Golden Gate Park

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No simple city park, San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park is larger than New York City's Central Park, filled with lush California green and serves as an expansive, approachable and welcome escape from the traffic and close quarters of urban San Francisco.

Golden Gate Park encompasses more than 1,000 acres of land on the west side of San Francisco and contains a number of features that attract visitors and city-dwellers, grandparents and high schoolers, rollerbladers and benchwarmers alike. Bordered by the Pacific Ocean on its western end and extending 4.5 miles east, San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park includes the Japanese Tea Garden, the Strybing Arboretum, the San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers, the de Young Museum, the AIDS Memorial Grove, Stow Lake and the Academy of Sciences.

Golden Gate Park History

In the decade after the Gold Rush, the people of San Francisco began to wonder about the possibility of a grand public park in their West Coast city. In a matter of six months, engineer William Hammond Hall developed a design for Golden Gate Park and with the crucial help of his assistant, John McLaren (later world-class park's dedicated superintendent for almost 70 years), started the process of leveling the wind-swept, ocean-sprayed sand dunes that covered the current area of Golden Gate Park.

By 1879, only nine years after the initial plan and design, Golden Gate Park had already transformed from barren beach to abundant forest with more than 155,000 trees on 1,000 acres of land. In 1889, John McLaren chose the site of the arboretum and in 1940, the Botanical Garden at Strybing Arboretum officially opened. In 1894, the California Mid-winter Exposition, a six-month fair and carnival for the economic and social welfare of San Franciscans, began. Since then a number of its features, from the Japanese Garden and horse stables to the M.H. de Young Museum (now with an entirely new design) and Music Concourse, have remained as principal features of the park.

Since the late 1800s and early 1900s, a number of Golden Gate Park’s features have been repaired, restored and re-built. Even today, the Academy of Sciences (which will house the Steinhardt Aquarium, the Morrison Planetarium, and the Kimball Natural History Museum) is undergoing redesign and renovation. Golden Gate Park is open to the public and provides hours or even days of fun, relaxation and entertainment; lawn bowling, horseshoes and archery are only three of the unique recreational activities to take part in. Without a doubt, Golden Gate Park is a grand commons for San Francisco.

Golden Gate Park Attractions

California Academy of Sciences

55 Music Concourse Dr, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco CA 94118

One of the oldest scientific institutions west of the Mississippi, the California Academy of Sciences was founded in 1853 and still ranks among favorite attractions in San Francisco. The Academy embraces a mission of exploring and explaining the natural world, and this is the only establishment around to boast a planetarium, an aquarium, a natural history museum and a four-story rainforest under one roof.

Dutch Windmill

Golden Gate Park, San Francisco CA 94121

Towering near Ocean Beach, the Dutch Windmill was built in 1902 at a height of 75 feet and with sails spanning a width of 102 feet. Originally used for powering irrigation of the park, the Dutch Windmill was restored in 1981 after decades of wind and salt caused corrosion of the structure. No longer pockmarked and filled with pigeons, today, it stands above the Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden, which erupts in gorgeous blooms every February and March.

Beach Chalet

1000 Great Highway at Ocean Beach, San Francisco CA 94121; Tel. + 1 415.751.2766

Nestled at the western end of Golden Gate Park, the Beach Chalet looks out over the Pacific Ocean and welcomes visitors from the Great Highway. The current building has had a variety of uses since its start in 1925: a public changing room, Army-occupied facility and a social meeting place for the Veterans of Foreign Wars. In 1981, the building closed, and after much restoration of infrastructure and art, it re-opened in 1996. Today, with its downstairs adorned with mosaics and floor-to-ceiling frescoes that depict California geography and history, the Beach Chalet includes two restaurants (the Park Chalet, an outdoor café and the Beach Chalet, a brewery) and provides a wealth of information in its Visitor's Center.

Bison Paddock

Golden Gate Park, San Francisco CA 94121

The Bison Paddock is just as its name suggests: a large enclosing where bison sleep, eat and live. Situated along John F. Kennedy Dr., the Bison Paddock is an exhibit of the San Francisco Zoo; within it, these calm, roaming and hairy creatures have been enduring the curious glances of visitors to Golden Gate Park since 1984. Brought from Wyoming, the current bison are the second-generation members of an 1894 herd. A fun fact? The females have broader shoulders than the males.

San Francisco Botanical Garden at Strybing Arboretum

9th Ave & Lincoln Way, San Francisco CA 94122; Tel. + 1 415.564.3239

A 55-acre botanical garden with more than 7,500 various species of plants, the Botanical Garden at Strybing Arboretum includes spouting fountains, tree-shaded corners, wide open fields and a number of specific areas, such as the Garden of Fragrance, the Children's Garden and sections of native plants from Chile and New Zealand. There are also miles of paths and hundreds of benches where babies in strollers, high school students, grandparents and young couples all meet.

Carousel

2750 Sloat Blvd. (Golden Gate Park) San Francisco CA 94116; Tel. + 1 415.564.6052

A part of the sprawling Children's Playground near the southeastern section of Golden Gate Park, the Herschell-Spillman Carousel was built in 1912. Enclosed by glass walls and filled with spinning, colorfully painted horses and animals, the Carousel was restored in 1984 and today, it continues to be a sparkling attraction to children for just 25 cents each per whirl.

Conservatory of Flowers

JFK Drive, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco CA 94117; Tel. + 1 415.666.7001

The Conservatory of Flowers, painted with white Victorian majesty, is the oldest building in the park. Re-opened in 2003 after extensive wind damage, the greenhouse, which is surrounded by beautifully manicured lawns and gardens, houses a wide assortment of plants in its varied-temperature compartments. The Conservatory is filled with lush greenery, brilliant and vibrant flowers, hidden blooms, and in one section, hundreds of delicate, fluttering butterflies. It also offers a wealth of information, provided by brochures, signs and friendly docents.

Japanese Tea Garden

Tea Garden Drive in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco California; Tel. + 1 415.752.4227

The Japanese Tea Garden originated as an exhibit, known then as "the Japanese Village," of the 1894 California Mid-Winter Exposition. Now set on approximately five acres, it is a quiet Japanese garden designed by Makoto Hagiwara, full of unique walkways, stepping stones, arched bridges, towering pagodas and native plants. In addition to traditionally built gates and donated statues, the Japanese Tea Garden enhances its authenticity and culture with a covered open-air cafe where waitresses in kimonos serve tea to visitors.

M.H. de Young Memorial Museum

50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Dr., Golden Gate Park, San Francisco CA 94118; Tel. + 1 415.863.3330

A striking structure that contrasts the adjacent classically-designed Music Concourse and formal gardens nearby, the M.H. de Young Museum houses an extraordinarily varied collection of art that spans early colonial America to contemporary 20th-century, Africa to Oceania, textiles to photography. The building's dramatic architecture -- including intriguing outdoor sculptures and an Observation Floor Tower that overlooks the foggy city -- adds even more variety and diversity to the art collection.

Music Concourse

55 Tea Garden Dr., San Francisco CA 94118; Tel. + 1 415.386.1923

The Music Concourse, on the eastern side of the park across from the de Young Memorial Museum, has been a staple of Golden Gate Park, and the location of free Sunday concerts by the Golden Gate Park Band, since the late 1800s.

The National AIDS Memorial Grove

856 Stanyan St. (Golden Gate Park) San Francisco CA 94117; Tel. + 1 415.750.8340

The National AIDS Memorial Grove is a 7.5-acre section at the eastern end of Golden Gate Park that pays tribute, though circular stone terraces and quiet pathways and benches, to any and all people whose lives have been influenced by AIDS. The Grove, maintained by volunteers, offers visitors a dedicated place to grieve, remember and reflect upon past, present, and a hopeful future.

Shakespeare Garden

Golden Gate Park, San Francisco CA 94121

Hidden away along a small dirt path, the enchanting Shakespeare Garden, with an arched iron-wrought gate, is the type of homely garden opening that one would to expect to stumble upon in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. The Shakespeare Garden contains numerous plants that are referenced in Shakespeare's actual writings, and on the back brick wall, quotations and passages from his plays are engraved on stone tablets for visitors to read.

Golden Gate Park Recreation

BBQ Pits and Picnic Areas

Golden Gate Park, San Francisco CA 94121

Numerous picnic areas and barbeque pits are scattered throughout Golden Gate Park for the public's use. Most of them are located on the western side of the park and not found as frequently in the busier eastern sections near the Arboretum and Museum. All are well maintained and convenient for large gatherings or intimate snacks on sunny days in the park.

Boathouse and Boat Rentals at Stow Lake

Golden Gate Park, San Francisco CA 94121; Tel. + 1 415.752.0347

Near the center of Golden Gate Park, Stow Lake is a popular spot for visitors. The Boathouse, on the northwestern side of the lake, rents out boats (pedal or row) and a variety of bicycles for traversing the park on water or land. Tranquil and relaxed, Stow Lake often finds tourists gently paddling under bridges and strolling couples taking a break on the benches.

Kezar Stadium

Frederick St. & Stanyan St. (Golden Gate Park) San Francisco CA 94117; Tel. + 1 415.666.7024

Kezar Stadium, which opened in 1925, has been home to San Francisco's athletic teams for almost a century. Once host to the Oakland Raiders and the San Francisco 49ers, Golden Gate Park’s Kezar Stadium is primarily used today as a stadium for high school games, lacrosse, soccer and public use. In the 1970s, before the 1989 earthquake, Kezar Stadium also served as a well-known concert venue for a number of famous musical artists of the 70s.

Spreckels Lake

Golden Gate Park, San Francisco CA 94121

On the northern edge of Golden Gate Park, Spreckels Lake hosts of a number of geese, ducks and other birds. Spreckels Lake is also the perfect watery arena for miniature model boat racing. With a flat glassy surface and surrounded by concrete, the lake has enthusiastic and dedicated racers who set up workbenches along the sides to test out their colorful motor- and sailboats in the water.

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