Golden Gate Park is a large urban park in San Francisco and one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions. The park consists of 1,017 acres of public land in a rectangular shape that is over 3-miles long and a half-mile in width. GGP welcomes over 13 million visitors annually and is the nation’s third most visited park after NY’s Central Park and Chicago’s Lincoln Park. GGP is home to gardens, groves, lakes, sporting facilities and trails, museums, and many more indoor and outdoor attractions. Most people visit GGP for its excellent trails including 7 ½ miles of biking trails, countless jogging trails, and 12-miles of horse-riding trails. Every Sunday, the city closes John F Kennedy Drive, one of the park’s busiest streets, to accommodate the rush of bikers, joggers, in-line skaters, and other sporty people enjoying the peacefulness of the park in the middle of a big city. In addition to trails, the park offers an archery range, fly-casting pools, nine-hole golf course, horseshoe pitches, 4 soccer fields, and 21 tennis courts, and many more hidden sporting facilities.
It is difficult to pack all that GGP has to offer into one day, but if that is all the time you have, here are the top ten spots that must not be missed.
AIDS Memorial Grove
This quiet grove is a peaceful spot to reflect and remember all those who have died from AIDS. Work on the grove started in 1986 and in 1991 it was named a national memorial by Congress.
This spot is quite a sight to see in a major US City. Bison have inhabited GGP since 1891. The current herd arrived in 1984 and the bison are cared for by the San Francisco Zoo.
California Academy of Sciences
This spectacular museum, which includes the Steinhart Aquarium and the Morrison Planetarium, is one of the largest natural history museums in the world. The museum has exhibits with reptiles, amphibians, penguins, aquatic life, gems and minerals, prehistoric life, and even a rare albino alligator.
Built in 1888, this was the first playground ever established in a U.S. park. The park features a giant 1912 carousel and a variety of kid-friendly activities such as swings and jungle gyms.
Japanese Tea Garden
The tea garden is the park’s most popular attraction. The garden was originally built for the 1894 Midwinter International Exposition and features a large 1790 bronze Buddha, a Zen Garden, a pagoda, gates, bridges, statues, and a teahouse that sells tea and fortune cookies. This is a great spot to sit back and sip a cup of tea while people-watching.
MH De Young Memorial Museum
The De Young Museum is a fine art museum that has been a cultural pillar in GGP since 1919. Originally built for the 1894 California Midwinter International Exposition of which its namesake was the director. The new building, which stands today, opened in 2005 amid much controversy regarding the 144 ft twisting tower that does not jive with park conservationists. The tower offers amazing views of the city, but at the cost of eye-sore that soars past the park’s natural tree line.
The Shakespeare Garden is a popular wedding spot for San Francisco locals as well as a romantic picnic spot for young couples. The garden was erected in 1928 and features 150 different plants that were all featured in writings by Shakespeare.
Stow Lake is a great spot to rent rowboats and pedal boats to float around and take-in the solitude of the park. The lake surrounds the prominent Strawberry Hill, a nice spot to walk and to watch the rowboats pass by. The island has an electrically pumped waterfall, Huntington Falls, and a Chinese pavilion stands at the bottom of the falls.
The music concourse, located between the De Young and the Academy of Sciences, is the park’s central corridor. The Golden Gate Band performs regularly in the summer. On a sunny day, the concourse is often full of families and friends enjoying a meal al fresco.
Conservatory of Flowers
The beautiful glass and wood structure is the oldest building in the park and one of the world’s largest conservatories. The conservatory opened to the public in 1879 and houses beautiful rare flowers as well as visiting exhibits. The conservatory’s lawn is a popular spot for weddings as well as for locals basking in the warm San Francisco sun.
For more information about the park visit Golden Gate Park