Golden Gate Park Points of Interest
There's so much to explore and discover in Golden Gate Park's 1,017 acres, but be sure not to miss these special attractions!
The National AIDS Memorial Grove is a living tribute to all whose lives have been touched by AIDS, and a dedicated space where people can gather to heal, hope, and remember. Its purpose is to ensure that those who have suffered from the AIDS epidemic — both those who have died and those who have shared their struggle — are not forgotten.
Tucked away in the park’s western end, just across from the Bison Paddock, are three serene pools and a rustic mountain-style lodge, home to the Golden Gate Angling and Casting Club. Generations of San Franciscans have learned to fly-fish here, and people come from around the world to participate in tournaments and other events. The pools are open to anyone who would like to practice their casting technique, free of charge, and members are often happy to provide tips.
This 1925 Spanish Revival-style building at the park’s western end, designed by renowned architect Willis Polk, originally housed a lounge and bathing facilities for Ocean Beach swimmers on the ground floor and a restaurant upstairs. The ground floor’s striking WPA frescoes, mosaics, and wood carvings were added in 1936-37 in a project funded by the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Today, the ground floor houses the Golden Gate Park Visitor Center and the Park Chalet restaurant; upstairs is the Beach Chalet restaurant, with sweeping views of the Pacific.
Visitors to Golden Gate Park are often astounded to stumble upon a herd of American bison browsing in a meadow in the park’s western end, but these huge, shaggy Great Plains denizens have been a beloved institution since 1892. Before San Francisco opened its first zoo in the 1930s, a menagerie of creatures were kept in Golden Gate Park, including elk, deer, bear, sheep, and bison. The herd’s first home was in the park’s eastern end, but in 1899 they were moved to the meadow where you see them today, just west of Spreckels Lake along John F. Kennedy Drive. The small herd that remains is cared for by the San Francisco Zoo, while Rec and Park gardeners maintain the enclosure. More
Life-changing moments. World-changing science. The California Academy of Sciences is an aquarium, planetarium, rainforest, and natural history museum in the heart of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park—and a powerful voice for biodiversity research and exploration, environmental education, and sustainability across the globe.
A Victorian confection of wood and glass, the Conservatory of Flowers, which opened in 1879, is the oldest building in Golden Gate Park and one of San Francisco’s most beloved landmarks. It houses some 1,700 species of aquatic and tropical plants, many of them rare, including a 100-year-old giant Imperial philodendron, a world-renowned collection of orchids, giant water lilies, and carnivorous plants. Special exhibits have included such popular favorites as the Butterfly Zone and the miniature garden railroad.
The de Young, San Francisco’s oldest museum, is housed in a strikingly modern copper-sheathed building designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architects Herzog & de Meuron. The museum building, which opened to the public in 2005, provides San Francisco with a landmark that integrates the museum’s superb art collections, architectural innovation, and the natural landscape in one multifaceted destination.
|The Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park is the oldest in the United States, created for the 1894 California Midwinter International Exposition as the fair’s Japanese Village exhibit. The garden’s lush, harmonious landscaping pays homage to the traditional Japanese art of the garden. Paths wind through its three and one half acres of carefully chosen and manicured plants, including graceful Japanese maples, twisting pines, clipped azaleas, and cherry trees that put on a spectacular flowering display in March and April. Tea Garden Map|
Generations of San Franciscans (and young visitors from around the world!) have fond memories of the children’s playground and carousel in Golden Gate Park’s southeast corner. The playground, called the Sharon Quarters for Children when it opened in 1888, is thought to have been the nation’s first public playground. In that era, the idea of providing a dedicated space solely for youth recreation was groundbreaking. With generous support from the Koret Foundation, the playground underwent a major renovation and reopened in 2007 as the Koret Children’s Quarter, retaining the park’s popular concrete slides. A charming 1914 Herschell-Spillman Company Carousel offers rides to the young and young-at-heart.
Built in 1896, McLaren Lodge was the home of the park department’s fifth superintendent, John McLaren, until 1943. McLaren Lodge is currently both the headquarters for the Recreation and Park Department and an interesting stop for architecture buffs, who often marvel at the intricate construction of the building’s Richardson Romanesque design, which includes exterior walls of 18-inch thick ashlar basalt masonry and sandstone quoins.
McLaren Lodge is a registered San Francisco landmark (No. 175).
The Music Concourse, a landscaped basin between the California Academy of Sciences and the de Young Museum, is a vital civic and cultural space within Golden Gate Park, hosting free concerts on Sundays during the summer and serving as a respite and picnic spot year-round for visitors to nearby cultural facilities.
While most of Golden Gate Park has been landscaped with lawns, flowerbeds and other ornamental features, a few remnants of San Francisco’s oak woodlands still exist in this world-renowned park. The northeast corner of Golden Gate Park is home to some of the oldest coast live oak trees in San Francisco.
The Golden Gate Park Panhandle is approximately three-quarters of a mile in length, stretching from Stanyan to Baker Streets; and situated between Fell and Oak Streets. The Panhandle contains paths, a basketball court, playground, restrooms, large lawn areas, and a monument to past President McKinley at its east end. The multi-use pathway on the north side of the Panhandle is a popular route for bicyclists traversing across the City.
The Portals of the Past is an unusual little monument at Golden Gate Park. Standing on the shores of Lloyd Lake (just to the west of the de Young Museum), these columns actually have an interesting history. During the big earthquake and fire of 1906, most of Nob Hill was flattened by the destruction. However somehow, the entrance way to the mansion of A.N. Towne managed to remain standing. It was later removed and brought over to Golden Gate Park, where it still stands today, as a symbol of the perseverance of San Francisco… working towards an optimistic future, regardless of the tragedy of the past. (Courtesy of San Francisco Memories)
On a steep, 150-foot-high knoll, this 64-foot-tall Celtic cross stands bold to the sky. The tallest monument in the park, it is nicknamed “Plymouth Rock of the Pacific.” Here, above Rainbow Falls at Crossover Drive, it commemorates the first-known use of the Book of Common Prayer in an English-speaking service on North America’s West Coast. The monument, with a span of 23 feet, consists of 68 huge blue Colusa sandstone blocks. Bishop William Ford Nichols, the second Episcopal Bishop of California, dedicated it on January 1st at the opening of the 1894 California Midwinter International Exposition.
The San Francisco Botanical Garden at Strybing Arboretum grows and conserves plants from around the world — more than 8,000 varieties in 55 acres of landscaped gardens and open spaces. Stroll through a grove of coast redwoods and a Mediterranean garden, explore cloud forests from meso-America and southeast Asia, and wander gardens of flora from Chile, Australia, Japan, California, and more. The garden’s special collections include rhododendrons, camellias, magnolias, and succulents.
On the far western edge of Golden Gate Park stand two wooden windmills that were built to pump groundwater for irrigating the park’s lawns and gardens, helping to transform the dunes that once covered the area. The North, or Dutch, Windmill was built in 1902, followed by the South, or Murphy, Windmill, completed in 1907. Motorized pumps were first installed in the Dutch Windmill in 1913 to augment the power system, and the Murphy Windmill was electrified soon after. It’s commonly believed that the windmills were taken out of service around 1935. Cosmetic repairs to the Dutch Windmill were completed in 1980, and a renovation of the Murphy Windmill and adjacent Millwright’s Cottage was completed in 2012.