Your Guide to San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park
Looking out at the lush landscape of San Francisco’s historic Golden Gate Park, it’s hard to believe that the area once consisted of sand dunes and not much else. Today, park visitors not only find a miracle in hardscaping, they can also discover an array of attractions that cover a gamut of interests and span city history.
8 Golden Gate Park Attractions to Include in Your Visit
1. California Academy of Sciences
Home to 38,000 living animals from 900 species, the California Academy of Sciences includes the the Kimball Natural History Museum, the Morrison Planetarium, the Steinhart Aquarium, and a four-story rain forest dome that is unlike anything you’ve ever seen! The academy is also known for its educational programs and focus on 11 scientific fields. The entire museum is housed in an impressively sustainable building that includes a 2 ½-acre living roof that visitors can check out for themselves!
2. De Young Museum
San Francisco’s oldest museum, the De Young Museum, was an attraction that started as part of the city’s 1894 Midwinter International Exposition. The building was badly damaged in the 1906 earthquake but was reopened after 18 months of repairs. After the 1989 earthquake, it had to be demolished completely, and a new, more modern building took its place.
Today, this Golden Gate Park museum houses permanent collections of American paintings, art and sculpture, along with an array of international pieces and artifacts from ancient civilizations. If you venture just outside of the museum to a whimsically named place called the Pool of Enchantment, you will spot some landmarks from the museum’s past: large ornate vases and sphinxes that were part of that original presentation for the exposition.
3. The Strybing Arboretum
More than 7,500 varieties of flowers from around the world fill the 55 acres of the San Francisco Botanical Gardens, a place locals still refer to as Strybing Arboretum, with vibrant colors and scents. It is the largest garden of its kind on the West Coast and quite a sight!
4. Stow Lake
A man-made lake with over a century of rich history, Stow Lake is a great place to rent paddle boats and rowboats. Be sure to check out Strawberry Hill, a naturally formed island in the middle of the lake with great views of the surrounding park and the Golden Gate Bridge. Other surprising sites on this little island include an artificially made waterfall and a small pavilion that was a gift from the city of Taipei.
5. The Buffalo Paddock
The name is a little misleading. Golden Gate Park’s Buffalo Paddock is actually home a few American Bison. It has housed all kinds of animals since 1892. Bears, goats, and elk have all inhabited the free-range environment, sometimes causing a stir inside the fence. I still think it’s funny that Bison live in the middle of San Francisco.
6. The Park Windmills
Once responsible for pumping up to 1½ million gallons of water to the city on a daily basis, the Dutch and Murphy Mills now make for an interesting back drop for a family portrait, particularly when the tulips planted around them are in bloom.
7. Japanese Tea Garden
Also constructed as part of the 1894 Midwinter International Exposition, the Japanese Tea Garden is five acres of ponds and paths winding through sumptuous plant life. Visitors are often pleasantly surprised by hidden bridges and sculptures. When you’ve finished exploring the garden, stop in at the tea house for traditional tea and cookies.
8. The Conservatory of Flowers
The oldest existing glass and wood Victorian greenhouse in the Western Hemisphere, the Conservatory of Flowers is home to a spectacular collection of over 1,700 plant species from around the globe. The most popular plants include rare orchids, a century-old philodendron, along with a few carnivorous plants and lily pads that could hold the weight of a small child. You’ll have to just trust me on that last point!
Hotels Near These Golden Gate Park Attractions
Hilton San Francisco Union Square, Parc 55 San Francisco – a Hilton Hotel, and Hilton San Francisco Financial District are each just a short distance (less than 5 miles) from Golden Gate Park.
You may also enjoy:
- Visit Civil War-Era Fort Point in San Francisco
- Walk Across San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge
- Must-See San Francisco Attractions – A Two-Day Itinerary
- Cross the Golden Gate Bridge for a Great San Francisco Day Trip
Hilton Mom Voyage writers receive free night certificates to use at Hilton Hotels & Resorts worldwide. To learn more, visit our About Us page.
Know Before You Go
- Golden Gate Park has many activities – there are countless trails to walk, lakes, ponds, fields for sports activities, and even a Conservatory for Flowers.
- Check out these spots for great photos: Coit Tower, Telegraph Hill, Dolores Park, and Alamo Square.
- Always dress in layers for the weather. Even in the summer, it can be chilly!