My boys have a lot of energy. Certainly this is not a characteristic unique to my 6- and 4-year olds, nor unique to their gender. But it does often put me in the position of trying to figure out, “Where can I take them to burn off some energy?!” Here are some of our favorite activities that never fail to challenge them physically, engage their gross motor skills, and perhaps most importantly, produce giant smiles and even occasionally an unprompted, “Thanks, Mom!”.
3549 Novato Blvd, Novato, CA
From balance bikes to mountain bikes, the tracks and trails at Stafford Lake Bike Park accommodate all sorts of riders. At the entry are two beginner tracks, for younger kids just learning to ride. On the ridge above, we frequently see riders doing daredevil jumps and tricks that make my stomach flip just watching. There are a few intermediate trails that circle around a central point (perfect spot to set out a blanket or chair for Mom), and a “Skills Loop” with bumps, jumps and a teeter-totter. At this point, we’ve only explored about half of the 17-acre park; there are plenty more trails for more experienced riders.
This spot is a true gem for kids who love to ride their bikes and are comfortable taking some risks. It is one of Marin County’s Parks, located in Novato, about 45 minutes north of the city. It is a bit of a time investment to get there, but it pays off immediately as exhausted kids snooze in the back seat on the drive home.
- Be aware of the weather. In the summer, temperatures in Novato can be 25+ degrees warmer than the city and the sun is very hot.
- It is all dirt. Great for the kids; not so great for the Moms who will load dust-covered kids and gear into the car afterward. Bring a change of clothes and shoes, plastic bags to contain the mess, and towels.
- Speaking of dirt, there is nowhere for spectators to sit. Those folding lawn chairs work great, or a simple blanket.
- We bring along a cooler to hold cold snacks (chilled apple slices, grapes, etc) and also cool, wet towels that I put around their necks to cool down on those super hot, summer days. Pampering? Perhaps. But as a runner who’s spent plenty of time training in the hot sun, I’m conscious of the dangerous combination of heat and exertion. And the wet towels can double as cleaning rags afterward; see point # 2 above!
425 Sycamore Ave, Mill Valley
Not just for skateboarders, this skate park is also open for kids on scooters. It is a traditional skate park, with smoothly paved surfaces covering the ramps and jumps (these may not be the correct technical terms but let’s face it, I’m a 40-something Mom who’s never actually set foot on a skateboard, except to abruptly stop one before it skidded off into the street).
The beauty of this skate park is that it’s located right next to the Bayfront Park, marshes, and walking trail. When you get tired of hearing the scraping noise of the skateboards’ trucks against the rails (see? I know a word or two of skater lingo!) you can head East a hundred yards and find a nice spot for a picnic.
- Timing is everything. If your kids are young or a bit more timid, they may enjoy the earlier morning hours when they can have the park to themselves. The teenagers roll in at around noon, at which time the park can tend to get crowded and have a different vibe. If, on the other hand, your kids like to watch the older kids doing some impressive tricks, the afternoon may be the best time for you.
- Protection, protection, protection! In addition to helmets, my boys’ knee, elbow and wrist guards have saved us many band-aids and likely a trip or two to the ER.
- There is no water on site, so stock up before you leave. Conveniently, there are many places within about a mile radius to pick up lunch. Or, if needed, bandages.
Washington Blvd and Park Blvd, The Presidio, San Francisco
I have yet to find this spot labeled on a map, yet the name our family has affectionately bestowed upon this little nook off Washington Blvd in the Presidio seems apt. It is literally an open space filled with tall piles of wood. It appears to be where the Presidio foresters stack trees that have fallen or been removed.
For little kids who love scooping, digging, stacking and excavating dirt and bark, this must feel like heaven. It is awe-inspiring to see the giant trees lying horizontally on the ground; they also make for excellent balance beams and bike ramps.
- Bring a sack of construction trucks, or bring nothing at all. My boys have always loved creating and moving little piles of earth around; however, there is plenty to enjoy and explore simply by walking.
- Being in the Presidio, this area tends to be cool, so as always in San Francisco, dress in layers
- To find it, park at the intersection of Washington Blvd and Park Blvd, near Presidio Amatury Playground. Cross to the south side of Washington Blvd. The wood pile is located right on top of the Veteran’s Blvd overpass.
Crissy Field Tide Pools (with a twist)
Mason Street, San Francisco
This may seem an obvious choice for veteran San Francisco Moms, but our San Francisco Bay beaches are such a gem that they bear repeating. In addition to the standard beach activities of building sandcastles, digging holes, and burying each other in the sand, we came up with a new activity that is just perfect for the shallow tide pools at East Crissy Field Beach: water sledding.
Obsessed with testing the floatation properties of just about any object within reach, my older son suggested that we bring our sled (one of those simple, plastic, toboggan style ones) with us to the beach one day to see if it would float. Apparently I wasn’t convincing enough in my argument that sleds are meant for snow and not for water, and before I knew it, we were off to the beach, sled in tow. This turned out to be the best argument I ever lost, as my boys had a wonderful day pulling each other on their “boat” down the lagoon.
- Our sled is an inexpensive model similar to this one, and has now survived 3 summers. (It gets very little use in the winter.)
- These tide pools tend to collect little sea life, including crabs. It’s fun to look for them, and we’ve managed to catch a few in a bucket. Just be careful where you step!
- Just a bit to the west of Crissy Field Beach is the Crissy Marsh, a beautiful spot for bird watching. It’s worth a slight detour on your way back to the car.
For now, I’m off to bed. I need to conserve my energy so I have enough to keep up with my boys tomorrow.