To know Golden Gate Park is to love it. We’d suggest exploring it in bite-size chunks, as the park is so large that no one can see it all at once. Encompassing 1,107 acres, Golden Gate Park is a rectangle shape, about three miles long and a half-mile wide. This urban treasure is covered with grassy meadows, wooded bike trails, secluded lakes, open groves, cultivated gardens and some fine museums.
Flower PowerThe Conservatory of Flowers, built in 1879 and modeled after a similar Victorian glass house in London’s Kew Gardens, this is the oldest existing public conservatory in the western hemisphere. Inside, a diverse collection of exotic and rare plants from all corners of the world are silent attention-grabbers. San Francisco Botanical Gardens is a garden within a garden -- 55 acres highlighting a curated collection of lovely specimens divided into regions of the world, plus California native redwoods, Garden of Fragrance, Moon-Viewing Garden and New World Cloud Forest. The classically landscaped Japanese Tea Garden is one of those special places that transports visitors to another century, another country. Gracing the park since 1894, this is America’s oldest public Japanese garden. Within these serene five acres, see hedges clipped in the shape of a Mt. Fuji and a dragon. Enjoy service in an authentic tea house by the koi-filled pond. Climb the drum bridge, admire prized bonsai, the zen garden, Buddha statue and pagodas.
Museums in the Middle
Flanking the central Music Concourse, the de Young Museum is one of San Francisco’s two fine art museums. In addition to the outstanding permanent collection, frequent special exhibitions and some blockbuster shows, the contemporary building provides several admission-free opportunities around the building. Take the elevator to the ninth floor of the Hamon Observation Tower for an excellent 360-degree panorama of the entire city for as far as the eye can see. Step into the outdoor Osher Sculpture Garden behind the café to enjoy whimsical works -- ceramic glazed apples, a giant diaper pin -- by Alexander Calder, Henry Moore, Claes Oldenburg and more. Or, visit the two-level gift shop for unique gifts.
The California Academy of Sciences features a living roof, an indoor rainforest, a simulated earthquake exhibit, an aquarium and a planetarium all in one. Both museums have a party atmosphere during Thursday or Friday late night hours.
A Menu of Fun
In the miscellaneous category, Golden Gate Park is hard to beat. Every Sunday from dawn to dusk, strollers, roller skaters and bicyclists get free reign on a long stretch of John F. Kennedy Drive which closes to auto traffic. Take the kids for a spin on an antique carousel in one of the nation’s first playgrounds. Steer around Stow Lake in your own paddle or row boat. Check out a herd of bison grazing in an enclosed paddock, a tradition since the 1890s. Follow the setting sun toward two authentic Dutch windmills at the park’s western edge, just steps from the Pacific Ocean, and pop into the historic Beach Chalet for a local craft beer with a view.
Free symphony concerts, giant rock festivals, lindy dancing lessons, nine holes of golf, horseback riding, Segway tours, bike rentals, a complimentary shuttle bus...of course, Golden Gate Park has all that, and more.