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, 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.
The San Francisco Recreation and Park Department’s Mission is to provide enriching recreational activities, maintain beautiful parks and preserve the environment for the well-being of everyone in our diverse community.
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, the San Francisco Zoo and Lake Merced.
Meet the General Manager
During his tenure, Phil Ginsburg has made increasing access to public recreation one of the department’s primary objectives, ensuring that the city’s children and families have the opportunity to not only survive in the city, but thrive. Since 2009, Rec and Park has created new, innovative recreation programs and summer camps, encouraging everyone to connect with nature and get out and play. Under Phil’s leadership, the department has developed a robust recreation scholarship program, providing more than 8,000 scholarships and over $1 million in free programming to park users each year.
In recent years, Phil and his team have implemented playground, trail and facility improvements across the city, thanks to two voter-approved bond initiatives totaling $385 million. These capital upgrades are critical to ensuring that children and families will have clean, safe and beautiful parks to enjoy for decades to come. Under Phil’s guidance, Rec and Park has also completed several water conservation projects, cultivated nearly 186,000 hours of annual support from volunteers, developed youth environmental stewardship programs, and launched a citywide program to manage San Francisco’s urban agriculture and community gardening efforts.
Understanding the realities of 21st Century government, Phil has helped San Francisco’s park system avoid catastrophic cuts, closures and service reductions through the strategic use of public-private partnerships, creative revenue strategies, technology and administrative efficiencies.
Phil has more than a decade of experience in San Francisco city government, having previously served as a deputy City Attorney, Director of the Department of Human Resources, and Chief of Staff to Mayor Gavin Newsom.
Recognized across the country for his leadership, Phil sits on the Board of the City Parks Alliance, a national organization advocating for large urban park systems. In 2013, Phil was presented with a “Legacy Award” by America Scores Bay Area for his leadership and commitment to San Francisco youth. In 2012, the Trust for Public Land named San Francisco the nation’s best urban park system.
Phil is a graduate of Dartmouth College and Hastings College of the Law. Parks play a significant role in his personal life as well. He proposed to his wife Emily on a backcountry trek in Glacier National Park, and can often be found rooting on his daughters, Grace and Sarah, on San Francisco’s many ball fields or enjoying Camp Mather in the High Sierras with his family during the summer.