Mapping 46 of San Francisco's Best Public Parks
Every Wednesday we break down the details of a lesser known park in San Francisco. And why not? There are 220 of them, but it sometimes seems like Golden Gate Park and Dolores Park get all the attention. Since the weather's warming up just a bit, we thought it best to map some of our absolute favorite public parks right here in San Francisco. Have a favorite park that you'd like us to check out? The tipline's always open or you can leave a comment after the jump.
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Snuggled between Baker Beach and Lands End in the Seacliff neighborhood, many people are unaware of the tiny yet publicly-accessible China Beach. As part of the National Parks Service’s Golden Gate National Recreation Area, it’s rated as one of the cleanest beaches in the state. Legend has it that Chinese fishermen used to anchor their boats in the cove and camped on the beach (there’s a monument to them at the trailhead near the parking area at the end of Sea Cliff Avenue).
Perched above the Castro and Corona Heights sits Buena Vista Park's southerly sister, Corona Heights Park. Originally known as Rock Hill, the spot was once a quarry and brick factory owned by the notorious Gray Brothers. Josephine Randall, the Recreation Superintendent of San Francisco, proposed that the City buy the 16 acres of Rock Hill for recreation, and it was purchased and named Corona Heights in 1941. In addition to killer panoramic views of the city, the park offers a little something for everyone.
Across from the Caltrain station at 4th and King, the Mission Creek Park lines both sides of Mission Creek. The spot is the first of many parks and open spaces being developed in the Mission Bay neighborhood, and offers some nice green space in a hood otherwise dominated by by parking lots, construction sites, and UCSF. We're not the only ones who think so - the spot topped California Home + Design's list of 10 best San Francisco Parks in 2009.
Holly Park is one of the oldest parks in the city, built in the late 1800s as the neighborhood around Bernal Heights developed. After a recent renovation, the park now has lots of space for sports, kids, and dogs alike.
Perhaps most well-known for Cupid's Span, the giant bow-and-arrow sculpture, Rincon Park has some of the most coveted views in San Francisco. It's waterfront location makes it a favorite for people walking/jogging/biking the Embarcadero and for SOMA residents looking for a tiny slice of green space.
If you've ever passed by Fay Park in Russian Hill and thought it was just someone's private backyard, that's exactly what it used to be. In 1998, the Berrigan family donated the yard designed in 1957 by landscape starchitect Thomas Church to the city as a public park.
Located in that steep hilly crook between the Inner Sunset and Inner Parkside, Golden Gate Heights Park is perched atop one of the highest peaks in the city. Part landscaped park, part forested natural area, this spot features a little something for everyone - provided you can make it up the hill to get there.
Wedged between Mt. Davidson and Forest Hill, Edgehill Mountain Open Space is a protected mountain side that offers some killer views. Originally part of Adolph Sutro's San Miguel Ranch, the Edgehill Mountain land was sold following his death in 1898. After the land became one of the city's first subdivisions, known as Claremont Court, houses were built on the mountain's western and southern slopes. Soon after, winter rains caused mudslides several times in the past (in the '50s a house was taken out, and in 1997 mud crashed into some unfinished homes). In 1985, Edgehill Mountain Park was established when the city purchased one acre of the mountain's undeveloped western slope and designated the area an Open Space Park.
Located on the west side of Hyde and tucked in between two residential buildings, this spot is one of many mini-parks around Russian Hill. But at less than 30ft wide, it is basically the definition of mini.
The Inner Richmond is full of amazing restaurants, bars, and shops, and the rent is still pretty reasonable, but it does suffer from a shortage of public green open space. That's what makes Muriel Leff Mini Park on 7th Ave so special - it's an unexpected mid-block oasis. Built in 1965, it's the first mini park in the City.
Located near the southern end of Glen Canyon Park in the Sunnyside neighborhood, Dorothy Erskine Park is a small hilltop outcrop. Named after Bay Area environmentalist Dorothy Erskine, founder of the Greenbelt Alliance and one of the founders of SPUR, the park’s name honors a woman who worked to support housing for the poor, promote urban and regional planning, preserve farmland, and create parks and open space. Today the park offers a quiet spot high above residential neighborhoods.
Nestled along Mission Bay, Agua Vista Park is a landscaped oasis along the waterfront. It offers some killer views of the ship repairs happening nearby, and a sunny spot to have a seat. Even though the construction in Mission Bay is new, the park has been around since the 1970s. Owned and managed by the Port, it's one of the few green spaces in the area.
Conceived as part of the ten-acre Golden Gateway, Sydney G. Walton Square is like a little oasis in the Financial District. The park was designed by master landscape architect Peter Walker of Sasaki, Walker, and Associates in 1960.
The residential enclave near Midtown Terrace Playground boasts some of the nicest houses in the city, with lots of single-family homes and children. Not surprisingly, the Midtown Terrace Playground and Sutro Recreation Center is a well-used and welcome spot tucked between Mt. Sutro and Twin Peaks.
While most people — locals and visitors alike — choose Twin Peaks for a classic hilltop vista, less than a mile north is tiny Tank Hill with views that rival any in the City.
Designed in 1957 over an existing historic park, St. Mary’s Square is a downtown rooftop park atop a parking garage near Chinatown. Perched up high on a steep hill, the park isn’t visible from most of the sidewalk that surrounds it, making it our new favorite hidden spot.
Allyne Park, right next to the Octagon House, can turn into one of Cow Hollow’s busiest spots. With lots of sun and a pretty garden, it’s easy to see why. A favorite of dog owners and parents with strollers, it offers a sweet spot of green in an otherwise residential and busy shopping area.
Perched atop Russian Hill on a street too steep for cars, Ina Coolbrith Park feels like a secret hideaway with twisting staircases and killer views. Dedicated back in 1911 (!) by supporters of the first California Poet Laureate Ina Coolbrith, the park offers a sweet spot to take a rest after climbing those monster hills.
We love the city's mini parks, and the Clay Street Mini Park has the added bonus of the Presidio Branch Library on site. Rolling grassy lawns to lounge on while reading a book? We're sold.
John McLaren Park, the second largest park in the city after Golden Gate Park, is a nature-lover's paradise with miles of trails and recreation sites. In 1905, a subdivision was proposed for the area, but historic starchitect Daniel Burnham proposed setting the hilly areas aside for a public park, and it opened in 1934.
Nestled in the Parkside neighborhood near SF State and Lake Merced, Sigmund Stern Grove (and its adjacent Pine Lake Park) is most known as the home to the oldest free summer performing arts festival in the country. But the 63-acre park, accessed by an epic descent below street level, has a lot more to offer.
Tucked away in the South Beach neighborhood near the Yerba Buena District is the easy to miss South Park. This hidden gem of a park and its surrounding houses were developed in 1852 as an exclusive residential community and modeled after a square in London.
Located on a hilltop across from the Potrero Center in San Francisco's Mission district is Franklin Square, a 5.6-acre public park near the Portero Hill border.
Created in 1909 the park has seen many changes in its 100+ years. Temporary housing for veterans was built in 1948, a soccer field that had been planned since 1907 was finally completed in 1951, and irrigation systems were installed in 1952. The park also survived an attempted acquisition in 1994 by City College of San Francisco. In 2008, the park started to see a number of upgrades including rebuilding and later expanding the Balboa Playground.
Established in 1894 as Bernal Park, the small, 2-acre green space at the base of Bernal Hill has been known as Precita Park since 1973. The park was renovated in 1969 and then again in 1993.
Hayes Valley's Koshland Community Park and Learning Garden is a great place to grab some fresh air, stretch your legs, and get hands-on with some of your favorite foods. Since 1996, local residents have maintained a 54-plot garden and teach interested children and adults about gardening and food sources.
The very small and little known Broadway Tunnel East Mini Park and Broadway Tunnel West Mini Park, built on land above the entry portals to the Broadway Tunnel.
Located high atop Nob Hill is the beautifully manicured and maintained Huntington Park. A mansion owned by tycoon and railroad baron Collis P. Huntington originally occupied the location, but was destroyed by the 1906 earthquake. Mr. Huntington's widow later donated the land to the city, where a park was established in her husband's honor in 1915.
With a pool and playground remodeled in 2010, Lower Pac Height's Hamilton Recreation Center is a park lovers delight. Featuring an abundance of amenities and a central location with parking, this is the type of park normally suited for a sprawling suburb rather than a dense urban environment.
The Joe DiMaggio Playground, named for the San Francisco Seals (and the Yankees) legend that spent his childhood playing there, is located in San Francisco's North Beach neighborhood in the northeastern corner of the city.
Not quite a park but classified as one, Rocky Outcrop Park is a hidden gem for adventure lovers and hiking buffs alike. Because of its rugged cliffs, native plants and breathtaking vistas, this little known slice of wilderness in the heart of the city is well worth a visit (If you can find it, that is)
Fully protected by large trees (many of which are Redwoods) on all sides, the park provides a peaceful refuge from the nearby freeway and industrial hustle and bustle.
Just the size of a San Francisco housing lot in the area, the quiet park invites those walking by to stop and take a moment from the cacophony of Bush Street and its heavy traffic.
Designed, built and maintained by Mr. Jack Early himself, a former classmate of Herb Caen and an urban conservationist, the park is located on a very steep slope, once thought unusable by the city.
Located within the Cottage Row Historic District, of the National Register of Historic Places, the park runs adjacent to a line of Victorian houses that have stood since the 1800's, many of which were built by William Hollis during the late 1860s and 1870s.
The park is built on the remnant of a massive dune that was replenished with sand blown across what is now the Sunset. After the development of the district, sand was no longer able to drift across the flats, and the park now ever so slowly erodes away.
Developed accidentally by an unfinished shipping terminal in the 1970's, the park that we now visit was officially opened in 1999. In 2012, the park completed further upgrades and today is visited by thousands for both recreation and education.
A classic San Francisco hilltop park that often induces a rest by the time you arrive, don't shy away from the hike. Privacy, views, and even a little excitement await at the top.
This hilltop park is located on land occupied for much of the 20th century by the Brooks family, and the trendsetting Mrs. Brooks, who composted, raised beehives and taught visitors about native plant gardening. In 1978 the Brooks family moved and the property was made into a park by the City. Quickly afterward the park fell into neglect and became a blight on the neighborhood. In 1987, locals formed the Friends of Brooks Park organization and began to clean up the haven for graffiti and vandalism.
The park offers views of both the Bay and and the adjacent valleys. The well-maintained park also features some rare offerings that will appeal to people of many ages and interests.
At 4.61 acres, the recently renovated Aptos Park "is the pride of Ocean Avenue." Its many amenities and location near a middle school make this open space geared toward the more active park experience.
Warm Water Cove is a well manicured waterfront park and part of the Bay Trail, an eventual continuous path around the San Francisco Bay shoreline.
The well-maintained park is a great place for all types of domesticated San Franciscans: dogs will love the play area, kids will love the playground, and adults will love the scenic views of downtown and the Bay (not to mention the break from the dog and kids).
Known officially as The San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park since 1981, this park is often referred to as simply Aquatic Park, which is technically a district within the park itself.
Dog walkers, view seekers, and urban hikers appreciate the steep climb up to the top of this minimalist park. Be warned, it can become very windy, and is why residents of the past found it an excellent place to fly their kites.