We came for the Vintage Carousel and stayed for the incredible playground.
The playground at the Koret Children’s Quarter in Golden Gate Park is one of the biggest and best playgrounds in San Francisco.
The fact that it is right next to so many other fun, family-friendly activities like the California Academy of Sciences, the de Young Museum, the Japanese Tea Gardens, the Botanic Gardens, Strawberry Hill, and Stow Lake, makes it very popular with both local families and tourists. After being on their best behavior while visiting museums, there is nothing better for kids of all ages than time for wild free play and burning off all that bundled up energy — and the Koret Children’s Playground is the perfect place to let them do that.
We originally found the playground by accident. While researching new fun things to do in San Francisco for our Jerry Day weekend getaway, I read that there was an old vintage carousel in Golden Gate Park. I’ve been visiting San Francisco and Golden Gate Park several times a year for almost my entire life and I had never seen it… at least not that I remembered. We have always come to the city with a plan of exactly what we’re doing and where we’re going. We have never really built in time to just wander, so I figured it was time to remedy that and find the carousel, especially when we found out there was a pig and a goat you could ride!
Koret Children’s Quarter Playground
The Children’s Playground was our last stop on our Golden Gate Park day trip. We had toured the entire California Academy of Sciences and the Japanese Tea Garden, walked through the Rose Garden, visited the Dutch Windmill and the Murphy Windmill, and climbed to the top of Strawberry Hill. We had been on the go all day, so when I told the kids our last stop was a playground and carousel where they could just relax and play, they were over the moon!
Because it was late in the afternoon, we were able to park right up close. We walked up over a little grassy hill, past the Sharon Art Studio, through a little red barn and picnic area, and the moment they saw the playground, both of them took off running!
The Koret Children’s Quarter Playground is awesome.
Sitting in Golden Gate Park’s southeast corner, the Golden Gate Park Playground is a large play area surrounded by tall trees and green grass. It has multiple play areas for different age groups and different types of play, separated by curving walkways, planters, and benches.
- The playground sits on a mix of grass, sand, concrete, and soft, bouncy, rubber.
- In front of the swings, there is a giant, mosaic sea serpent in an ocean themed sandy play area with plenty of seating for parents.
- There are big, old concrete slides and tons of cardboard scraps laying around the base, so any kids that wanted to test them out could grab a square and take a ride — and if you lift up your feet, these slides are fast!
- The jungle-gym-style playground equipment has slides, ladders, climbing tubes, balance beams, rock climbing walls, a zip line, bridges, monkey bars, and more.
- There is also a giant rope climbing structure with platforms to sit on toward the top — this was hugely popular with the older kids and my kids loved climbing to the top, even in flip flops.
The Golden Gate Park Vintage Carousel
Since the Children’s Playground opened in Golden Gate Park in 1888, it has offered something extra special for children and families to enjoy — an authentic carousel. The carousel has been a tradition for this playground, one of the oldest children’s playgrounds in the United States, and over the years, three different carousels have been housed in Golden Gate Park near the Koret Children’s Quarter.
The current indoor carousel was built in 1914 by the Herschell-Spillman Company and operated at amusement parks in Los Angeles and Portland, Oregon, before it was installed in Golden Gate Park in 1940 after a stint at the World’s Fair on Treasure Island. The carousel was originally steam-powered, but when PG&E offered to loan an electric motor to the park, officials gladly agreed to pay the remaining expenses.
It was shut down in 1977. Dubbed mechanically deficient, as well as lagging in its original visual appeal, the original carousel was sent to a restoration team for repair. Paint was removed and the surfaces received a facelift, missing parts were carved anew, the animals received a proper paint job, and a German band organ was installed in the carousel.
The carousel reopened in 1984. Its 62 colorfully painted menagerie animals include a dragon, camel, and goat, as well as horses, frogs, dogs, roosters, and pigs. Painted panels inside the carousel depict Bay Area landscapes.
Golden Gate Park Children’s Playground History
When the Golden Gate Park Children’s Playground opened in 1888, it was named the Sharon Quarters for Children, and is believed to be the nation’s first public playground. Only for women and children, men and older boys were not permitted on the grounds.
With generous support from the Koret Foundation, the playground underwent a major renovation and reopened in 2007 as the Koret Children’s Quarter. It now provides families a mix of beloved old play structures like the concrete slides and new play features like a climbing wall shaped like waves and a rope climbing structure.
The Sharon Building and Sharon Art Studio
A gorgeous stone building, surrounded by pine and oak trees, sits next to the playground in Golden Gate Park. The old building’s design is stunning. We walked all around it wondering what it was used for, and when we finally walked up the front steps and peeked inside the door, were delighted to find an art studio that offers public art classes.
In his will, Senator William P. Sharon of Nevada left a bequest of $50,000 for the beautification of Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. While there was much debate as to how the bequest would be spent — a German-type beer garden and dance hall, a music pavilion, or a lake. Ultimately, it was used to fund the installation of a Children’s Quarter.
Architects Percy and Hamilton were selected to provide the design for the Sharon Building, which was to serve as the center piece of the Children’s Quarter. When the building was dedicated in 1888, it was equipped with water fountains, ice cream fountains, soda places, dairy rooms, storerooms for playthings, and stables in the cellar for goats. The first floor was used as a playroom and the second floor was a restaurant, where coffee and light refreshments were served.
In 1968, the Sharon Art Studio was established in the building. A 1974 fire caused the program’s relocation to the old Fleishacker Pool Building near the San Francisco Zoo. In 1980, it again moved to the Randall Museum until the Sharon House renovations were complete. In 1984, the Sharon Art Studio opened once again to the public at the Sharon Building.
Today the Sharon Building still houses the Sharon Art Studio, San Francisco’s largest public art studio, with classes and workshops for all ages in drawing, painting, ceramics, jewelry, glass, folk art, and more. It is jointly operated by the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department (SFRPD) and the Friends of Sharon Art Studio (FOSAS).
Know Before You Go
- Koret Children’s Quarter is located just off of Kezar Drive (on the southeast side of Golden Gate Park). The playground is found right next to the carousel at Bowling Green Drive between John F. Kennedy Drive and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive in San Francisco, California 94117.
- Sharon Art Studio is located at 300 Bowling Green Dr, San Francisco, CA 94117.
- The carousel is open on a daily basis from Memorial Day to Labor Day, as well as Friday through Sunday from the day after Labor Day through the day before Memorial Day. Year-round hours for carousel rides are from 10:00am to 4:30pm. The last ride for the day begins at 4:15 pm.
- Carousel Ride Cost: Adults, ($2), children ages 6 to 12 years ($1 per ride), and children 5 and under are free when accompanied by a paying adult. Please note that children under 40″ in height must ride with a paying adult.
- There are drinking fountains and restrooms at the Golden Gate Park Playground — and there is a cart by the carousel selling hot pretzels, which I’m sure your kids will beg for like mine did, so make sure you have a little extra cash for that!
- Bring a picnic lunch — The Children’s Playground is the perfect place to take a much needed free play break in the middle of a busy day. Or plan on enjoying a picnic dinner as your kids enjoy a reward for being on their best behavior all day.
- If you have extra cardboard at home, bring it with you for the slides, and feel free to leave it at the park for other kids to use too — just not in the rain.