Regional Park, Livermore

This is a huge park, covering 4316 acres and surrounded by breathtaking oak-covered hills. Lake Del Valle in the center of the park is 5 miles long with several coves and bays that offers lifeguard swimming, boating rentals And fishing. The park also has a large family campground and several youth group campgrounds as well as miles of trails including an entrance to the Ohlone Wilderness Trail.


Sunol Regional Wilderness

Little Yosemite is the waterfall to see when you visit Sunol Regional Wilderness. For the short 1.7-mile hike, park by the visitor’s center and cross a large bridge on to Camp Ohlone Road or take the Indian Joe trail for a longer, more scenic route to the waterfalls. Make sure your visit includes a stop at the Old Green Barn Visitor’s Center where you can see Native American artifacts and learn about the naturalist-led programs at the park.


Portola Redwoods State Park

Head to Portolla Redwoods State Park and you will be deep into redwood country. This park has great spots for camping and tons of hiking options for even the youngest hikers. Hikers looking for a waterfall should visit Tiptoe Falls, and also look for the Sequoia Nature Trail to hike past Shell Tree, the remains of a 17-foot diameter redwood that was destroyed by a camper’s fire in 1989.

Uvas Canyon County Park

This tiny little park outside of San Jose has a few short and easy hikes and some gorgeous waterfalls. This 1.5-mile loop is conveniently located close to the parking lot (and bathrooms). You’ll first encounter Granuja Falls, then continue on a narrow, more challenging path on the south side of the creek while a wider and more suitable path for little ones is on the north side. Be sure you don’t miss the Black Rock Falls (even more impressive in the winter after some rainfall).


Garden of Eden, Henry Cowell State Park

The “Garden of Eden”, named due to its unrivaled natural beauty, is a top beach on the San Lorenzo River in Felton near. It’s chock-full of majestic hiking trails as well as great campgrounds. The swimming hole has clear water, lush curtains of redwoods and often, naked swimmers. Park at Ox Trail turnout on Hwy. 9 and proceed down Eden trail – It’s a steep walk down but it’s heavenly. There are two deep pools, big rocks and even a waterfall to explore. It’s truly an adventure to get there, but one that is well worth it. Warning: clothing is optional!


Santa Cruz Area Beaches

When the weather heats up in the South Bay, Hwy 17 gets jammed with traffic that’s headed to the sunny beaches of Santa Cruz. The most popular beach is the Main Beach, which is next to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk amusement park. This beach is very popular and can get crowded in the summer.  Other Santa Cruz area beaches are Natural Bridges State Beach, Santa Cruz Harbor Beach, Twin Lakes State Beach (our family’s favorite beach), New Brighton State Beach, Seacliff State Beach, Rio Del Mar Beach and Manresa State Beach.

Oars and Otters at Elkhorn Slough

Hop on your paddle board and just a few strokes from the Kayak Connection dock at Moss Landing marina, you will pass by a frolicking family of otters so cute you’ll wonder if there’s any point in going farther. Well, there is. Paddle hard under State 1 and you enter a wild wetland of pelicans, herons, egrets, and shiny-eyed seals. Call ahead for advice on timing and you can make the tide work for you in both directions to save your arms from next-day soreness.

Are you ready to dive into the summer fun? To help ensure that your kids have a fun and safe summer, make sure you have all of summer’s essential gear ready to go. For a list of water gear recommendations, click here.

Looking for more water adventures with your children? Read my personal story of my kids’ first SUP experience and information about a mangrove adventure.