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Posted on: September 16, 2021

San Francisco’s Largest Nature Exploration Area Breaks Ground at Heron’s Head

NEA Construction


San Francisco Recreation and Park Department: Tamara Barak Aparton | 415-568-0551|

Kaiser Permanente: Matt Skryja  | 415-696-0120 |  

SF Port: Randy Quesada | 415-274-0400 |

KABOOM!: Jen Hallaman | 202-281-8563 | 


For downloadable photos, please click here. 

Photo credit: Maria Durana, Children and Nature

Renderings credit: Bienenstock Natural Playgrounds

For video, click here.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – A unique nature-inspired playground that cultivates imagination, risk negotiation, and teamwork through natural materials is coming to Heron’s Head Park next month. 

Construction began today for the 12,000 square foot playspace at 32 Jennings St., a collaboration between the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department and its partners: the Port of San Francisco; Kaiser Permanente, San Francisco Children and Nature, Bienenstock Natural Playgrounds, and KABOOM!. The playground, called a Nature Exploration Area, will be the largest of its kind in San Francisco. 

The design allows children to jump, climb and balance on boulders and locally sourced trees. Winding, accessible pathways mix with playful shortcuts, including a kid-sized tunnel made from a large, hollow tree. Repurposed logs form a gathering space or outdoor classroom. Surrounded by native vegetation, the playspace also offers perches for spying birds and other wildlife. 

“The pandemic has taught us just how important access to nature and outdoor space is for our city’s children,” said Mayor Breed. “I am so excited that our kids will have a new, safe, and spacious area to develop their imaginations, connect with friends and learn about the natural world.”

“With the opening of the Nature Exploration Area next to the existing EcoCenter, Heron’s Head has become San Francisco’s hub for environmental education for youth,” said District 10 Supervisor Shamann Walton. “Kids growing up in Bayview-Hunters Point today will become tomorrow’s leaders in building a sustainable future.” 

“Kids who experience nature in their daily lives are healthier, happier, and more resilient. Yet today’s kids spend 50 percent less time playing outside than the previous generation. This playground will be a welcoming place where kids can unplug, get their hands dirty, and create imaginary worlds,” said San Francisco Recreation and Park General Manager Phil Ginsburg.

“The Port is delighted to partner with the Recreation and Parks Department to bring this new nature-based amenity for children and families to enjoy at Heron’s Head Park,” said Elaine Forbes, Executive Director of the Port of San Francisco. “The new feature is a great addition to the park and our southern waterfront inspired by local kids.”  

The Nature Play Area was designed in large part by children in San Francisco’s southeast neighborhoods. During “Design Jams,” kids helped shape the future of Heron’s Head Park by building or drawing their ideal play structures. These ideas were incorporated into the final design.

"It was a true pleasure to design this park together with the community,” said Adam Bienenstock, the lead designer for the project. “What emerged is something special: a habitat for the birds, the butterflies, and the children. A place to gain perspective through its meditative spiral pathways and views across this birder’s paradise to the San Francisco Bay. I hope the community enjoys it as much as we did in creating it with them."

“We love the new design and we are so happy to have a part in shaping it,” said Lilla Pittman, choreographer, and director of Feline Finesse Dance Company, an all-female youth dance troupe in the Bayview. “It’s like a nature amusement park being designed and built in our own backyard.”

Built between the park’s EcoCenter and parking lot, the Nature Exploration Area will restore an area burned by a fire in July 2020. Kids will be encouraged to balance on logs, play in mud, and use natural materials to build dens, castles and towers. By combining natural challenges with moveable parts, the Nature Exploration Area will promote physical activity, creativity, and appreciation of nature. In addition to unstructured play, the Nature Exploration Area will support the EcoCenter’s programming, which is provided by Rec and Park.

“The new Nature Exploration Area at Heron’s Head Park will offer the benefits of both active play and exposure to nature to thousands of kids every year,” said Lysa Ratliff, Chief Executive Officer, KABOOM!. “We are thrilled to work alongside our partners to bring this innovative playspace to life and come one step closer to ensuring that every single child in the Bay Area has an amazing place to learn and play.”

Kaiser Permanente provided a $500,000 grant to help with the construction of the nature play area and multiple other playground projects in San Francisco. A portion of the funding also helped the city purchase sanitation stations and signage to help reopen playgrounds during the pandemic.

“An important part of Kaiser Permanente’s mission is supporting the health and well-being of the communities we serve,” said Ron Groepper, senior vice president and area manager, Kaiser Permanente Greater San Francisco Area. “Outdoor play is essential for total health and we are proud this grant is creating more space for children and families to stay active and enjoy the outdoors together.”  

Access to play and exposure to nature are vital for children’s emotional, social, and physical health, research shows. However, access to these amenities is too often correlated with race, zip code, or socioeconomic status. Learn more at

About Kaiser Permanente

Kaiser Permanente is committed to helping shape the future of health care. We are recognized as one of America’s leading health care providers and not-for-profit health plans. Founded in 1945, Kaiser Permanente has a mission to provide high-quality, affordable health care services and to improve the health of our members and the communities we serve. We currently serve almost 12.5 million members in 8 states and the District of Columbia. Care for members and patients is focused on their total health and guided by their personal Permanente Medical Group physicians, specialists, and team of caregivers. Our expert and caring medical teams are empowered and supported by industry-leading technology advances and tools for health promotion, disease prevention, state-of-the-art care delivery, and world-class chronic disease management. Kaiser Permanente is dedicated to care innovations, clinical research, health education, and the support of community health.


KABOOM! is the national non-profit that works to achieve playspace equity. Kids who don’t have access to play miss out on childhood and are denied critical opportunities to build physical, social and emotional health. And all too often, it more deeply affects communities of color. So we amplify the power of communities to build inspiring playspaces that spark unlimited opportunities for every kid, everywhere. KABOOM! has teamed up with partners to build or improve 17,000+ playspaces, engage more than 1.5 million community members and bring joy to more than 11 million kids. To learn about our goal to end playspace inequity for good, visit and join the conversation at, and

About SF Rec & Park 

The San Francisco Recreation and Park Department currently manages more than 220 parks, playgrounds and open spaces throughout San Francisco, including two outside city limits—Sharp Park in Pacifica and Camp Mather in the High Sierras. The system includes full-complex recreation centers, swimming pools, golf courses, sports fields and numerous small-to-medium-sized clubhouses that offer a variety of sports- and arts-related recreation programs for people of all ages.  Included in the Department’s responsibilities are Golden Gate Park, Coit Tower, the Marina Yacht Harbor, the San Francisco Zoo and Lake Merced.

In 2017, San Francisco became the first city in the nation where all residents have access to a park within a 10-minute walk, a direct result of the Department’s commitment to increasing and improving parkland in the city.

About the Port of San Francisco 

The Port of San Francisco manages the waterfront as the gateway to a world-class city, and advances environmentally and financially sustainable maritime, recreational and economic opportunities to serve the City, Bay Area, and California.

About SF Children & Nature 

San Francisco Children & Nature is a citywide collaborative that works to address the disparities in nature access along socioeconomic and racial lines to ensure all children have the opportunity to play, learn and grow in the outdoors. 

About the Eco Center 

The EcoCenter at Heron’s Head Park is a unique treasure in the Bayview Hunters Point Community. It is a space for environmental education, workshops, assembly, and a place where youth, families and community can gather and engage with nature. 

Design and Construction Consultants: Bienenstock Natural Playgrounds, leaders in the world of natural play and exploration.

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