"All good things are wild and free." --Henry David Thoreau

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Book Review! Best Hikes With Kids: San Francisco Bay Area

Best Hikes with Kids: San Francisco Bay Area
By Laure Latham

Copyright: 2011
General subject matter: hiking, California, family recreation
Laure’s blog: http://frogmom.com

I have a fairly good book collection about local hikes and outdoor places, and one of the superior ones is Laure Latham’s Best Hikes with Kids San Francisco Bay Area. Someone once recommended this book long before I acquired it, and at the time I shook my head, thinking the hikes would be too easy. Little did I know. Easy doesn't mean boring, and when you have children, easy to moderate hikes that are full of interesting things to see and do are what turns recalcitrant children into inquisitive, happy beings. Once I acquired Laure's book, I loved it! The reasons are numerous: it has an intelligent introduction, comprehensive chapters, great organization, family focus, and breadth of trails, many which are new to me.
(credit: randsco.com)

Dad, 2-month-old baby, 4-yr-old kid
Laure believes all ages can and should hike. In her introduction she expands on Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods book and his philosophy to bring children into outdoor spaces by advocating that even babies should be taken hiking, claiming “they are the best hikers.” Laure shares her positive experience hiking with a seven week old baby in Yosemite (which triggers fond memories of taking my thirteen-day-old baby around Bayview Hill in San Francisco).

Laure emphasizes having fun. Some of the tips she has for motivating children include having them hike with friends, telling stories out loud (she’s got a great list of recommended books), doing arts and crafts on the trail, building fairy houses, and bringing lots of snacks. Practical tips, but potentially forgotten or de-emphasized by tired parents in their rush to get out the door, or finish a trail.
Kids on the go! (credit: durangogov.org)
A hundred hikes are divided between neighboring counties of San Francisco, Alameda, San Mateo, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, Sonoma, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, and Solano. There’s a map in the beginning of the book to show you where the hikes are, stretching as far north as Guerneville, as far south as Gilroy, and east from Fairfield.

Each hike has a “Before You Go” info box about maps and relevant web resources, and an info box about the hike’s vital points: length in miles, estimated hiking time, elevation, season, and level (easy, moderate, difficult). There are awesome detailed maps and a photo for each hike.

at Candlestick Point, SF
It seems that Laure likes the trails less traveled, and I must say, I’m quite pleased Laure gave so much attention (two out of ten hikes) to the southern parts of San Francisco: McLaren Park and Candlestick Point. It’s amazing to me how many San Franciscans haven’t been to McLaren or Candlestick, even outdoorsy natives. (Conversely, it’s always a thrill when people say they have gone to these spots). Laure touches on interesting historical points about these parks, like Candlestick’s creation in the wartime of the 1940s, their natural features, like Yosemite Creek which flows through McLaren, and somewhat secret destinations, like the stone labyrinth on top of Visitacion Knob in McLaren Park.

Tarantula (frogmom.com)
Because of Laure’s penchant for less beaten paths, I trust her to lead me someplace great. For instance, she has a fascinating write-up about Mount Diablo’s tarantulas, which you can encounter in the fall on a 2-mile hike in Mitchell Canyon in Contra Costa County.

I love water and walking, but with newborn twins and a double stroller, I’m a little stymied for ideas of where to go to swim and stroll. I appreciate Laure’s write up about a 2.2-mile trail with a paved path at Spring Lake Regional Park in Sonoma County.

Smittle (credit: westernwildflower.com)
Laure describes a flooded town underneath Lake Berryessa in Napa County, and a 1.5-mile loop there at Smittle Creek, including how to identify an osprey nest, and where to get a Junior Ranger activity book for your kid. I appreciate that she recommends the best season to check out a particular trail, and in this case it's in the spring because of the vibrant flowers growing among the green grass. 

Monarch butterflies fascinate both my four-year-old and myself, and we’ve always wanted to see flocks of them. But when, and where? Laure tells where to find monarchs in Santa Cruz County. She recommends an easy 1-mile loop at Natural Bridges State Beach during certain migration months (and one is coming up!). On this hike you’ll also see amazing rock formations (Laure gets into describing the geology too) and get a chance to explore tidepools.

Yes, this is Laure Latham! :-)
One day in early 2010 an editor from The Mountaineers Books contacted Laure because of her blog, Frogmom, which is about kids, creativity, and the outdoors. The editor asked her to write this book, proving that writing about what you love, even through a blog, could give you some awesome cerebral adventures.

Laure created three rules to guide her research and writing:

"First, I wanted my book to be fair to each county and represent the diversity of the Bay Area wherever you lived – not just for San Francisco families. That way, you could take the book with you on a day trip to Sonoma or a day trip to Santa Cruz and still find stuff to do. That meant popular Marin hikes would not be included but people would be able to discover the green side of Napa or Solano.

"Second, I wanted to include sightseeing and nature facts sidebars because I love to combine trails and travel. Seemed like seasonal events would be cool additions too.

"Third and last, I wanted each hike to have specific kid appeal – animal farm, cool nature fact, animal migrations, historic buildings, famous children’s books locations, shipwrecks, native American way of life, etc."

Laure and her book! (credit: frogmom.com)
Nine months later Laure basically gave birth to a manuscript (lol) after having walked 400 miles and 110 hikes. She submitted it to The Mountaineers Books, and it rolled out onto bookstore shelves nearly a year later. You can read Laure’s story here: http://frogmom.com/2011/09/best-hikes-with-kids-san-francisco-bay-area-my-book-is-out/

And better yet, because the written word on printed page shall never die or go out of style, Best Hikes with Kids: San Francisco Bay Area is available and fully able to be stashed in the glove compartment of your minivan, in your baby's diaper bag, or in the undercarriage basket of your stroller.