5 Amazing Bay Area Suburbs for Families That Love the Outdoors

Jan 23, 2020

These Bay Area suburbs are perfect for families who crave the great outdoors…


If you prefer a skyline outlined by rolling hills rather than modern high rises, look no further than the picturesque Bay Area. Between world-class hiking trails, awe-inspiring redwood forests, and soft sandy beaches, it’s not unusual for residents to describe their hometown as a sanctuary. “When I go home, I feel like I’m on vacation,” says Rob, a Marin County-based chief creative officer and dad of two.

If that sounds good to you, read on. We’ve rounded up five amazing Bay Area suburbs that balance breathtaking scenery and high quality of life.

#1. Mill Valley

Mill Valley may be just across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco, but it feels a world away. This town of approximately 15,000 residents has the look and feel of a European village with a lively, compact downtown area. The real action, however, happens as you head for the hills, where houses boast spectacular bay views and cars share the road with gravity-defying cyclists.

Mill Valley is the jumping-off point to many of Marin County’s best outdoor treasures, including Muir Woods and Mount Tamalpais. You can drive between Rodeo, Tennessee Valley and Muir beaches, or give your legs a workout and hike or run the Dipsea Trail, which connects Mill Valley and Stinson Beach (and hosts the world’s oldest trail race in America). For a less strenuous adventure, the scenic Mill Valley/Sausalito Pathway provides a flat, paved surface for walkers, bikers, and skaters of all levels and ages.

#2. San Rafael

At four times the population size of Mill Valley, San Rafael has a vibrant downtown area where you can seek out culture when you want it. However, this bikeable suburb tends to earn more praise from families for its peace and quiet than for its nightlife.

This suburb doesn’t just have lovely parks, walking paths, and farmers markets, it also gives access to state campgrounds and national seashores. A typical weekend for San Rafael families might include stand up paddleboarding at China Camp State Park, eating oysters at Tamales Bay, or mingling with the cows at Point Reyes.

#3. Berkeley

Home to the oldest campus in the University of California system, Berkeley is socially liberal and culturally diverse thanks to its large student and faculty population. But it’s not only academic intellectuals who love living here. The city slopes upwards from the Berkeley Waterfront to the East Bay Regional Park District, offering nature lovers sweeping views of the bay, watercolor sunsets, and thousands of acres of forested hills and botanic gardens.

Hiking, trail running, cycling and horseback riding are all on the menu for adventurous families at Tilden Regional Park and Claremont Canyon Regional Preserve—the latter, a stone’s throw from the popular Elmwood and Claremont neighborhoods. Or you can stroll through the tree-lined campus to the world-famous Campanile (bell and clock-tower) or climb to the charming, terraced Rose Garden in a residential area of the Berkeley Hills. Make sure to grab picnic supplies at local organic and natural grocery store Berkeley Bowl before you head out.

#4. Oakland

Like its neighbor Berkeley, Oakland rises from the water to the hills. As it goes, it leaves behind its sprawling urban downtown for tree-lined neighborhoods and redwood forests with miles of family-friendly hiking trails. In fact, hitting the trails is such a beloved pastime that Solana, who runs a non-profit organization and lives in Temescal with her husband, hosts a monthly hiking club for friends. “It’s an intentional commitment to being outside and getting to know where you live,” she says. A few of her favorite places to explore in close proximity to the city are Briones, Coyote Hills and Mt. Diablo.

If you want wilderness in your background, you can’t do better than Montclair. This upscale neighborhood nestled in the Oakland Hills is home to some of the area’s best schools as well as the acclaimed Chabot Space & Science Center. For something more down-to-earth but still close to nature, Lake Merritt, with its eponymous fresh and salt-water lake, and Rockridge at the foot of the hills are also top options.

#5. San Jose

Thanks to its high-employment rate, cultural diversity and Mediterranean climate (the streets are lined with palm trees), San Jose is consistently ranked a top place to live. While tech may be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of this Silicon Valley capital, don’t forget it’s also located in the heart of the Santa Clara Valley, bounded on two sides by the Santa Cruz and Diablo mountain ranges.

From San Jose, you have easy access to Big Basin Redwoods State Park and Sunol Regional Wilderness. One of the state’s oldest municipal parks, the expansive Alum Rock Park, is located within the city, along with local gem Happy Hollow Park & Zoo. A quick and winding drive gets you to the family-friendly beaches and boardwalk of Santa Cruz and Capitola.

There’s no doubt the Bay Area is a paradise for nature lovers, but the only way to find the right suburb for your family to get outside and start exploring.

There are hundreds of towns to choose from. How do you figure it all out? You simply don’t… without getting a Suburban Jungle Strategist to help you through it all. Schedule here for your strategy session with our innovative suburbs strategy team. All services are completely free.

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