May 09, 2023

SF has 37 mini parks. These are the ones worth visiting.

San Francisco has no shortage of parkland. Nearly 20% of the city is dedicated to green space, and it's consistently rated one of the best cities for those who love the outdoors — every resident lives within a 10-minute walk of a park. One of the ways the city is able to achieve this remarkable feat is through the city's mini parks, an initiative that emerged in 1968 to utilize small, unused parcels of land and transform them, especially in areas where park access is limited.

Most San Franciscans who have been here long enough have spent time in a mini park or at least passed by and thought, "That's a nice little random park." Some of the land was donated, while other land was purchased by the Recreation and Park Department, and each park has its own history.

Sixteen parks were built during the inaugural year spearheaded by then-Mayor Joe Alioto, and as of writing, there are 37 parks with the "mini" designation throughout the city, mostly in central San Francisco and on the east side. As someone who finds sanctuary in the city's green spaces, I embarked on a citywide adventure to check out every last one.

What I found is that they vary greatly — from desolate, rocky outcrops to secret gardens to epic hidden playgrounds — and while I concluded that the "mini park" designation is mostly useless, the program is incredibly important in providing residents with access to the green space they deserve, no matter what part of the city they live in. I've categorized the 37 mini parks I visited, from ones worth making a trip to visit to the ones that should really just be used for housing.

The view north from Lake View and Ashton Mini Park, as seen on Monday, May 8, 2023.

Lake View and Ashton Mini Park

Also known as Orizaba Rocky Outcrop, this park is exactly that — a rocky outcrop. The space challenges the idea of a park altogether, but it also is the perfect representation of how special a mini park can be. It's simply some rocky terrain at the apex of four neighborhood streets, and if you weren't going down any of those streets already, you’d never know it was there. There are no benches or amenities at all, really, but it's beautiful. On a clear, sunny day I took in the 360-degree sweeping view, including Sutro Tower, San Bruno Mountain, downtown and all the way out to the ocean. Go watch the sunset there. When I spoke with Johanna Lopez Miyaki of OMI, a neighborhood group that helps maintain local green spaces, she said she almost didn't want me to write about it because she was afraid it would become popular. I shared her sentiment.

Fallen Bridge ParkAt the bottom of a pedestrian bridge that crosses over U.S. 101, this well-manicured, terraced green space somehow makes being right next to a highway feel zen. When I visited the park, a group of people were enjoying a picnic lunch on the ledges of the pétanque court (one of the only ones in the city), and I was jealous of their day. Bridges and areas next to bridges don't always feel like safe and welcoming places, but this park changes that. The park was reconstructed in 2008 after a former pedestrian bridge collapsed as the result of a highway accident, giving it its name.

Twin concrete slides at Seward Mini Park in San Francisco's Castro neighborhood offer thrills.

Seward Mini Park

Best known for its concrete slides, this mini park should be (and probably already is) on every San Franciscan's bucket list. Grab a square of cardboard (or borrow from the pile that usually is already at the bottom) and enjoy speeding down these slides that will quickly make you realize why they went out of style. There are also lovely terraced gardens if high-speed thrills aren't what you’re looking for. Originally, a high-rise was supposed to be built on the land, but the neighborhood rallied more than once against the development, eventually campaigning for a park instead, which was constructed in 1973. The slides (which, fun fact, were designed by a 14-year-old) are open only Tuesday to Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., so make sure to go before the metal gate blocks your way. "My favorite part about these: They would just never be built today, which is both kind of understandable and kind of a shame," Phil Ginsburg, the general manager of the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department, previously told SFGATE.

Shoreview ParkI will never understand why this is considered a mini park, because it's huge, but I don't care, because it brought me to this magical place. The space underwent a recent $3.3 million renovation and reopened in 2021, totally reimagining the park originally built in 1979. It has one of the coolest-looking play structures around, with a 25-foot slide and a custom skywalk, in addition to manicured lawns, plenty of seating and outdoor gym equipment. I can't wait to take my kid here.

A pedestrian walks her dog out of Guy Place Mini Park in San Francisco on May 9, 2023.

Guy Place Mini ParkParks like this one remind you why mini parks exist. This once-vacant downtown lot provides a place to eat lunch or simply sit outdoors in the middle of the workday. Completed in 2020, the relatively new space has a few benches, a pet fountain, lots of greenery and even some cool art — the waterjet-cut steel fence was designed by artist Adriane Colburn. It has a lot of concrete, too, but it still feels like a welcoming open space.

Washington and Hyde Mini ParkThis gated park is on the site of a former theater, hidden down a flight of stairs between low-rise apartment buildings in the middle of Nob Hill. Palm trees tower above a unique series of play structures, and while the equipment itself is dated, there are small, child-sized walls built to make the whole space feel like a charming little village. It's a great refuge for kids in the area.

People walk through Cottage Row Mini Park in San Francisco on May 9, 2023.

Cottage Row Mini Park

Living on this narrow park must feel like living in a small English village — that is, until you walk to the San Francisco street on either side. It's a cute, manicured brick path with adjacent gardens and grass that takes you on a detour between Sutter and Bush streets. It's hard not to try to spy on the residents of the Victorians that line the path — most of them are on the National Register of Historic Places and were built by William Hollis during the late 1860s and 1870s, making them some of the oldest Victorians still standing.

24th and York Mini Park

A bakery burned down on this lot in the early 1970s, and the city ended up purchasing the land to build one of the earliest mini parks. After some years of success, the park became worn down and unsafe, and the neighborhood took it upon itself to save it again in the 1990s. Now, it's a fantastic break in a commercial strip that was full of kids when I visited on a Wednesday afternoon. It's a bright and artistic space with murals lining the edges and tiled sculptures surrounding the playground. The 120-foot-long mosaic serpent that winds its way through the park shoots water out of its mouth.

Muriel Leff Mini Park

This lot has a long documented history of civic use and just went under an extensive renovation. One of the few mini parks on the city's west side, it includes a nature play area, lots of grass and an inviting red sculpture near the entrance. Unlike so many of the parks that are named after the adjacent street names, this is named after Muriel Lerner Leff (1920-2001), a resident who fought for the park's creation.

A view through the south side entrance to the Page and Laguna Mini Park, as seen on Wednesday, May 10, 2023.

Page and Laguna Mini ParkSqueezed between two Victorian homes in Hayes Valley, this mini park feels like a hidden refuge in an otherwise-busy neighborhood.

Randolph and Bright Mini Park

Nestled in a southern corner in Ingleside, I wrote in my notes, "This is what a mini park should be." A small play structure sits on one side, while the other side includes stumps that serve as a seating area. This is not a park I’d go out of my way to visit, but it's the kind of space that's vital to communities, providing an area for kids and adults to enjoy the outdoors. When I went, it had just gotten a facelift courtesy of OMI, a neighborhood group helping to keep these spaces safe and looking good.

Lessing and Sears ParkAn Outer Mission gem, this is the quintessential park that would be so nice to have at the end of your residential street. It's large enough to have a play structure but also a nice grassy area and amenities like a bench, a water fountain, a trash can and a community board. It even has a separate dog section and a community garden.

The mini park on 10th Avenue between Geary and Clement on the back side of the Richmond/Senator Milton Marks Branch Library.

10th Avenue and Clement Mini Park

Why aren't more parks attached to libraries? A grassy area and a nice playground sit in front of the Richmond/Senator Milton Marks Branch Library, enhancing this natural neighborhood meeting place.

Ralph D. House Mini Park

This mini park is on the edge of the much bigger and underrated Bayview Park, but it's an innovative use of space full of flowers and plants and plenty of seating in the many terraced levels. It has lovely views of downtown and over to Sutro Tower on a clear day, and it would be an absolute delight to live near. It was renamed after the park's advocate and the founder of the Bayview Hill Neighborhood Association in 2010.

Turk and Hyde Mini Park

Another recently renovated mini park, $2.2 million went into transforming this playground in the Tenderloin just in the nick of time — it reopened in March 2020. The park made news for the guards who protect the space (you have to have a child with you to gain entry), but it's spaces like this that the mini park program was designed for. It's a haven for toddlers in the middle of one of the busiest parts of the city.

Hyde and Vallejo Mini Park

This secret park tucked between residential buildings off the Powell/Hyde Cable Car line was built into the hill, taking advantage of the decline to make a winding path to the bottom. It's a lush sanctuary dotted with trees, plants, benches and even a little pig statue. The land was purchased from the lot's owner in 1971 and is a great place to enjoy some Swensen's ice cream.

Inside the Bush and Broderick Mini Park, as seen on Wednesday, May 10, 2023.

Bush and Broderick Mini Park

Nestled between Victorians, this park has a large open area, three picnic tables and a few benches. It's flanked by towering trees that give it a private feel, and it has a mural at the back.

Coleridge Mini ParkStumble off Mission Street on your way to Bernal Heights and you may come upon this little park that feels more like a viewing platform. It has a small little slide, but the charm comes mostly from leaning against its railings, looking down across the city toward Sutro Tower.

Alioto ParkThere are lots of little (and big — hi, Dolores) parks in this area, but this corner park still felt charming and necessary as a break from a very busy commercial area that is also relatively densely built when compared with the rest of the city. It features a grassy area, benches, a gazebo, a play structure and even a community garden. Plus, it was the city's first mini park!

Selby/Palou Mini ParkUnder the shadow of so many freeways, this park is a refreshing sight underneath. It offers green grass, half a basketball court, a climbing structure for kids, trees, benches and a picnic table.

Palou Phelps Mini ParkThis is much-needed green space in an area without much — it's the only spot within a 3-mile radius that's also surrounded by highways. The Bayview park has two play structures, green grass, multiple benches and half a basketball court. It's much more than your typical mini park, and it's had its fair share of strife to keep it. Local residents have contested building on surrounding vacant private lots, as recently as January of this year.

Kelloch and Velasco Mini ParkAnother mini park that's not so mini — this one is huge! It has lots of manicured grass, two full-sized basketball courts, a big play structure and lots of benches. It has a nice community feel to it with homes surrounding and almost a town square kind of vibe.

Head and Brotherhood Mini Park

This park has a full-sized basketball court, a playground structure, and lots of benches, grass and trees. Someone was sitting and reading a book there while I visited, and that seems like the perfect use, even if it's a little noisy from nearby street traffic.

A view of the mini park on the corner of Golden Gate Avenue and Steiner Street.

Golden Gate and Steiner Mini ParkThis is the park that sparked the idea for this article, as I used to live down the block from it when I first moved to San Francisco. But here's the thing: I’ve always thought this park wasn't that great. It's not particularly well cared for, and you’re just a few blocks away from Alamo Square Park. It's a prime corner lot that could easily be 40-plus units.

Mullen/Peralta Mini ParkThis open space has nice 180-degree views of the city but not much else to draw you here. It's so close to Precita and Bernal that if this could be housing, it probably should be.

Prentiss Mini ParkThis park has wooden sculptures that you can sit on, as well as some benches. It's a nice view of the bay, but it's very close to Bernal Hill and only a 10-minute walk to Holly Park.

Coso and Precita Mini ParkWhen I found out this was considered a park, I laughed out loud. This big triangle of grass feels like sitting on a boulevard median.

Brotherhood and Chester Mini ParkThis is just open space.

Howard & Langton Mini Park Community Garden Noe and Beaver Mini Park Community Garden

These are (usually) locked community gardens. The city's community gardens are amazing and valuable, but it's unlikely you’ll be able to visit one of them unless someone has opened the gate.

Joost and Baden Mini Park Beideman and O’Farrell Mini Park Cayuga and Lamartine Mini Park Broadway Tunnel West Mini Park Broadway Tunnel East Mini Park Joseph Conrad Square Mini Park

Fillmore Turk Mini ParkThis park is undergoing a nearly $1 million renovation and is expected to debut in summer 2023.

Lake View and Ashton Mini Park Fallen Bridge Park Seward Mini Park Shoreview Park Guy Place Mini Park Washington and Hyde Mini Park Cottage Row Mini Park 24th and York Mini Park Muriel Leff Mini Park Page and Laguna Mini Park Randolph and Bright Mini Park Lessing and Sears Park 10th Avenue and Clement Mini Park Ralph D. House Mini Park Turk and Hyde Mini Park Hyde and Vallejo Mini Park Bush and Broderick Mini Park Coleridge Mini Park Alioto Park Selby/Palou Mini Park Palou Phelps Mini Park Kelloch and Velasco Mini Park Head and Brotherhood Mini Park Golden Gate and Steiner Mini Park Mullen/Peralta Mini Park Prentiss Mini Park Coso and Precita Mini Park Brotherhood and Chester Mini Park Howard & Langton Mini Park Community Garden Noe and Beaver Mini Park Community Garden Joost and Baden Mini Park Beideman and O’Farrell Mini Park Cayuga and Lamartine Mini Park Broadway Tunnel West Mini Park Broadway Tunnel East Mini Park Joseph Conrad Square Mini Park Fillmore Turk Mini Park