SAN FRANCISCO, January 18, 2012 – Golden Gate Park is full of history, culture, and the beautiful Northern California landscape. From museums to flower gardens, tennis courts and even a bison paddock, the 1,000 plus acres of Golden Gate Park have it all.
Golden Gate Park gets its roots from New York City’s Central Park. Residents newly arrived to San Francisco desired a park, similar in size to Central Park, but with an identity all its own. And there are certainly similarities between the parks.
For instance, the size; both are gigantic in size and thrust smack in the middle of the city. Central Park is 843 acres and Golden Gate Park is 1,017 acres. Both have multiple bodies of water, acres of lawns, acres of woodlands, running tracks/trails, playgrounds, sculptures and baseball fields. Both are also packed with local bird, plant, tree and other local animal species. And both were conceived in the mid-to-late part of the nineteenth century.
And here is where the similarities start to stray apart. The parks can be as different as the cities in which they reside. Golden Gate Park, in the beginning, was mostly comprised of ocean dunes, towering eucalyptus trees, the famous Dutch Windmills, wide-open grassy meadows and walking paths. With the establishment of wealth in the city came interesting new attractions. Places such as the Japanese Tea Gardens, Botanical Gardens, the DeYoung Museum and the Conservatory of Flowers were established.
The park was also home to a wide range of wildlife. Creatures such as moose, caribou, and antelope pranced through the meadows. Even zebras, elephants, kangaroos and peacocks were brought in. Chickens ran free at the Children’s Playground, with donkeys and goats providing rides to excited young children. Today the only wild animals to reside in the park are the bison that live in the Bison Paddock. The other animals were eventually moved to the San Francisco Zoo for safe-keeping. The donkey rides were replaced by a 1914-vintage carousel.
Today visitors and locals alike travel to and explore Golden Gate Park. You can learn at one of the museums, like the Academy of Sciences or the DeYoung Museum, or you can simply get in touch with nature and prance through the Conservatory of Flowers, the Botanical Gardens, Strybing Arboretum, Strawberry Hill, or the Rose Garden. You can also hike through the many tree-lined trails, and even take a paddle boat ride at Stow Lake.
Or if you’re the sporty type, be sure to check out attractions such as the golf course, archery range, baseball fields, polo field, fly casting pools, horse riding, lawn bowling, bike rentals and so much more.
Some of the best views of the park and the city can be found in two places, the top of Stow Lake called Strawberry Hill, and the tower in the DeYoung Museum (there is an extra fee to go up in the tower). Note: especially in the spring, Stow Lake also has a pretty fantastic waterfall called Huntington Falls. Bring your camera.
If you get hungry, there are food vendors sprinkled throughout the park, especially near the museums and the Conservatory of Flowers. There is also Beach and Park Chalet on the west end of the park by Ocean Beach offering a full California cuisine and brewpub menu. The DeYoung also has a decent café that is accessible from outside the museum. In the café’s beautiful outdoor garden you can appreciate the sculptures and art surrounding you. And you don’t need to be browsing through the museum to take advantage of the café.
Dress in layers. The weather in SF can be very unpredictable. I’m not joking, wear a light scarf in the summer months. The fog will be rolling in.
If you are on foot, wear comfy shoes, and you’ll need about a week to really explore around the park. You can maybe do it in 3 days if you’re a runner. Bikes are a great option to see more of the city and still be outdoors to take in all its glory.
Cars are allowed in the park, except on Sundays, when John F. Kennedy Drive is closed to traffic. Sundays are ruled by Sunday Streets (an organization that focuses on creating miles of car-free roads for people to get out and get active in SF). Be sure to check the park website for details on where exactly you can drive and park. As a result, car traffic around the park on Sundays is a bit nutty. I recommend biking or walking on Sundays.
It is very helpful to have a map of the park before you set out to explore. Here’s a link to a few good ones.
Here is a bird activity almanac for Golden Gate Park.
Here you will find dozens of scenic, vintage postcards of the park. Historical works of art complete with notes from the senders. Many are from the early 1900s.
To plan your trip with all available public transportation, click here.
Want to learn more about another great San Francisco park? Read up on the splendor of The Presidio.
Golden Gate Park and The Presidio are item #9 on our Bay Area Bucket List. See what else made the list.
Special thanks to sanfranciscodays.com for all the great historical and current images of the park!
Columnist Sherrie Perkovich offers an insider’s perspective of the very best San Francisco has to offer. Join her weekly to experience the best the City by the Bay has to offer - from parties to parks and everything in between.
Sherrie is a San Francisco local that fancies herself an extroverted fine dining, wine drinking, know-it-all. If it’s happening in the San Francisco Bay Area, Sherrie is in on it. Follow her column, for the widest range of Out and About San Francisco treats.
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