One of the things I love most about winter in Marin is being able to hike to a beautiful waterfall, and when it rains families have many to choose from. The waterfalls in our list here all involve hikes of varying length, and all are perfect destinations for a family outdoor outing. There's something for hikers of every ability here.
All of these waterfalls are at their most spectacular after the big rainstorms we've been having this winter. This also means the trails will be pretty muddy, so make sure you put on the rain boots and dress the kiddos in something that you don't mind getting dirty. Here are four of our favorite Marin waterfall hikes, in order of difficulty (although all of them are family friendly). All but one of these hikes (Cataract Falls on Mt. Tamalpais) are on lands administered by Marin County Parks; visit their website for more info and to download printable trail maps for each preserve.
It's always amazing to see how the Mountain Play transforms Mt. Tam's Cushing Memorial Amphitheater. Last year it was Neverland and Captain Hook's pirate ship, and this season it's the inner-city New York neighborhood setting of West Side Story. We got a chance to see the Mountain Play's production of this Broadway classic on its opening day, and as usual, it was a fantastic outdoor theater experience! My 10-year-old daughter and I really felt like we were transported to a different place and era.
With plenty of classic songs like "Maria", "America", and "I Feel Pretty" and spectacular dancing choreographed by Nicole Helfer and based on the Jerome Robbins' original work, West Side Story is exhilarating and full of energy. It's based on Romeo and Juliet, so don't expect a happy ending, though. West Side Story is directed by Jay Manley (who also directed The Sound of Music on Mt. Tam in 2013), and Leonard Bernstein's score is performed by David Möschler leading a live 18-piece orchestra.
When we learned last year that the 2015 Mountain Play production was Peter Pan, we were really excited. We attended the opening performance of Peter Pan on Sunday and we were definitely not disappointed! Sir J.M. Barrie's timeless tale of the Darling Children, the boy who wouldn't grow up, Captain Hook, and the Lost Boys was presented in its 1954 Broadway musical form, with classic songs like "I Gotta Crow", "I'm Flying", and "I Won't Grow Up", among others. This year's production was directed by Michael Schwartz, with musical direction by Debra Chambliss, and choreography by Nicole Helfer.
The Mountain Play's Peter Pan is fast-paced with plenty of singing, dancing, and audience participation. Before the show, groups of pirates and Lost Boys roamed the audience to pose for photos and get the crowd excited for the performance to come.
The Mountain Play makes musical magic once again with its 101st production: Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific. Set in a tropical island paradise during World War II and featuring classic songs like "Some Enchanted Evening", "Happy Talk", "Bali Ha'i", and "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair", this year's production is directed by Bay Area theater pro Linda Dunn. Dunn also happens to be the ex-wife of veteran Mountain Play director Jim Dunn, who performs in South Pacific as US Navy Captain George Brackett.
South Pacific tells two parallel love stories, one of Ensign Nellie Forbush (Taylor Chalker), a spunky Navy nurse, and local French plantation owner Emile de Becque (Peter Vilkin); the other of Lieutenant Joseph Cable (Tyler Costin) and young island woman Liat (Mia Klenk). The cast also features Randy Nazarian in as Luther Billis and Lily Tung Crystal as Bloody Mary.
As always, it's fantastic live musical entertainment for the whole family, and a don't-miss Marin experience. My kids look forward to going to the Mountain Play every year. Great tickets are still available for Mountain Play performances on May 25 and June 1, 7, 8, and 15. All shows begin at 2 pm.
The Mountain Play makes musical magic once again in its 100th anniversary production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's The Sound of Music. Featuring classic songs that you surely know by heart, including Do-Re-Mi, My Favorite Things, Climb Ev'ry Mountain, and Edelweiss, this year's play is directed by Bay Area theater veteran Jay Manley and features a superb cast, especially the local kids in the roles of the Von Trapp children.
The Sound of Music tells the familiar story of Maria Rainer, sent from Salzburg's Nonnberg Abbey as governess to the seven children of widowed naval officer Georg von Trapp, all under the shadows of the 1938 Nazi takeover of Austria. The Sound of Music is probably most familiar in its 1965 movie form, starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer.
Great tickets are still available for Mountain Play performances on May 26 and June 2, 8, 9, and 16. All shows begin at 2 pm.
During winter and early spring, and especially after a rainstorm, a family hike along on Mount Tamalpais's cataract trail will reward you with stunning scenery and a series of spectacular waterfalls. This out-and-back hike is about 2.6 miles round trip, and should be manageable by most kids—we saw plenty of families on the trail during out last trek.
The trail is on the Mt. Tam lands administered by the Marin Municipal Water District, and follows Cataract Creek as it flows gently downhill. You'll pass through a magical forest of Douglas firs, oaks, ferns, and moss-covered rocks on the way to Laurel Dell picnic area. Pass through Laurel Dell and the trail heads downhill to the first in a series of waterfalls.
The easiest approach to the Cataract Trail for families is from the Rock Spring trailhead, which is at the junction of East and West Ridgecrest Boulevards. Park here and head out onto the Cataract Trail, the beginning of which you'll find off the center of the parking area. There is an alternate approach from Bolinas–Fairfax Road, near Alpine Dam, but the trail here is largely uphill, and parking along the road can be difficult.
It's no secret that Mt Tamalpais is Marin County's outdoor adventure hot-spot. One of the most popular ways to visit the mountain and its many trails and natural resources is via Sky Oaks just west of Fairfax.
Sky Oaks is home to the Watershed Headquarters for the Marin Municipal Water District, which manages a large part of Mt. Tam's lands (other portions of which are part of Mt. Tamalpais State Park). Sky Oaks offers easy access to numerous trails, picnic areas, and the Lake Lagunitas and Bon Tempe Lake reservoirs. With towering redwoods and Douglas firs ringing the sparkling lakes, it's a beautiful place, and it almost feels like you're up in the Sierras.
For a great family friendly hike, try walking the loop around Lake Lagunitas. The fire roads here are wide and relatively flat, with only a few gentle hills. They're open to hikers, cyclists, and equestrians, and are easily manageable with a sturdy offroad jogging stroller.
Start your hike in the Lake Lagunitas Picnic Area. At the far end of the parking lot, take the signed trail to your left up to Lakeview Fire Road to the lake's dam. On your way from the parking area you'll see a sign noting all the different species of wildlife observed in the area—from deer to bullfrogs to bobcats to bald eagles—along with dates and locations. We saw a couple deer walking across the trail during our hike, as well as red-tailed hawks and a variety of waterfowl.
Our family loves to explore Mt. Tamalpais. Usually, we pack a picnic for lunch during our hikes, but on our last visit we decided to take the kids to the Mountain Home Inn, one of the few restaurants up on the mountain. It was a gorgeous, clear day, and we knew the views from the restaurant's deck would be amazing.
The Mountain Home Inn has been a fixture on Mt. Tam for a century, and it's a great place to stop for breakfast, lunch, or dinner before or after your Mt. Tam adventure. Of course we opted to sit outside on the deck, taking in the spectacular views of Marin County and relaxing in the shade of the patio umbrellas. Our friendly and attentive server brought us a bottle of water infused with mint as we perused the menu.
The Mountain home inn offers a variety of dishes, from bratwurst on a bun with house-made potato chips (a nod to the inn's beginnings as a Swiss/German roadhouse) and burgers to fresh pastas and a vegetable frittata. There's also a children's menu, which is offered up with crayons for coloring, that includes favorites like chicken fingers and fries, kids' pasta with butter and parmesan, french toast, and more.
I grew up hiking on the trails of Mt. Tam with my family, and have fond memories of walking around the summit of the mountain and marveling at the fantastic views. The East Peak of Mt. Tamalpais is a great place to go for families looking to take a hike with small children, and it also offers what are arguably the most spectacular views of any hike in the San Francisco Bay Area, so it's a great spot to take out-of-town visitors, too.
The easy, paved, .7-mile Verna Dunshee Trail that circles the mountaintop is accessible and perfect for strollers, too, and it's recently been repaved and upgraded. In addition to panoramic views of the Bay Area, the East Peak has a small visitor center and gift shop, as well as a seasonal snack bar offering candy, hot dogs, ice cream, and sodas. It's always a great place to stop for a treat after a family hike.
You'll also find the Gravity Car Barn and Museum near the snack bar. Open to the public on weekends from noon to 4 pm, the Gravity Car Barn pays tribute to the long gone Mt. Tamalpais and Muir Woods Railway, an excursion railroad that from 1896 to 1930 transported visitors up to the summit of Mt. Tam via steam train, and back down to Mill Valley by means of a free-wheeling gravity car, a replica of which is housed inside the gravity car barn and is rolled out when the museum is open.