There’s nothing like a sunny (sometimes) Northern California day at the beach – but making the trek West with your little ones can sometimes be a daunting prospect. Between worries of crowds and packing enough food, sunscreen and beach towels for a small army, you might be tempted to skip it all together.
But once you know all the best beaches to go to, the task is easier. Here's three can't-miss, kid-friendly spots that will guarantee that your day at the beach is....well, a day at the beach.
Distance: 32 miles (the closest beach to Sonoma)
The drive out to Dillon Beach is half the experience, with beautiful hills speckled with happy cows, fluffy sheep, old farmhouses, and quick peeks at the Pacific Ocean. After living in Petaluma, just 20 mins from Dillon, for 10 years, my family and I have spent a fair bit of time at Dillon.
Once at Dillon, there's not much to do besides enjoy the scenery and take a walk on the beach – if you walk all the way to the left, there's a group of seals that hang out occasionally – and have a picnic. The North side of the beach can also have great tide pools at certain times of day so be sure to take a peek.
Details: Bring $7 to park. Bathroom is OK (it has the basics) and dogs are allowed off leash so make sure you and your kids are alright with this. It also can be very windy and my kids have discovered that their snow sleds work very well sliding down the dunes! Don’t forget the kite!
If you are packing a picnic, definitely stop in Petaluma, at Mr. Pickles, for amazing sandwiches on the way out of town, or in Tomales, to stock up on some treats at Tomales Bakery - they have very odd hours, so if you catch them when they're open, consider yourself lucky!
Distance: 41 miles (a beautiful drive through Petaluma arriving just before Bodega Bay)
This beach is very long, not too crowded and not as windy as other Sonoma County beaches. You'll find lots of families, dogs (on leashes) and sometimes even horses. A wagon can be helpful when taking everything from the car down to the beach. Make sure to bring a jacket: You never know when leaving Sonoma in the 80’s that you could arrive at Doran and the fog has blown in and it the temperature has dropped to the 60’s.
Local mom of two, Alexandra Charsley, agrees this is her new favorite family beach. “No matter when we go it's never too crowded," she said. "The sand is nice, just enough wind to get a kite going, and little treasures can always be found on the beach."
Another local mom, Lindsey Ayers-Bresee, loves to go out for the tide pools. "I had never noticed it before, but we must have gotten there when the tides were just right," she said. "We park towards the end, and they were right there!"
Details: You have to pay $6 (or have a Sonoma County Regional Park Pass) to get in and parking is easy to find in one of the several lots on the left.
Hearts Desire Beach
Distance: 44 miles from Sonoma
Heart's Desire is a GREAT beach but it is a little longer to get to, usually takes about an hour to drive from Sonoma. But once you are there, it is perfect for kids and is highly recommended by many local moms!
A huge plus is that you can actually swim in the water since it's usually warmer than other nearby beaches, very calm and crystal clear. It also does not have the waves sneaking up on you if you take your eyes off the kids for moment. It is actually considered a “surf-free” beach. It is nestled in a cove and surrounded by Pine trees so it is also a lot less windy.
Put this on your bucket list for the summer-it is a must do! Having a picnic on the beach, while watching the kids play in the sand, a sailboat slowly going by, warm sun on my face and white sand before me. Can it get any better than this?
Details: Dogs are not allowed as it is a part of Tomales Bay State Park. Great picnic tables and BBQs plus most importantly bathrooms and shower right there! There is a small day use fee of $8.00, self payable if no parking attendant so bring exact change. Parking lots fill up fast on the weekend so I recommend going during the week or before 10:00am on the weekend. Once the parking lot is full, they do not have any extra parking.
What are your favorite beaches that you will be going to this summer? Any secret spots you would like to share with us? Enjoy and report back if you decide to head out!