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Get Outside and Enjoy San Francisco’s Big Backyard

Written by Maryann Jones ThompsonPublished May 26, 2022 • 9:00am
The recently opened Francisco Park | Courtesy of SF Recreation & Parks

San Franciscans spend a lot of time working indoors, whether it’s from home, a downtown high-rise or a warehouse. We all could use a break, right?

One of the best ways to unplug is to literally unplug the external monitor, close the laptop and step outside. Once there, you'll be able to truly tune out the incessant whooshing of sent emails, chirping of calendar reminders and buzzing of text messages and tune in to the whooshing of waves, chirping of birds and buzzing of bees.

Has it been a while since you've ventured out? Unsure of where to go? Don't stress, we’ve got you covered. Below is a list of the best parks and public spaces to get out of doors, without going too far from your front door.

— Meaghan Mitchell

A version of this article was first published on April 22.

Battery Bluff, The Presidio

A full-fledged team effort of local, state and federal government agencies unveiled San Francisco’s newly appointed and refurbished Battery Bluff, named after the four U.S. Army gun batteries (Blaney, Baldwin, Slaughter and Sherwood) and tucked along the hillside just above Chrissy Field (and not to be confused with the “Battery to Bluffs Trail” on the west side of the Presidio.) Visitors can now enjoy breathtaking views of the Golden Gate, Angel Island, Alcatraz and San Francisco Bay, take a break at one of the newly installed picnic tables or mosey along its multi-use path, surrounded by 60,000 native and ornamental plants, connecting visitors to the Golden Gate Bridge. (Pro-tip: Despite what Google Maps might show, Battery Bluff is not accessible from Mason Street; drivers can park along Lincoln Blvd. or in the Main Post.)

New picnic areas at Battery Bluff in the Presidio, April 22, 2022 | Maryann Jones Thompson

Japanese Tea Garden & Conservatory of Flowers, Golden Gate Park

Nothing’s better than free! As of today, San Franciscans can now stroll (free of charge) in two more of Golden Gate Park’s historic gardens. Both the pagodas, koi ponds and steep drum bridge of the Japanese Tea Garden and the tropical oddities of the Conservatory of Flowers became part of the  “free pass” ordinance signed into law by Mayor Breed in March. The two join the San Francisco Botanical Garden as parks free to city residents and all U.S. veterans with I.D.

The Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park. | Photo by DeAgostini via Getty Images

Francisco Park, Russian Hill-Fisherman's Wharf

Community effort and SF Rec & Parks combined to transform the once-abandoned reservoir site into a public park flourishing in native landscaping and boasting some of the most awe-inspiring views of Alcatraz, Angel Island, Marin County, the Golden Gate Bridge and SF Bay. In addition to a fenced-in dog park, Francisco Park will have a fully ADA-compliant pathway beginning at Bay Street that leads to the lawn area and childrens’ playground when it officially opens April 27.

Francisco Park | Bruce Keene

Mansell Tai Chi Court at McLaren Park

Whether it’s Yang, Chen or Sun style tai chi, locals can now master their moves in the city’s second-largest park. The McLaren Park Courts Project kicked off its newest space, Mansell Tai Chi Court in Mid-March with an elaborate demonstration of this Chinese martial art. The court is officially earmarked for public multi-use, so park goers will be able to use the space for yoga, dancing — and, of course, perfecting their “Parting the Wild Horse’s Mane.”

Helen Diller Playground at Dolores Park, The Mission

Though Rec & Park might not count the playground’s repairs and resurfacing as a “major” project, local families disagree. After a six-month closure, they’re thrilled to have the playground back in action, telling The Standard they love the renovation’s new artificial grass-covered play surfaces and return to old-school sand for slide landing zones. 

Shannon and her daughter Marlow use the slide at the Helen Diller Playground at Mission Dolores Park. They live in the neighborhood and have been “waiting for the reopen since it closed.” | Camille Cohen

Rossi Pool and Playground, Lone Mountain

Dive in! After a two-year, $15 million renovation, the Angelo J. Rossi Pool has reopened to the community near USF. The project included improvements to the pool and its building, as well as the park’s sports fields.

Rossi Pool was recently reopened. | Courtesy of San Francisco Recreation and Park Department

Bay Wheels Bike Share, The Presidio

Three new bike share stations will open this weekend in the Presidio: Anza Avenue at Lincoln Boulevard, Torney Avenue at Lincoln Boulevard and MacArthur Avenue at Fernandez Street. (Non-members should check rates before riding.)

New Bay Wheels bike racks outside the Presidio’s Lombard Gates. | Courtesy of the Presidio Trust

Wander Woods at Cal Academy, Golden Gate Park

Cal Academy opened a new outdoor space for children wanting a break from their immersive indoor exhibits. Wander Woods offers opportunities for unstructured play, including heaps of native greenery and structures built from reclaimed wood found in nearby parks.

Families explore during the opening day of Wander Woods. | Courtesy of Gayle Laird/California Academy of Sciences

Field Notes, The Presidio

Need an excuse to wander around the Presidio? Field Notes is a new, self-guided experience that invites visitors to learn more about the park’s flora and fauna. Wooden markers share seasonal facts and provide QR codes to get even more information. 

The view at one of the stops on the Presidio Field Notes self-guided tour. | Courtesy of the Presidio Trust

Bayview K.C. Jones Playground, Bayview 

The community wanted a better playground—and that’s what they got: A $6 million renovation that includes a larger play area, exercising equipment for adults, a walking path, grassy picnic area and a renovation of the ball field where namesake basketball great K.C. Jones played as a child. The design boasts 29 new trees and a bioretention area with native vegetation to prevent flooding.

Children climb on the large play structure in Bayview K.C. Jones Playground. | Courtesy of San Francisco Recreation and Park Department

Heron’s Head Park EcoCenter, Bayview

The new nature exploration area at Heron’s Head Park grew from inspiration provided by local children. The play area is woven with paths through native vegetation, massive boulders, locally sourced trees, and repurposed wood that lead to a lookout with views of San Francisco Bay. 

Barbara Heroux and Bill Neely, amateur bird watchers who walk the park most days, enjoy the sun at Heron’s Head Park on Feb. 7, 2022. "It’s been such a hard year. It’s nice to come here, where there’s always something to look at.” | Camille Cohen

McLaren Park Ropes Course, Excelsior

Strap into a full-body harness and grab a helmet at McLaren Park Ropes Course for some tree-top adventure. The 313-acre course offers 11 elements with a combination of low and high challenges. “The Leap” from the tippy top of a telephone pole to a dangling buoy a dozen or so feet away will tempt only the most brave. Managed by Outward Bound California, building the confidence of local students is the primary goal but spots are occasionally available to the general public. 

A climber atop McLaren Park's newest addition, a ropes course. | Courtesy of San Francisco Recreation and Park Department

Juri Commons, The Mission 

The mini park’s $1.9 million renovation aimed to create a hidden natural oasis for the neighborhood. With its improved playspaces for children, “tot” area, sprawling grass for dogs, and exercise area adorned with equipment for adults, Juri Commons hopes to help connect kids to nature. 

Juri Commons, a sliver of a park, sits ready for use. | Courtesy of San Francisco Recreation and Park Department

Black Point Historic Gardens, Fort Mason

Eureka! The pathways that connect Aquatic Park to blufftop Fort Mason reopened to the public for the first time since the 49ers landed in SF. The one-acre park of terraced gardens offers incredible views and connections to the Bay Trail and the rest of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

The newly renovated Black Point Historic Gardens in Fort Mason. | Photo by Russell Bombon, Parks Conservancy

Golden Gate Heights Playground, Golden Gate Heights

Ready to test your nerves on a new climbing wall? The $2.8 million makeover at Golden Gate Heights Park is a hopping, climbing, jumping, swinging great time for youngsters and the young at heart. The playground added new activities galore—monkey bars, slides, basket swings, spinner, rolling arches and spring disc steps. 

Children climb the new structure in Golden Gate Heights park. | Courtesy of San Francisco Recreation and Park Department

Shoreview Park, Bayview

The community asked for a family-friendly place where multiple generations could gather in nature and the $3.3 million renovation project did not disappoint. Among the accessible pathways, new irrigation, plantings, landscaping, lighting, picnic area and furnishings lies the first ever playground “skywalk” in California.

Children climb up the slide at Shoreview Park. | Courtesy of San Francisco Recreation and Park Department

George Christopher Playground, Diamond Heights

Known by neighbors as one of SF’s “best kept secrets,” George Christopher Park’s panoramic views and Glen Canyon trail access have been enhanced by a brand new playground. A $5.2 million renovation added structures for big and little kids, swings, an imagination garden, a playhouse, a dry nature riverbed and a performance stage. 

The nature-themed play structure at George Cristopher park. | Courtesy of San Francisco Recreation and Park Department

Kapwa Gardens, SOMA

SF’s Filipino community grew paradise from a parking lot on Mission Street. Kapwa Gardens sprung to life during the pandemic, providing a new destination for arts, culture and wellness gatherings in the SOMA Pilipinas Cultural Heritage District. Check their calendar for upcoming events or stop by for an afternoon “green” break from the SOMA bustle.

Kapwa Gardens rotates outdoor activities and events. | Courtesy of Kapwa Gardens

Garfield Square Recreation Area, The Mission

A 113-foot-long brightly colored glass mural now runs the length of the Garfield pool. The $19.7 million project transformed the “pool” into a neighborhood center, with a new playground, sports fields, restrooms and a courtyard connecting it all. 

New mural on walls of Garfield Pool was created in collaboration with Precita Eyes. | Courtesy of San Francisco Recreation and Park Department

Goldman Tennis Center, Golden Gate Park

Beginners and experts cheered the opening of the $27 million dollar tennis center in Golden Gate Park. The 16 lighted tennis courts, six pickleball courts, and numerous instructional opportunities allow everyone in the city to get their whites on.  

Tennis players utilize the new courts in Golden Gate Park. | Courtesy of San Francisco Recreation and Park Department

Willie “Woo Woo” Wong Playground, Chinatown

Chinatown’s favorite place to play got a $14.5 million facelift to ring in the Year of the Ox. The playground’s freshly-painted pagoda overlooks new sitting areas, two sand-floor play areas, tennis and volleyball courts, and a roof-top basketball court that would make local legend Willie Wong proud.

Children, parents and community members spend an afternoon in the sunshine at Willie “Woo Woo” Wong playground in Chinatown on Feb. 7, 2022. | Camille Cohen

Shelley D. Fargo contributed additional research for this story. Meaghan Mitchell contributed additional reporting for this story.

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