December 2004
Updates to DeYoung and Academy of Sciences: August 2009

Type: Municipal Park
Entrance Locations: Extensive. Most primary drive-in entrance is from the Panhandle via Fell St to JFK Drive. Second most primary from 9th Av off Lincoln Blvd. Beyond this there are 19 other ways to enter the park by car, and many more by foot. A recommended access point on foot is from 9th Av and Lincoln because it accesses so much right away.
Facilities: Extensive. Golden Gate Park is a metropolis of a park. Facilities are discussed in the text.
Fee: No fee for day use. Some special features involve a fee. Museums. Japanese Tea Garden. Conservatory of Flowers. No fee for Strybing Arboretum. Details in text.
Day Use Open: Curfew to foot traffic is midnight to 5am. Park may not be safe at night.
Dogs: Dogs may run off leash in three locations in the park: section bounded by Lincoln Way, South Drive, 5th and 7th Avenues; Northeast section, Stanyan between Hayes and Fulton Streets; section bounded by King Drive, Middle Drive, 34th and 38th Avenues. There is also a dog training area at 38th Avenue and Fulton Street. The park is generally restrictive about dogs off leash in large meadow areas. Big Rec allows no dogs at all. A good aspect in general is very low posion oak. Lots of good off-leash opportunity on trails for exploration.

Golden Gate park is the largest man made park in the world, followed closely by Central Park in New York. It traverses half the width of the city at over 50 blocks long and is about half a mile wide. Total area is 1,017 acres, and this does not include the 'panhandle' which is a block wide section of parkland extending eight additional blocks towards downtown. Unlike Central Park, Golden Gate Park is safe and comfortable during the day. There is little reason to fear of being mugged or ambushed in the bushes. At night the park is closed after midnight to foot traffic but cars can still drive through. On Sunday, JFK Drive is closed to cars from Stanyan to Park Presidio, allowing bikers and skaters free reign. Inline skating is very big in Golden Gate Park, which in itself serves as a kind of social convergence for experienced skaters along the strip (JFK) with skate dancing, slaloming, etc. In contrast to this relatively 'new' development, Golden Gate Park is a very old park and historical buildings and landmarks are everywhere. As one of the official seven wonders of the civilized world, the park can be considered on its merits in two regards. First in relation to historical structures, recreational attractions, and events for which the park is a focus. Second in terms of its natural areas or rather naturalistic areas (since all of it is essentially generated by the hand of man), a focus which would include the numerous special gardens.

Before considering the litany of everything in the park on these two fronts, it may be useful to briefly mention some of the most outstanding areas. At the top of this list is Strybing Arboretum which in addition to its breadth and size is free of charge at all times. Most recent efforts at Strybing have focussed on the re-creation of various different habitats in miniature, from California desert to redwood forest. This has been achieved with such quality that it pushes the arboretum over the top and into the realm of pure genius. Another absolutely fabulous garden, and one of the newest is the AIDS Memorial Fern Grove which runs from behind Big Rec at the raquetball courts to the tennis courts near Sharon Field. A naturalistic wet forested environment has been masterfully recreated here and a trail runs along a beautiful strleam bed filled with smooth river stones. It is a transportation into a realm of mossy oaks and ferns and is impressive, as is the stone work in the memorial itself. Mallard Lake is one of the nicer out of the way lakes and has a path around it. Its more remote location gives rise to interesting explorable areas surrounding and a greater chance of finding the more private birds like egrets and blue herons. For a raucous bird bonanza on the other hand, the 'pond' in Strybing Arboretum is like an urban version of the Galapagos Islands with geese, swans, gulls, coots, ducks, pigeons, turtles, and something that looks like a failed combination of all seven. Opportunities to explore on tiny paths saturate the park like air pockets in a sponge. They sometimes lead to great secluded dells like the eucalyptus treasure Druidic Dell (my name) between JFK Drive and the north end of Bercut Equitation Field, but in general interesting surprise dells like this one are rare and should be considered special finds. Druidic Dell, by the way, also has two tables and a large barbeque pit in this shady spot. It is a special spot to keep in mind for group barbeques on very warm days, unusual in San Francisco.

Mentioning bbq brings up in general the issue of bbq and picnic in the park. Tables and grills are an afterthought in Golden Gate Park, but they do exist in numerous spots. A popular picnic area for its scenic setting is in a medium field across the roadway from Mallard Lake. Numerous tables with grills exist on the east end of the Polo Field meadows, the central picnic area of the park and recommended only for large gatherings. It should be noted that are no really great table settings in Golden Gate Park, believe it or not. The nicest 'picnic' parks found in San Francisco are perhaps Corona Park and McLaren Park on the Shelley Loop. Of all the great open fields in Golden Gate Park, the largest is the central Polo Field meadow bounded by JFK and Middle Dr. It is followed closely by Big Rec Ball Field although weekends will occupy much of the field with ball games as this field supports two baseball diamonds. The prettiest large field, although smaller than Big Rec, is Sharon Field at JFK and Kezar Drive and its recently completed smaller sister Stanyan Meadow. Sharon is also very good for volleyball which Big Rec is not. Sharon Field is also the preferred site for many public events and is currently the most popular field in the park. Even without an event, the weekend turnout is phenomenal here with drumming, dancing, juggling, stilt-walking. Sharon Field is also very close the The Haight. Nice meadows about half the size of a city block can be found throughout the park.

Now that some highlights have been mentioned, I turn the focus to the general natural demeanor of the park and gardens. The park is characterized mainly by eucalyptus, cypress and monterey pine, which after a hundred or so years have grown to such great sizes that 100' tall may be considered dull. Redwood is also represented in a lesser degree along with many other trees around roadways and meadows, such as aspen, magnolia, rhododendron, some palms, etc. There are 10 lakes, all of them man-made and all of them suffering from the lack of a truly supporting ecosystem. Such lakes must be (would need to be) constantly maintained to keep them vital. The original 'vision' of the park probably involved more extensive lake attention than has in fact endured over time, and so these lakes all suffer from 70 to 100 years of stagnation and accumulations of silt and gull guano. This assessment does not include highly managed bodies of water like inside the Japanese Tea Garden. In spite of poor water quality, most of the lakes support surprising populations of turtles and large catfish and/or carp. The largest lake is Stow Lake which is the second largest lake in the city, followed in size order by Spreckels, North Lake, Middle Lake, Elk Glen Lake, Lloyd Lake, Mallard Lake, South Lake, Metson Lake, and Lily Pond. Of these the most fascinating for a long time was Lily Pond which supported a vigorous mat of lilypads and dogweed. The lake has unfortunately been allowed to deteriorate and is now one of the ugliest. Though Mallard Lake may be the prettiest overall, North Lake is also interesting as the south end is complexely banked by tule reeds and some web-trunked trees which make it seem a bit like a Louisiana swamp. Lloyd Lake has a concrete bank but also a surface aqueduct of water cascading into it over a waterfall and through stepping stones which is nice. Stow Lake is sensational for its size and shape, but is so dirty. Metson Lake is as green a pea soup, but out of the way, slightly elevated, and pleasant. The truly horrible lakes currently are Elk Glen, Middle Lake, and Lily Pond. The city is presently preparing a renovation of the lakes which will involve draining them. This should improve them immensely. This renovation may be completed by the time you read this.

An important feature of Golden Gate Park is the gardens. The special garden areas are all free except for the historic Conservatory of Flowers and the Japanese Tea Garden. The Conservatory is the oldest building standing in the park (1878). It is a 12,000 square foot glass greenhouse of victorian architecture which houses old examples of tropical or rare plants, some of which have grown so large that they cannot be moved without killing them. This complicated the three phase renovation of the Conservatory which went on for four years and was completed in 2003. The Japanese Tea Garden is a tourist magnet, and although the garden itself is fantastic with its arched bridges and mossy stepping stones over waterways filled with brilliant orange and white carp, the sheer crush of people with their cameras and the restaurant (The Teahouse) which caters to them creates a contradiction to the meditative philosophy which is simply out of harmony. Other gardens existing are Strybing Arboretum, Rhododendron Dell, Rose Garden, Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden, George Washington Bicentennial Grove, Redwood Memorial Grove, the outer Conservatory Flower Gardens, the Shakespeare Garden, Rhododendron Island (near Spreckels Lake), and the new AIDS Memorial Fern Grove area behind Big Rec. Highly recommended is the area around Lily Pond for the tropical huge plants and palm trees. Still when everything is said and done, Strybing Arboretum stands at the top for its phenomenal habitat recreations. It is so large that it can engage an entire day in its exploration.

Facility-wise, the most active center of the park is the music concourse surrounded by the Academy of Sciences, DeYoung Museum, and Japanese Tea Garden. The historic Bandshell Pavillion here is a stage for free concerts and events almost every weekend amidst a grid of English Plane trees (related to sycamores) and ornate fountains. This, the Music Concourse, was created in 1899 as part of the Midwinter Exposition to promote California. Larger events tend to occur at Sharon Field, events often sponsored by radio stations and involving a fee, such as comedy shows or food tasting bonanzas. The final step up to Billy Graham scale events requires use of the Polo Fields and this happens from time to time. Major name benefit concerts and political rallies occur here. The Academy of Sciences and DeYoung are both fantastic museums which draw large crowds and are highly recommended. The new DeYoung should re-open in October 2005 and the new Academy of Sciences in 2008.

A list of recreational facilities in the park includes the following. Municipal Golf Course, Bercut Equitation Field, Soccer Fields, Golden Gate Park Stadium (Polo Fields) with the Riding Academy, Flycasting Pools with the Anglers Lodge, Spreckels Lake with the Model Yacht Club House, softball diamond at Lindley Meadow and two reservable diamonds at Big Rec, Stow Lake with pedalboat rentals,  an Archery Field, handball courts behind Big Rec, lawn bowling greens, tennis courts near Sharon Field, childrens playground with a carrousel near Sharon Field, Kezar Stadium, horseshoe pits, basketball courts on the panhandle, and two major bbq picnic areas (near 38th and Fulton and Lake Lloyd).

Historic facilities include the Academy of Sciences, DeYoung Museum, Bandshell Pavillion, Beach Chalet and restaurant, the Conservatory of Flowers, and McLaren Lodge. In addition to this, many statuary monuments dot the park.

Other unique attractions include the live buffalo paddock area (which will likely leave one pitying the animals) and two historic windmills, the north and south windmill. The north windmill has been completely restored and has functional blades which move with the wind. The south windmill is unrestored and sits as a fascinating ruin.
Golden Gate Park is a bit counter-intuitive when it comes to discovery. A desire for seclusion may lead to looking for the best of the park away from populated areas, a search which essentially leads to areas which feel neglected rather than 'discovered.' This is essentially because the park is man-made, and neglected areas feel 'weedy' rather than 'wild.' As it happens, the best of the park can be found in its most active areas, that is to say in and around the Music Concourse, the Conservatory of Flowers, and Sharon Field. Following is some detailed information on the main attractions in the park, attractions which serve as the park's greatest features.

Important Links: Here are three recommended links relating to Golden Gate Park.
David Gardner has created a great resource for exploring the park visually on the web at
SFgate has a good facility list which appears to be kept up to date at
The S.F. Parks and Rec website has an updated list of phone numbers if any of the ones appearing here fall out of date. It is at

DeYoung Museum: The original DeYoung Museum building stood since the 1894 Midwinter Exposition. The new building opened October 15, 2005 and contrasts the mediterranean and egyptian themes of the old building with a new modernist concept designed by an innovative german firm. The building itself is intended to be a work of postmodern art and features and earthquake themedwork by Andy Goldworthy in the entry foyer. Access more information at

Academy of Sciences: Main 415.379.8000. Web:
Located at 55 Music Concourse, the Academy was re-opened in 2008 after a complete rebuilding with some of the most modern architectural concepts available today. This cutting edge building has some truly awesome features, including a "living roof" built into shapes which mimic hills and planted with a carpet of native plants, a 15' deep recreation of a living Philippine coral reef which displays itself from two levels and uses special lamps which re-create the essential features of natural sunlight, a living re-creation of a portion of tropical rainforest which contains its own humidity and live tropical butterflies flying amidst the plants and spectators up a 30' spiral walkway which circumnavigates the terrarium, and a completely re-built all digital planetarium dome which is like an I-MAX experience X 3. The high entry cost has not stopped the new museum from being absolutely packed with tourists from day one, eager to see this wonderous investment in the cutting edge of architecture and science.

Strybing Arboretum: The gardens are open daily, 365 days a year. Weekdays 8am to 4:30pm. Weekends & holidays 10am to 5pm. The library and bookstore - open daily 10am to 4pm but closed on major holidays. Free guided walks are given daily at 1:30PM. Contact 415.661.1316. Web:

Conservatory of Flowers: The Conservatory reopened after four years of renovation in September 2003. The spectacular new structure now also includes live tropical Heliconid (angelwing) butterflies flying around in the west wing. Admission is $5 adult, $3 for 12-17, 65+ and students, $1.50 5-11, FREE 1-4 and FREE the first Tueday of each month. Hours Tue-Sun 9a-4:30p. Contact 415.666.7001. Web:
The following history comes from S.F. city archives: [The Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park is one of the most magnificent examples of Victorian architectural design in the world. This building, listed as a San Francisco Landmark, a California Landmark, and a National Register Landmark, has served as a working greenhouse for the Recreation and Park Department since 1878, housing an extensive collection of rare and endangered plants.
The wood and glass Conservatory has survived 117 years of heat and high humidity, and, in recent years, limited maintenance. As a result, much of the wooden skeleton is rotted, and the glazing around the glass panes has become brittle and loose. The Conservatory has undergone piecemeal restoration in 1958, 1966, 1978 and 1982. The late winter storms of February 1995 and the recent storms of December 1995 have destroyed major sections of the dome room of the greenhouse and approximately 15% of the plant collection. Most of the sensitive plant material that remains has been moved to the wings or to off-site greenhouse storage. There are a few extremely rare plants that were planted in the 1880s that cannot be moved and have been gravely affected by the cold weather.
Opened in 1878, the Conservatory of Flowers is the oldest building in Golden Gate Park and the oldest public greenhouse in California. A glass and wood construction of Victorian design, its 12,000 square feet include a central dome room and flanking wings, similar in appearance to Kew Gardens in London.]1

Asian Art Museum:  Completed in 1966 as a wing of the M.H. De Young Museum, based on the massive Avery Brundage Collection donation in 1959 which represents about 65% of the museums holdings (7,800 pieces of priceless Asian Art).
The museum has been moved to 200 Larkin Street, 94102. Admission is $10 general. Hours are Tue-Sun 10a-5p, Thu 10a-9p. Contact 415.581.3500. Web:

Japanese Tea Garden: Hours are daily 8:30a-5:30p. Admission is $3.50 adult, $1.25 for 6-12 and 65+. The last hour is free. Contact 415.752.4227. Teahouse is 10a-5:15p, 415.752.1171.
[One of the backers of the 1893 Midwinter Exposition was an Australian named George Turner Marsh. Before coming to San Francisco, Marsh had lived for many years in Japan, and his particular interest in the Exposition was the creation of a garden that would be an exact replica of the restfully simple yet imaginative landscaping he had seen and admired in Japan. In order to accomplish his garden, Marsh, who spoke Japanese fluently, imported materials and workmen directly from Japan. He received constant and highly enthusiastic advice from his good friend, John McLaren, San Francisco's late, legendary Park Superintendent. Known as "The Japanese Village," it was so unique and attractive a feature of the Exposition that the Park Commission continued maintaining and operating the tea garden after 1894.]1

The Beach Chalet: The historic Beach Chalet building located at the ocean features period murals, a fascinating scale model of Golden Gate Park, upscale restaurant and microbrew pub. It was built in 1921. 1000 Great Highway @ Ocean Beach In San Francisco. Reservations: 415.386.8439. Jazz jams Tuesdays at 6:30p. Web:
[Prominently located along the Great Highway on the western edge of Golden Gate Park and overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the Beach Chalet had remained vacant for over a decade. Heller Manus developed a renovation program for the landmark building, which was designed by Willis Polk and constructed in 1925. The program includes a Golden Gate Park environmental visitor's center and gift shop on the ground floor and a restaurant on the second level. Modifications to the building shell include addition of an elevator, new ADA-compliant toilet rooms, and new interior finishes in keeping with the building's historic character. The renovation respects the existing interior frescos by Lucien Labaudt. The most significant modification to the exterior, a public entrance added to the eastern side of the building, creates an outdoor gathering space and service access.]2

Stow Lake: Stow Lake harkens back to the early days of the park. It is an interesting lake due primarily to its size and its circular shape around Strawberry Island which rises to 428' in elevation. It is the second largest lake in San Francisco taking a very distant second behind Lake Merced. One point of interest is an abundance of turtles and oriental carp, a phenomenon seen not only here but in most lakes throughout the park. The main concession here offers boat rentals and another offers bike and skate rentals. There is an artificial waterfall pumped from the peak of the island. The island is fully accessible from bridges and a dirt trail spiralling to the peak. A paved path circumnavigates the lake. Stow Lake Boat House is on the lake at 50 Stow Lake Drive (Golden Gate Park) San Francisco, CA, 94118. Call 415.752.0347 (recording) or 415.752.7869 (person). Open 9am-4pm daily. Rowboat rental costs $11 per hour (max 4 passengers), pedal boats $15 (max 4), electric boats $18 (max 5). No private launch. Those who would rather remain on land can rent bikes and rollerskates. This facility is 415.668.6699. The concession here sells popcorn, ice cream, hot dogs, etc.

Additional Notes on Recreational Activities [see footnotes 1 & 3]

Archery: 47th Avenue near Fulton Street in Golden Gate Park; bales provided. Bring your own targets, bows and arrows. No reservations required. Free. S. F. Archery Shop at 4429 Cabrillo. 415.751.2776.

Baseball: There are two hardball and two softball diamonds within the park. For locations and reservations phone 415.833.5510.

Basketball: Practice courts are located on the Panhandle. Free play.

Bicycling & Skating: 7.5 miles of designated paved trails extend from the tip of the Panhandle through Golden Gate Park to Lake Merced. In addition, some park roads are available for bicycling and skating on Sundays when they are closed to vehicular traffic. A bicycle racing track is located at the Polo Fields, Bicycles can be rented at many locations adjacent to the park and at Stow Lake. Bicycling is allowed on designated paths only. Suggestions on skate or bike rentals:
Golden Gate Park Bike and Skate: 3038 Fulton St., 668-1117
Lincoln Cyclery, 772 Stanyan St., 415.221.2415
Park Cyclery, 1749 Waller St., 415.751.7368
Skates on Haight, 1818 Haight St., 415.752.8375
Start to Finish Bicycles, 672 Stanyan St., 415.750.4760
Surrey Bikes & Blades, 50 Stow Lake Dr., 415.668.6699
Velo City Cyclery, 638 Stanyan St., 415.221.2453

Boating: Pedal, electric, and row boats are available for rent at Stow Lake, opposite 17th Avenue. No private launching ramps. For information and rates, phone 415.752.0347.

Dog Running: Dogs may run off leash in three locations in the park: section bounded by Lincoln Way, South Drive, 5th and 7th Avenues; Northeast section, Stanyan between Hayes and Fulton Streets; section bounded by King Drive, Middle Drive, 34th and 38th Avenues. There is also a dog training area at 38th Avenue and Fulton Street.

Fly Fishing: Casting pools are located adjacent to Angler's Lodge opposite the Bison Paddock. Free, bring your own equipment. For information call 415.386.2630 on Saturdays.

Football: Football is played at the Polo Field, opposite 36th Avenue. For reservations, phone 415.831.5510.

Golf: A nine-hole public golf course is located at the west end of the park. The clubhouse entrance is near 47th Avenue, between JFK Drive and Fulton Street. 415.751.8987.

Handball/Raquetball: There are two indoor and two outdoor handball courts located north of the Big Rec baseball field opposite 7th Avenue. No reservations required. Free. Bring your own equipment.

Horseback Riding: The only stable in the City is located in the park, at the far western end. Private and group lessons in jumping and riding are offered. There are also daily guide rides along the 12 miles of trails. Reservations are required for all lessons and rides, and must be made at least two days in advance. JFK Drive and 36th Avenue. 415.668.7360.

Lawn Bowling: The San Francisco Lawn Bowling Club manages three greens and offers free lessons. Contact the club for information and reservations. Located at Bowling Green Drive, between Middle Drive East and MLK Jr. Drive, 415.753.9298.

Model Yacht Sailing: Both wind-and-motor-powered models may be sailed on Spreckels Lake opposite 36th Avenue. Join the weekend regattas or enjoy the peace of a weekday sail. Bring your own boat. Free.

Petanque: A court is located opposite 38th Avenue. Bring your own equipment. No reservations required. Free.

Picnics: Small family picnics may be held throughout the park without reservations. For groups of 25 or more, reservations are required and a fee is charged. For information and reservations, phone 415.666.7035.

Running: There are many miles of jogging trails within the park in addition to the Parcourse at the Polo Field and the special Senior Citizens' exercise course behind the Senior Center at 36th Avenue and Fulton Street.

Soccer: Soccer pitches are located in the Beach Chalet soccer field opposite 48th Avenue, and in the Polo Field. Reservations are required. For information and reservations, phone 415.831.5510. Free.

Tennis: Twenty-one courts are located at the eastern end of the park. Reservations are not accepted for weekday play, but they are for weekends and holidays. Call 415.753.7101 or 415.753.7001 for prices and times. JFK Drive at Middle Drive East.

1 From S.F. city archives: (no longer an active link)
2 From:
3 From:


South windmill remains
Japanese Tea Garden
Bandshell Pavillion in the Music Concourse