The roots of San Francisco’s Recreation and Park Department stretch back to the 1870s, when city officials, responding to residents’ demands for a large public park, established a Park Commission to oversee the development of Golden Gate Park. Over the years, many more parks were added to the system, and playgrounds, athletic fields, and recreational facilities were developed under the auspices of the Recreation Commission. In 1950, the two commissions were merged, and the modern Recreation and Park Department was born.
Today the department, overseen by the Recreation and Park Commission, administers more than 220 parks, playgrounds, and open spaces, including two outside the city limits. The system includes 25 recreation centers, nine swimming pools, five golf courses and numerous tennis courts, ball diamonds, soccer fields and other sports venues. Included in the department’s responsibilities are the Marina Yacht Harbor, Candlestick Park, the San Francisco Zoo, and the Lake Merced Complex.
The Recreation and Park Department employs about 850 people, from gardeners, foresters, and recreation leaders to park patrol officers, custodians, electricians, painters, and more. Our mission today, as it has been throughout our history, is to provide opportunities for San Francisco residents and visitors alike to gather, play, learn, relax, and enjoy nature throughout the city.
RPD by the Numbers
- 4,113 acres of recreational and open space
- 3,400 acres within San Francisco
- 671 marina slips
- 220 neighborhood parks
- 179 playgrounds and play areas
- 82 recreation centers and clubhouses
- 72 basketball courts and 151 tennis courts
- 59 soccer/playfields (and growing)
- 1 Family Camp
In 1866, less than 15 years after America’s first occupation of California, the people of San Francisco came up with the idea of a great public park to mirror one being developed in New York City (Central Park). Under the guidance of engineer William Hammond Hall and gardener John McLaren, Golden Gate Park was established on April 4, 1870, from what essentially was a collection of barren sand dunes. The Park Commission was established in the same year by the State Legislature, consisting of three members appointed by the Governor. The City took over the Commission in 1900 under the Home Rule Charter. The three Commission members oversaw decades of development as the park slowly stretched from Baker Street (the Panhandle) all the way to the Pacific Ocean.
In 1898 the San Francisco Chronicle ran the headline, “A Playground for City Boys,” which unveiled a new concept for the City to create an active playground where “boys can play and expend all the energy they now devote to teasing all the neighboring cats and dogs.” The first public playground was established on school property located at Hyde and Bush Streets in 1898 by the California Club, a women’s organization. In 1904, the people of San Francisco voted for a bond issue for the purchase of Father Crowley Playground and North Beach Playground. The Playground Commission was established soon after in 1907, by amendment to the City Charter. It was hoped that playgrounds would expand throughout the entire city. The name of the Playground Commission was changed to the Recreation Commission in 1932. Over the course of time, Departments were established around both the Recreation Commission and the Park Commission.
Because both the Park Commission and the Recreation Commission dealt with maintenance and programming of the same sites, the two merged in 1950, and the Recreation and Park Department was born, managed by the Recreation and Park Commission.
The San Francisco Recreation and Park Department now administers more than 220 parks, playgrounds, and open spaces, including two outside the city limits—Sharp Park in Pacifica and Camp Mather in the High Sierras. The system includes 25 recreation centers, nine swimming pools, five golf courses and numerous tennis courts, ball diamonds, soccer fields and other sports venues. Included in the Department’s responsibilities are the Marina Yacht Harbor, Candlestick Park, the San Francisco Zoo, and the Lake Merced Complex, which is operated for recreational purposes under the San Francisco Water Department.