Best Bay Area Family Beaches

Going to the beach can be a great way to enjoy the outdoors, get exercise and relieve stress. The Bay Area has plenty of family-friendly beaches. If you go, make sure to follow any rules regarding COVID-19, such as wearing a mask and keeping a safe distance from people not in your household. Also, be extra careful on beaches with rough surf.

East Bay

Robert W. Crown Memorial State Beach. The water is calm and there are panoramic views of San Francisco, making this a great beach for families. It offers a bathhouse with changing rooms, picnic tables, barbecues and a lot of lawn area for games. Park hours are 5 a.m.-10 p.m. $5 per vehicle. Eighth Street and Otis Drive, Alameda. 510-544-3175.

Marin

Heart’s Desire Beach. Unlike many beaches in the North Bay, Heart’s Desire doesn’t have rough surf, making it a good option for new swimmers. Sheltered within Tomales Bay State Park, the beach is protected from wind and large surf. It’s also a smaller beach, making it easier to keep an eye on the kids. Parking is close to the beach so you don’t have to drag the gear and toys far. Plus, there are restrooms, picnic tables and barbecues. Also, if you get bored with the beach, there are some nearby hiking trails. Open 8 a.m. to sunset.  $8 per vehicle entrance fee ($7 for ages 62 and over). Pierce Point Road to Tomales Bay State Park. 415-669-1140.

McNears Beach Park. Located in a sheltered cove along the shores of San Pablo Bay, this bayside beach offers a fun, safe place for families to splash and swim. There are picnic tables and a lawn area, along with being a popular spot for fishing, kayaking and canoeing. It has something for everyone. Visitors are asked to carry a mask and keep a safe distance away from those not in their household. Summer hours: 7 a.m.-8 p.m. 201 Cantera Way, San Rafael.

Peninsula

Pacifica State Beach (Linda Mar Beach). This is a fun beach for playing along the shoreline and watching surfers. Kids’ surfing camps are frequently held here. However, be watchful of inexperienced swimmers in your family. The surf can be unpredictable. Parking is $7-9. Highway 1 at Crespi Drive.

Parkside Aquatic Park. Located by the Marina Lagoon in San Mateo, this park has a boat launch ramp, swimming beach, a picnic area with tables, playground, sand volleyball pit and restrooms. This is a great beach for little ones because of shallow, waveless areas for splashing.  Open year-round. Free. 1595 Seal St., San Mateo. 650-522-7434.

San Francisco

Crissy Field. With iconic views of the Golden Gate Bridge, this is a great place to build sandcastles, ride bikes, walk or have a picnic. There are beaches, a promenade, picnic tables and tidal marsh overlooks. Open all year. Free. 1199 East Beach. 415-561-7690.

Aquatic Park Cove. If you want to avoid crowds, this is not the place for you. It’s a short walk from Fisherman’s Wharf so much of the tourist traffic spills onto this beach. However, it is a great beach for kids to splash around in calm waters and serious swimmers will also enjoy the park. If your family tires of the beach, there are other options, including the historic boats at Hyde Street Pier, Pier 39 and the Aquarium of the Bay. Open daily. Parking lots and structure charge various fees. 499 Jefferson St. 415-561-7000.

Silicon Valley/Coast

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Make your summer complete by visiting the Boardwalk. Currently, rides, indoor games and miniature golf remain closed due to COVID-19 restrictions. But you can enjoy some outdoor games, outdoor dining and shops. When your family is ready to take a break from the Boardwalk, you can head to the beach. Keep a close eye on your little ones near the water. Sneaker waves can be dangerous. Lifeguard service is provided during spring break, spring weekend, summer months and fall weekends. 400 Beach St., Santa Cruz. 831-423-5590.

Twin Lakes State Beach. If you want to avoid the Boardwalk crowds, Twin Lakes is nice for picnicking, watching the surf and enjoying the view of the Santa Cruz Breakwater Lighthouse. This is a dog-friendly beach. Parking can be a challenge on weekends. Restrooms, showers and drinking water are available. East Cliff Drive and Portola Drive, Santa Cruz. 831-427-4868.

Teresa Mills-Faraudo is an associate editor and mother of two.