SF Playgrounds: Helen Willis Park in Russian Hill

Mia and I had an urban adventure taking BART and MUNI across town to Russian Hill for her first salon visit with my amazing stylist Teren! To celebrate the occasion we stopped by Helen Willis Park just around the corner afterward for some fun and a chance to run off the sugar from her post-haircut lollipop.

We arrived mid-day during a recent heatwaves and found quite a few kids with their mamas or nannies escaping steamy AC-free apartments. Mia quickly made friends with two other girls and together the three of them ran all over and under the playground's main structure. Each end is anchored by a slide, and a wall of four hollow concrete tubes was a hit with all the kids there from crawlers on up.


Mamas Rating

We quickly learned this playground isn't a kids-only space. The girls couldn't use one of the upper play areas because someone was sleeping there, and later on I noticed a guy sitting by the slide trying to interact with the girlsβ€”I thought one of the other kids was his but quickly realized he wasn't there with a kid of his own. I scowled at him and he moved over to lay down in one of the concrete tubes that the kids were running in and out of and started playing music on his phone. Not cool bro-at that point I alerted the other parents to keep an eye out and we left, passing another guy coming in with his pitbulls on our way out. I noticed the sign doesn't exclude adults without children from entering (lots of playgrounds have a rule preventing adults from entering without a child). Helen Willis is a park and not just a playground, so it's open to everyone and the play area isn't fenced off from the rest of the space.

The bathrooms in the attached rec. center were closed on our visit and another mama said she's never seen them open, but they host kid-friendly events like reading circles on some days so I'm sure they are open then.


NameHelen Willis Park
Neighborhood: Russian Hill
Address: Broadway at Larkin Street
Parking: Street
Surface: Rubber
Sand? Yes, a small sandbox
Bathrooms: Yes, but they are not always open
Public Transit: MUNI 47/48-Van Ness, 19-Polk

These ratings are totally subjective and based on our experience on one or more visits. They are based on playability, location, accessibility, cleanliness, facilities, mood of a two-year-old, and the number of snacks in my purse. Please use your best judgement when visiting these playspaces and share your experiences with us!

Rating Scale
Four Stars: Worth a trip across town
Three Stars: Nearby? Check it out
Two Stars: Use In Case of Playtime Emergency
One Star: Don't Do It
No Stars: No. Nope. Never.