If the bustle of the city is starting to feel more like a hustle, hop on the N Judah and take a trip to Cole Valley: it’s like a friendly small town in the city limits. Teeming with restaurants, a super cute retro toy store, and frequent fire truck sightings, here’s our guide to this neighborhood bordering the Haight Ashbury.

grattan henrik

Play

Grattan Playground
Covering a full city block this playground includes an upper level for the 0-5 crowd, as well as a lower level with slightly dated equipment good for school age kids: sand, giant swings, and slides alongside a big green soccer field. Bring some chalk to draw on the chalk wall, or check out the basketball and tennis courts up above the nursery school.

1180 Stanyan St.
415-753-7042
Online: sfrecpark.org/grattan-playground

Kezar Stadium
Let your toddler go up and down the steps of the bleachers or run around the track at this former home of the 49ers. Note: Currently closed for track improvement, due open in early 2015.

670 Kezar Dr.
415-831-5500
Online: sfrecpark.org/kezar-stadium

carousel-goldengate park

Koret Children’s Quarter (Golden Gate Park Children’s Playground)
Not far from Kezar, this mother of all playgrounds will keep the kiddos happy. It’s big, it’s busy, and it’s suitable for all ages. With sand and cushioned services, and even cement slides (one of the few remnants from the vintage playground that once stood here). And did we mention there is a carousel? Restrooms are just past the carousel.

Martin Luther King, Jr and Bowling Green Dr.
San Francisco, Ca
415-831-2700
Online: sfrecpark.org/koret-childrens-quarter

Sutro Forest 17th Street Entry (800x600)

Explore

Sutro Forest
A 61-acre forest right smack in the city. Enter from 17th and Stanyan, near the Grattan Playground. Click here for an insider’s guide to hiking the forest.

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View of Sutro Forest from Tank Hill  (800x600)Tank Hill
Head up above Cole Valley for an impressive view from the top of this hill, named after a former water tank that once held city water. It’s a very steep incline to get there but the views looking north will take (what breath you have) away.

Clarendon Ave. and Twin Peaks Blvd or Belgrave Ave. and Shrader St.
Online: sfparksalliance.org/tank-hill

map it 

Station 12
On Stanyan near Grattan Playground is Fire Station 12. If the doors are open, kids can see the shiny engines—and if they are closed you’ll likely see one of the fire trucks in Cole Valley. Keep an eye out!

1145 Stanyan at Grattan
San Francisco, Ca

Tantrum – San Francisco, CAPhoto: Tantrum interior Myleen Hollero 

Tantrum
It’s like a nostalgic circus party that you and the cutest stuffed animals in town are invited to. Ride the mechanical seal for a quarter. They host book signings and other events, and will even hand deliver custom wrapped gifts to your door (by bike!) You rent the whole space for special events and birthday parties.

858 Cole St.
San Francisco, Ca
415-504-6980
Hours: 11 a.m. – 7 p.m., every day
Online: shoptantrum.com

Mr. Potato Head Cole Hardware

Cole Hardware
This is not your average hardware store. Floor to ceiling items, you can get a Radio Flyer wagon along with that duct tape and bag of nails. They carry toys like Mr. Potato Head and Green Toys, as well as hula hoops and sun hats. Check out their old-fashioned gumball machine and ask for a Cole Hardware balloon!

956 Cole St.
San Francisco, Ca
415-753-2653
Hours: 8 a.m.-8 p.m., every day
Online: colehardware.com/cole-street-store

La Boulange_de Cole_Cole Valley

Eat

Kezar Bar and Restaurant
A sit-down affair with perks: this is one of those places for local parents-in-the-now. You walk into a bar (ahh, remember bars?) but there’s plenty of tables. The menu features yummy fries, burgers, salads, soups, and of course, mommy’s little cocktail!

900 Cole St.
San Francisco, Ca
415-681-7678
Hours: Mon. – Wed., 5 p.m.-1 a.m.; Thurs. & Fri., 5 p.m. – 2 a.m.; Sat., 4 p.m. – 2 a.m.; Sun., 4 p.m. – 1 a.m.

La Boulange de Cole
Part of the popular chain, there’s a kids menu that includes mac and cheese and nutella and banana sandwiches, along with a rainbow of treats suited to keep your little macaroons happy.

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1000 Cole St.
San Francisco, Ca
415-242-2442
Hours: 7 a.m.- 7 p.m., every day
Online: laboulangebakery.com

Crepes on Cole
This cash-only corner crepery also serves burgers, fries, grilled cheese, omelets, and a host of other “breakfasty” items all day. Grab a seat along the window and you’ll have a perfect view of the N-Judah as it rumbles by.

100 Carl St.
San Francisco, Ca
415-664-1800
Hours: 7 a.m. – 10:30 p.m.

Burger Meister
Burgers, fries, and shakes right along the MUNI line. What more could you ask for? Vegan or veggie burgers? They have those too! Pay at the counter then grab one of the two outside tables so you can see the commuters drool over your chili cheese curly fries as they walk past.

86 Carl St.
San Francisco, Ca
415-566-1274
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Online: burgermeistersf.com

Bambinos
Pizza and simple classic Italian dishes make this sit-down ristorante’s menu easy to navigate with the kids. Pasta, panini, and the lunch menu even has omelets. It’s just fancy enough to make you feel civilized, but not so fancy you’ll be worried about your singing toddler being disruptive. (Come on, it’s cute!)

945 Cole St.
San Francisco, Ca
415-731-1343
Hours: Mon.- Thurs., 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.; Fri., 11:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m.; Sat., 10 a.m.-10:30 p.m.; Sun., 10 a.m.-10 p.m.
Online:  bambinosristorante.com

Ice Cream Bar Cole Valley

Treat

Ice Cream Bar
An old-fashioned soda fountain with handmade ice cream, custom sodas, and nostalgic noshes. Can’t decide between a flavor of ice cream or a soda? Just make it a float. Ask the soda jerks (what? it’s what they’re called!) for their recommendations of combos. There’s even a boozy-shake selection.

815 Cole St.
San Francisco, Ca
415-742-4932
Hours: Sun. – Thurs., noon-10 p.m.; Fri. & Sat., noon-11 p.m.
Online: theicecreambarsf.com

Cole Valley Sign

Getting There
In addition to the MUNI streetcar line N Judah, Cole Valley is on the 43 Masonic, 6 Parnassus, and 37 Corbett bus lines. Parking in this neighborhood can be a little tricky on the weekends, but usually easy during the week. If you don’t mind a short walk you can park next to the Kezar Stadium at the ABC parking lot at 801 Stanyan Street.

Go Beyond
Just a stroll down Cole Street will lead you to the Upper Haight. Check out our guide to loving the Haight with your kids!

What’s your favorite haunt in Cole Valley? Let us know below! 

—Amber Guetebier
All photos by author except where noted.