Family fun

Hidden Gems of Northeastern SF

See a recent update below listing a review from a Garfield parent!

I just met a mom who recently moved from across the city to my neighborhood, the Northeastern area of San Francisco. Once we got talking, I realized there are a lot of great family resources that many people don’t know about in our wonderful little corner of SF. This feeling was confirmed when I ran across the post (below) on the SF K Files (2009) from a mom who was considering moving to my neighborhood.

Here is the post:

“We are out 0/7 in Round I for kindergarten and are expanding our horizons for Round II. We found a lot of high performing schools in the NE corner of the city- Spring Valley, Jean Parker, Garfield, Gordon Lau, etc but little online about them from parent reviews or information about PTA etc. When we drove by there, yes its filled with tourists but maybe something worth knowing more about since the schools are good. Main concern is how family friendly these areas are? Can this be a hot topic? I would like to know more about these schools, who goes there, where do those families live in and if anyone is thinking of these schools? Luckily we rent now and can move to be closer to a school.”

Out of curiosity, I went looking for more information on schools in my area and was surprised to find out how little information is available on neighborhood schools in my area. Jean Parker ES is non-existent on local parent blogs such as the SF K Files and Parents For Public Schools. And I found very little about other popular neighborhood schools like Spring Valley and even Yick Wo. (Maybe it’s because we know a good thing and want to keep it a secret?)

If we go a little out of the way, we get a view of the Bay… it’s magical. We can smell the salt air and hear sea lions barking.

Our public schools get a lot of bad rap and so does raising a family in the city. Because of that fact, I have decided to share a little love for our neighborhood public schools and let more families know about how wonderfully family-friendly it can be to raise kids in the city. Because I can only speak to my experience, I will share information about family friendly happenings in the North Eastern area of SF: Russian Hill, Nob Hill, North Beach and Chinatown. I hope to continue to grow this post with the help of other SF residents (that means YOU dear readers!) So please post your ideas and thoughts in the comments below or email me and I’ll add/update this post accordingly.:

So what about schools?

Neighborhood public schools in our area are some of the best in the city! The following schools are schools in the Northeastern SF neighborhoods whom I have direct experience with either through my girls or my friends kids. (If you’d like to share some love for a school not listed, or have additional perspectives to add to what I’ve listed, please email me or post in the comments below!)

  • Jean Parker ES – This is a small school at the intersection of Russian Hill, Chinatown and North Beach that is often overlooked. It has a strong academic program, a welcoming and active PTO and a very caring staff and principal. Jean Parker promotes the “3 B’s: Bee Safe, Bee Kind, and Bee Responsible” The school has a school-wide reading program where all students read each night. Classrooms are filled with books at all levels and children are regularly assessed so they and their families know what books are “just right”. Many years back, families voted for a uniform policy. I love this policy, because it keeps my girls’ focus on friendship and learning, (not what other kids are wearing). Overall, the teaching staff is very experienced and makes a great effort to share information with families about student learning and school programs. The principal always makes himself available to meet with parents to discuss ideas and concerns. My girls couldn’t be happier.
  • Yick Wo ES – Nestled on a tree-lined street in the east side of Russian Hill is this wonderful quirky small school. It is a late start school, so it seems that many families are creative types, consultants or educators. The student population is very diverse, ethnically, linguistacally and socio-economically. Yick Wo has a great reputation in the neighborhood and also has a very active and successful PTO. If you live in the neighborhood, you already know that “Yick Wo Families” are a tight-knit crew who are very committed to their school. They regularly socialize at the neighboring Michelangelo Park and their successful fundraising allows the school to provide enrichment and before and afterschool programming for all kids who want to participate.
  • Spring Valley ES – On the West side of Hyde on Jackson Street, just on the border between Russian and Nob Hill is Spring Valley, one of the oldest schools in California. That said, its building was renovated just a few years ago. This small school with a fairly diverse demographic, sells itself as a science and technology focused school (On my tour several years ago, I heard 5th graders singing songs about sedimentary rock, and saw 1st graders questioning why your reflection is upside-down when you look at it in a spoon.) The school has a fairly young and active PTA which is run by a diverse and inclusive group of parents. I’ve met and talked with teachers and parents, and never have I heard anything other than positive things about the school.
  • Sherman ES – This is one of the largest and most popular schools in our area. With four kindergartens, it was too large for my girls (who wanted to be in the same kindergarten classroom.) Nonetheless, the size provides a great diverstiy of programs and resources. It has a powehouse of a PTA (don’t mess with this school’s mamas!). Parents at this public school (some of the most affluent in those reviewed) raise money for the school garden, classroom enrichment programs and afterschool programming. (A good friend describing a PTA school budget meeting, told me it was run as professionally as a corporate board meeting.) One of the most noteable things about this school academically is it is one of the first schools to pioneer Reader’s Workshop, a school’s school-wide reading program, which supports classroom libraries and promotes reading at all levels. (Jean Parker ES, uses this approach as well, and I can attest as a parent, that it has nurtured a great love of reading in my girls and allowed them to read well beyond their grade-level.)
  • John Yehall Chin ES – I don’t know any families at this school. Nonetheless, it is one of the best in the city academically. Even though it has a large number of low-income and English Learner students, it has test scores that are comperable or better than schools with much more affluent populations. I’d love to share a more personal review of this school… so if you are a parent, please email me and I’ll include it!
    • Garfield ES – This review is from Andrea Crawford, a current parent at Garfield. “Garfield is a small, supportive public school ‘hidden’ at the base of Coit Tower in North Beach, at the top of Filbert Street.  You have to hike up that very steep hill to get to us, and although thousands of tourists from around the world admire our location on a weekly basis, many locals don’t even know we are here!  My son is a 1st grader in the Chinese Immersion program and he is doing so well at Garfield.  We are really impressed with the level of professionalism of all the teachers.  THEY themselves are lifelong learners, and they model that and work to instill that ethic in each child they serve.  For many years and for myriad reasons, Garfield was off-the-radar for local families.  This is changing now and it is a VERY exciting time to be part of this school.  In a way, as a PTO we all feel like we are part of a dynamic start-up!  We are launching some excellent programs at the school, including the Leveled Reading program from Columbia University’s Teacher’s College and the Cantonese Immersion program (launched last year).  We are also working to establish very robust partnerships with performing arts organizations from throughout the city.  It’s a great time to be part of the Garfield community.  Go Mighty Dragons!!” Prospective parents and neighborhood supporters can check out the school in person by coming to the Dragon Fest on April 25th from 6-9pm!
  • Francisco MS – With the new middle school feeder program, Jean Parker, Yick Wo, Garfield and John Yehall Chin will all feed into Francisco MS. (Sherman ES feeds into Marina MS) I have two friends who both have daughters who love the school. (One just got accepted to Lowell HS AND Ruth Asawa SF School of the Arts., two top high schools in the city!) I plan to do a post on middle schools in the near future. In the meantime, if you have any questions about this school, please email me and I can connect you with current parents who can answer specific questions.)

How family-friendly is the neighborhood?… Very.

Don’t get me wrong, a backyard is nice. I grew up with one. But a backyard is only fun for so long. When you are stuck in the same backyard, with the same people (e.g. your siblings if you are lucky), it quickly becomes the same old story… “I’m bored!” For this reason, I’ll take a wide selection of neighborhood parks and libraries any day over a backyard.


If diversity is the spice of life, we like it spicy! We regularly visit the wide array of parks in Northeastern SF, all in walking distance. Here is my list of our favorite open spaces, (Click on the Yelp links for reviews and pics.):

  • Helen Wills Playground at Broadway and Larkin) – This is where I and my girls met our first neighborhood family friends, whom we still hang out with today. This is a great park for both little and big kids. Check out the clubhouse here for tot classes and Yoga for adults!
  • Washington Hyde Mini Park (Washington and Hyde) – This hidden park is great for little ones because it is enclosed and has sand and mini-slides and play structures.
  • Grace Cathedral & Huntington Park – (Located at the top of Nob Hill.) It’s always fun to walk the labyrinth either outside the cathedral (or inside) And the Huntington park across the street is always fun.
  • Betty Ann Ong Chinese Recreation Center Just down the hill on the corner of Mason and Washington is a newly renovated and beautiful recreation center, where my girls take classes and go to after school programs. One reviewer on Yelp stated, “I almost don’t want to review this place because I want to keep it from being overcrowded.” Check them out for neighborhood cultural events as well. For example, last fall they had a Haunted House, and they also hold events to celebrate Chinese New Year, Easter, etc.
  • Alice Marble Tennis CourtsWhat a view! Practice tennis or you jump shot, or just check out the view of the Bay and Golden Gate Bridge. (Make your day perfect by heading down Hyde to Union to grab an ice cream at Swenson’s.)
  • Ina Coolbrith Park (Vallejo at Tayor) – This tiny jewel of a park is located at the top of the Vallejo steps. On great days, you can smell the salt air from the Bay and hear the sea lions barking in the distance Views are AMAZING!!!!. If you are lucky, you will see a parrots.
  • Michelangelo Park – This park is a secret treasure nestled on Greenwich Street between Leavenworth and Jones. (You can easily miss it if you are not looking.) This neighborhood gem is tucked away in the middle of the block. Once you find it, you will see why it is a beloved place for birthdays and play dates for neighborhood families on the east side of Russian Hill. Families regularly get together to meet and socialize while their children play. Nestled in the hillside and protected from the wind, high walls enclose a community garden, a little grassy area, mini-amphitheater, basketball courts and fun but run-down play structure appropriate for toddlers and early elementary students. This place also has a large deck area with picnic tables and thus makes a great space for potlucks and for birthday parties. (See below, under Family Happenings.)
  • Joe DiMaggio Playground (or Joe D as it’s affectionately known) – Located at Columbus and Lombard, is where everyone’s kids learn to roller skate, scooter, skateboard and ride a bike! It also has a fun play area for little ones. The clubhouse also offers tot art classes at times!
  • North Beach Swimming PoolKids can take swim lessons or do “free sim” during scheuled times in a heated pool (very important in SF) for a small fee. My girls learned to swim here and have made lifetime friends in their classes.

Libraries ROCK!

I don’t know how they do it, but the SF Public Library will forever have my undying gratitude. When my girls were toddlers, libraries were my go to resource. If you have toddlers, you know that if you don’t get out of the house by 10am and go SOMEWHERE, your day is gonna get ugly! There will be tears… and some of those tears will be yours. Local libraries not only provide a safe and fun learning zone for days too foggy/misty to play outside, they also provided a wide array of free family programming. I credit the Golden Gate Valley Branch for teaching me the lyrics to “Wheels on the Bus” and several other classic toddler tunes. SFPL programs are some of the best tot programs in the city (free or otherwise). Click here to see what’s going on at you local branch.

Oh, and of course, there are books…. 🙂 Here is my rundown of the favorite libraries in our ‘hood:

  • Chinatown Library (on Powell Street ) – This library has an amazing selection of children’s books and a great LARGE children’s selection of children’s books in both English and Chinese. Librarians there are bilingual in Chinese and will happily help you pick our books for your kid/teen.
  • North Beach Library (@ Columbus and Lombard Streets by the Joe Dimaggio Playground and North Beach Pool) – Everyone’s kids have been to sign-a-long days there! This library is currently under construction to expand its services. It has been a big community effort to rebuild this amazing resource and many neighborhood groups and local officials are helping to contribute to the success of it’s renovation. Click here to learn more about plans for the library renovation or to contribute.
  • Marina Library (on Chestnut Street) – This is one of my favorite libraries because it’s sunny, has nice bathrooms and is close to Michelangelo park if you need to “get your ya-ya’s out”. The children’s section is a wonderful little area, and the children’s librarian will help you find any book you are looking for.
  • Golden Gate Valley Library (on Union Street) – I *heart* this library. This small library located in Cow Hollow is easy to overlook–it looks like an old bank situated in the middle of a residential block. This was closed for a while for a remodel. I haven’t visited it in a while, but this used to be my go-to when the girls were little, due to the great weekly toddler lap sit/story time and sing-alongs there.


Neighborhood Happenings:

Families in our neighborhoods always seem open to making new friends. So much so in fact, that there are several known family “hang out” that parents congregate at weekly. Here are some we frequent.:

  • Chameleon Cafe (Thursdays from 5:30-8:00pm) – Russian/Nob Hill, parents congregate at a local coffee shop (the Chameleon) to drink beer/wine our children play inside and around the cafe. This “family happy-hour” has been going for several years now and shows now signs of stopping. It has even expanded to included a foodie truck (tacos, gourmet burgers, etc.) It is heaven at the end of the week. I haven’t cooked dinner on a Thursday in years! (Unfortunately, this cafe is no more!)
  • Michaelangelo Playground – (See above.) Families have been known to coordinate weekly potlucks where they bring snacks and “beverages”. Though I have never been a regular, this park is a favorite of Yick Wo families.
  • Off the Grid @ Joe DiMaggio Playground (Wednesdays from 5:30-8:00pm) – If you live in SF and are not familiar with “Off the Grid” you must correct that immediately. Local families, neighbors and foodies peruse an ever changing offering of local delectables offered by food truck geniuses serving from: tamales to spicy ribs to thai noodles. YUMMM!!!

And these places are on our list for day to day activities! I am quickly realizing that I will need to write a whole other post to include our favorite venues for art/nature/science exploration…. (so keep checking my blog to stay posted!)

What do you love about raising kids in the city? Where are your favorite SF neighborhood hang outs?

2 thoughts on “Hidden Gems of Northeastern SF

  1. Thank you so much for this information about Northeast San Francisco. We are a family of 4 in the process of moving to Russian Hill and greatly appreciate this information.

    1. Glad you like it! I hope to see you at the Chameleon one of these Thursday nights. 🙂 Please feel free to email me at alison.m.collins *at* if you have any school/family questions. Email me and I can introduce you to the Russian Hill Parent’s email group where you can connect with other families online.

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