By Laure Latham
Doesn’t it seem unfair when the fog rolls into town and you know that 10 miles out, everyone’s wearing tank tops and looking for a shady spot? Yes, San Francisco’s summers can be someone else’s coldest winters, we’ve heard it before. However, thanks to this selection, you can escape the fog and find your spot in the sun within an hour’s drive. Just don’t forget sun screen and if you miss summer nights, make this a weekend getaway!
South of San Francisco
Shoreline Parks, San Mateo
One of the newest San Mateo parks, Shoreline stretches along the Bay and the aquatic playground at Ryder Park draws legions of children eager to get wet and burn off energy. Nearby picnic facilities give families the opportunity to make a day of it. Note: the fountains only operate from 11am to 4pm.
Coyote Point Recreation Area, San Mateo
Coyote Point is one of the staples of Bay Area childhoods. Just as you go enjoy a puppet show at Children’s Fairyland in Oakland, you come to Coyote Point for its wonderful nature museum (and buzzing busy beehive), great dragon slide, eucalyptus groves and prime views of planes landing at San Francisco International Airport. As a plus, Coyote Point also has a beach area where you can admire windsurfers zooming on the Bay. Reserve the picnic areas for summer reunions; it’s always sunny there.
California’s Great America, Santa Clara
Aside from thrill rides, a kid-themed park and live entertainment, this oversize Santa Clara park hosts the one and only Australian-inspired Boomerang Bay! Bring your swimsuits and the family to enjoy the lazy river, tube water slides, the heated 150,000-gallon swimming pool and other water-based extravaganza.
Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, Felton
At Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, there's a fairly good-sized wading hole in the lower section of the creek, downstream from the ranger station. It’s popular with families, and children revel in getting wet and (slightly) muddy in the creek. On a side note, you can enjoy the 1880s logging town recreation and steam train rides to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk or Santa Cruz mountains at the adjacent Roaring Camp Railroads.
Half Moon Bay State Beach, Half Moon Bay
Come hang out at the unspoiled sandy Francis Beach in Half Moon Bay. Not only does the beach stretch for four miles along the Pacific Ocean, it is a great viewing spot for schools of flying pelicans if you happen to be sky-gazing. Waves can be pretty rough, so always watch children near the water. Also since this is a state beach, dogs are not allowed.
Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, Santa Cruz
The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is a nostalgic and odd combination of county fair (funnel cakes, icees and corn dogs), ocean-view theme park (remember the gigantic roller coaster in The Lost Boys?), entertainment venue (summer concerts) and amazingly, the admission is free! On Saturday, June 13, 2009, a spectacular fireworks show will celebrate the 85 years of the Giant Dipper, the most popular ride of all. And all summer long, there’s no better place to kick back with your feet in the sand and listen to free Friday night concerts by classic rock bands. Really, on the boardwalk, what’s not to like?
East of San Francisco
Cull Canyon, Castro Valley Foothills
This 1.5-acre swimming lagoon, complete with sandy beaches, lawns for picnicking and a lifeguard, provides a fantastic destination for swimming and sunning. The bonus is a bathhouse with changing rooms and a snack bar. Although there is a small, narrow lake in the park, the real hit here is the lagoon.
Prewett Family Water Park, Antioch
Beat the heat with giant pools, snaky water slides and waterfalls at this city park in Antioch. Bring your own chairs and umbrellas for maximum sun protection, but no picnic, as outside food is not allowed.
Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, Vallejo
Combining thrill rides with more than 30 animal attractions, killer whale and dolphin shows, and live entertainment, Six Flags also features a splash zone for children to cool off under the sun. Sure to entertain the entire family during a full day.
Tilden Regional Park, Berkeley
One of the East Bay’s oldest parks, Tilden offers 2,000 acres of recreational activities such as an animal farm, a miniature steam train, hiking trails, a big carousel, fantastic playgrounds and Lake Anza. At Lake Anza, the sandy beach is open to the sun and sheltered from the wind, with lifeguards on duty during the summer.
Don Castro, Hayward Hills
This swimming lagoon in Hayward has clear, warm blue waters and is a top choice for families because of its roped-off shallow section. Like Cull Canyon, expect sandy beaches, a bathhouse and lawns for picnicking. The adjacent lake is closed to boating and swimming, but open to fishing.
Del Valle, Livermore Foothills
Del Valle Reservoir offers the perfect reservoir experience with 16 miles of shoreline, grassy areas, boat rentals, striped bass fishing and picnic areas. Since it’s located in the East Bay next to Livermore, it can be hot, dry and sunny during the summer. Bring sunscreen. Water temperatures are ideal for swimming, with changing pockets of cool and warm water as you move about. Two shoreline areas are set up for swimming.
Shadow Cliffs Regional Recreation Area, Pleasanton
Only a mile from downtown Pleasanton, this former gravel quarry was turned into an 80-acre lake with swimming beach and other recreational facilities. The park also features the privately-owned Rapids Waterslide, a must for sliders of all ages at least 42 inches high with slides each over 500 feet long.
Bothe-Napa Valley State Park, Calistoga
Four miles outside of Calistoga, this park is a pleasant surprise with oak canyons and rolling hills in the heart of the Wine Country. The best summer feature of the park is a large swimming pool fed by an underground spring, a unique feature in a region of spring spa resorts. The swimming pool is not heated, so the water can be surprisingly refreshing even if the mercury is pretty high. For more family fun, visit the nearby Bale Grist Mill State Historic Park and grind some grain in a wooden mill with a 36-foot high water wheel.
Freelance writer Laure Latham is the editor in chief of the Golden Gate Mothers' Group’s newsletter. On an on-going basis, Ms. Guyot also writes for Sfkids.org in San Francisco, GreenMoms.com, and BAMBI magazine in Bangkok, Thailand. For more on Ms. Guyot, visit her blog at
. She lives in the Bay Area with her husband and their two daughters.