Palo Alto, California, is surrounded by open space for families near the San Francisco Bay to the east and the Santa Cruz Mountains to the west. Whether you’re seeking a level nature walk or moderate hike off the beaten path, Palo Alto and Silicon Valley are centrally located for a variety of kid-friendly hiking destinations.
Hikes in the Hills
A popular hike just outside Palo Alto is known as The Dish to locals, a reference to the 150-foot wide radio telescope perched on the property. The hilly, grassy terrain dotted with oaks and eucalyptus offers panoramic views of the entire Bay Area. The 3.7-mile loop beginning at the intersection of Stanford Avenue and Junipero Serra Boulevard will give kids a good workout as they view wildlife and grazing cattle, though the paved path is also good for strollers. Another popular spot with kids is Rancho San Antonio Open Space Preserve, offering paved hikes for novices and strollers and longer, more rigorous trails into the hills. The 1-mile, mostly paved walk from the parking area to Deer Hollow Farm is ideal for young hikers, with a small historic farm housing several types of live farm animals at the endpoint. The preserve has restrooms, picnic areas and even an area designated for flying model airplanes.
Redwood Forest Hikes
If you prefer the cool shade of the giant redwoods, one very accessible option is the Redwood Trail in the Purisima Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve. Located off of Skyline Boulevard in San Mateo County, this walk is a 0.6-mile out-and-back dirt trail that is fine for strollers. For longer or more strenuous hikes into the redwoods, enter the park from the same trailhead and choose one of the more difficult trails. Another option for redwood viewing is Big Basin Redwoods State Park, 65 miles south of San Francisco. The park has a variety of trail types, including stroller-accessible and more rigorous hikes, though it can become quite crowded in the summer. It does offer camping facilities, however, so it’s an option for a quick family getaway.
Nature Walks Down by the Bay
For nature exploration by the bay, Coyote Point County Recreation Area just south of San Francisco International Airport caters to families who love to play, learn and discover in a more urban setting. There’s a large, newly redesigned playground, a science and nature museum called CuriOdyssey, paved and dirt trails around the wetlands and a gravel beach with access for swimmers. A $6 fee is charged for parking with additional costs for museum admission. A quieter, more secluded bayside jaunt can be found at the Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge in Alviso just north of San Jose. The extensive network of salt-marsh trails provide ample opportunities for wildlife viewing directly on the water. You might spot the endangered clapper rail during low tide in addition to many other wetland birds, turtles and even jackrabbits.
Tips and Precautions
In addition to taking common sense precautions such as wearing sunscreen and bringing plenty of water on hiking excursions, be aware of the conditions in the San Francisco Peninsula. Watch out for poison oak in the hills, especially in the shade, and guard against ticks. The area is also home to mountain lions and rattlesnakes, so be attentive to your surroundings. Additionally, many trails by the bay are directly adjacent to open water and have no guard rails, so keep young children close at all times.