Hayes Valley: A Kid-Friendly Hot Spot

This hot hood has gone though an extreme makeover over the past decade, but it’s not just the dozens of great new shops and restaurants that make Hayes Valley a must-visit for families. It’s a small, relatively flat neighborhood close to lots of pubic transportation, so exploring is a breeze. And with an innovative open space and grassy strip at its center, there is space to run if the littles get squirrely in the shops.

seesaw_SFPhoto: Seesaw SF

Play

Patricia’s Green
Named for activist Patricia Walkup who founded the Hayes Valley Neighborhood Association, the green features is a simple playground/climbing structure, a grassy area for kids and dogs to run around and plenty of benches and tables for picnicking. But the real draw is the innovative collection of shops and eateries (called Proxy) created inside old shipping containers and set up on the adjacent vacant lot.

Octavia Blvd. & Fell St.
San Francisco, Ca
Online: sfrecpark.org

Koshland Playground and Learning Garden
The newly renovated Koshland playground has lots to climb and spin on, as well as an adjacent 54-plot greenspace is tended by local residents and school children (18 plots are reserved for schools). The gardens are open everyday during park hours, and kids are encouraged to explore. The park also features a half basketball court, an open green area, benches, and the aforementioned playground.

Page and Buchanan Sts.
San Francisco, Ca
Online: koshlandgarden.blogspot.com

Seesaw Studio
A lovely indoor Scandinavian play space for children to learn and expore, the studio offers a wide range of classes—everything from toddler development, to parenting skills to baby French, Mandarin, Japanese, and sign language. (Note, they are no longer open for drop-in play).

600A Octavia St.
San Francisco, Ca
415-553-8070
Online: seesawsf.com

straw_restaurant_Hayes_ValleyPhoto: Straw

Eat

The Grove
Order breakfast all day, big salads and kid-friendly fare like grilled cheese or spaghetti and turkey meatballs. This casual eatery (order at the counter and take a number) has plenty of highchairs, a spacious dining room, nice new bathrooms (with changing tables) and the staff is always friendly as can be. Grab a seat outside—under the heatlamps if it’s chilly— and watch the action.

301 Hayes St.
San Francisco, Ca
415-624-3953
Online: thegrovesf.com

Arlequin
Salads soups, sandwiches and pastries are made extra special by enjoying them in the back garden (and with a glass of wine from the adjoining wine shop). The kiddos can chase away the pigeons, who have taken up residence and know exactly when to make a dive for leftovers.

384 Hayes St.
San Francisco, Ca
415-626-1211
Online: arlequincafe.com

La Boulange
The chain’s dependable sandwiches, soups and desserts are all here, as are a few highchairs, a changing station in the (single) restroom and typically plenty of small dogs to pet dining al fresco.

500 Hayes St.
San Francisco, Ca
415-863-3376
Online: laboulangebakery.com

Paxti’s 
Chicago-style Deep dish pizza is their specialty, and it’s a hit with all ages. Good to know: it typically takes 20 minutes to bake a pie, so order appetizers (or bring snacks) if your gang doesn’t like to wait for grub. 

511 Hayes St.
San Francisco, Ca
415-558-9991
Online: patxispizza.com

Souvla
Souvla serves up simple but fabulous Greek food, from spit-roasted meats to Greek fries (with olive oil, lemon juice, oregano and Mizithra Cheese) to tart frozen yogurt topped with baklava crumbles or sour cherry syrup. Dumbfounded on what to do for dinner? Pick up one of their rottiserie roasted chickens for $20 to take home.

517 Hayes St.
San Francisco, Ca
415-400-5458
Online: souvlasf.com

Stacks 
One of the only spots dedicated to breakfast in the neighborhood, Stacks is the place to go for pancakes, eggs and everything in between. The crowds can stack up, too, especially on weekends, but thankfully the park is just across the street, and there’s free self-serve coffee outside, so waiting won’t be too painful.

501 Hayes St.
San Francisco, Ca
415-241-9011
Online: stacksrestaurant.combiergarten_sf

Biergarten SF
Mom and dad can enjoy big mugs of German beer al fresco while the littles run wild within the fenced-in space. Tasty snacks like freshly made pretzles, beet salads and sliders will satisfy the whole family, and the lively-but-not-rowdy atmosphere is perfect for parents and kids alike. 

424 Octavia St.
San Francisco, Ca
Online: biergartensf.com

Straw
Cotton candy, snow cones and even a fun house mirror—this carnival-themed restaurant has it all, and is sure to be a hit with kids. Forget boring booths, you can take a seat in a real Tilt-a-Whirl car here. But like any good carnival, the sweets abound (as well as healthier fare, including gluten-free items), so be ready to run off that sugar rush at the playground across the street.

203 Octavia Blvd.
San Francisco, Ca
415-431-3663
Online: strawsf.com

Nabila’s
If you would rather grab a few snack and picnic items, hit up this long-time locale (one of the few that is still there from a decade ago). It’s a great little market with a healthy and well-stocked selection of almost anything you could need: Drinks, pre-made sandwiches and salads, fresh fruit and more (like a killer wine selection).

559 Hayes St.
San Francisco, Ca
415-864-6514

 

smittten_ice_creamPhoto: Smitten

And for dessert…

Miette
Retro and imported candy fill the shelves here, as well as picture-perfect cakes, cupcakes and cookies. The classic chocolate cupcake with boiled frosting (the pure white, marshmallow looking stuff) is what dreams are made of. 

449 Octavia St.
San Francisco, Ca
415-626-6221
Online: miette.com

Smitten
If you’ve ever hand-cranked homemade ice cream, you’ll remember how much your arm ached afterwards. The owners of Smitten Ice Cream have invented a machine that runs on liquid nitrogen and will produce fabulously smooth ice cream in a mere 60 seconds. Your kids will be astonished to watch “Kelvin” smoking in action while you wait. With flavors like fresh mint, carrot cake, and TCHO chocolate chip, this tricked-out kiosk certainly lives up to its name. They also offer handmade pizzelle cones and ice cream sandwiches (until they run out). Check out the website for a list of daily flavors and a short and sweet video about how they make their crazy delicious ice cream.

432 Octavia St. #1a,
San Francisco, Ca
415-863-1518
Online: smittenicecream.com

Loving Cup
For a sweet treat that is a tad healthier, check out Loving Cup, a frozen yogurt and rice pudding shop that recently opened up here (the original location on Polk has been a cult favorite for years). The magic happens once you pick the toppings, which they then blend in with either chocolate or vanilla fro yo. Our favorite: chocolate yogurt with dark chocolate chips, almond butter and caramel.

535 Octavia St.
San Francisco, Ca
415-701-0091
Online: lovingcupsf.com

Papabubble
As if the little ones needed a reason to love candy even more, a sweet little sweets factory has popped up in Hayes Valley, where every day sugary ropes of the good stuff are pulled, rolled and wrapped into mini morsels of confection perfection. Sample gourmet, chef-concocted flavors (how about jackfruit or sparkling wine?)and watch master confectioners making the stuff right in front of you. Have you ever tried candy while it was still warm? You won’t be able to resist.

488 Fell St.
San Francisco, Ca
415-533-1188
Online: papabubblesf.com

blue_bottle_SFPhoto: Blue Bottle

Sip

Blue Bottle
Here’s where it all started: grab a New Orleans iced coffee and a hot cocoa for the kiddies from this charming little converted garage in one of Hayes Valley’s famous alleyways. Linden has been particularly well cared for and you can enjoy your beverage (or fresh baked treats) on a little parklet made up of large rocks and found wood.

315 Linden St.
San Francisco, Ca
510-653-3394

Ritual Roasters
One of the best things about this outpost of the beloved coffee shop is it’s cool building. Explain to your little train lovers that the structure used to be a shipping container on rails, and their tiny minds will be blown. New walkers will love toddling around the pedestrian-friendly open space, and there are usually plenty of cute dogs to pet. 

432b Octavia St.
San Francisco, Ca
415-865-0989
Online: ritualroasters.com

linden_st_murals_hayes_valleyPhoto of Linden St.: Barbara Alessandra Photography

Explore

Streets of San Francisco Bike Tours
Skip the madness of bike rental and tour spots at Fisherman’s Wharf and take one of these distinctly local tours. Kids 13 and up are welcome, but unfortunately they don’t have children’s bikes or infant carriers.

370 Linden St.
San Francisco, Ca
415-448-SOSF (7673)
Online: sosfbiketours.com

Murals in Linden Alley
Just down the block from the shipping containers and the bike tour spot are a handful of walls covered in colorful street art. The light-traffic street is perfect for strolling.

Linden St. btwn Octavia and Gough St.

Mini-Kids-Hero-public_bikesPhoto: Public Bikes

Shop

Fiddlesticks
This pretty shop offers a blend of modern and classic upscale children’s clothing (Tea Collection), shoes (Livie and Luca), accessories and toys. There’s even a sweet little stash left out for the littles to play with.

540 Hayes St.
San Francisco, Ca
415-565-0508
Online: shopfiddlesticks.com

Public Bikes
An SF-born-and-bred bike shop filled with plenty to get you and your brood inspired to ride. Their sturdy, candy-colored cruisers are great for hauling kids (and they carry Yepp infant carriers as well). Our favorite new addition to the line? Their balance bikes for new riders. Take a test drive and you’ll be hooked.

549 Hayes St.
San Francisco, Ca
415-688-4000
Online: publicbikes.com

What’s your favorite haunt in Hayes Valley? 

—Erin Feher