Everything You Need to Know About San Francisco's Golden Gate Park
Millions of visitors each year come to 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. You’ll 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, including special details about the park's 150th anniversary.
The History of Golden Gate Park
Much as San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge that 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 that was later named Golden Gate Park.
Today, the park is home to a wealth 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.
Golden Gate Park's 150th Anniversary
This year marks Golden Gate Park's 150th Anniversary. This will be a year-long celebration to which everyone is invited. While the big celebration takes place on Apr. 4 (Golden Gate Park's actual birthday), there will be fun activations and events every month this year, including a new 150-foot ferris wheel, three highly anticipated exhibitions at the de Young Museum, and much more. Click here (LINK TBD) for a full list of anniversary events.
Top Attractions and Tours
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 San Francisco landmark in Golden Gate Park has housed rare tropical flowers and plants from around the world since 1879. Open Tuesday–Sunday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; open holidays except Thanksgiving and Christmas.
The de Young Museum (50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Dr.)
The de Young museum 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 offers breathtaking 360-degree views of San Francisco and the Pacific Ocean. Open Tuesday–Sunday, 9:30 a.m. – 5:15 p.m.; Fridays (March–November) until 8:45 p.m. Closed most Mondays and holidays. Special exhibition tickets available for additional price. Prices, hours and programs are subject to change.
Electric Tour Company (Various Locations)
There's no better way to explore Golden Gate Park than on a guided segway tour. Choose from three Park tours : the Official Golden Gate Park Segway Tour (2 hours 30 min.), the Golden Gate Park Quick & Fun Segway Tour (1 hour 30 min.), and the Extended Golden Gate Park Segway Tour to Ocean (3 hours). Expect to see some of the Park's hidden gems like the Shakespeare Garden, Strawberry Hill, the Lily Pond and much more.
Golden Gate Park Bike & Skate (3038 Fulton St.)
Ride through Golden Gate Park, the Presidio or across the Golden Gate Bridge from this convenient location. Golden Gate Park Bike & Skate has bicycles, disc golf, in-line skates and traditional skates for adults and children to rent. Safety gear is also provided.
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. 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.)
Stroll through New Zealand, the Mediterranean or Central American rain forests—all in one San Francisco attraction. This garden is a beautiful, calm oasis. Open Monday-Friday, 7:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m.; Saturday, Sunday and holidays, 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Tours available Monday–Friday at 1:30 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday at 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.
Where to Stay
If you're looking to stay near Golden Gate Park, you're in luck. There are a number of 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 there are a number of top attractions that 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 located near the Music Concourse with varying prices. The entrance to the garage can be found at 10th Avenue and Fulton Street.
There are various Muni bus lines that 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.
On Community Day (Apr. 4, 2020), free shuttle service to-and-from the park will be available.
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 a number of places to eat nearby. Depending on which end of the park you're exploring, there are plenty of culinary options to choose from.
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 in the western side of Golden Gate Park nearest 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.