One Family’s Quest to Tour Every Playground

A full-time father and his two kids are on a mission to romp around S.F.’s roughly 130 playgrounds during summer break.

When the school year ended earlier this month, full-time father Mc Allen had two summer project ideas for his elementary-school children: Attend every Planning Commission meeting, or visit every playground in San Francisco. Poppy, 9, and Lincoln, 7, went with the latter.

Mc — pronounced “mack” — did the math. San Francisco has about 130 playgrounds that are open to the public and designed just for children, and his kids have 74 days of summer break. In other words, they’d have to average almost two each day — though less of a marathon than riding every single Muni line from end to end, as they did last summer.

Apart from keeping his kids busy, the Bay City Beacon’s Muni poet plans to publish a guidebook on the city’s playgrounds, based on sketches and observations of its features, and checklists of whether bathrooms, shade, or water fountains are nearby.

As of Monday, the trio has visited 21 playgrounds, venturing to Glen Park and Pacific Heights, Mission Bay, and Dogpatch.

Mc has had a hard time determining which playground is superior in the eyes of his children, who are just happy to run around, climb, swing, and pose for sketches. The Recreation and Parks Department runs most of the spots they visit, but some include public school playgrounds, and two in the Presidio. One is even on San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency property, the Dogpatch Playground

“Usually, they say, ‘It’s great! I love it!’ ” Mc says. “Their favorite is usually the one we most recently visited.”

On a recent overcast Wednesday morning, that was the Koshland Community Park and Learning Garden, located on Page and Buchanan streets in Hayes Valley. There, Mc observes no shading to retreat to, two types of bridges, seesaws, a tire swing, and those indented bubble walls where kids make faces at their playmates down below. He considered the sand a drawback, as it can hide anything from dog feces to glass until the damage is done. (Not far into this visit, a barefoot Lincoln stepped on something that caused him to bleed.)

Mc Allen, left, goofs around with his two children, Lincoln, middle, and Poppy, right, on the seesaw. (Photo by Ida Mojadad)

Poppy agrees that more shade is needed but is happy to climb the arched, yellow metal bridge where she can dangle upside down like a bat or call Mc “you lowly little ant” from above. The tire swing, where her blue hair whips around in a blur is also an obvious favorite. But first and foremost, what she absolutely doesn’t want in any playground is a hobgobbler, the frog-like purple dragon from this year’s How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World.

“It’s a bad omen,” Poppy says matter-of-factly.

As for seven-year-old Lincoln, the zip line is where he spends a fair amount of time. In fact, he thinks everyone should get around by zip line instead of buses and cars and doesn’t care for age restrictions on playgrounds. (“Have you ever limited yourself in that respect?” Mc interjects.)

Though Lincoln says he’s “sort of” satisfied with the summer project, there are clear signs he and his sister are more than OK with spending their days at a playground. Mc says they were the most excited to visit the Dogpatch Playground, on 22nd and Indiana streets, even though it was just 90 feet from their home. Another day, they spent more than three hours at the Yerba Buena Gardens playground.

“I had to basically bribe the kids to leave,” Mc says.

Mc has been a full-time dad since Poppy was born, which means her mother mostly joins on the weekends. At the beginning, he would live-tweet until Lincoln and Poppy shamed him for using his phone too much. Mc still posts from time to time, sharing the delightful tilework at Balboa Park (alongside some rats), or how Helen Diller Playground in Dolores Park went from drab to “one of San Francisco’s finest.” Later on, he may be able to identify some patterns in playgrounds but says it’s too soon to say.

Alas, Poppy hurt her arm last week, so the two-playgrounds-a-day pace has slowed. Still, they plan to visit as many as they can, especially looking forward to Koret Playground in Golden Gate Park. They’re also making sure to catch the rooftop Salesforce Park playground once the transit center reopens on July 1, just in case it immediately closes again.

Like the family’s mission to ride every Muni line last summer, the Every S.F. Playground project takes them outside their usual Dogpatch home and reminds them that there’s something to do in every corner of the city. But for all the effort Mc has put into the projects, Poppy and Lincoln are just along for the ride.

“I just like to play,” Lincoln says.

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