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The Ultimate Guide to San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park

The Ultimate Guide to San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park

Sandwiched between San Francisco’s Richmond and Sunset Districts, Golden Gate Park was once a desolate land filled with sand and shore dunes. The park’s development began in the 1870s by planting thousands of trees to stabilize the dunes, and the project was nearly scrapped for a racetrack favored by the City’s “Big Four” families: Leland Stanford, Mark Hopkins, Collis P. Huntington, and Charles Crocker.

Nearly every road, every tree, and every statue within Golden Gate Park comes with a story. For instance, did you know that Golden Gate Park transformed into a race track in 1952? It’s true. An estimated 100,000 spectators gathered to watch legendary race car drivers like Bill Pollack race around the park at speeds up to 140 miles per hour.

Today, Golden Gate Park is synonymous with San Francisco, and ranks amongst the five most-visited parks in the United States with over 13 million annual visitors.

Landmarks in Golden Gate Park

Dutch & Murphy Windmills
1691 John F Kennedy Dr, San Francisco, CA
Built in 1902 and 1907 to power Golden Gate Park’s irrigation system, the Dutch (North) & Murphy (South) Windmills played a major role in transforming the sand dunes that once covered the land into a hospitable environment for the lawns and gardens we see today. The windmills, though no longer in service, still function as an addition to the beautiful landscape of the park.

Bison Paddock. Photo: Kārlis Dambrāns, Flickr, Creative Commons.
Bison Paddock. Photo: Kārlis Dambrāns, Flickr, Creative Commons.

Bison Paddock
1237 John F Kennedy Dr, San Francisco, CA
Catching visitors by surprise since 1892, the Bison Paddock has in the past been home to various animals from the giddiest goats to the grizzliest of bears. The Bison population was almost hunted to the point of extinction by early European settlers who greedily sought after the meat and furs of these majestic beasts. Thanks in part to years of successful Bison revival programs, today visitors are able to get a chance to see small herds of Bison roaming the paddock in a free-range environment.

National AIDS Memorial Grove
Flood Building, Nancy Pelosi Dr, San Francisco, CA
The National AIDS Memorial Grove in Golden Gate Park was the first AIDS memorial established in the nation. It’s serene landscaping and intimate location serves as a sanctuary for anyone who has been affected by AIDS, directly or indirectly.
Website: www.aidsmemorial.org

Music Concourse in 2008 During Renovations. Photo: telmo32, Flickr, Creative Commons.
Music Concourse in 2008 During Renovations. Photo: telmo32, Flickr, Creative Commons.

Music Concourse
Music Concourse, San Francisco, CA
Originally conceived as the venue of the amazing California Midwinter International Exposition of 1894 planned by Michael H. de Young, the historical Music Concourse has been the host of various events and foregone many changes over the past few centuries. Today, the beautiful Music Concourse continues to host various events from weddings to music performances.

Sharon Art Studio
300 Bowling Green Dr, San Francisco, CA
Once referred to as the Sharon Building which served as an indoor recreation center for children visiting the playground back in 1888, it wasn’t until 1968 when the Sharon Art Studio was established. Today this art studio is the largest public art studio in the city. Sharon Art Studio offers classes and workshops like drawing, painting, ceramics, jewelry, glass, and folk art for all ages and levels.
Hours: Monday – Sunday: 10AM – 10PM
Website: www.sharonartstudio.org

Museums in Golden Gate Park

de Young Museum. Photo Joel Mabel, Wikimedia, Creative Commons.
de Young Museum. Photo Joel Mabel, Wikimedia, Creative Commons.

de Young Museum
50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, San Francisco, CA
Originally the Fine Arts Building at the California Midwinter International Exposition of 1894 and named after national commissioner Michael H. de Young, the de Young Museum is one of two Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (the other is the Legion of Honor). The de Young Museum was founded in 1895, but after sustaining severe structural damage by the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989 it was completely rebuilt and reopened in 2005. Today, the de Young Museum is where you’ll find thousands of 17th – 20th century American art collections in addition to Textile arts, and art of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas.
Hours: Tuesday – Sunday: 9:30AM – 5:15PM
Website: www.deyoung.famsf.org
Admission: www.tickets.famsf.org

Photo: Gary Stevens, Flickr, Creative Commons.
Photo: Gary Stevens, Flickr, Creative Commons.

California Academy of Sciences
55 Music Concourse Dr, San Francisco, CA
Established in 1853 as a learned society, the California Academy of Sciences is currently one of the largest museums of national history in the world. After suffering from the 1906 and Loma Prieta earthquakes, and relocating to its’ current home in Golden Gate Park, the museum was completely rebuilt in 2008. Today the California Academy of Sciences is home to over 26 million specimens from the smallest insects, the mightiest of the jungle, to the largest of reptiles. The museum also boasts an indoor rainforest, a planetarium, aquarium, and of course, an earthquake simulator.
Hours: Monday – Saturday: 9:30AM – 5PM, Sunday: 11AM – 5PM
Website: www.calacademy.org
Admission: www.calacademy.org/buy-tickets

Public Gardens in Golden Gate Park

SF Botanical Garden
1199 9th Ave, San Francisco, CA
With over 8,000 plants from around the world being showcased in this beautiful 55 acre garden, the SF Botanical Garden has been one of the highlights in Golden Gate Park since 1940.
Hours: Monday – Sunday: 7:30AM – 6PM
Website: www.sfbotanicalgarden.org
Admission: Free for SF Residents with Proof, Tickets

SF Japanese Tea Garden. Photo: Nani Leilani, Flickr, Creative Commons.
SF Japanese Tea Garden. Photo: Nani Leilani, Flickr, Creative Commons.

Japanese Tea Garden
75 Hagiwara Tea Garden Dr, San Francisco, CA
The oldest public Japanese garden in America, the Japanese Tea Garden originally started off as the “Japanese Village” attraction in the California Midwinter International Expo of 1894. After the expo was over, landscape architect Makoto Hagiwara was granted permission by superintendent John McLaren to create a permanent Japanese garden as an installment in the park. Hagiwara was also appointed to be the groundskeeper of the garden, so he and his family lived on the 5 acre property until 1942 when the American government forced hundreds of thousands of Japanese into internment camps. Today, the Japanese Tea Garden gives visitors a chance to experience a slice of Japanese culture, and is one of the most popular attractions in the city.
Hours: Winter (11/1 – 2/28): 9AM – 4:45PM, Summer (3/1 – 10/31): 9AM – 6PM
Website: www.japaneseteagardensf.com
Admission: www.japaneseteagardensf.com/visit

Conservatory of Flowers. Photo: Justin Wong, 49miles.com.
Conservatory of Flowers. Photo: Justin Wong, 49miles.com.

Conservatory of Flowers
100 John F Kennedy Dr, San Francisco, CA
In the 19th Century, it was common for the super rich to have private conservatories on their estates. James Lick, like the other wealthy aristocrats at the time desired to have a conservatory for his estate in Santa Clara, but he would unfortunately pass away before its assembly even begun. The parts for the greenhouse was eventually sold to a group of wealthy San Franciscans who would then donate it to the city of SF. Completed in 1879, the Conservatory of Flowers that we know today was one of the first public conservatories and it is also the oldest remaining wooden conservatory in the United States. Each year, the Conservatory of Flowers captivates thousands of visitors from all around the world with it’s beautiful landscaping, and showcase of plants.
Hours: Tuesday – Sunday: 10AM – 4PM
Website: www.conservatoryofflowers.org
Admission: GA: $8 (Adults), $6 (Youth 12 – 17), $2 (Children 5 – 11) Residents w/ Proof of i.D: $6, $3, $2 (respectively)

Recreation Areas in Golden Gate Park

Beach Chalet Soccer Fields
Located at the the western most part of the park, the Beach Chalet Soccer Fields have recently been renovated, equipped with artificial turf, picnic areas, and stadium lighting.

Golden Gate Golf Course
970 47th Ave, San Francisco, CA
Built in 1951, Golden Gate Golf Course is a beautiful 9 hole, 3 par course located just steps away from Ocean Beach. The course is equipped with a driving range, great instructors, and a club house making for a great weekend getaway for golfers of all levels.
Hours: Monday – Sunday: 7AM – 5PM
Website: www.goldengateparkgolf.com

Polo Fields. Photo: Justin Wong, 49miles.com.
Polo Fields. Photo: Justin Wong, 49miles.com.

Golden Gate Park Polo Field
1232 John F Kennedy Dr, San Francisco, CA
Built in 1906 to accommodate California’s strong interest in polo, the Polo Fields in Golden Gate Park was heavily used to play the sport until the 50’s, when the sport migrated to other Bay Area cities with more suitable land. Over the years the Polo Fields has become one of the most popular multi-purpose stadium fields in SF, hosting an array of events from rugby and soccer tournaments to concerts like Outside Lands.
Hours: Monday – Sunday: 5AM – 12AM

Golden Gate Park Archery Range
902 47th Ave, San Francisco, CA
The Golden Gate Park Archery Range that we see today was formally installed in 1936. The range is equipped with hay bales, but you will however need to bring your own targets to mount on the bales. The range is not staffed, and is open to the general public for free whenever the park is open.
Hours: Monday – Sunday: 5AM – 12AM

Golden Gate Tennis Courts. Photo: Justin Wong, 49miles.com.
Golden Gate Tennis Courts. Photo: Justin Wong, 49miles.com.

Golden Gate Tennis Courts 
Bowling Green Dr, San Francisco, CA
Established in 1901, the Golden Gate Tennis Club is a member of the United States Tennis Association, and have on board, a wonderful team of instructors. The courts are also open to public use for a small fee.
Hours: Monday – Sunday: 9AM – 4:30PM
Website: www.goldengatetennisclub.org

Playgrounds in Golden Gate Park

Golden Gate Park 45th Avenue Playground
4414 Lincoln Way, San Francisco, CA
A cozy ocean themed play ground equipped with ample picnic space, BBQ pits, and boat play structures, making it an ideal location to throw a birthday party or for just a nice family outing.
Hours: Monday – Sunday: 5AM – 12AM

See Also
Hayes Valley San Francisco

Mother’s Meadow Playground
573 Martin Luther King Jr Dr, San Francisco, CA
Once a place where families could go to safely hang out while horse races were taking place, Mother’s Meadow is still a great place to go have a picnic, or just hang out. The large open lawn boasts well-maintained grass as well as a playground equipped with a play structure, swings, and sandpit, making it the perfect place to bring kids on a sunny day.
Hours: Monday – Sunday: 5AM – 12AM

Koret Carousel. Photo: Justin Wong, 49miles.com.
Koret Carousel. Photo: Justin Wong, 49miles.com.

Koret Children’s Quarter Playground & Carousel
Martin Luther King, Jr and Bowling Green Dr, San Francisco, CA
Originally called the Sharon’s Quarters for Children when it first opened in 1888, the Koret Children’s Quarter Playground was a revolutionary idea at the time of its’ conception, and is widely thought of as the first children’s playground in the United States. The Herschel – Spillman Carousel was built in 1914 and at one point of time served as an attraction at amusement parks in Portland, Los Angeles, and Oregon before taking residence where it can be found today. The carousel consists of 62 colorful and renovated animals and has paintings of various Bay Area sceneries in the center piece.
Hours: Monday – Sunday: 5AM – 12AM

Lakes in Golden Gate Park

Chain of Lakes: North, Middle, South
Chain of Lakes Dr E, San Francisco, CA
The last of the 5 natural lakes in Golden Gate Park. Though substantially altered throughout the years, the Chain of Lakes serve as a reminder of how the park came to be. The North Lake is the largest and most favorite of the 3 with a paved path perimeter for visitors to jog or walk around, Middle Lake has thick vegetation and a dirt trail for visitors to walk around. South Lake is the least sightly and attracts the least amount of wildlife.
Hours: Monday – Sunday: 5AM – 12AM

Model Sailboat on Spreckels Lake. Photo: kennejima, Flickr, Creative Commons.
Model Sailboat on Spreckels Lake. Photo: kennejima, Flickr, Creative Commons.

Spreckels Lake
Spreckels Dr at 36th Avenue, San Francisco, CA
Built in 1904 for the SF Model Yacht Club and named after the then SF Parks Commissioner, Adolph B. Spreckels, who donated the land surrounding this manmade lake, Spreckels Lake is where you’ll find a plethora of aviary visitors and enthusiastic model boaters.
Hours: Monday – Sunday: 5AM – 12AM

Paddle Boats at Stow Lake. Photo: Justin Wong, 49miles.com.
Paddle Boats at Stow Lake. Photo: Justin Wong, 49miles.com.

Stow Lake
50 Stow Lake Drive, San Francisco, CA
Created in 1893, Stow Lake has served visitors as a place to go on a leisurely stroll, hike, have a picnic or go on a relaxing boat ride.
Hours: Monday – Sunday: 5AM – 12AM

Stow Lake Boathouse
50 Stow Lake Drive, San Francisco, CA
Float your day away on the scenic Stow Lake and rent a motor, paddle, or row boat from the Stow Lake Boathouse.
Hours: Monday – Sunday: 10AM – 4PM
Website: www.stowlakeboathouse.com

Chinese Pavilion in Strawberry Hill. Photo: Justin Wong, 49miles.com.
Chinese Pavilion in Strawberry Hill. Photo: Justin Wong, 49miles.com.

Strawberry Hill at Stow Lake
50 Stow Lake Drive, San Francisco, CA
The island at the center of Stow Lake, Strawberry Hill is where you’ll find a plethora of wild life from various flowers, birds, and friendly critters. It’s also filled with dirt trails that will lead you to Huntington Falls, the Chinese Pavillion, and the top of the hill where you’ll be rewarded with slightly obscured panoramic views of the city.
Hours: Monday – Sunday: 5AM – 12AM

Picnic Spots in Golden Gate Park

View From Hippie Hill. Photo: Justin Wong, 49miles.com.
View From Hippie Hill. Photo: Justin Wong, 49miles.com.

Hippie Hill
Hippie Hill, San Francisco, CA
The name “Hippie Hill” was given to this grassy hill boasting a terrific view of Sutro Tower in the 60’s for a pretty obvious reason, it was a popular gathering hub for hippies. Located right next to Haight Street, Hippie Hill is still a place where hippies and visitors go to hang out and enjoy a lazy day under the sun. Not exactly a child friendly destination, particularly on busy days *cough*April 20th*cough* where a @KarltheFog’s questionable cousin may make an impressionable appearance.
Hours: Monday – Sunday: 5AM – 12AM

Hellman Hollow Meadow
JFK Drive and 25th Avenue, San Francisco, CA
Named after Warren Hellman who started and funded the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, Hellman Hollow Meadow is a vast open lawn area in the park that is a great place for visitors to have a nice picnic and play field games like soccer, frisbee, or football.
Hours: Monday – Sunday: 5AM – 12AM

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