Ready, set, play! Young imaginations will blossom at the Academy’s hands-on outdoor space that activates and encourages kids’ instinctive curiosity about the natural world.

Unstructured outdoor play isn’t just kids’ stuff—it’s essential for the healthy development of young minds and bodies. As free time increasingly gets replaced by screen time, however, too many kids are missing out on the mental, physical, and emotional benefits of getting their hands dirty.

Wander Woods is a wild antidote to our digital world. Under the gnarled branches of old-growth cypress trees and amid beautiful new native plantings, kids can cavort on giant logs and boulders, meander through tree trunk mazes, navigate wheelchair-accessible paths, and survey the scene from inside a whimsical nest structure. Through outdoor play, fine motor skills, critical thinking, and creativity are strengthened, and lifelong connections to the natural world take root.

Join us in Wander Woods and the East Garden for Spring in the Garden, open daily through April 28!

Array of natural materials like shells, twigs, and leaves on a tree stump

Sensory play

Birds, bugs, dirt, rocks, and trees? Yes, please! Whether it’s sorting seashells, building a den, or crawling through a log, Wander Woods offers a variety of spaces for kids to activate their senses and investigate the world around them.

Young girl enters the Nest structure in Wander Woods

Organic architecture

Perched on the hillside is the Nest, the fantastical focal point of Wander Woods. Evoking the complex nests built by bowerbirds and weaverbirds, the structure’s interwoven branches inspire everything from “I spy” to hide-and-seek.

California pipevine plant

Lush and local

Regenerating the natural world starts right in our backyard. The shrubs, trees, and plants selected for Wander Woods are native to the region and serve to bolster local biodiversity and attract pollinators like hummingbirds and pipevine swallowtail butterflies.

Gigantic tree stump in Golden Gate Park with a person standing on top

Living lightly

Reducing our environmental impact is integral to all Academy projects. All the wood used for Wander Woods’ play features was salvaged from the Presidio and Golden Gate Park, and the Learning Space structure was built from sustainably sourced redwood. Additionally, the hillside path is made of permeable concrete, helping to reduce runoff and recharge groundwater.