Well, it’s time to start thinking about fall or winter outdoor options again, Bay Area Families! I know that sounds crazy, but we just booked a couple of weekends, and it looks like lots of the more popular spots (looking at you, Samuel P. Taylor, or even the lesser-known Portola Redwoods) are already booking up through October. (I mean, let’s get real– Samuel P. Taylor is probably booked as far out as it can be.)
Anyway, if you’re wanting to set up some local colder-season adventuring that wouldn’t involve sleeping in the rain, I highly recommend the Point Montara Lighthouse. We stayed there in March of this year. Point Montara and the surrounding areas are full of outdoor activities for the family (only 20 miles from San Francisco, too!), making it a worthy (and affordable) destination.
The Point Montara Lighthouse is a hostel, which means there are fairly limited options for sleeping, so plan ahead (although there is some flexibility). If you have kiddos who are old enough to handle a top bunk and sleep in a dorm room, you can stay in one of the dorm rooms, which has 3-6 bunks. Renting out the whole room seems like a great solution, if you can book enough in advance. We stayed in one of the 3 person rooms that consisted of a double bed and a Houston bed, which dropped down from the ceiling, to the immense delight of the kiddo. The lighthouse also provides all the linens, which means you don’t have to pack sleeping bags!
If you are looking for outdoor play at the hostel, there is a tiny trail that leads down to the shore. The last couple of steps to the beach require some climbing on rocks to get down to the water, so you might want to scout it out if you have smaller hikers that you can’t carry but who are not expert balancers yet. During low tide, there is plenty of space for tiny people to play in the sand (we even found some sand toys), but be aware of creeping tides. When the tide is high, playing on the lighthouse beach is probably not such a great idea.
As with most hostels, you do not have access to the hostel during the day (3:30 check-in). However, we found two great options for before/after hosteling (and there are so many more!). First, we went on a short hike in Rancho Corral de Tierra, the newest section of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. This area is very large– if you have extremely hardy hikers, you could figure out some long hikes. We started at the end of Ranch Rd, very close to Highway 1, and hiked just a bit on the San Vicente trail. We met a very enthusiastic volunteer with RCdT who informed us that the Spine trail was a tough hike that gave extraordinary views of the coast, once you got up on the ridge. We’re definitely going back for more, but the small section of the San Vicente trail we hiked was quite gorgeous.
Point Montara is also steps (literally– there’s a trail to it, although we drove because the 4 year old was over hiking by the afternoon) away from the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve. If your children are old enough, they may have gone on a field trip to this gem of a tidepooling locale. After our visit, it’s clear why it’s so popular– it’s amazing! Pools of marine life, framed by stunning views of the cliffs and ocean? Instagram away, families! Be sure to check the tide charts, though, and schedule your visit accordingly. We managed to find a day with very low tides right around 3:30pm, and we spent a good couple of hours looking at tidepools and digging in the sand.
We came back to the hostel and had dinner in the hostel’s dining room. The kitchen/dining room has absolutely stunning views (see above)– you can pretend that you’re eating in a five star restaurant, just without the cost. There was a campfire scheduled for the evening, but some people in our group were acting exhausted, so we skipped it. With older (or less sleepy) kiddos, we would definitely have joined the group campfire- hostel goers tend to be friendly people who are interested in meeting others and conversing. Check the hostel’s websites for planned events.
We got up in the morning and attempted to find other sections of Rancho Corral de Tierra to hike (note to self- next time, bring a paper map and do not trust to Google when internet connectivity is questionable), but gave up and ended up hanging out at Montara State Beach (even saw a whale!) before hitting up the Half Moon Bay Brewing Company for lunch and heading home.
In all, this area offers many (free or reasonably priced) mini-adventure possibilities for families, and we’re definitely scheduling other excursions to this area in the future. (Pigeon Point Lighthouse, we’re looking at you–hot tub? yes please!) Hostels (with the exception of service animals) are not dog-friendly, so leave Fido at home. (Actually, the Montara Lighthouse lets you decide if you think your dog can stay in your car, but dogs aren’t allowed to stay in the hostel.)
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