An opinionated guide to local parks where your canine can run free
The dogs atop the sloping west side of Alamo Square Park like to play — and they do so in the rather small dirt-and-grass area allotted for off-leash fun. It's typically a hyper bunch of small pups, chasing, fetching, leaping after frisbees, and entwining regulars in the old twisted leash dance on the vertical pull up the hill. Thankfully, the typically business and/or tech-veering dog owners in Alamo Square are usually quite friendly, pick up after their pets, and won't give you side-eye if your darling drools on another's chew toy. There's also a water fountain for thirsty pups and a give one/take one plastic doo-doo bag stand at the base of the hill. But be forewarned, the other side of that hill is the one with the classic SF view of the Painted Ladies, so it's where tour buses dump the masses for photos ops. Fido is less than welcome there without a leash, and it can get scary for less sociable pups. Plus, just below, the park dips directly into the busy intersection.
Hayes and Scott.
Legal status: National park, off-leash areas (excluding the Crissy Field Tidal Marsh and Lagoon)
Cleanliness: 3 paws
Friendliness: 4 paws
Terrain: 4 paws
With boardwalk walkways, grassy play areas, a bombshell view of the Golden Gate Bridge, and long stretches of California coast, Crissy Field, part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, is a frisky pup's beachy playland. There are even small outdoor showers, specifically for washing the sand off paws, not human feet. The regulars know where to avoid walking without a leash, and will kindly tell you so on arrival. And there's plenty of room for running, fetching, and playing (canine) or catching up (human). Plus, check out interesting wave formations due to sand bars, and the marshy areas of the former Army airfield, first opened to the public in 2001. There's also enough sanded open space to keep a distance from other pets, if you're dog's the less-than-cordial type.
Beach and Mason, in the Presidio.
UPPER NOE RECREATION CENTER DOG PARK
Legal status: City park, off-leash
Cleanliness: 2 paws
Friendliness: 2 paws
Terrain: 1 paws
This relatively diminutive fenced enclosure is more typical of suburban neighborhoods — a very pre-planned park feel. Connected to the Noe Valley Recreation Center, it's helpful that this dog run is in the heart of the city, fully gated, and easy for humans to access, for a quick game of fetch or poop jaunt. The entirely fenced in park is great for new dog owners and those with easily spooked puppies. Weirdly, this kind of enclosure seems a rarity in the city. But other than convenience and safety (both considerably important in the pup playtime world) it offers little amenities to the average pup or companion. Also, there is sometimes a slight urine odor, likely due to the closed in nature, and while friendly, the crowd often seems more focused on getting in and out, quickly.