Slices of $6 toast got you down? Then head over to West Portal, a quirky little SF hood with a charming main drag and an old school vibe (you can still score a bagel and cream cheese at Noah’s for a mere $2.75). With a bookstore, a jaw-dropping indoor play space and a whooping 26 restaurants, there is plenty for the family to explore. Bordered by Forest Hill on one side and the tony St. Francis Wood neighborhood on the other, West Portal seems like a sleepy little suburb of SF, but it’s actually closer than you think: From downtown SF, jump on Muni’s K, L or M line and you are in the heart of it all in less than 15 minutes.

West Portal promenade

Play

West Portal Playground
This top notch playground is colorful, clean and entertaining for both younger and older kiddos. There’s a darling train structure, swinging decks, beautiful turrets to climb, bridges, tunnels, swings, sand, slides, and an impressive picnic area. Bring the soccer ball to kick around on the large grassy area, or drop in to one of the many classes and activities hosted here: Tot Gym, Tot Picasso, Tot Time, Youth Indoor Games, and a chess club. During Summer months there are camps that offer various activities such as crafts, sports, field trips, and special events, and during the school year there’s homework assistance as well as literacy After-School programs. There’s also a swanky remodeled Clubhouse you can rent out for birthday parties.

131 Lenox Way
San Francisco, Ca
415-753-7038
Online: sfrecpark.org

West Portal Playground

 

Explore

Peek-a-Boo Factory
If your tykes have energy to burn, this is the indoor playground for you. The best part about this play space is that it’s drop-in friendly and has no membership fees. It’s $10 bucks for the first little one, $8 for each additional and socks-only (so you may want to choose your footwear wisely). There’s an enclosed baby area with a groovy funhouse style mirror and little musical toys for your toddler rock and roll around, as well as a chill play nook with a train table, books, and Legos. The piece de resistance, however, is the 4-level Junior Play Area which is padded enough for lots of climbing, tumbling, and general crashing around. Psst: there’s WiFi, coffee, and even a jumbotron-style TV for parents. Controlled mayhem at its best!

2 West Portal Ave.
San Francisco, Ca
415-702-6638
Online: peekaboofactory.com/

ArtWorks Fine Art Studio
ArtWorks is a place for everyone, with drawing and painting fine art classes for kids of all ages. The philosophy here is a non-competitive environment where toddlers on up to teens can find their niche in the art world. There’s ongoing enrollment year-round for their stellar classes, and a super fun Summer Camp program. Parents are invited to schedule a Free Introductory Class as long as you make an appointment in advance. Even cooler, all the students enjoy having their work shown for public view at at the studio twice a year (through the display program, 120 students are represented each month, so  your little Picasso and Manet can showcase their work, too!).

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360 West Portal Ave., Ste. E
San Francisco, Ca
415-759-5757
Online: artworksfineartstudio.com

Bookshop West Portal
After parking yourself and your stroller along the comfy built-in benches out front, head on into this independent bookstore with a massive selection. The legendary Story Times are a must here. First, browse the kid-friendly stacks of children’s lit & Young Adult (we even found “Bukowski for Kids”!), then hang around for their weekly Wednesday morning 10:30 a.m. reading event for babies and toddlers, featuring interactive songs and finger puppet plays.

80 West Portal Ave.
San Francisco, Ca
415-564-8080
Online: bookshopwestportal.com

Pacific Wushu Martial Arts
Whether your tyke is new to karate or a mini-seasoned pro, you’ll find the perfect class for your family. Hubby & wife team Phillip Wong and Zhang Hong Mei teach a full curriculum of challenging, educational and fun classes in the Chinese martial arts. There are both group as well as private class options including including Contemporary Wushu, Tai Ji Quan, Bagua, and San Shou styles. Call or email ahead for a schedule of their programs, which feature a dizzying array of basic punches, kicks, and jumps that will all increasing fitness, flexibility, control, and self-confidence for your little one.

33 Vicente St. (between West Portal Ave. & Santa Clara Ave.)
San Francisco, Ca
415-841-8848
Online: pacificwushu.com

Wushu

Ambassador Toys
Guaranteed to bring back great childhood memories, this local toy store carries both favorites from the past plus everything cool your kids will like—Old school to new school. Ambassador also houses a huge supply of educational and creative “How-To Build” kits, board games, puppets, dolls, and science items galore.

186 West Portal Ave.
San Francisco, Ca
415-759-8697
Online: ambassadortoys.com

CinéArts at the Empire
On the rainiest day, sometimes a family film is the perfect plan. Head over to this Cinemark movie theater to dry off. The small theaters means that there’s no bad seat in the house (The chairs are also super comfy). There are three screens and the feel is intimate, almost like watching a movie at home. They show both blockbusters and independent movies so Disney fans and art-house fanatics will both find something they like.

85 West Portal Ave.
San Francisco, Ca
415-661-2539
Online: cinemark.com

Eats & Treats

Squat & Gobble
Want a gluten-free crepe? Or one filled with three kinds of cheese and topped with Marinara sauce? Here at the breakfast crepe destination you can have them any way you’d like them. One of five SF locations, the West Portal joint suffered a massive fire, but has since reopened its doors with a full remodel. You can have breakfast all day and night (or inversely a burger in the early morn), and the anything-goes menu means your entire brood is sure to leave full-bellied and satisfied, and ready for a neighborhood stroll.

1 West Portal Ave.
San Francisco, Ca
415-665-9900
Online: squatandgobble.com

El Toreador Restaurant
The line out front is a giveaway: This restaurant is a popular, trendy and delicious spot for the local yokels. Heck, they’ve been around West Portal since back when your parents were hip back in 1957. The arty Dia de Los Muertos interior is pure funky, festive SF, and the Mexican style comfort food won’t let your gang down. Order their signature Spinach Enchiladas—just don’t tell your tykes you’re sneaking in the veggies until they’ve licked their plates clean.

50 West Portal Ave.
San Francisco, Ca
415-566-8104
Online: eltoreadorsf.com

El Toreador

Mozzarella di Buffala
A perfect mashup of Italian and  Brazillian food. What? Yep, you read that correctly. This joint is equal parts Pizzeria and Brazillian Cafe, and a staple of the robust West Portal community for over 20 years. Owner Pedro Galetti blends the two cuisines and cultures beautifully, and there are even plentiful gluten-free and lactose-free options for food allergic diners. Any way you slice it, with their cornmeal crust pizza will guarantee happy diner all around. Or take a walk in the wilder side and try Brazil’s authentic Bife Acebulado —that’s a New York Strip with beans, rice and greens. Yum.

69 West Portal Ave.
San Francisco, Ca
415-661-8900
Online: dibufala.com/

Manor Coffee Shop
This quaint little American diner boasts both history (its been around since the ’50s) and hot plates that will keep your family coming back for more. Word on the street is to try the Corned Beef Hash (many say it’s the best in the City) and coffee and the classic breakfast dishes are a win. If your gang is looking for a quick bite in a retro style setting with warm friendly service then stop on by.

Insider Tip: As cool as the old cash register is, it only takes cash so remember to fill your wallet (there’s an ATM down the street if you’re in a pinch).

321 West Portal Ave.
San Francisco, Ca
415-661-2468
Online: facebook.com/pages/Manor-Coffee-Shop/142098042553094

Shaw’s
Remember Lemonheads? Bring that sweet tooth over to Shaw’s, not only is it a neighborhood fave, it’s also San Francisco’s oldest candy shop, established in 1931. At one time it was a chain with 50 locations around the Bay Area, now there’s just one left: this is it (and the original location). Colorful jars of Salt Water taffy line an entire wall and Pez and dispensers and Jelly Belly beans the other (a Dentist’s delight!). If you’re in the mood for the cold stuff instead, there’s scoops of local Mitchell’s Ice Cream to satisfy any craving.

50 West Portal Ave.
San Francisco, Ca
415-566-8104
Online: shawssf.com

How do you explore West Portal-landia? Tell us in the comments below! 

 

—Mireille Schwartz

In descending order, photos courtesy of Torbakhopper (Flickr), Rick “Mexican” (Flickr) all others Mikol (Flickr)