Mission Dolores - Helen Diller Playground

Completed and Opened to the Public!  

Project BackgroundMission Dolores Park Rendering

In November 2008, Mission Dolores Park was identified as a priority site for funding under the 2008 Clean and Safety Neighborhood Park Bond. In that same year, the Friends of Dolores Park Playground (FDPP), a volunteer community organization, joined forces with the Mercer Foundation and hired the firm of Koch Landscape Architecture to develop a conceptual plan for the project, and entered into an agreement with the Neighborhood Parks Council (NPC) to act as their fiscal agent.

In April 2009 the Recreation and Park Commission approved a Memorandum of Understanding between Recreation and Park Department (RPD) and NPC, acting on behalf of the Friends of Dolores Park Playground, which establishes the framework for the joint planning, funding and construction of the playground at Mission Dolores Park. The general terms of the agreement include contributions of bond and other City funding by RPD, and a gift of services/materials/funds from FDPP. In recognition of the girt, the renovated playground will be renamed the "Helen Diller Playground".

The scope of this project included demolition of the existing children's play area and adjacent asphalt picnic area; construction of a new, highly customized children's play area; a new access driveway and accessible parking space; and a new storm water collection system, irrigation and lighting within the play area. Three community meetings were held to present the project plan and collect feedback from park stakeholders [April 4, 2008, June 26, 2008, and May 14, 2009]. The Recreation and Park Commission approved the conceptual plan for the project in June 2009.

Project Description

Children's Play Area: The play environment for Helen Diller Playground took into consideration the developmental needs of children; the site's context; the natural and social history of the area and the culture of the community to create a "sense of place" that will remain an icon of the community for years to come.

Super Slide: An exciting 45 foot long slide is the literal "high point" of the playground as it provides an elevation change of nearly thirty feet. The Super Slide is nestled into the hillside amid boulders, trees and dense vegetation and provides a wild ride for anyone that climbs up to its entrance. The slide may be accessed via the accessible walkway that leads to the stone stairs or one can climb up the hillside on the rubber surfacing area that is provided surrounding a field of boulders.

Site Infrastructure

The renovation of the play area included installation of new irrigation lines and heads within the boundaries of the play area, as well as security site lighting. A new subsurface drainage system was installed below the play matting to collect and direct water runoff from rain and irrigation. The project included a new connection to the City's combined sewer line on Dolores Street.

ADA access improvements completed under the project are limited to the provision of a new accessible loading zone on Dolores Street, and associated curb cut and sidewalk modifications between that location and the entrance to the park. From the accessible park entrance, an new ADA accessible path serves the children's play area. The path may double as a service vehicle entrance point, with a curb apron.

Get Out and Play!

Thanks for supporting Park Improvements in your San Francisco parks! To stay informed and involved, we encourage you to subscribe to Rec and Park eNews

You can also explore Rec and Park volunteer opportunities – We have park needs in every corner of the city and volunteer opportunities that are as diverse as your interests, skills, and abilities. Have fun in your parks, and get out and play!

  1. Pre-School Play Area: 2 to 5
  2. School Age Play Area: 5 to 12

It is the intent of the designers to create an environment that would provide the infrastructure to support the development of a young child. The Pre-school play area which is nestled into the hillside is reflective of the multi-layers of play that are supported in the larger play environment while creating a safe haven for the younger children to grow and develop without unnecessary risk. The pre-school area is separated from the larger area by a wide concrete walkway. The two stone spiral staircases enable easy access from the lower tier to the upper tier of the playground. A much smaller version of the "hillside" slide is one of the many exciting play features that are the focal point of the play environment. 

Young children need graduated levels of challenge to allow them to develop physically, cognitively, socially and emotionally at their own developmental time line.


A range of climbing activities will be provided from the easy to climb spiral stairs; a rubber incline on one side of the slide; a looped climbing pole and a rock climbing wall. These climbing activities will provide access and egress between the two tiers of the playground while providing the opportunity to climb vertically, inclined forward and backwards as well as laterally. The climbing activities provide an opportunity for problem solving as children learn to "map out" their route of travel.

The original playground featured a boat that both children and adults loved to sit and play on. A boat will be nestled into the hillside. The lower tier of the boat will be wheelchair accessible enabling all children to participate in the fantasy play. A captain's wheel, ship's bell, telescope and periscope will add to the fun. The crew's quarters bridges the gap between the upper and lower level of the playground. A flexible cargo net and a vertical ladder provide access and egress between the two levels. A miniature crow's nest allows the children the opportunity to view the world from a safe elevation looking down across the play area.

Younger children need opportunities to develop their balancing skills. A variety of spinners, stepping pods, spring toys and spring see saws will be used to encourage cooperative and social play while creating the movement so necessary for the development of the inner ear. A series of short crawl tubes and pods will be used to create a maze-like activity that will allow children to create their own environments within the space. Young children are beginning to learn about their own sense of body space and enjoy climbing in, through and on top of the tubes and pods. The younger child is beginning to explore socially but likes to maintain their personal space. The clusters of pods and tubes enable multiple children to relate to one another while remaining in their own "nest".

Sensory Tools

Young children are very observant of their natural environment and are mentally stimulated by a variety of color, texture, shapes, smells and sounds. The upper level contains a sensory rich "Sound Garden" where the vegetation creates a calming cooling environment. The rich contrast of color and textures of the rock, surfacing and vegetation are visually stimulating. The "Sound Garden" will feature a variety of opportunities for the children to create sounds by using chimes, drums and rain sticks. Sculptural elements that move with the wind will also add visual interest.

Sand Garden (All Ages)

Sand and water play is one of the most vital play opportunities that children can experience. The sand box is one of the few places that a child truly has control over their environment. They can construct and deconstruct and construct again. They can play by themselves or work together to build something. People of all ages enjoy the sensation of running their hands through the sand. The sand and water play area is set off from the active play environment to enable children to experience this "deep play" where they become so involved in their creation that they are lost in their play.

This passive play area is surrounded by boulders and natural elements that the children can use to sit on and construct on. The trees in the area will provide afternoon shade. The raised edge of the sand box border will provide seating for those that choose not to sit in the sand. The elevated sand table has a water channel that the children can control. Accessibility to the play elements are provided via the elevated sand table and also by transfer into the sand box. Hidden treasures are cast into the walls of the sand enclosure for the observant sculptor to discover. The sand garden is intended to be used by all ages.