Just Opened: Helen Diller Civic Center Playgrounds

Right in the heart of San Francisco you can find not one, but two brand-new playgrounds that just opened last week. With much more than just your usual slides and swings, the Helen Diller Civic Center Playgrounds offer a unique nature and weather-based design and tons of climbing, swinging and hiding spaces for kids of all ages. Scroll down for some of our favorite features!

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The Helen Diller Family Foundation generously donated $10 million through The Trust for Public Land to fund the innovative design and construction of these two vibrant playgrounds. The design came to life through the vision of the San Francisco-based firm Andrea Cochran Landscape Architecture in partnership with The Trust for Public Land.

While kids may refer to it as the “space ship,” the spiraling play structure called “Lenticular Cloud” connects the ground path for children to roam along the colorful catwalk or explore using the twisting net.

Both playgrounds offer areas where older kids (and even parents!) can climb and swing. The artificial turf is cushioned and provides a safe place to land.

In one corner you can find a shorter hill and tunnel through which toddlers can crawl. Walk up to the structure in the corner and you’ll find that it’s covered with marbles that roll when you run your hands over them, providing a multi-sensory area to play.

The opposite corner houses the “Cumulus City”, a little city of climbing structures which makes little play houses for children to escape and pretend they are hobbits or antarctic explorers. 

Swings are plentiful on both sides. One has baby bucket swings and a net swing that allows multiple kids to ride at the same time. The other playground has everyone’s favorite tire swing and traditional swings. There’s also a swing that’s specially-designed for younger kids or those who might lack the core strength to hold themselves up in a traditional swing. 

Benches line the edges of both parks and there are water fountains available. Unfortunately there is no shade available in either playground to make sure to pack the sunscreen and hats. Both are enclosed by fencing with gates to keep kids from wandering outside. Permanent trash cans have yet to be added but the employees staffing the gates have provided temporary ones for the time being. 

A portion of the funds provided by the Helen Diller Family Foundation provide for 24 hour staffing of the park, by employees of the Civic Center Community Benefit District during hours when the park is open and by private security and park rangers during the evening hours.

To be open this summer is a street café, located at the corner of Grove and Larkin Streets, which will be run by Bi-Rite and will offer food and drink selections (COFFEE!) and outdoor seating. Hopefully in the near future some public restrooms will be added. Right now a public toilet is available at Grove/Larkin Streets, or you can head across the street to the public library if it is open.

If you venture to the playgrounds in the evening you can check out two light features that connect the parks. The “Pixel Poles” connect the two playgrounds with a forest of 52 lighting fixtures that respond to people’s movement. “KARL” spans the 140 x 50 feet plaza between the playgrounds and uses heat sensors to project light to create fog droplets and ripples of light that interact and change with passersby.

Helen Diller Civic Center Playgrounds
Civic Center Plaza
San Francisco, CA

What’s your favorite feature of the new playgrounds? Share it below!

—story and photos by Kate Loweth


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