The 10 Best Parks in San Francisco – Famous & Little-Known

There are 220 parks in San Francisco. You know about Golden Gate Park and the Presidio, but here we present our insider's list of the top 10 parks you might not have heard of but that locals rave about. Ever heard about Pug Sundays at Alta Plaza Park? Or the recent multi-million dollar renovation to Dolores Park? Or Strawberry Hill Park with its secret waterfalls, pagodas, and butterflies?

Come with us on a virtual journey to explore small, intimate parks like Ina Coolbrith Park on Russian Hill or the hidden parks in Sunset and Haight-Asbury. Many will reward you with breathtaking views of the city and the bay, challenging walks, and a chance to reconnect with nature in the middle of San Francisco.

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1. Lincoln Park

Lincoln Park

Dedicated to President Abraham Lincoln in 1909, Lincoln Park includes 100 picturesque acres of the northwestern corner of the Peninsula.

It's famous for its golf course (named "Lincoln Park Golf Course", of course), one of the most scenic courses in the world. The hilly course overlooks the Golden Gate Bridge and the historic Palace of the Legion of Honor. Of course, you don't need to golf, there are also plenty of hiking trails and a ropes course. And it can't be beat for its beautiful, coastal ocean views.

2. Ina Coolbrith Park

Ina Coolbrith Park

You'll feel like a local when you hike to this little park high on a hill (Russian Hill, that is).

It feels like a secret, hidden garden, with spectacular views of the bay. Ina Coolbrith (1842-1928) was a poem-writing librarian and in 1915 she was named Poet Laureate of California. Access the park from either Mason Street or Taylor Street, either way it's a steep climb

3. Buena Vista Park

Buena Vista Park

It's the oldest park in the city — established in 1867 — and is definitely off the beaten track.

Found in Haight-Ashbury, this pocket-size park is essentially a large hill with a maze of trails in a dense eucalyptus & pine forest. Climb to the top peak (575 ft) for a challenging workout and be rewarded with great city views.

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4. Mission Dolores Park

Dolores Park

Originally the main Jewish cemetery, in 1905 it was transformed into the Mission District's largest park. Situated high on a hill on the western edge of the Mission, the park has stunning views of the city center. During the day, it's a popular place for sunbathers, joggers and tennis players, but it can be somewhat sketchy after hours.

Some of that may change with the recent Light Up Dolores Park project — a $20.5 million, two year renovation. Upgrades included lush new turf, a new playground and a new lookout on the southwest corner of the park.

5. Alta Plaza Park

Alta Plaza Park

You might think you're in Monaco when you peer down the terraces of this park.

In 1910, John McLaren, longtime superintendent of Golden Gate Park, designed Alta Plaza modelling it after the terraces from the Grand Casino in Monte Carlo. From the top, you can see forever — from Marin to Twin Peaks to Golden Gate Park. Popular events in the park include Pug Sunday — on the first Sunday of the month pug enthusiasts congregate at the plaza to show off their dogs. Only in San Francisco, folks!

6. Angel Island State Park

a href="https://www.sanfranciscotravelersguide.com/angel-island.html"> Angel Island Park

Forget Alcatraz, Angel Island Park is a paradise waiting to be discovered. Board a ferry and plan on spending the day exploring the island. Hiking trails loop the island, rising high above sea level for stellar 360 degree views of the SF skyline. The island is a no-vehicle zone except for park service vans. Instead, bring or rent a bicycle and a picnic basket and set off for an adventure. Catch the ferry from the Ferry Building, Pier 41 or Tiburon. There are plenty of rentals, a cafe and tram tour once you get there.

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7. Lafayette Park

Lafayette Park

Steep stairs lead to one of the city's prettiest hilltop gardens. Lafayette Park is a leafy haven of scented eucalyptus and towering palm trees with spectacular views of the Marina and downtown. It's a surprisingly large park, given its location atop Pacific Heights, and well appointed with the finer things in park life — picnic tables, free tennis courts, kid's playground, and an open grass area to lay out a picnic blanket. Locals call it an "SF gem and possibly the most pristine park in the city".

8. Grandview Park

Grandview Park

If you're after a panoramic view of the city and the bay head to the Sunset neighborhood to this beautiful little park. Locals call it Turtle Hill, and for good reason. The summit rises to 666 feet and rewards with stunning views. On a clear day you can see across the bay. Another reason to visit is the gorgeous mosaic tiled stairs. Locals recommend that you take the painted stairs up the hill and the hidden garden stairs on the descent.

Curious about the mosaic steps? A group of local artists created the 163 mosaic panels and applied them to the steps. The inauguration was held in 2005, with the mayor of Caltagirone, Italy, home to another set of ceramic steps.

9. Strawberry Hill Park

Strawberry Hill Park

How adorable is that name? We said we wouldn't talk about Golden Gate Park but this little gem is worth talking about. The quaint park is found smack dab in the middle of Stow Lake in Golden Gate Park. Strawberry Hill has it all — bridges, a pagoda, waterfalls, plenty of butterflies, and a gentle climb to the top with views of Ocean Beach and Golden Gate Bridge.

10. South Park

South Park

"Cute, charming, best spot for a picnic." That's what the locals are saying about this lush, little park right in the middle of SOMA.

You're just minutes way from AT&T Park, where the two major sports teams play; the Bay Bridge, and Yerba Buena Garden. Yet the park feels hidden and peaceful in the middle of the city's bustle. Bonus — it's surrounded by cute cafes.

In a City with Tiny Houses There Are…Tiny Parks

Parklet

Since 2009, San Francisco has been reclaiming parking spaces and turning them into tiny parks open to the public, adorably called parklets. These little parks dot the city. There are now 43 and counting, and are given adorable names like the Simple Pleasures Parklet on Balboa in outer Richmond, or stern, communist names like the (de)Appropriation Project, outside the jail cells of the former Mission Police Station at 1240 Valencia Street.

One of the most creative is in front of the Rapha bike sports shop on Filbert in the Marina. Parklet designers deconstructed a vintage Rapha Citroen van into a seating area where they welcome "anyone, regardless of their bicycle persuasion".

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