Everything You Need to Know About San Francisco's Golden Gate Park
Millions of visitors each year experience Golden Gate Park's miles of green lawns, bridle paths, lakes, and 7,000 kinds of plants right in the heart of San Francisco. Enjoy varied attractions from top museums to exquisite gardens and extraordinary events. Whether you visit Golden Gate Park regularly or you’ve never been, this guide highlights the best things to do in one of San Francisco’s most interesting locations.
Please Note: It's best to contact the Park's attractions, festivals, and vendors directly to confirm their hours and availability.
The History of Golden Gate Park
Much as San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge was deemed "The Bridge That Couldn't Be Built", the 1,000+ acres of terrain once known as the "Outside Lands" wasn't a promising sight for a park. In 1871, field engineer William Hammond Hill and master gardener John McLaren carved out an urban oasis later named Golden Gate Park.
Today, the park is home to some of San Francisco's most-visited attractions, including the Japanese Tea Garden, the San Francisco Botanical Garden, the de Young Museum, and the California Academy of Sciences. Golden Gate Park sees more than 24 million visitors annually, making it the third most-visited city park in the United States.
California Academy of Sciences (55 Music Concourse Dr.)
A four-story living rainforest and awe-inspiring coral reef ecosystem will delight visitors of all ages, while immersive planetarium shows will transport audiences through space and time for a new perspective on our planet. Dynamic daily programs, from penguin feedings to coral reef dives, offer a wealth of opportunities to dive deeper. In addition to general admission tickets, the Academy offers a variety of opportunities to enhance any visit, including daily Behind-the-Scenes Tours, weekly NightLife events and NightLife VIP Tours (ages 21+), and Penguins and Pajamas sleepovers. The museum is also available for special events for up to 3,000 guests. Let the wonder begin!
Conservatory of Flowers (100 John F. Kennedy Dr.)
This historic landmark in Golden Gate Park has housed rare tropical flowers and plants from around the world since 1879, making it the oldest building in the park. The Conservatory curates an endless parade of rare and unusual flowers for display and aims to transport all who enter the Victorian doors to a faraway place. Immerse yourself in their five distinct galleries, each focusing on a different ecosystem, ranging from the dense tropical rainforests of Sumatra to the cloud forests of Ecuador and beyond. There is also innovative community programming like Night Bloom that highlights the Conservatory in a new light!
The de Young Museum (50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Dr.)
Founded in 1895, the de Young museum has been an integral part of the cultural fabric of the city and a cherished destination for millions of residents and visitors for more than 125 years. The de Young showcases an extraordinary permanent collection of American art from the 17th through 21st centuries, modern and contemporary art, photography, international textiles and costumes, and art from Africa, Oceania, and the Americas. The ninth-floor Observation Level of the de Young's Hamon Tower, free to everyone, offers breathtaking 360-degree views of San Francisco and the Pacific Ocean.
Japanese Tea Garden (75 Hagiwara Tea Garden Dr.)
Constructed in 1893 for the California Midwinter International Exposition, the Japanese Tea Garden is graced with torii (gates), pagodas, a moon bridge and a 1.5-ton Buddha. The garden comprises rock sculptures, “dry” or zen gardens, Japanese architectural structures, and waterfalls. Its open spaces contrast with tighter corners of hedges. There is a thoughtful design throughout, and the cultural influences are everywhere, from edges trimmed to resemble Mt. Fuji in Japan to the Drum Bridge almost floating over reflective waters below. Fortune cookies were first created and served here in 1914 and can still be enjoyed in the teahouse.
San Francisco Botanical Garden (1199 Ninth Ave.)
The San Francisco Botanical Garden offers 55 acres of beautiful gardens displaying nearly 9,000 different kinds of plants from around the world. With San Francisco’s famous fog and mild climate, the Garden enjoys a range of climatic conditions that exists in few other botanical gardens in the world, allowing it to grow and conserve a highly diverse and critically important botanical collection. This garden is a beautiful, calm oasis.
The SkyStar Wheel (Music Concourse)
This 150-foot tall observation wheel rises high above the trees and grants riders incredible views of the park, the city, and even the Pacific Ocean. Each gondola carries six passengers for a 12-minute ride. Tickets are $18 per person ($12 for seniors or children under three). Learn more.
Golden Gate Park Tours
When visiting the park, you should devote about two and a half hours to see it all and the best way to see the entire park is by bike. Here are just a few options to tour Golden Gate Park.
Pick a rental at Fisherman's Wharf and hop on your bike to Golden Gate Park. You'll check out the beautiful Conservatory of Flowers. Pedal around the Arboretum/Botanical Gardens, get poetic in Shakespeare Garden and ride around the Japanese Tea Garden. Make your way around Stow Lake for impressive views of Strawberry Hill and head onto the sprawling Ocean Beach on the oceanfront bike path. Snap the sweeping sand dunes and brave surfers before heading back past Bison paddock, Spreckels Lake, and more. With options for two or four-seater cars, peddling around means teamwork.
Where to Stay
If you want to stay near Golden Gate Park, you're in luck. There are several great hotels, hostels, vacation homes, bed and breakfasts located near the park.
San Francisco's celebrated 12K race returns every May. Throw on a costume and be part of the race, or be one of the tens of thousands of folks watching from the sidelines. Either way, you're in for a real treat. The Bay to Breakers race runs west through the city and finishes along Ocean Beach. Participants run along iconic streets and hills and through Golden Gate Park before reaching the finish line.
Every summer, twelve pianos are nestled throughout San Francisco Botanical Garden's 55 acres for anyone to play. Special events for families include Flower Piano at sunset, a community sing-along, free piano lessons, and three evenings of Flower Piano At Night. Watch, listen or play during this twelve-day-long Flower Piano event, one of the Bay Area's most highly anticipated musical events.
Outside Lands is one of the country’s most popular music and arts festivals. The festival is usually held at the beginning of August. Some past artists who have performed at the festival include Paul McCartney, Radiohead, Pearl Jam, Stevie Wonder and many others. The festival focuses on food, wine and art as well as world-class live music. Visit sfoutsidelands.com for more information.
A San Francisco and Golden Gate Park tradition since 2001, this is a free music festival held during the first weekend of October. This is a truly special outdoor event to experience during San Francisco’s best weather. Visit hardlystrictlybluegrass.com for more information.
The Park's Hidden Treasures
While several top attractions should be on your list to see inside Golden Gate Park, visitors will be surprised to find other hidden treasures in the park. For a different perspective of the park, make your way to Stow Lake, where you can rent a boat. The surrounding views are also gorgeous atop Strawberry Hill, the highest point in the park, situated in the middle of Stow Lake. 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.
Limited free parking is available throughout the park, and there is a parking garage near the Music Concourse with varying prices. The entrance to the garage can be found at 10th Avenue and Fulton Street.
Various Muni bus lines run along and through the park. Please visit sfmta.com for more information.
There are various access points throughout the park for cyclists. Park roads feature safe, bike-friendly lanes.
Visit goldengatepark.com/how-to-get-around-golden-gate-park for more information.
Places to Eat Near Golden Gate Park
If you've worked up an appetite after venturing through Golden Gate Park, there are many places to eat nearby. Depending on which end of the park you're exploring, there are plenty of culinary options.
Located in the Inner Sunset neighborhood, Pacific Catch Restaurant (1200 Ninth Ave.) offers fresh seafood just within walking distance of the San Francisco Botanical Garden and California Academy of Sciences. You can also explore the many restaurants found along Irving St., which is just a block away from the Park's entrance.
If you're on the western side of Golden Gate Park near Ocean Beach, Beach Chalet (1000 Great Hwy.) serves not just a variety of delicious meats and seafood, but also some of the best ocean views.
On the eastern side of the park near the Conservatory of Flowers, you can walk to Velo Rouge Cafe (798 Arguello Blvd.), best known for their sweet and savory bites and sandwiches.
Find more restaurants near Golden Gate Park here.