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).
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?:
For the price of a small hotel room you get all the amenities of a home
By renting through Airbnb you get access to lots of areas that don’t have hotels, that are in nature, and show you a more-unique perspective of your geographic area than you’d get staying in some sterile hotel off the freeway
And, I regularly return to this article in my brain on the importance of Airbnb in connecting people across so many barriers
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 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 :).