There are so many things to see and do inside Golden Gate Park that it can be hard to keep track of what's inside this 1,017 acre wonderland. So here's a handy illustrated guide to 40 of our favorite amenities that we think make this park our city's golden treasure.
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1. Dutch and Murphy Windmills: Standing at 75 feet tall, the north windmill was originally constructed in 1902 to pump water. Today it’s known for the thousands of colorful tulips that surround the historic landmark in the northwest corner of the park. The windmill is worth a visit anytime, but tulip time (February and March) is the best. A second windmill, the Murphy Windmill, is located in the southwest corner of the park but has suffered significant damage. A campaign to save the windmills set out to repair both in the early 2000s as well as build a bike path connecting the two locales. In 2011, the south windmill received a new dome, but further renovations are still under way.
2. Beach Chalet Brewery & Restaurant: The brewery and restaurant is conveniently located above the park’s Visitor Center and is famous in its own right for its Works Progress Administration (WPA) frescoes painted in the 1930s by Lucien Labaudt. Beach Chalet is the perfect place to sit down for a drink during happy hour and take in the breathtaking ocean view.
3. Soccer Fields: There are a number of places around the park where you can set up a friendly match of futbol. Most games take place at the soccer fields that surround Beach Chalet, but you can also set up a match at Kezar Stadium or the Polo Fields. Reservations are necessary, but that’s no excuse not to go out and kick the ball around.
4. Archery Field: So you want to be Katniss, Legolas, or Hawkeye? The Golden Gate Park Archery Field is the first step.The only archery field in San Francisco, the outdoor range offers nine target bales and can be used free of charge. Rent equipment at the nearby San Francisco Archery Pro Shop or take a beginners class on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and get practicing.
5. Golden Gate Park Golf Course: This nine-hole course covered in Cypress trees is where San Franciscans learn to play golf. And after a game, they can sit down to a 100%-oak-wood-fired meal at Ironwood BBQ. The sauce is homemade from scratch with Anchor Steam beer. Yum!
6. Buffalo Paddock: The American bison that live in the park have been entertaining visitors since the 1890s. Don’t expect a grand show of movement when you go to see these gentle giants, but keep your eye on the tails to see what kind of mood they’re in that day – the higher up the tail, the more emotional. You don’t want to see these guys when they’re mad.
7. San Francisco Model Yacht Club: The SFMYC began in 1898 and is the only place in the world where a full season of freesail racing (boats not controlled by a radio or remote control) keeps a regular schedule in four model-yacht classes. Check out the boats on Spreckels Lake any day of the year, or bring your own and try your luck among the experts.
8. Spreckels Lake: A favorite attraction for all ages, Spreckels Lake is the perfect place to stroll, jog, bike, or read under the Monterey Cypress trees. Keep your eyes peeled for frogs, turtles, and fish among the model yachts.
9. Angler’s Lodge and Fly-Casting Pools: Built in 1938, the Angler’s Lodge and fly-casting pools are home to the San Francisco Angling & Casting Club. A hub of knowledge about anything fishing, the lodge loans out free rods for beginner fishermen. You probably won’t catch your own dinner, but it’s still worth a shot!
10. Dog Runs: Golden Gate Park has three designated areas for four-legged friends:
1. The section bordered by Lincoln Way, MLK Drive, Fifth Avenue and Seventh Avenue; 2. The grassy patch off Stanyan Street between Hayes and Fulton Streets; 3. The land bordered by MLK and Middle Drives, and 34th and 38th Avenues. Or you can always head to the dog-training section on 38th Avenue and Fulton Street. Just know that it’s typically frowned upon to let your canine roam without a leash.
11. Polo Fields: Originally built for bicycle racing, the Polo Fields are now home to a number of activities, including little league, soccer matches, cycling, and Outside Lands – but sadly not polo.
12. Speedway and Lindley Meadows: One of San Francisco’s biggest music festivals, Outside Lands, brings thousands of people to Golden Gate Park and, specifically, to these two meadows every August. You can head to these grassy patches any time of the year for a nice picnic, a sweet outdoor nap, or a game of frisbee. In 2012, Speedway Meadow was renamed Hellman Hollow after late park benefactor and Hardly Strictly founder Warren Hellman.
13. San Francisco Disc Golf Course: Located at Marx Meadow, the permanent 18-hole course was built and is maintained completely by volunteers. It’s a fun time for beginners and advanced players alike who want to toss around a frisbee.
14. Barbeque Pits: There are barbeque pits for your grilling convenience at Elk Glen Meadow, George Washington Bicenntenial Grove, Lindley Meadow, Marx Meadow, and Speedway Meadow. Bust out those tofu hot dogs, and get grillin’!
15. Picnic Areas: Yes, all of Golden Gate Park is a great picnic area, but if you’re looking to sit down at a proper table, there are a number of official picnic areas that include picnic benches. Try the areas near Spreckels Lake and the Conservatory of Flowers. Here’s a handy dandy map of all the places to lay your blanket.
16. Rainbow Falls: In the 1930s, colorful lights were installed to illuminate this beautiful waterfall, giving it its name. Now the falls greets visitors as they enter and exit the park near Crossover Drive. If you’re up for a hike, check out the Prayerbook Cross near the top of the waterfall. Dating back to 1894, the Celtic-style landmark is the tallest in the park.
17. Japanese Tea Garden: Created in 1894, the tea garden is five acres of pure tranquility. Enjoy Japanese refreshments at the tea house (where the fortune cookie was invented!), and don’t miss the blooming of the cherry blossoms in March and April. Admission before 10 a.m. on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday is free.
18. Strawberry Hill: Situated in the middle of Stow Lake and measuring 430 feet high, the island is the highest point in the park. Take the Rustic Bridge or the Roman Bridge on either side, and hike to the top to see a stunning view of Mt. Tamalpais and the Golden Gate Bridge. And don’t forget to meditate at the Golden Gate Bridge Pavilion, a Chinese temple-like structure that was a gift from the city of Taipei to commemorate early Chinese settlers. Take the southern bridge to get there. You might never want to leave.
19. Stow Lake: The largest lake in the park, Stow Lake offers boat rentals, fly-fishing, and a quiet oasis in the heart of the city. Head over to the Boathouse to rent a paddle boat and snack on coffee and the famous pink popcorn. Just watch out for the Stow Lake ghost, a lady dressed in white who wanders the lake in search of her lost baby.
20. San Francisco Botanical Garden at Strybing Arboretum: A 55-acre urban oasis of extraordinary beauty, the Botanical Garden showcases more than 8,000 different types of plants. Don’t miss the Arthur L. Menzies Garden of California Native Plants, the Succulent Garden, and the Redwood Grove. Plus, it’s free for all city residents, so go check out some plants that were here way before you were.
21. Hot Dog Stands: After exploring the park or perusing art at one of its museums, a hot dog is the perfect way to end the day. Hit up Pon & Hom Concession Stand on Tea Garden Drive, or any of the other food (and ice cream!) trucks that line MLK Drive near the Music Concourse.
22. deYoung Memorial Museum: Although this stunning museum began in 1894 as a collection of oddities and curiosities for the people of San Francisco, it has grown into one of the foremost museums of American art; international textile arts and costumes; and art of the ancient Americas, Oceania, and Africa. Tell them you came by public transit, and get a discount on your ticket. Yay, Muni!
23. Music Concourse: Located at the center of the museum district of the park, the Music Concourse was originally built for the festivities of the 1894 Midwinter Fair. Check out free performances of the Golden Gate Park Band on Saturdays from April to October, and keep an eye out for other major headliners. Don’t forget to say hi to Ludwig Van Beethoven, Ulysses S. Grant, and the other statues of historical figures that line the concourse.
24. California Academy of Sciences: This awesome center for scientific research and educational outreach features an interactive exhibit floor to explore, explain, and sustain all forms of life. Check out the penguins, ostriches, and the sea life, and don’t miss out on the perfect combination of booze, science, and live music every Thursday night at NightLife.
25. Shakespeare Garden: Perfect for writers, literary enthusiasts, and Anglophiles, the Garden of Shakespeare’s Flowers (its proper name) is filled with all the buds and blooms mentioned throughout the bard’s many works. There are more than 200 different types of plants to find inspiration in. Try to find at least five of Shakespeare’s main characters among the flowers. (Hint: Viola for 1).
26. AIDS Memorial Grove: In 1988, a small group of San Franciscans wanted a place where they could go to remember their friends who had died from AIDS, and so the National AIDS Memorial Grove was born. Now it’s a peaceful grove where anyone can go to reflect and find a quiet moment in a hectic day.
27. Monarch Bear Grove: The Monarch Bear Grove is a sacred and powerful space. It combines a primordial oak grove with the sacred 12th-century stones of the Abbey of Santa María de Óvila and, of course, the spirit of the Monarch Bear. Monarch was captured in 1889 and was the last wild Californian grizzly bear in captivity. He was put on exhibit in Golden Gate Park for more than 20 years. He eventually achieved ultimate fame as the model for the California state flag.
28. Handball Courts: Handball is no longer just another non-sport you used to rock at in middle school P.E. Show off those skills you’ve been hiding since your preteen days, and get back in the game.The handball courts are open every day on a first-come-first-serve basis. Bring your own equipment and start sweating.
29. Bowling Green Clubhouse: Bocce is so five minutes ago. The San Francisco Lawn Bowling Club dates back to 1901 and is the oldest lawn-bowling club in the country. Grab a free lesson on Wednesdays at noon, and check out the vast artifacts and awards on display inside the clubhouse.
30. Big Rec Baseball Field: San Francisco loves baseball.There are two hardball and two softball diamonds in the park available through reservations: two at the Big Rec Baseball Field and two smaller ones in Sharon Meadow and Stanyan Meadow. So pick one, and don’t let anyone see you pretending to be Pablo “Panda” Sandoval.
31. Sixth Avenue Skate Park: Disco trends in the ’70s and ’80s brought more than 20,000 skaters to Golden Gate Park every Sunday, so eventually the folks on wheels were given their own roller rink – the 6th Avenue Skate Park, or as it's now known, Skatin' Place. The park is host to a number of skating events, including the annual Red Bull Great Skate Freestyle Roller Dance Championships. But bring your own wheels, because there aren’t any rentals inside the park.
32. Conservatory of Flowers: Established in 1868, the Conservatory of Flowers has been delighting visitors with its sweet scents and colorful flora for over a century. It’s the perfect place to start any beautiful day in the park. Make sure you visit on the first Tuesday of the month, when it’s free.
33. Dahlia Garden: The Dahlia Garden celebrates the official flower of San Francisco. In fact, according to the city charter, the dahlia’s versatility, beauty, and infinite colors and forms are the very symbol of life in SF and the “spirit of her people.” The colorful flowers peak in August and September, and you can enjoy their beauty all the way into October – perfect for San Francisco’s infamous Indian summers.
34. Horseshoe Pits: Sixteen pits are located within the park, all where the Panhandle begins. Head there on a weekday afternoon, and you could benefit from the wisdom of a veteran horseshoe pitcher or attend the pickup matches and round-robin tournaments on the weekends. Don’t let the big horse statue guarding over the courts intimidate you – he doesn’t bite.
35. Tennis Courts: If you’re ready to get your tennis on, be happy, for you’ve got options. There are 21 tennis courts available in the park for hour-and-a-half stints. Reservations can be made for weekend and holidays; otherwise, it’s first come, first serve. Get it?!
36. Hippie Hill: Inhabited by drum circles and covered in a haze of pot smoke, Hippie Hill always makes for an adventure. Infamous for the flower children who gathered there during the 1960s, the meadow and slope are still a good place to enjoy the city and people-watch on a sunny day.
37. Sharon Art Studio: San Francisco’s largest public art studio offers affordable classes for all ages in drawing, painting, ceramics, glass, and more right in the heart of Golden Gate Park. You definitely won’t lack inspiration! Sign up the kiddies for Art in the Park during the summer; they can make macaroni frames while you relax.
38. Koret Children’s Quarter and Carousel: The historic children’s playground opened in 1888, but the famous carousel wasn’t installed until 1914. Take a ride on one of the 64 magical creatures of the spectacular merry-go-round. Don’t miss the carousel’s inner panels, which depict various landscapes around the Bay Area. It’s impossible to ride only once – just don’t get too dizzy. Golden Gate Park also houses an additional playground (sans carousel) on 45th Avenue.
39. McLaren Lodge: Built in 1896, McLaren Lodge was once the house of park superintendent and caretaker John McLaren, where he lived for 47 years. Today, the lodge is the administrative headquarters of the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department. In front of the lodge is a huge Monterey cypress nicknamed “Uncle John’s Tree.” Every December, SFers gather in the yard for the annual tree-lighting ceremony, which includes free activities and drinks, carnival rides, and even a fat, jolly Santa.
40. Kezar Stadium: Once home to the San Francisco 49ers and the Oakland Raiders, Kezar Stadium is now a favorite destination for runners and joggers who make use of the track, as well as music lovers who flock to the outdoor concerts. The adjacent Kezar Pavilion also hosts a number of exciting sports matches, including roller derby.
If you love Helen Tseng's illustrations from this story, you can buy the Illustrated Guide to Golden Gate Park poster featuring all 40 of these notable highlights!