Elinor Friend Playground
San Francisco Zoo’s playground has been the most popular destination for generations of kids for over 60 years, as children of all ages played on swings, slides and even a full size train engine. After several years of fundraising, planning, and design, and over one year of construction, the Elinor Friend Playground reopened to rave reviews. As part of The Americas Campaign capital campaign chaired by Dianne Taube, this $3.2 million project was made possible by the Friend Family and other generous donors. The 36,000-square-foot, state-of-the art facility was designed to ignite the imaginations of the more than 300,000 children of all ages and abilities who visit the Zoo each year.
The updated playground was modeled after three distinct bio-regions, which take their themes from specific ecosystems and appeal to distinct age groups: a River Play Area for toddlers (6 months-2 years);a Polar Zone exploration space for pre-schoolers (2-5 years), and a Banyan Tree climbing structure for pre-teens (5-12 years). Along with striking natural forms, the architecture integrates a wide range of materials and textures in glorious detail that mimic those found in nature and encourage curiosity among young explorers. As an example, a charming frog sculpture in the River Play Area acts as a symbol of the Zoo’s mission to connect people with wildlife, inspire caring for nature, and advance conservation action. In support of this mission, a portion of the funds raised for the playground goes toward the Zoo’s Sierra Nevada Yellow Legged Frog Conservation Program. Click here for more information about this program.
Crawling through a beaver dam, sliding down an iceberg, or swinging through a tree, all children share opportunities for unique wildlife adventures, take age-appropriate risks, and immerse themselves in naturalistic environments. Each of the play structures is built with fully compliant ADA accessibility features to accommodate children with physical and mental disabilities, with a strong emphasis on exploration and adventure encouraged for all.
In partnership with the Mayor’s Office on Disability, the unique design of the Playground was the work of Scientific Art Studio, a multi-faceted design and fabrication facility located in Richmond, California. Led by Founder and Creative Director Ron Holthuysen, the Zoo’s Playground team included artists and skilled craftspeople with experience in every material and technique imaginable, in particular reclaimed redwood tree trunks, sculptural cement composite on steel frames, woven rope, and even living vegetation. The contracting work on the project was done by Rudolph Commercial Interiors, Inc. (RCI), located in Emeryville, California.
Near the entrance to the Fisher Family Children’s Zoo and adjacent to the expansive Playfield Lawn, the Playground is located at the historic heart of the San Francisco Zoo. A natural extension of the Zoo’s Wellness Initiative, which focuses on the quality of life for all Zoo animals and visitors, the Playground encourages movement and creativity for its guests and provides an excellent value to Zoo Members, who receive free admission each day of the year. Join today!