They don’t need to have seen Roman Holiday to know that dipping a few fingers (or toes) in a magnificent city fountain is a magical experience. And here in SF, September is one of the few times when its warm enough that damp clothing won’t result in hypothermia. So skip the hassle of the pool and hunt down one (or all) of these majestic water features. Hop over some stones, toss a few pennies, and if you’re feeling adventurous, get a little bit wet—we won’t tell.

levi's fountainPhoto: Emma Bland Smith

Halprin Fountains (Levi’s Plaza)
These two fountains may be the city’s least-known but most fun, located in a hidden park across from the Exploratorium, straddling Battery Street. Kids can run in circles over the criss-crossing concrete slabs, hopscotch across pools, and duck under branches. The faux-rural park (think streams and foot bridges) is a peaceful haven on a busy day. Combine this with a hike up the famed Filbert Steps (they begin here), a stop to look for the parrots of Telegraph Hill and to peek into the enchanted wonderland of private gardens and you’ll forget you’re in bustling SF. Hungry? Continue on past Coit Tower and down into North Beach, where you can grab a slice of pizza at Tony’s Pizza Napoletana or some top-notch Mexican grub at Tacolicious. (See our story about North Beach with kids here.)

Levi’s Plaza
1155 Battery St.
San Francisco, CA

Goldgen Gate Park fountainPhoto: Emma Bland Smith 

Music Concourse (Golden Gate Park)
Want to pretend you jetted off to Paris for the afternoon? Visit the Music Concourse in Golden Gate Park, located between the California Academy of Sciences and the De Young Museum. With gravel paths, stately wood-and-iron benches, shady plane trees, and three classic round fountains in the middle, there’s a serene, stepped-back-in-time feel here. On weekends artists display their wares and music flows from the band shell, creating a carnival-like atmosphere. Take a lunch break in the De Young café, which you can access without paying the museum entrance fee.

Music Concourse in Golden Gate Park
50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Dr.
San Francisco, CA

vaillancourt fountainPhoto credit: Adriel Hampton via Flickr 

Vaillancourt Fountain (Justin Herman Plaza)
If you grew up in the city, you probably have memories of frolicking in this gigantic modern art sculpture at Justin Herman Plaza. Located right where the Embarcadero shopping center (and Market Street) meets the Ferry Building, the maze-like fountain invites kids to hop down a few steps and race along the water-level paths. It’s a great way to have the kids run off some energy before walking them through the Saturday Ferry Building Farmer’s Market, jumping on a ferry to Angel Island, or checking out the new Exploratorium.


photo by authorPhoto: Emma Bland Smith 

Mermaid Fountain (Ghirardelli Square)
This small but sweet gem sits in Ghirardelli’s beautiful brick main square. It was created by Ruth Asawa, one of San Francisco’s most famous and cherished artists, known for her sculptures. This fountain is among her more accessible and classical works, and children will be charmed by the two lovely mermaids, one of whom tenderly cradles a mer-baby. After dropping in a few pennies, pop into the two chocolate stores for your free samples (no trip is complete with them!), then let the kids explore the square.

Ghirardelli Square
900 North Point St.
San Francisco, CA

huntington fountainPhoto: Emma Bland Smith 

Fountain of the Tortoises (Huntington Park)
Feel like a well-heeled native with a visit to Huntington Park. Perched at the top of Nob Hill, between the Fairmont Hotel and Grace Cathedral, this small park features a cozy playground (currently being remodeled), a grassy field popular with local dog-owners, and the pretty little Fountain of the Tortoises. Potty time? Step into the posh Fairmont lobby or visit the dim, cool cathedral. You can’t get more San Francisco than this! Tip: The fountain was recently lit, so try for an evening visit if your tots are night owls.

Yerba Buena Gardens fountainPhoto credit: Google images

MLK Memorial Fountain (Yerba Buena Gardens)
There are so many reasons for families to frequent the urban center known as Yerba Buena Gardens: the bowling alley, ice skating rink, Metreon movie theater, awesome sunken playground, Children’s Creativity Museum and live theater (the Bay Area Children’s Theater puts on plays here). Add the biggest fountain on the West Coast to the list and it’s officially a must-visit. Visually, it’s stunning: a massive wall of falling water. But the real attraction is walking behind it, where you can read quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr., etched on the wall. Inspiring.

Do you have a favorite urban fountain that the kids like to splash in? Tell us in the comments below! 

–Emma Bland Smith