Cull Canyon. This lagoon is popular with families because its shallow waters are great for little ones who are just getting used to the water. There are plenty of lifeguards on duty, a sandy beach for sandcastles, shaded picnic areas and for more experienced swimmers there’s a deck for diving and jumping into the water. Note: You must pass a swimming test to swim to the deck. Lagoon is open April 25-Sept. 20, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Parking is free, but it fills up fast on hot days. Admission to the beach is $3.50 for adults, $2.50 for kids. 18870 Cull Canyon Road, Castro Valley. 510-544-3076
Don Castro Regional Park. With its shallow swimming areas, this lagoon is great for families with small children. There’s plenty of vigilant lifeguards on duty, sandy beaches for digging, a large lawn area, vending machines and a bathhouse with showers. Beach umbrellas and wheelchairs are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Open May 23- Sept. 20. Lifeguards on duty 11 a.m.-6 p.m. $3 ages 16-61, $2 ages 1-15 and seniors, $5 parking. 22400 Woodroe Ave., Hayward. 510-544-3073
Robert W. Crown Memorial State Beach. The water is warm and shallow making this a great beach for families. It includes a bathhouse with changing rooms, picnic tables, barbecues and a lot of lawn area for games. Nearby is the Crab Cove Visitor Center featuring exhibits of the area’s colorful past when it was known as the “Coney Island of the West.” The center also includes exhibits and aquaria highlighting flora and fauna of the San Francisco Bay and other marine areas. Park hours are 5 a.m.-10 p.m. $5 per vehicle. Eighth Street and Otis Drive, Alameda. 510-544-3175
Heart’s Desire Beach. Unlike many beaches in the North Bay, Heart’s Desire has calm waters for families with new swimmers. Sheltered within Tomales Bay State Park, the beach is protected from wind and large surf making it a great spot for small kids. It’s also a smaller beach which makes it easier to keep an eye on the kids. Parking is close to the beach so you don’t have to drag the kids’ gear and toys far and there are restrooms, picnic tables and barbecues. Also, if you get bored with the beach there are some great hiking trails nearby. Open 8 a.m. to sunset. $8 per vehicle entrance fee ($7 for anyone 62 and over). Pierce Point Road to Tomales Bay State Park. 415-669-1140
McNears Beach Park. Located in a beautiful sheltered cove along the shores of San Pablo Bay, this bayside beach offers a fun, safe place for families to splash and swim in the water. There’s picnic tables and a lawn area and it’s a popular spot for fishing and kayaking and canoeing. It has something for everyone.
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 there’s a lot of shallow areas to splash around and not a wave in sight. Open year-round. Free. 1595 Seal St., San Mateo. 650-522-7434
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 with your family. There are beaches, a promenade, picnic tables and tidal marsh overlooks. You can enjoy treats at the Beach Hut Café on the east end next to the Crissy Field Center. At the west end, the Warming Hut also offers snacks, sandwiches and drinks. 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 on to this beach. However, it is a great beach for kids to splash around in calm waters and serious swimmers enjoy the park. Also, if your family gets tired of the beach there are so many 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
Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Make your summer complete by visiting the boardwalk. When your family is ready to take a break from the thrill rides, games and other fun, you can set up a picnic on the beach and watch the surf. Keep a close eye on your little ones when you’re near the water. Sneaker waves can be dangerous. Lifeguard service is provided during spring break, spring weekend, summer months and fall weekends. Boardwalk open daily. 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 the 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.
Top 10 Beaches in the Bay Area for Families