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San Francisco's Top 10 : Golden Gate Park (part 1)

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Golden Gate Park is every San Franciscan’s beloved backyard. Any weekend finds hundreds of people coming here to play or just to relax and breathe in the heady air. Almost every conceivable sort of recreational activity is available: hiking, running, cycling, golf, tennis, baseball, soccer, fishing, and more. There’s also the very first children’s playground in the US with the magnificent Herschel-Spillman Carousel, built in 1912 . Even on a rainy day, the park offers world-class activities in the form of the California Academy of Sciences Natural History Museum, Morrison Planetarium, and, perhaps best of all, the marvelous Steinhart Aquarium (see California Academy of Sciences).

  • Entrances on Fulton St, Lincoln Way, Stanyan St & the Great Hwy

  • 415 831 2700

  • www.parks.sfgov.org

  • Open sunrise– sunset daily

  • Free

Japanese Tea Garden

  • Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive

  • 415 752 4227

  • Open 9am–4:45pm daily

  • Adm $4 adult, $2 child or senior

Strybing Arboretum & Botanical Gardens

  • 9th Ave at Lincoln Way

  • Open 8am–4:30pm Mon–Fri, 10am–5pm Sat–Sun

  • Free

California Academy of Sciences

  • Music Concourse

  • 415 321 8000

  • www.calacademy.org

  • Open 10am–5pm daily

  • Adm $10, planetarium $2.50 extra


A Miracle of Land Reclamation

The park’s more than 1,000 acres are some 3 miles (5 km) long and half a mile (1 km) wide, making it the largest cultivated urban park in the US. There are 27 miles (43 km) of footpaths, winding through gardens, lakes, waterfalls, and forests. But it was not always so. Before the 1870s the entire area was sandy wastes and scrubland. William Hammond Hall made great progress over two decades, then hired Scottish gardener John McLaren in 1890. “Uncle John”, as he was known, made the park his life’s work, devoting himself to its perfection until his death in 1943, at the age of 97.


Map of Golden Gate Park

For information and a map of the park, stop at the McLaren Lodge, originally the home of the park’s chief gardener. It is now a visitor center (

501 Stanyan St
, open 8am–5pm Mon–Fri).

The Garden of Fragrance in the Strybing Arboretum is specially designed for the visually impaired to enjoy.



Top 10 Sights
  1. Stow Lake and Strawberry Hill

    Strawberry Hill is the island in the middle of this lake. Don’t miss the Chinese moon-viewing pavilion on the island’s eastern shore.

  2. Victorian Conservatory of Flowers

    The park’s oldest building, a copy of London’s Kew Gardens, shelters more than 20,000 rare and exotic plants.

  3. Giant Tree Fern Grove and John McLaren Rhododendron Dell

    Coming upon the Giant Tree Fern Grove, with its huge, curling protoflora gathered around a small central lagoon, is like venturing into a primeval forest. Just a bit farther to the west, the Rhododendron Dell contains the largest array of these gorgeous blooms (850 varieties) of any US garden.

  4. Music Concourse

    This area provides the cultural focus for the park, dating from 1894. There are free concerts on Sundays and events sponsored by the San Francisco Opera .

  5. Japanese Tea Garden

    This eternally delightful garden is full of refined detail: bonsai trees, rock gardens, exotic plantings, and pagodas.

  6. Shakespeare Garden

    This charming English garden features the 200-odd flowers, herbs, and such, mentioned in the Bard’s works. Bronze plaques quote appropriate passages.

    Shakespeare Garden entrance
  7. Strybing Arboretum and Botanical Gardens

    This vast area is home to more than 7,000 species from countries with climates similar to that of San Francisco. Environments include a Redwood Nature Trail, a Primitive Plant Garden, and a Biblical Garden.

  8. de Young Museum

    Set in a beautiful garden located in the heart of the park, this landmark museum exhibits art from Africa, the Americas, and the Pacific. Also has an astounding collection of textiles, photographs, and modern art .

  9. Buffalo Paddock

    American buffalo were first brought here in 1894. In 1984 a small herd was given a home again, roaming under the eucalyptus trees.

  10. Dutch Windmill and Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden

    The windmill, and the tulip garden that surrounds it, were both gifts from the queen of the Netherlands in 1902. The windmill is one of the world’s largest and was restored in 1981.

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