Travel Guide

Stinson Beach, California

Stinson Beach from a drone looking south (San Francisco is just over those mountains)

Stinson Beach from a drone looking south (San Francisco is just over those mountains)

Gosh, Stinson Beach is the best.

Stinson Beach is located about 45 minutes north of San Francisco, just up Highway 1 on the western side of Muir Woods and Mt. Tamalpais.

Three out of the past four years our family has absolutely clung to this area like a sea anemone to a rock in a tide pool (that’s coastal humor) and it seems like this is very much our family’s natural habitat (if we could afford the million dollar price tags on these modest homes).

You can review our typical daily vacation habits here. While planning a family vacation, we try to solve for our various vacation “needs”:

  • I want mountains, trail running, temperate conditions, and clean air, but also conveniences (I’m a pampered “outdoorsman”)

  • My wife loves the beach, baked goods, heat, and HGTV

  • The boys just want to play on the beach and in nature and get a new LEGO set. They also love watching cartoons (and we like them watching so we can get a break), so a TV or wireless is a must.

Stinson Beach checks all of our boxes (with the exception of warm weather for my wife but I can put her next to a space heater) and it has the added benefit of being so close to so many dear friends in the Bay Area. We even had the privilege of having my brother, Johnny BH, come up from Los Angeles (yes, it’s an extremely long drive) to teach the kids to surf and be beach bums (emphasis on the bums).

Tandem surfing is apparently a thing

Tandem surfing is apparently a thing

Uncle Johnny BH teaching Tate to surf… in a weird way

Uncle Johnny BH teaching Tate to surf… in a weird way

If you’re thinking of planning a family trip and your vacation needs overlap in a Venn diagram with ours, I can’t recommend Stinson Beach enough. Airbnb is packed with homes that are available and almost any time of the year that you come it will feel like its wonderful sleepy-beach self. So, go and book your trip. This blog will be here when you return :)


Welcome back! Now that your trip has been booked, here are some recommendations to keep you and your loved ones entertained. And, because photography is my favorite thing to do besides trail running, below is a buffet of photos from this year’s trip.

Where to stay:

  • Again, though I’ve heard stories of awful Airbnb stays, I cannot recommend the service enough. While we’ve had underwhelming stays, the stays have never been so far off that we’ve considered doing-away with the service all-together. I haven’t found a better, cheaper, more interesting way to travel with a family.

  • Matt, why does it work for your family?:

What to eat: This is our specialty. WARNING: We aren’t fancy and we value quantity and quality ingredients, over unique and expensive dining experiences.

The red woods of Muir Woods

The red woods of Muir Woods

  • The Siren Canteen: OH MY GOODNESS. The food is excellent. The view is excellent. It’s in a friggin’ converted lighthouse. And, the memories we had with our friends, Michael and Erica, are just scrumptious. Awesome tacos and drinks. Just confirm ahead of time that it will be open!

  • Parkside Snack Bar: We ate here a ridiculous number of times. Excellent burgers and it’s situated right next to a playground and the beach.

  • Parkside Cafe: The expensive older brother to Parkside Snack Bar. Great breakfast and really nice people. Also, they sometimes have live music. Our kids could not be wrangled or tamed this trip and we opted to save everyone headaches by not dining here.

  • Stinson Beach Market: Small, nice, and relatively affordable groceries (considering how far from a big town it is) on the main strip of Stinson. The homemade moonpies at the counter are excellent and they have a big alcohol selection if that’s your thing!

  • Whole Foods - Mill Valley (on Miller): Probably the most-gorgeous Whole Foods that I’ve ever been to. Situated in what feels like a hanger, covered in ivy with the mountains in the background.

  • Eleven B&B - Bolinas: We lucked into this place. Excellent deserts, good music, and beautiful windowed bench seating if you get there at the right time. Rotating, and kinda expensive, menu, but definitely delicious. They have a bed and breakfast attached to the restaurant and it appears really pretty in the photos, but we didn’t get to see it first-hand.

  • Gospel Flat Farm Stand - Bolinas: Awesome market AND gallery as you make your way into Bolinas. This is the perfect combination for me.

What to do:

  • Stinson Beach: Excellent beach with showers, bathrooms, and stunning (usually foggy) views of the mountains. San Francisco is completely obstructed by the mountains and it feels like you’re in your own little world, super-far from the city.

  • Dipsea Trail: This is tied for my favorite run of all time. It’s absolutely fantastic with so many different types of trails. Rutty, rainforest-ish trails, dry grass trails, huge climbs, city views, ocean views, and quad splitting efforts all around. I’m lucky-enough to have a wife who will pick me up on the other side of the run so that I can run from Stinson Beach over to Mill Valley.

  • Old Mill Park - Mill Valley: For the kids this will go down as my favorite playground ever. The park’s perimeter is defined by GIANT redwoods, a gurgling stream, and steep mountain. It’s absolutely incredible. Bring a picnic and just soak it up.

  • Agate Beach - Bolinas: This is a funky one and you have to do a bit of troubleshooting on unpaved roads to get here. We, luckily, had some locals point us to this spot. Gorgeous (and dangerous) cliff sides with a steep path to hike down to get to your own, private beach. I would recommend that you be extremely careful with little ones (or just not bring them at all). Our kiddos are 5 and 7 and it was a bit difficult right at the end for our five year old. Also, you’ll want to check tides to make sure that they don’t surprise you!

  • Muir Woods: Just exquisite piece of conservation. Redwoods. Infinite hiking trails that lead into other parks. Dense canopies. Smells like you wouldn’t believe.

What to be weary of:

  • The Bay Area and Mill Valley/Stinson Beach is super expensive in general: I know that Austin, Texas, is expensive, but the Bay Area is a whole different level. Go shopping. Pack tons of meals and eat in if you have to. You can get by spending $0 on entertainment because there’s just so much for your kids to do outside at the parks and on the trails.

  • Fire: The past two years when we’ve gone in the fall we’ve either come just as a major fire has broken out nearby or we’ve come right after a major fire was put out. Climate change is severely impacting the surrounding areas and it can be a major risk.

  • The People of Bolinas: We had an excellent experience with folks from Bolinas but from everything we’ve gathered they do not want the city to be on any outsider’s map. Folks steal road signs directing where to turn to get to Bolinas, people won’t sell property unless the buyer has been vouched for, roads are largely unpaved, and awesome parks are intentionally hidden. Again, we had an awesome, awesome visit, and food and people and parks were wonderful, but they seem to prefer to remain introverted and unseen.

  • Distance to an Urgent Care/Hospital: Tater had another one of his fun injuries with two pink eyes and lots of puss in the middle of the night. I know that it can be treated without antibiotics and it’s not always an emergency, but his eyes were swelling shut and my wife was blaming me because she thought it was because Henry kicked sand in his eyes (that’s a whole other story). Sorry. I digress. It’s difficult to get to a hospital/urgent care facility if you need one. We tried to go in Bolinas, and then Stinson Beach, and they were all closed (though they said they wouldn’t be). So, we had to go over the mountains and through the woods to Mill Valley to a really nice urgent care facility off the highway.

Please, let me know if you have any suggestions for things that I’ve missed!

Scroll down for some additional photos from our wonderful trip :).

To view other travel blog posts check these out

The boys and Sara from above :)

The boys and Sara from above :)

Uncle John teaching his little shredders how to “hang”

Uncle John teaching his little shredders how to “hang”

The road down to Stinson Beach from our AirBnB

The road down to Stinson Beach from our AirBnB

Henry post body boarding

Henry post body boarding

The little ones playing at sunset

The little ones playing at sunset

Henry and Sara brunching it up. She’s such a Miranda.

Henry and Sara brunching it up. She’s such a Miranda.

Uncle John and the boys climbing up from Agate Beach

Uncle John and the boys climbing up from Agate Beach

The gorgeous, and foggy, hills behind our Stinson Beach home

The gorgeous, and foggy, hills behind our Stinson Beach home

Family Travel Guide - Byron Bay, Australia - Part 1

I detailed the purpose of these family travel guides in my outline along with how our family prioritized our budget and how we tend to structure our time on vacation. If you have any recommendations that are not covered below, leave a comment and let me know! 

I hope that you enjoy it!!


Byron Bay, New South Wales, Australia: Part 1:

What we did, where we stayed, and how we got there

Tater swinging at Apex Park in Byron Bay

Tater swinging at Apex Park in Byron Bay

This past December our family had the incredible fortune of visiting Australia for three weeks. Sara and the boys were on winter break and I work remotely so I was able to have the weirdest schedule of my working career for one week. I woke each morning at 2am Australia time to attend meetings at 9am Central Time. Even weirder: if the meeting took place in the States at 11am CT on a Friday, it would be 4am Australia time on a Saturday. By the end of the week I was hallucinating and my body was wrecked... and I ran the Lamington Marathon... but it was totally worth it.

As I wrote in the introduction to the family travel guide, we spend the majority of our travel budget on the homes we stay in because 1) we're homebodies. My wife and I are introverts who pretend to be extroverts when we have to; and 2) we tend to spend a ton of time playing at home. The boys swim, play with Hot Wheels cars, Legos, and magnetic blocks for hours. 

We absolutely recognize the privilege we have to be able to take these awesome trips and it fills us with so much joy to be able to do this together as a family!

Why go to Bangalow and New South Wales?:

The state of New South Wales is filled with awesome hills, lush rain forests, dormant volcanoes, national parks, and hundreds of miles (or kilometers, as the locals say) of idyllic coastline. 

Tater playing with his Hot Wheels at our amazing Goreman's Road home

Tater playing with his Hot Wheels at our amazing Goreman's Road home

Byron Bay is located on the coast in the northeast portion of the state and is home to the easternmost point in Australia. The towns bordering Byron Bay are stunning and we found out only after arriving that we aren't nearly hip enough for some of the very fashionable and beautiful people of Byron Bay. Just search Instagram for photos of Byron Bay and all you'll find are beautiful surf people and their adorable children who look like they are straight out of a J Crew catalogue. Our family was definitely the Carlton to their Fresh Prince. We were the peanut butter and jelly to their tapas. We were the Nascar to their F1. Despite me being intimidated by these perfectly bronzed, beautiful, fit, and immaculately waxed people, they always came across as welcoming, kind, and interested!

The region includes cities like Bangalow, Federal, Skennars Head, Lennox Head, Brunswick Heads, and each is located about a 15-minute drive from Byron Bay. Each town is along the coast, or just a couple miles inland. And, each is more gorgeous in its own way than the last. It’s hard to convey just how lush and rugged the land is without visiting. Each mountain top provides a unique view and each valley something exceptional to explore.  

How do I get there?:

Just one of the amazing sunrises over our amazing Goreman's Road farmmhouse

Just one of the amazing sunrises over our amazing Goreman's Road farmmhouse

To arrive in Bangalow from Austin, Texas, was an exhausting but so gratifying 30 hours of traveling. When you're traveling with kids a single hour is like dog years. So, 30 hours of sleepless travel feels a lot more like 210 hours. It included crossing time zones, crossing the equator, and crossing datelines. Amazingly, we left Texas in the middle of our “winter” and arrived in Australia in the middle of their summer. It was so ridiculously disorienting and I hadn’t even considered packing my allergy meds for all the pollen in the air.

To find well-priced tickets Sara and I setup alerts on Kayak and we eventually found a flight that would take us from Austin to LA to Brisbane for about $1,400/ticket on Virgin Australia and Delta. Yes. It was extremely expensive. Yes, it took several months of credit card debt to pay for the trip.

From Brisbane we rented a car with Europcar that was very reasonably priced until I later received two speeding tickets and one parking ticket... but that was by no means Europcar’s responsibility (more on the tickets in the what to watch out for section of Part 2). We then drove the two hours in the middle of the Australian night to Bangalow. 

The House:

The absolutely, fantastially, awesome, spiritual hide-away that is our rental house on Goreman's Road

The absolutely, fantastially, awesome, spiritual hide-away that is our rental house on Goreman's Road

Goreman's Road: The house that Sara found is the most gorgeous home that I've ever visited, let alone stayed in. 

As Stefon would say, "This place has everything...": a swimming pool, coffee trees, avocado trees, lemon trees, chickens, cows, giant kitchen, soda, purple stuff, Sunny D, a VIP room for football jellyfish. It's a massive coffee plantation with citrus groves, raised garden beds, a hiking trail down to a pond, cows and dogs next door, and the most gorgeous sunrises and sunsets imaginable. You can rent it on AirBnB with the link above and there's a discount when renting for longer periods.

The home is located about 20 minutes from Byron Bay in the country (the "hinterlands" in Australian-speak) between two relatively small towns, Federal and Bangalow. Each of the small towns nearby has several food and play options and at least one grocery store. If you book the home from Tim and Janelle, please, tell them Matt Bradford sent you. They're just awesome people and the place is absolutely immaculate. That's what heaven must look and feel like.

Things to Do: 

This list is by no means comprehensive, I'm simply trying to highlight the parts that we experienced in each city that really resonated with our family. At the bottom of my bulleted list you'll find a map that I created which shows where each of the items I outline is located in the region.

  • Bangalow:
    • Main drag (Bangalow Rd): Lots of excellent shops and random streets to walk down. Awesome farmers markets certain days of the week. Great coffee shops and pottery stores. Beautiful old Catholic church. Great parks for picnics. Also, the Bowling Grounds have pick-up cricket and soccer matches (which I regret not playing in). I highly recommend picking up the Echo newspaper, or browsing their site, to see what's happening around town.

  • Brunswick Heads:
    • Minyon Falls: Magical overlook just outside of Byron Bay and Bangalow. A super short hike to the overlook and waterfall can be turned into a much longer, 4.5 mile loop down to the base of the falls. Aussies drive pretty dangerously on these country roads so be careful!

Just a normal family photo... we have to hold Tate in order for him to stay in the photo

Just a normal family photo... we have to hold Tate in order for him to stay in the photo

Can you spot all of the Cotner-Bradfords (except me)? We stumbled upon Fisherman's Beach on our hike down from the lighthouse

Can you spot all of the Cotner-Bradfords (except me)? We stumbled upon Fisherman's Beach on our hike down from the lighthouse

  • Byron Bay:
    • Apex Park: Delightful park right along the beach perfect for kids. Great bit of shade and easy access to the bathrooms, convenience stores, and groceries.
    • Byron Bay Lighthouse: Gorgeous views of the city with hikes down to the beaches. Also, the easternmost point in Australia.
    • Byron Bay Dive Centre: Henry and Sara went on a wonderful expedition out to the rock that's just off the Byron Bay coast. The guides were super-kind to Henry when he wanted to go into the boat early and it sounded like an awesome, and reasonably priced, experience.
    • Fisherman's Lookout: I love this hidden little lookout so much. Gorgeous views of the coast, surfers, dolphins, beach-goers, and the lighthouse
    • Tallows Beach: I know it's trite at this point but this beach is beautiful. Gorgeous views of the lighthouse and the cliffs. Immaculate beaches for surfing or chilling. Doesn't feel as crowded as the other beaches nearer to town. Just delightful.
    • Wategos Beach: We just stumbled on this beach after walking down from the lighthouse and it was just magical. It's hidden away from everyone else and you'll probably only be sharing it with a couple other people.

  • Currumbin:
    • Currumbin Beach: The city of Currumbin wasn't super appealing to us, but that could have just been because we were crazy tired after a night spent in the rainforest and after I ran the Lamington Classic Trail Marathon (more info below). That was a humblebrag. Sorry. The beaches were really pretty and had a gorgeous, giant rock as its back drop. The conditions weren't safe for swimming at the time we went so we made our way to a playground and searched for the giant water dragon lizards that are all around
    • Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary: We had lunch at the sanctuary, and the staff were super nice to us, but I think that they were just so overwhelmed by really rude tourists that when we were polite it confused them. Again, I thought that the city was just okay and I wouldn't say that the city is a "must-see" but it definitely isn't the worst place to stop on your way back from other day trips.

Henry really enjoyed me asking to take his picture at Crystal Castle. This is probably one of my all-time favorite Henry pictures.

Henry really enjoyed me asking to take his picture at Crystal Castle. This is probably one of my all-time favorite Henry pictures.

  • Federal: I LOVE THIS LITTLE TOWN. The general store. The little park. The hippy people. The weird, small-town events. The trail through the woods to the local school. The swimming holes. Seriously. More info to come in part 2 because the restaurants were AMAZING.
    • The park and playground just across from Federal Doma Cafe is simple and perfect: Tennis court, playground, small skate park, open field for cricket/soccer, and a paved walking trail.
    • Crystal Castle (just a bit outside of Federal): This place weirds me out but it's like a car crash in that you can't look away. It's gorgeous, and weird, and kitschy, and beautiful. Giant buddha statues (one of Henry below). Giant rocks. Weird geode cave rooms. The views over the region are ridiculously awesome. The food is also really good and healthy (and expensive). And, after having a weird hunch about the place I looked up old newspaper articles and found out that the people running it are followers of the same religion as in Netflix's Wild Wild Country. And (one more point), the whole area around Federal is filled with followers of the religion and they own multiple compounds. They never came across as intimidating or like they were trying to indoctrinate us, but it really explains SO much!  

One of the amazing Macadamia Castle residents

One of the amazing Macadamia Castle residents

  • Knockrow:
    • Macadamia Castle: When you pull into the parking lot, you will probably think to yourself "this is a tourist trap." And, you might be right. BUT, as someone who hates tourists traps I'm here to tell you: this place is awesome. Yes, the food is a little expensive (but it's good) and the tickets are a little expensive (but it's worth it). Your kids will have an absolute blast. Amazing animals. Really kind staff. A kangaroo petting zoo (!!!!!!). And lots of playground equipment.

  • Lamington National Park:
    • Binna Burra Mountain Lodge: This lodge is situated in the middle of the incredible Lamington National Park rainforest (a UNESCO World Heritage site). While the accommodations felt somewhat outdated, and our dinner was just okay (not bad, but not fantastic), seeing the sun set across the park's valleys and mountain peaks while eating dinner at the lodge's restaurant with the windows open and the noises of the animals coming alive right next to my family was something I hope I never forget. Sorry for that run-on sentence but it was pure magic listening and watching the forest come alive.
    • O'Reilly's Canungra Valley Vineyard: As my friends and co-workers know, alpacas are my favorite animals, right next to pigs and dogs. O'Reilly's Vineyard has 1) a wonderful dog that loves playing fetch; and 2) a huge herd of alpacas. You don't have to pay (to our knowledge) to visit the alpacas or the creek that runs through the property, but they have tours available if you like wine. I'm only there for the alpacas and we definitely got our fill! :)
    • The Lamington Classic Trail Run: As some of you may also know, I love running. If you happen to be in the area in October they host a yearly marathon and half marathon through the rain forest! Fortunately for us, the event last year was rained out in October and was rescheduled for dates during our visit. My GPS reception on the trail was awful, so don't count on getting a great record of your route, but running through the ferns, and mountain fog, and the crazy Australian birds was just exceptional and is definitely one of my all time running highlights. 

I'll be publishing Part 2 of our Byron Bay travel guide in the coming weeks and I'll update the link here when it's good to go. Please, if you have suggestions for locations that I missed definitely type those in the comments! And, if you took my advice I'd love to hear what you thought once you got there!

Have a great day!