May 1999

Type: Municipal Park, SNRA park, 348 acres.
Entrance Location: Multiple entrance locations include Persia Av, Brazil St, Sunnyvale Av, Mansell Av, University St, and Visitacion Av. Best park penetration is via Mansell St. to the John F. Shelley Loop. Some access notes: If McLaren Park is far away from your starting point in San Francisco, avoid getting there on Ocean Av (a rocky, slow ride which is confusing to stay on near Hwy 280). Probably the best access is via Hwy 101. Use the Cow Palace, 3rd St, Visitacion Ave exit to access via Visitacion Ave.
Facilities: 8 tennis courts. Basketball courts. Playground. Restrooms. Water. Some tables with bbq scattered throughout. Two artificial lakes.
Fee-Hours: No fee. The John F. Shelley loop is closed sunset to sunrise.
Depth of Exploration: 1 visit, light probe.
Dogs: The Shelley Loop is generally good for dogs, on or off-leash. The field near the tennis courts are excellent for off-leash play.

This is a very large park in the southern part of the city. It is the second largest inland park in San Francisco at 348 acres and was established a quarter of a century after Golden Gate Park. Its southern boundary is only blocks away from the San Mateo County line. It is a complex hill park rising to 525' which is actually part of the San Bruno Mountain 'range' but is separated from that State Park by 0.75 mile of residential neighborhood which includes, incidentally, the Cow Palace. This is not the best part of town, and safety in the commons can be an issue in the nieghborhoods south and south west around the park. Mansell St (Persia becomes Mansell) is like a great expressway through the center of the park, and also a great divide. Everything south of Mansell is descending slopes dominated by Gleneagles International Golf Course. Mansell runs along a natural ridge crest and the southern view along Mansell is the most expansive in the park. Capitalizing upon this is a trail which runs along the south side of the roadway, a picnic area on the west side of Mansell (not recommended) and a parking/view area along Mansell near Visitacion Av. In spite of the view, this southern half of the park has little appeal. The clear highlight and focus of park development is the area circled by John F. Shelley Dr. This, the 'Shelley Loop' is the highest elevation part of the park and is characterized by naturalistic open space around which a number of park facilities exist along the roadway. There is a small concrete contained lake (Yosemite Marsh) with picnic tables around it, a playground, well kept lawn areas, a nature trail, park residence, a special community amphitheater separated nicely from the roadway, and a large block of tennis courts. Cars can park casually at any point along the loop. Both ends of the loop are gated when the park is closed. Another area down at the northeast corner is Louis Sutter Playground and McNab Lake. This is almost like a separate park and is much lower, contained from the south by a steep grassy slope and best accessed directly from Dwight St or Wayland. McNab is another concrete walkway contained lake, but this time with reeds, an island, a concession, playground and large populations of mallards and other birds hoping to get fed. This is the most populated part of the park because it is easy to walk to from the adjacent neighborhood.

The highlight of the park is clearly Shelley Loop, and in numerous ways this is true. The nature area is one way. Well tended lawns line the roadway and there are a few paths exploring the natural interior which is a nice balance of cypress, eucalyptus, pine and open space. The surrounding parkland 'insulates' this area from the city, helping it to feel like more of an escape into nature. This is an excellent quality which gives it a lot of potential for further natural development. The effect is nice and may easily engender a desire for secluded meadow areas (although it should be noted that the Shelley Loop in general is not crowded and this is not a heavily used park). A particularly nice secluded meadow setting was found here, partially protected yet open with an eastern city view. It is chosen as one of the 15 selected highlight spots of San Francisco. The interior area is seasonally sensitive. It can be accessed from the Yosemite Marsh Lake and the park residence.

Some other features are worth noting. This is a very nice park for picnics as the table settings along the loop are among the finest in the city. Tables were noticed at the west side of Mansell, around the upper lake, across from the park residence, and in a field below the tennis courts. Tables found along the east end of the loop are the prettiest and the least subject to high winds. High winds are a dominant feature here and the lake has little protection. The aspect of city views is actually not a dominant theme around the loop. Whereas some limited panoramas exist, they are not extraordinary like at Bay View Park or Bernal Heights. One nice view area is the steep slope which contains the Sutter Playground area. Tall grasses and flowers on this hillside make it a preferred place to sit. At the top of this slope, on the east side of the Shelley Loop, is a large and very nice flat lawn field next to the tennis courts. For running around, dog use, or picnics (tables are here), this is an extraordinary setting for a large field with some very nice trees. Near the park residence is a modern outdoor amphitheater which will seat 600. Performances for the public, both public and private, occur here and that is another potential highlight.

So there is a lot at McLaren Park which is very nice. The Shelley Loop feels quite safe. The central essence of the park is here, condensed into this loop area which is gated after dark. The rest of the park is open space to which less attention is payed.

Best Features: Great natural interior landscape is accessible via a network of trails. High elevation means some good views. Park is well maintained and feels quite safe. Non-crowded. Used mostly by families with children. Nice natural park which deserves attention.

Worst Features: Location -- park is difficult to get to. Can be very windy (but protection is also common). Bad neighborhoods bordering the south side should be avoided. Avoid parking in an overtly isolated way and leaving the car for a long period.

For a recommended essay on history and current renovation efforts, visit:

There is also a dedicated website for McLaren at:

Download PDF for McLaren Park.