It took awhile for San Francisco to feel like home to me, but I found that the more I got out and saw all the amazing things the City has to offer, the more I fell in love. I thought I had visited a lot of parks and playgrounds around San Francisco until I started following Jamiee of @sanfranciscotoddler on Instagram. Jamiee uses Instagram to document her adventures with her toddler and to share helpful information about playgrounds and parks, play spaces, beaches and other beautiful spots around town. Her photos and detailed tips about visiting the city’s most kid-friendly gems always inspire me to get outside my comfort zone and explore new corners of this city.
I am so grateful that she has agreed to let me interview her for this guide, because what’s better than insider information from a local mom?! Check out our conversation below for information about the best playgrounds and parks in the City, and scroll to the bottom for a recap of what we discussed.
Good for Tots
Since you and I both have toddlers, let’s talk about playgrounds that have great tot lots, or areas specifically for younger children. What are some of your go-to playgrounds, where you feel like your little one is safe, but still has lots of equipment and space to explore?
My daughter is almost two, and some of the older playgrounds are not suited for young toddlers. My absolute favorite playground for toddlers is Mountain Lake Park. The toddler section is enclosed, and it offers unique sensory equipment for the little ones. There are swings and slides, but also things to climb, spin, and roll. Mountain Lake Park also has a great area for older children, walking trails, open grass, and it’s pretty easy to park in the neighborhood. There are also clean restrooms and picnic tables! Other lesser-known parks that are very child-friendly and safe are Raymond Kimbell Playground, Cabrillo Playground, and Angelo Rossi Playground.
We recently went to Mountain Lake Park and loved it! I appreciate it when great playgrounds are also surrounded by trails and/or open grassy areas. That way, if you’re driving outside of your neighborhood to visit a playground, your toddler will have access to a variety of play opportunities in the same outing. Mission Bay Playground is another new playground that always feels clean and safe and is perfect for toddlers.
Good for Older Kids
Before we know it, our toddlers will become those wild, older children that we see climbing, doing the monkey bars and playing crazy tag games on the playground. Are there any playgrounds you’ve visited that are better suited for older kids, that you looking forward to exploring more in the future?
We live very close to Golden Gate Park, so we spend a lot of time at Koret Children’s Quarter Playground. Although they do have swings and equipment for all ages, the “big-kid” section looks so fun! There are also cement slides, and I always see older children having a blast. We stop by Dolores Park occasionally, especially when we have visitors in town, but the Helen Diller Playground is a playground that is amazing for older children! The Helen Diller Civic Center Playground recently opened, as well, and this is another great spot for older children.
Have you ever been to Joe DiMaggio Playground? I’ve heard it’s great for older kids, but we haven’t checked it out yet. My son enjoys the new Civic Center Playground because there are swings and funny looking egg-like structures he likes to play in, but the cool rope climbing area is definitely designed for older kids. We also recently went to St. Mary’s Playground, which has plenty to do for toddlers, but a large play structure, tall slide, and some climbing elements that are better suited for older children. Another cool thing about St. Mary’s is that it’s the city’s largest wheelchair accessible structure!
Sometimes it’s hard for me to remember having a tiny baby that can’t sit up, walk or run, let alone play on the playground. I do, however, remember often feeling stir crazy, and wanting to get outside for fresh air and a change of scenery. For new moms who are simply looking to get out of the house, where would you recommend they go for a scenic view or a comfortable spot to play on a blanket with their little one?
When I was a new mom, I spent all of my time at Duboce Park. The park is flat and spacious, and you can usually find a quiet and shady spot under a tree. I always enjoyed bringing a blanket and a few books and toys for my little one, and I always stopped by Duboce Park Cafe for a coffee. If you are wanting to get in a nice hike, I love Glen Canyon Park. I didn’t find this treasure until mine was already a toddler, but I would have loved to hike that area when she was content in a carrier. Glen Canyon also has a nice playground, so it’s also a great spot for all ages.
Glen Canyon Park is such a gem! I recently went to Cayuga Playground for the first time and can imagine the open grassy area could be nice for playing on a blanket with a new baby. There is also a walking path around the field where you could stroll a sleeping baby and admire the hand-carved totems. For new walkers or young toddlers who are exploring play structures for the first time, I’d recommend the tiny Dogpatch Playground. There are no swings and just one slide, but it’s clean, gated, and all the equipment is just the right size for little ones.
Parks with Parking
I took public transportation a lot when I first moved here because I could easily wear my son and hop on and off. Now that he’s a toddler, it’s a bit more of a challenge, and I find myself jumping in the car more often. I’m starting to feel more confident driving around the City, but I hate dealing with parking! Any recommendations for parks with easy, reliable parking?
When my daughter was an infant, driving and street parking was so intimidating. At this point, I’ve pretty much tried it all, and there are definitely parts of the city that I avoid because of the parking situation. Golden Gate Park is usually a safe bet, and you can almost always find parking that isn’t too far from Koret Children’s Quarter. If there are weekend events happening in GGP, I would definitely avoid the area. The touristy parts of the city are always challenging, but most of the playgrounds on the western half of the city will have nearby parking, especially during the week.
I totally agree about GGP being a safe bet. I have also had good luck with parking at some of the older, smaller playgrounds, like Walter Haas Playground, Holly Park Playground, and McKinley Square Playground. The play structures at these playgrounds aren’t the newest or nicest, but I’ve never had an issue parking in these neighborhoods. In addition to easy parking, these playgrounds have other elements that make them great for family adventures: Walter Haas Playground is connected to trails, Holly Park has nice walking paths and is near the Cortland Ave shops, and McKinley Square Playground is next to the Potrero Hill Community Garden. They also all have spectacular views!
Clean, Convenient Bathrooms
I don’t know where you’re at in the potty training stage of life, but my son is about 90% potty trained. This means I am always anxious about the bathroom situation when we’re out and about because when he’s gotta go, he’s gotta GO. Some of the playgrounds we like don’t have bathrooms, which is tricky these days. Any favorite spots with close, clean bathrooms?
Ah, potty training! We started, and then we stopped for a 5-hour flight, and now I think I have decided that mine can wear diapers for the rest of her life! Potty training is really tough when you spend lots of time exploring SF. I currently have a Summer Infant Time-to-Go Travel Potty. I keep one in my car, and I always take one in my stroller. It’s probably not the best solution in the world, but having a two-year-old girl that touches EVERYTHING in a public restroom has made me a little crazy! With that being said, I definitely research restroom situations before I go anywhere. It’s pretty easy to find online, and worst case scenario, I have had no problem stopping in a coffee shop.
Why do toddlers want to touch everything in public restrooms?! My son also likes to try to escape under the door while I’m peeing, so using the bathroom on the go is always an adventure! I like that the Mission Pool Playground bathrooms are right next to the play structure and typically very clean. There are also close bathrooms at the Julius Kahn Playground.
Escape within the City
As a fellow stay-at-home mom, you might be able to relate to this: By the time the weekend rolls around, I’m often sick of going to the playgrounds in our neighborhood. My son still needs to play outside, but I also want to take advantage of my husband being around to go somewhere that feels special, like a family date. Can you think of a park that feels like an escape within the City that both kids and adults will love?
Alta Plaza Park and Lafayette Park are two of my favorite “special” parks. I do not live close enough to walk to either, but they are really fabulous parks with great food and lots of nearby restaurants. Parking on the weekends can require a little patience, but I have always been able to find either a free 2 hour spot or a meter closer to Fillmore Street. We also enjoy heading to Mission Bay for the wonderful playground and nearby food trucks (Spark Social SF) but I definitely avoid this area when there are baseball games.
I’ve never been to Alta Plaza Park, I’ll have to check that out. I love your tip for making a trip to the playground more special by choosing one that’s near good food.
Wow Your Visitors
Last but not least, is there a playground that provides the iconic, San Francisco experience, that you would recommend to out of town visitors?
We always take out of town visitors to Alamo Square Park and Dolores Park. There’s nothing better than grabbing Souvla and watching the sunset with the Painted Ladies! Dolores Park also offers iconic views of the city, and visitors are always impressed.
Yes! These two parks provide a perfect glimpse into City life, are nearby delicious food options and have stellar views. What more could you ask for?
It’s so easy to visit the same neighborhood playground over and over again, but there are so many playgrounds in San Francisco worth exploring. Jamiee and I chatted about over 20 playgrounds located in different neighborhoods all over the City! If you have any favorite playgrounds that we didn’t mention, I’d love to hear about them in the comments below!
Alamo Square Park, Alamo Square | Wow Your Visitors
Holly Park Playground, Bernal Heights | Good for Parking
St. Mary’s Playground, Bernal Heights | Good for Older Kids; Largest wheelchair accessible structure!
The Helen Diller Civic Center Playground, Civic Center | Good for Older Kids
Walter Haas Playground, Diamond Heights | Good for Parking
Duboce Park, Duboce Triangle | Scenic Views
Glen Canyon Park, Glen Park | Scenic Views
Koret Children’s Quarter Playground, Golden Gate Park | Good for Older Kids; Good for Parking
Mountain Lake Park, Lake District | Good for Tots
Mission Bay Kids Park , Mission Bay | Good for Tots; Escape within the City
Mission Pool Playground, Mission | Clean, Convenient Bathrooms
Cayuga Playground, Outer Mission | Scenic Views; Good for Babies
Joe DiMaggio Playground, North Beach | Good for Older Kids
Alta Plaza Park, Pac Heights | Escape Within the City
Lafayette Park, Pac Heights | Escape Within the City
Dogpatch Playground, Potrero Hill | Scenic Views; Good for Babies
McKinley Square Playground, Potrero Hill | Good for Parking; Scenic Views
Julius Kahn Playground, The Presidio | Clean, Convenient Bathrooms
Angelo Rossi Playground, Inner Richmond | Good for Tots
Cabrillo Playground, Outer Richmond | Good for Tots
Raymond Kimbell Playground, Western Addition | Good for Tots