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Best Ways To Utilize The Bay Area's Parks & Rec Department

Golden Gate Park Tennis Complex (credit: Randy Yagi)

One of the greatest community resources for Bay Area residents is it's many local parks and recreation departments. In San Francisco, the city takes full advantage of having more green space than any other municipality in the entire country by featuring more than 220 parks and 33 recreational facilities. While some affordable and sometimes free services offered by a local parks and rec are widely known, others may come as a complete surprise to new long-time residents of the city. The following are just five of the best ways to utilize services provided by the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department.

San Francisco Recreation & Parks Department
McLaren Lodge-Golden Gate Park
501 Stanyan St.
San Francisco, CA  94117
(415) 831-2700
Recreational Programs

Bay Area parks and rec departments offer a wide assortment of recreational programs for people of all ages. In San Francisco, the city's parks and rec departments offers more than 20 different programs, including an early child recreation program, indoor soccer program and senior programs. As an example, the city's Richmond Rec Center offers a variety of free fitness programs such as dance for seniors, adult pilates, girls volleyball and youth cooking. In all, each of the city's 33 recreational facilities, including nine pools, offer a full spectrum of free or low cost programs, activities and classes.


Along with recreational programs, classes are among the very popular services offered by Bay Area parks and recs. Among the most popular classes available at local parks and recs are sports like soccer and tennis, art classes like painting, ceramics and basic photography and music classes like beginning piano, in addition to education and enrichment classes like cooking or learning a foreign language. Also available at most any local parks and recs are an assortment of fitness classes, including circuit training, yoga, pilates and core conditioning, along with several more recreational classes like ongoing nature programs, adult golf and parent/child ice skating. Class information from any local parks and rec department are typically available in booklets at any facility or through the facility's website, which also allows people to register in advance.

Picnic Tables (credit: Randy Yagi)

Picnic Area Rentals

The San Francisco Parks and Rec Department offers more than 100 reservable picnic sites all across the city, including popular spots like Golden Gate Park and the Marina Green. Each of the reservable picnic areas are listed on the city's park and rec website and include detailed information, such as the use of a BBQ pit, number of tables, restroom facilities and nearby parking. The city parks and rec administers picnic fees depending upon type of event (family, schools, non-profit, businesses) and the number of attendees, as well as impact fees for items like amplified sound, catering, additional chairs and tables and jump houses. Reservations may be taken over the phone or by visiting the Pioneer Log Cabin office in Golden Gate Park. Reservations may be booked up to six months in advance.

Palace of Fine Arts (credit: Randy Yagi)

Wedding Sites

A great way to reduce expenses for a wedding ceremony in San Francisco is to book a beautiful outdoor wedding site through the parks and rec department. Nearly 20 locations are available and include such popular Golden Gate Parks sites like the Rose Garden next to JFK Drive and Fuchsia Dell, located by the Conservatory of Flowers. However, it should be noted that more than half of the sites do no allow receptions, such as some sites in Golden Gate Park and all sites at the Botanical Garden. Capacities amongst the sites range between 50 and 250 guests and all of the sites require a reservation fee and an hourly rate with a two hour minimum. Still, hundreds of local residents choose to get married at one of these picturesque sites in the city.

Bay Area Swimming Pool (credit: Randy Yagi)

Aquatics & Pools

Although the popular Balboa Swimming Pool is closed for capital improvements, eight other swim facilities are open and available to the public. Each of the operating facilities offer affordable swim lessons, including a one-to-one student to instructor ratio for toddlers, as well as group water exercise classes. Additionally, all facilities have designated times throughout the week for recreational swim, lap swim and other programs for visitors of all ages. Each of the swim facilities managed by the San Francisco parks and recs charge a minimal entrance fee for all visitors, with discounted rates for children 17 years and younger, seniors and economic need.

Randy Yagi is an award-winning freelance writer covering all things San Francisco. In 2012, he received a Media Fellowship from Stanford University. His work can be found on

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