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San Francisco Al Fresco: A Day in Golden Gate Park

Picture of Sarah Nguyen
Sarah Nguyen
Updated: 18 December 2015
Golden Gate Park in San Francisco is one of the most visited city parks in the USA. If you’re traveling to the bay area and feel like you need to get lost in the forest or be in wide open grassy fields to soak in the sun, this park is the perfect place to be.

Stow Lake

Grab a friend, rent a rowboat (or paddleboat) and explore this relaxing oasis. Row under bridges like the Stone Bridge built in 1893, past the colorful Chinese pagoda and finally stop and admire the cascading 110-foot waterfall. Not akin to being in the water? Then take a hike around the lake or cross one of the two bridges to the island in the center and enjoy the view from the highest point in the entire park – Strawberry Hill, which boasts spectacular views from atop the waterfall.

Areas dedicated to growth

The Conservatory of Flowers, Rose Garden, and Botanical Garden are wonderful for botanist fanatics or for those that simply enjoy the simple beauty of plants and flowers. The Conservatory of Flowers is a gem being it is the oldest public wood-and-glass conservatory in North America and has been highly praised for its history, architecture, and engineering. The “living walls” of this conservatory will spark interest and inspiration as you walk through different galleries of lowland tropics to aquatic plants. There is also a pathway to a small, uphill hike to the right of the conservatory that will give you a great view of the city and the Sutro Tower.

Museums

The California Academy of Sciences is a leading educational and research institution with impressive architectural structures like the “living” roof and imaginative exhibits like the four-story Rainforest. Right next to the California Academy of Sciences is the de Young Museum with it’s own stunning, architectural beauty designed by Prize-winning architects. The de Young’s collection is the most visited museum west of the Mississippi and offers special exhibits that provide valuable art education for residents and visitors.

Rainbow Falls | © Sarah Nguyen/Wikicommns
Rainbow Falls | © Sarah Nguyen/Wikicommns

Waterfalls

Originally illuminated by colored lights, Rainbow Falls is a surprising site to see in a park. Surrounded by a variety of flora and fauna and every once in awhile by an egret or heron, this place is a great place for photos or just a place to rest on one of the huge rocks surrounding the pond.

Windmills

Standing at 75 feet, the Dutch Windmill is located on the western section of the park and once served as a functional purpose for the city but now stands as an impressive snapshot of history. The windmill overlooks The Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden which bursts in a colorful bloom in March and April and creates the perfect backdrop for pictures.

Dutch Windmill and The Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden | © Sarah Nguyen/Wikicommons
Dutch Windmill and The Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden | © Sarah Nguyen/Wikicommons

Archery in the Park

Satisfy your hunting and combat needs with archery in the park. The park offers an archery field located on Fulton between 45th and 46th street with 9 bales that are free to use. All you need is a target, bow and arrows, and of course, a little bit of hand-eye coordination. New to archery or don’t have your own equipment? Classes and rental equipment are available so you can become the next Katniss Everdeen, Legolas, or modern-day Robin Hood (all minus the killing of animals of course).

Concerts

Who would miss out on a free concert with headliners like Ed Sheeran in 2014 or American Idol’s first winner, Kelly Clarkson? Alice’s Summerthing Concert hosted by the popular radio station 97.3FM holds this annual concert in Sharon Meadows in Golden Gate Park. An even bigger concert happens every year at the park, Outsidelands. This three day outdoor event brings in more than 10,000 music fans each year and has hosted big names like Kanye West and The Red Hot Chili Peppers. This year rock from left to right to musical talents like Elton John, The Black Keys, and Sam Smith all while enjoying the plethora of drinks and food offered.

Surprises

Surprise nooks and crannies that aren’t always the highlight in articles about Golden Gate- You can find surprises all over the park. For example there’s one sign off to the side that reads ‘Prayerbrook Cross’ and at first when you glance through the path it doesn’t look like it leads to anything (in fact it looks a bit creepy especially at dusk) but follow a slightly elevated beaten path through the trees and you’ll end up at a 60 ft stone cross hidden by foliage on top of Rainbow Falls!

Free Shuttle

Want to walk from one end of the park but not take the trek back to your car? This park offers a free shuttle on Saturdays, Sundays, and major holidays to take you from one end to the other and includes all major Golden Gate Park destinations and to Ocean Beach.

Bison Paddock

Yes, you read that right! Live “wild” animals in the city! Your jaw will drop in awe when you run across these majestic American Bison grazing on the luscious green meadow where they roam (don’t worry, they’re contained).

By Sarah Nguyen