Hayes Valley: A San Francisco Neighborhood for Kids

Looking for place to visit for a lovely afternoon with minimal planning involved? Hayes Valley may be the perfect destination. It’s a tiny yet welcoming neighborhood bursting with tempting restaurants and indie shops, but best of all, it has plenty of spots to satisfy your kid’s desires.

When to go: Anytime, but it’s probably best to avoid raindrop showers as you’ll be outside.

How to get there: Hayes Valley neighborhood lies between Civic Center and Alamo Square. This section of Hayes Street runs between Franklin and Webster Streets. Metered parking is available along Hayes and also on Gough and Laguna Streets. Remember to bring plenty of coins for the meter.

What to wear: It’s best to wear layers and add or subtract them as necessary depending on the fog and sunshine.

What to bring: Although gloriously beautiful, Hayes Valley has few trees and thus little opportunity for shade, so be sure and bring sunscreen and hats. You’ll probably need a stroller in case you feel the urge to stroll along Hayes Street.

Where to eat: Consider getting picnic supplies from one of the take–out restaurants on Hayes Street (Arlequin to Go or La Boulange) and a quick pick-me-up at Blue Bottle Coffee to dine al fresco in the park. If you’d rather be seated in a comfortable restaurant that will cater to your kids with crayons, a kids menu, and bathrooms, Stacks is a safe bet. For the more adventurous, you might try Samovar Tea Lounge (the bottomless Russian tea will lift your spirits and your children will inhale the heavenly ginger quinoa waffles or fruit and cheese platter) or Straw for carnival fare (open for brunch on weekends with vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free menu options) guaranteed to charm young and old.

For dessert: 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.

What to do: Patricia’s Green, named for activist Patricia Walkup who founded the Hayes Valley Neighborhood Association, is a super-fun playground /lunch spot/green space for kids to explore to their hearts’ content. It’s equipped with a gigantic roped tower large enough for adults to mount too or hang cradled in the arms of one of the hammocks. Overshadowing the climbing structure is a giant woman made of metal links staring up at the sky. Mother Earth? Could be. Her curious presence somehow exudes a sheltering calm. A great community effort like Patricia’s Green is hard to beat as an inviting place to stop for an hour or so while your children roam around.

Another great activity is visiting the boutique shops. There are far too many trendy specialty shops and art galleries to list here and frankly who really wants to drag cherished cargo from shop to shop ‘til they drop, but here are two you might want to browse while you’re in the neighborhood. Fiddlesticks offers a blend of modern and classic upscale children’s clothing (Tea Collection), shoes (Livie and Luca), accessories and toys. Lili Merveille, “a unique French gift shop,” specializes in babies and kids’ clothes and also jewels and candies.

Other neighborhood attractions: Hayes Valley Farm is an urban garden located at the corner of Fell and Laguna where the freeway collapsed during the Loma Prieta earthquake. The neighborhood banded together to preserve the land to create this little green oasis in the center of the city. Volunteer days are Sundays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays from 12:00 pm – 5:00 pm. If you go on a volunteer day, wear clothes you don’t mind getting dirty and sturdy shoes and bring a water bottle and a snack. Check their website for upcoming events and current information. For more on youth programs, see their list of group visits, service learning, scholarships and family days.

Seesaw Studio has a lovely Scandinavian play space for children to learn and play. The studio offers a wide range of classes from everything from toddler development and playgroups for Baby & Me to baby sign language. For a full list of classes and workshops, check their website (Note, they are no longer open for drop-in play).

More info: hayesvalley.com

– Nicki Richesin