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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Maryann Jones Thompson can be reached at [email protected]