Stunning Urban Outdoor Spaces in California

Stunning Urban Outdoor Spaces in California
14 Jul 2023

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Image by Jenn from Pixabay

Visiting a metropolitan destination can sometimes make you feel disconnected from nature. Fortunately, there are plenty of outdoor urban spaces in cities like San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Francisco that provide families with opportunities to enjoy nature, hiking trails, wildlife viewing, and beach access right alongside iconic cityscapes that draw tourists from around the globe.

Whether you’re visiting for a day or a week, these cities offer a wide range of outdoor activities for families of all ages to enjoy. From sprawling parks to scenic hiking trails and beaches, there is no shortage of places to explore and create unforgettable memories. In this detailed post, we’ll explore some of the best urban green spaces in San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Francisco that are perfect for families who enjoy all that a city offers but also want to connect to the great outdoors.

Image by David Mark from Pixabay

San Diego

Balboa Park

Balboa Park is a true gem of San Diego, is an expansive green space that has something for everyone. With 1,200 acres to showcase gardens, museums, and cultural attractions, it is the perfect destination for families seeking a day of outdoor adventure. The park’s extensive network of hiking and biking trails caters to visitors of all ages and fitness levels. Among the park’s many features are the beautiful Japanese Friendship Garden, the Alcazar Garden, and the enchanting Botanical Building, which houses over 2,000 plants. Families can also enjoy the park’s numerous picnic areas, playgrounds, and open lawns, making it an ideal spot for a picnic lunch, or an afternoon of relaxation.

Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve

This 2,000-acre reserve, just north of La Jolla, boasts a diverse landscape of coastal cliffs, canyons, and sandy beaches. Its well-maintained hiking trails provide fantastic views of the Pacific Ocean, with some trails even leading down to the beach itself. Families can choose from a range of trails, with varying levels of difficulty, so there is an option for everyone’s skill level. Along the way, visitors can expect to encounter a variety of native flora and fauna, including the rare Torrey Pine tree, which is only found in this reserve and on Santa Rosa Island.

La Jolla Cove

La Jolla Cove, a beautiful beach nestled within a small cove, offers a unique coastal experience for families. Surrounded by dramatic cliffs, the protected waters of the cove create a serene setting for various water activities. Families can enjoy snorkeling, scuba diving, and kayaking in the clear, calm waters. The nearby Ellen Browning Scripps Park, with its expansive lawn and shaded picnic areas, provides a perfect spot for families to relax and enjoy a meal while taking in the relaxing views of the cove and the ocean beyond.

Mission Bay Park

This haven for families seeking variety in their outdoor activities is the largest aquatic park in the United States. This 4,235-acre park features miles of scenic shoreline, offering ample opportunities for biking, hiking, and jogging. The park’s sandy beaches, calm waters, and designated swimming areas make it a popular destination for sunbathing, swimming, and watersports like paddleboarding and jet skiing. With numerous playgrounds, picnic areas, and even a dedicated kite-flying area, Mission Bay Park caters to families looking for a fun-filled day outdoors. Additionally, the park is home to SeaWorld San Diego, a marine-themed park that offers educational exhibits, animal encounters, and thrilling rides to bring out the kid in all of us!

San Diego’s outdoor spaces provide an abundance of opportunities for families to enjoy nature, engage in outdoor activities, and create lasting memories. From the lush gardens and cultural attractions of Balboa Park to the rugged beauty of Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve, the city’s diverse landscapes offer a little something for everyone.

Image by David Mark from Pixabay

Los Angeles

Griffith Park

This urban green space is a true oasis in the heart of Los Angeles, and spans over 4,300 acres, making it one of the largest urban parks in the United States. The park boasts an extensive network of hiking and biking trails visitors can enjoy. Among the park’s most notable attractions is the iconic Griffith Observatory, where families can explore the wonders of space through interactive exhibits, telescopes, and planetarium shows. It’s an amazing place to enjoy the Los Angeles skyline at night, or the Hollywood sign during the day.

Santa Monica Beach

This area located just west of downtown Los Angeles, may have earned the nickname Silicon Beach for all of the tech start-ups that call the city home, but it remains a quintessential Southern California beach destination. The expansive, sandy beach offers families plenty of room to relax, sunbathe, and play in the surf. The beach is known for its vibrant atmosphere and numerous activities, such as surfing, volleyball, and cycling along the famous Marvin Braude Bike Trail. People-watching is practically a sport here! A short walk from the beach, the Santa Monica Pier entices visitors with its historic amusement park, featuring classic fair-type rides including a roller coaster. The pier also offers a variety of dining options, arcade games, and street performers, creating a lively atmosphere that families are sure to enjoy.

Runyon Canyon Park

Runyon Canyon, nestled in the Hollywood Hills, is a popular hiking destination for both locals and visitors alike. If you didn’t get enough of the views from Griffith Park, this area features a range of trails, each offering varying levels of difficulty and unique views of the city skyline, the iconic Hollywood Sign, and the surrounding natural beauty.

Descanso Gardens

A kid-friendly space situated in the serene community of La Cañada Flintridge, Descanso Gardens is a botanical haven that offers a peaceful respite from the city. Spread across 150 acres, the gardens feature a diverse collection of plants, flowers, and trees from around the world. Families can explore the tranquil walking paths, relax in one of the numerous picnic areas, or ride the Enchanted Railroad, a pint-sized train that winds through the gardens.


Frogtown, also known as Elysian Valley, is for those who want to visit off-the-beaten-path spots that locals cherish. A vibrant neighborhood located along the banks of the Los Angeles River, the area has experienced a renaissance in recent years, with local artists and entrepreneurs transforming the once-industrial district into a hub of creativity and community. Families can enjoy leisurely strolls or bike rides along the pedestrian and bike path that runs parallel to the river, taking in the unique blend of urban and natural scenery. The neighborhood is home to an array of art galleries, coffee shops, and eateries, offering visitors a chance to experience the thriving local culture and support small businesses. Frogtown’s revitalization and its connection to the LA River make it a worthwhile destination for those seeking to explore the city’s evolving outdoor spaces.

San Francisco

Golden Gate Park

This world-renowned sprawling urban oasis in the heart of San Francisco spans over 1,000 acres and offers a diverse array of recreational and cultural opportunities for visitors. The park features numerous hiking trails, playgrounds, and picnic areas like no others you’ve seen. Within the park, families can explore the Japanese Tea Garden, a serene space that showcases traditional Japanese architecture, koi ponds, and meticulously maintained landscapes. Golden Gate Park is also home to several beautifully designed museums, such as the de Young Museum and the California Academy of Sciences, providing a range of educational and interactive experiences for visitors.

Lands End Trail

Land End is situated on the northwestern corner of San Francisco, is a picturesque hiking destination that offers iconic views of the Golden Gate Bridge, the Pacific Ocean, and the surrounding coastal landscapes. The trail is well-maintained and relatively easy, making it suitable for families with young children. Along the way, hikers can explore historic landmarks like the Sutro Baths ruins and the USS San Francisco Memorial, as well as catch glimpses of wildlife such as seabirds and harbor seals.

Baker Beach

Keeping to the Golden Gate Bridge area, Baker Beach is nestled at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge, and is a popular destination for beachgoers seeking all the things – sun, surf, and stunning views. The beach’s mile-long stretch of sand provides ample space for families to relax, build sandcastles, and enjoy various water activities such as swimming, surfing, or fishing. With its dramatic backdrop of the world-famous bridge and the Marin Headlands, Baker Beach is an idyllic spot for family photos and picnics.

The San Francisco Zoo

The S.F. Zoo is located in the city’s southwestern corner and offers an opportunity for visitors to learn about and connect with animals from around the world. Home to over 1,000 animals, including tigers, giraffes, and penguins, the zoo provides an engaging and educational experience for visitors and locals alike. In addition to its diverse animal exhibits, the zoo features several playgrounds and eating areas. Special events, animal encounters, and educational programs further enhance the zoo experience, fostering a deeper understanding and appreciation for the natural world.

The Presidio

As a former military base turned national park, this site is a treasure trove of green spaces, bay views, and historical attractions. Spanning over 1,500 acres, the Presidio features expansive lawns, forested areas, and scenic overlooks, offering families a multitude of outdoor recreational opportunities. Visitors can explore the park’s numerous hiking and biking trails, enjoy a picnic at Crissy Field, or take in the panoramic views of the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco Bay. The park also boasts a rich history, with attractions such as Fort Point, the Walt Disney Family Museum, and the Presidio Officers’ Club, offering glimpses into the area’s past and its transformation over time.

Image by Egor Shitikov from Pixabay

Visit These Outdoor Urban Spaces in California!

These cities offer fantastic outdoor urban spaces that families can explore and enjoy. From parks and beaches to hiking trails and botanical gardens, these locations provide families with ample opportunities to experience the great outdoors while still enjoying the amenities of the city.

Michelle Muncy-Silva

Michelle Muncy-Silva is the founder and creator of Travel with Intention, an intentional travel planning blog that's all about empowering independent spirits to curate their own unique adventures. With a passion for family travel and a drive to share their experiences with others, the founder began this blog in 2019 during the Covid-19 pandemic. Fed up with traditional travel advice that emphasizes quantity over quality, they set out to revolutionize the world of travel planning. Armed with personalized recommendations and sample itineraries, they believe in helping fellow travelers create unforgettable memories through intentional travel experiences. With a book, blog, newsletter, and future course in the works, the founder's mission is to inspire others to embrace the badassery of DIY travel planning and create journeys that reflect who they are and what they truly want.

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