Golden Gate Park San Francisco – 1,000 Acre Oasis In The Heart

Golden Gate Park in San Francisco is a one-thousand acre haven of flower beds, meadows, lakes, gardens, waterfalls, rolling hills and forests. You could spend days here, unaware that the city of San Francisco lays just outside its gates. The park has something for everyone — gardens, museums, lakes & waterfalls, horseshoes, bowling greens, horseback riding, tennis and picnicking. Its vast network of walking paths and bicycle paths make it a popular destination for residents and visitors year round.

Plan to spend a day exploring the many wonders of the park. You could easily spend half a day at the California Academy of Sciences or the de Young Museum. If you're traveling with family or children plan to have a picnic on Strawberry Hill or visit Koret's Children's Quarter, one of the first playgrounds to be built in an American park. Let's take a look at the history and attractions of the Golden Gate Park in San Francisco.

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The History of Golden Gate Park

The History of Golden Gate Park

What is now a popular and sprawling park was once a lonely tract of wind-swept sand dunes. It's thanks to the ingenuity of the people of San Francisco that Golden Gate Park has become an an oasis of forests, lakes, gardens, and grasslands. Learn the unlikely story of how a determined city planner and a Scottish gardener helped to shape the People's Park.

16 Highlights of Golden Gate Park

1. The Conservatory of Flowers

The Conservatory of Flowers

It's the oldest building in the park, modeled after the Palm House at Kew Gardens in London. It contains 10,000 specimens of rare and endangered species, including carnivorous plants and a world famous collection of orchids. The Conservatory of Flowers also mounts special exhibitions, so check the calendar before your visit. Located at 100 John F. Kennedy Drive.

2. Japanese Tea Garden

Japanese Tea Garden

Architecture, landscape and tradition blend harmoniously in a beautiful pattern of bridges, shrines, footpaths, pools, flowers and trees. The Japanese Tea Garden is especially breathtaking in spring when the cherry trees are in blossom. Highlights are the Bronze Buddha (cast in Japan in 1790), the Shinto Pagoda (a five-tiered wooden shrine), the Moon Bridge and the Japanese tea house. 75 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive.

3. The de Young Museum

The de Young Museum

Built as a modern sanctuary for the de Young's world-renowned art collection, you can't miss its massive copper roof and ribbons of windows. The spacious interior has interconnected galleries, courtyards and a vaulted-ceiling. The de Young Museum's diverse collection includes American paintings and works by Winslow Homer, Mary Cassatt, Edward Hopper, Georgia O'Keeffe, and Diego Rivera. Near the Japanese Tea Garden at 50 Tea Garden Drive.

4. California Academy of Sciences

California Academy of Sciences

A favorite museum for families, the California Academy of Sciences was founded just after the Gold Rush in 1853, making it oldest scientific institution in western USA. It really does have it all, what with museums, interactive displays, the Morrison planetarium, and the Steinhart aquarium. Located at 55 Music Concourse Drive in the Golden Gate Park, San Francisco.

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5. San Francisco Botanical Gardens

San Francisco Botanical Gardens

It's a living museum with 55 acres and 8,000 different kinds of plants from around the globe. It's also a quiet retreat with paths that wander amongst meadows, plants, flowers and trees. Be sure to visit the Garden of Fragrance for visually-impaired flower lovers. The labels are in Braille and plants are selected for their smell and touch. Tours are given daily. On Ninth Avenue off Lincoln Way.

6. Golden Gate Park Rose Garden

Golden Gate Rose Garden

See endless beds of award-winning hybrid tea roses and miniature roses in bloom from mid-May through late June. The garden is open daily from 9 to 5 (there are some unique closures). The Rose Garden can also be booked as a location for weddings. South end of Park Presidio Boulevard, between JKF Drive and Fulton Street.

7. Stow Lake & Strawberry Hill

Stow Lake & Strawberry Hill

It's the largest lake in the Golden Gate Park, and in San Francisco. Stow Lake is the place to rent bicycles, rowboats and paddle boats. And in the middle of the lake is Strawberry island, home to the cascading Huntington Falls and the Chinese Pavillon, a gift from the government of Taiwan. It's a popular place for weddings, relaxation, and reflection. Take a hike up the winding road to the top of the island for spectacular views of the city.

8. Shakespeare's Garden

Shakespeare's Garden

How romantic! Wander through flower gardens with plants mentioned in Shakespeare's sonnets and plays. Two hundred flowers: poppy and mandrake, daisies and violets, roses, lilies; a sundial, a meandering pathway, and a bust of William Shakespeare make it a popular wedding destination. The gardens were established in 1928.

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9. Koret's Children's Quarter

Koret's Children's Quarter

Another first for San Francisco. The recently re-named Koret's Children's Quarter was the first playground to be built in an American park. In the past few years the Koret Foundation funded a a major renovation of the glorious historic carousel, housed in a turn-of-the-twentieth century Greek temple.

  • Just off Kezar Drive near Martin Luther King Jr Drive
  • Website

10. North Dutch Windmill

North Dutch Windmill

Built in 1902, the windmill is a Golden Gate Park San Francisco landmark. The design was by well known San Franciscan Alpheus Bull Jr. (What a great name!) Surrounding it is the Queen Wilhelmina Tulip garden - best in bloom in March and April. There's also a second windmill, suitably named the South Windmill.

11. Beach Chalet

Beach Chalet

The Spanish Revival-style building, built in 1925, was designed by San Francisco founding father Willis Polk. The Beach Chalet is home to the visitors center and the upstairs Beach Chalet Brewery and Restaurant that serves micro-beer on tap, casual food and great views of Ocean Beach.

12. Ocean Beach

Discover Ocean Beach Ocean Beach

When locals say "the beach" they're usually referring to Ocean Beach. The sandy beach stretches the length of the Great Highway. The undertow is dangerous, swimming is at your own risk but it's a fun spot for sunning, strolling, picnics and beach games. Ocean Beach runs along the Great Highway.

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13. Golden Gate Golf Course

Golden Gate Golf Course

The nine-hole par three course is open to the public, but it's recommended to reserve online for a tee time. It's a rugged, hilly course and definitely a challenge. The course was designed in 1951 by famous golf architect Jack Fleming, (1896-1886).

  • Off 47th Avenue, between JFK Drive and Fulton Street
  • Website

14. The Buffalo Paddock

Buffalo Paddock

Yes, you can actually see where the Buffalo roam in Golden Gate Park. Since 1890, American Bisons have roamed around this 35-acre enclosure. The bison that live there today are descendants of a 1984 birthday present given to then-mayor Dianne Feinstein from her husband Richard Blum. (We're not going to send our birthday wish list to Richard!)

15. Spreckels Lake

The small lake is a perfect setting for watching and operating model motorboats and sailboats. It's also a popular spot for bird watchers to see migratory birds. In case you're wondering, the lake was named after Adolph B. Spreckels (1857-1924), a wealthy sugar magnate whose claim to fame was donating the Palace of the Legion of Honor Museum to the city.

  • 36 Avenue, off Fulton Street

16. Rhododendron Dell

It's the official memorial to John McLaren, Golden Gate Park's hardest-working horticulturalist (he worked there for 53 years). It's fitting that they have honored him with his favorite flower, the rhododendron. See more than 3,000 plants, 500 species, and plenty of rhododendrons.

  • Between Middle Drive East, JFK Drive, and the California Academy of Sciences

Special Events at Golden Gate Park

The park is the site for many annual special events — the annual Bay to Breakers race, where runners, joggers and walkers make their way to the finish line at Ocean Beach; Shakespeare in the Park; Opera in the Park; Hardly Strictly Bluegrass; Outside Lands; Easter Egg Hunts and many other others.

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