People of the Promenade

People of the Promenade is a series of short stories, based on conversations with parkgoers we’ve met along car-free JFK Drive in Golden Gate Park.


Savanna and Roman

Upon discovering a ping pong table along the JFK Promenade near Eighth Avenue, Savanna and Roman didn’t go back and forth about whether they should try it out. “We don’t usually play but this is fun,” Savanna said. “That’s great it’s so accessible.” The fiancées normally hang around Golden Gate Park’s Speckels Lake, so finding games, chairs, art, and other fun activities on their lunchtime stroll through JFK was quite unexpected. Another one of their favorite features: the nearby spinning chairs. “The chairs are a really cool shape,” Roman said. “This is awesome. Great work!”



Dustin runs regularly at Dolores Park since it’s close to his home, but when he has spare time, he comes to Golden Gate Park for a jog. “I like that there’s no cars here,” he said about the JFK Promenade. “And I’m really loving all the improvements like the murals and art.” And when he’s not working on his fitness, Golden Gate Park remains one of his favorite spots in the city. “If I’m feeling zen, then I’ll go to the AIDS Memorial Grove,” he said. “And if I’m in the mood for art, I’ll visit the de Young Museum. But I also love the Botanical Garden and the Japanese Tea Garden!”



You can find John along Golden Gate Park’s JFK Promenade daily riding his bike, chatting with friends, or perhaps, playing the piano. “I’m in the Outer Richmond, so this is my major east/west throughfare,” John said. “I’m out here every day.” The professional musician who often travels for work said he was pleasantly surprised when he first saw the fun features recently added to the JFK Promenade, like the ground murals, art installations, and pianos. “The We Are on Native Land mural made me cry,” he said. “What a beautiful place this has become.” He added, “Whenever I have friends visit from all over, I tell them to come here. This is where we spend the day and people love it.”



Claudio is from Paris, France, and whenever he comes to visit family in San Francisco, a stop at Golden Gate Park is mandatory. “Visually, this is a very nice park,” he said. Although Claudio is not a stranger to the city, this is the first time he’s experiencing the JFK Promenade in its car-free state. “I see the difference,” he said, comparing it to pre-Promenade days. “It’s a feast for the eyes. I like the layout. You can walk, you can jog, you see people riding bikes, people skating, there is someone over there playing the piano,” Claudio said. “It’s such a peaceful place!”



Kristina biked more than 30 minutes from the city’s eastside to visit Golden Gate Park. What she didn’t expect to find was a piano in the middle of the JFK Promenade. “There’s nothing like having a piano in the middle of the park,” she said. 

Kristina, who teaches music to kids, is a firm believer in music as therapy. “It sounds so natural, and it makes the trees happy too!” she said.

Another quality about Kristina: even though she plays like a pro, she still manages to stay modest. “It’s surprising to me that I’m just fooling around on the piano, I look up, and there’s people listening to me,” she laughed.


Crissie, Shae and Asiana

October 28's Halloween Haunt on JFK was a smash, bringing thousands of people out to the JFK Promenade, dressed in costumes ranging from kooky, to creepy, to downright cute! Take Crissie (left), her daughter Shae (center), and sister Asiana (right). The trio had a thrilling time at the big outdoor party.

"We’re loving it!” said Crissie, a Richmond District resident. “We’re neighbors to the park, and it’s just a perfect place to gather for families,” she said.

When they’re not dressed in costumes, Crissie and her family enjoy coming to the park to stay active, with sports like tennis, pickleball, and volleyball among their top choices.

Another preferred pastime of the family: relaxing. “Walking around Stow Lake is one of our favorite things,” she said.


Clara and Lilah

Never ones to miss a Halloween party, 10-year-old besties Clara and Lilah came out to last week’s Halloween Haunt from Oakland—and the fifth graders couldn’t have been more pleased with the big shebang happening along the JFK Promenade. Throughout the night, the girls were able to fill up on candy and check out carnival rides, making the most of the car-free space, which Lilah agreed is “pretty cool.” But aside from candy and rides, the real highlight of the night was getting a glimpse of all the fun costumes.

“The Bruno costume was my favorite,” said Clara, referencing the character from her favorite Disney film, Encanto. “And I love the Encanto cardboard cutouts at the (hay) maze!”



After taking a 30-year hiatus from roller skating, Mini recently decided to get back into the groove of things, taking up practice at Golden Gate Park.

“For the last couple of months, I’ve been looking for places to skate and it’s been really challenging. The Skatin’ Place at the park is amazing but it’s a little intimidating for me as a newbie,” she said. “The challenge is finding a smooth place to skate in the city.”

Mini’s favorite practice spot at the moment is along the JFK Promenade, over the new ground murals and colorful new entrances, which allow to her glide effortlessly.

“I’m really loving these,” she said. “I’m blown away and I’m really excited. This is such an unexpected surprise!”


Max, Ben and Ian

If you’ve been enjoying live music on the weekends along the JFK Promenade, you might have seen this brother act showing off their musical abilities. Max, 7, Ben, 9, and Ian, 4, are performing through Rec and Park’s busking program, which allows musicians to obtain free permits. Both Ben and Max first started learning to play the guitar during the pandemic and have been playing daily ever since. When asked if he’s nervous to perform in public, Max said, “No, I’ve performed in the studio before.”
Baby bro Ian hasn’t mastered his musical talents just yet but, when he’s old enough, Ian said he might go a different route and learn to play the violin. At least he’s keeping it within the string family!


Paul, Sophia and Pepper

Consistency is key with this family: dog Pepper, father Paul, and daughter Sophia. “We’re in the park at least once a day, sometimes twice, because we have to walk our dog” Paul said. “We use the playgrounds and we’ve also been going to the Music Concourse more, since there’s music on Wednesdays, Fridays, and weekends. We just love it.” And they’re loving it even more ever since all the colorful installations and fancy furnishings have gone up along the JFK Promenade, creating a new hang out spot for the family.

“This is amazing. It’s completely changed the park,” he said. Next on the family’s calendar: the Halloween Haunt, happening on the Promenade on Friday, Oct. 28. “Oh, we’ll definitely be there,” Paul said.

People of the Promenade drew and normani

Drew and Daughter Normani

Normani might only be 7 months old, but it’s pretty apparent that her preferred park is Golden Gate Park, according to her dad Drew. He said they frequent the JFK Promenade almost daily.

“She’s absolutely growing up in the parks. Living near so many, we’re always at them. Her favorite is probably Golden Gate,” Drew said of the tot. “She likes when I turn her stroller around outfacing so she can see everything. She honestly really likes when we walk by the tennis courts, watching people play tennis and watching the ball bounce.”

He added, “Before becoming car-free, JFK was inviting, but it wasn’t the same. Now, I see so many kids, people with strollers, and it’s just something that I appreciate having and I can’t imagine the JFK Promenade not being here.”



Golden Gate Park is practically Claire’s backyard, since she lives just blocks away with her son Calvin and her husband. From big events like Flower Piano and Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, to bike rides along the JFK Promenade, Claire and her family are at the park almost daily. “We’re pretty caught up with what’s going on with the park, so we hit all the events pretty much,” she said. “We look online every week to see what there is to do.” 

And thanks to the temporary art installations going on up along the JFK Promenade, Claire and her family are at the park even more now. Calvin, who is about to turn 2 years old, seems to be fascinated by the whimsical Doggie Diner heads. “We’re loving all the new artwork, so it’s a bit of an excuse for us to walk JFK a little bit more,” Claire said.

People of the Promenade coach


Golden Gate Park has a special place in Bill’s heart. For the last 15 years, he’s been a cross country and track and field coach at a nearby high school and the park has served as the backdrop for all of the teams’ practices and races. “We come to the park to practice daily and my students have different runs in the park that they do,” he said. “It might be a long run, it might be a short run, or we’ll do a speed workout. For speed workouts, we’ll usually go to Kezar Stadium. And then we also have races in Lindley Meadow and in the Polo Fields.”

According to Bill, a favorite practice spot of the students is along the JFK Promenade. “Having it car-free definitely helps,” he said. “It’s beneficial for us and it’s nice to see people walking around and having a good time. The students definitely like it and it’s much easier on them. I’m glad we have this space!”

ruth kelly potp


Ruth has worked as a nurse for over 30 years. Even though she finds her career rewarding, sometimes she likes to slip away for a quick walk along the JFK Promenade to clear her mind. “I come here on my breaks to take a little walk, or I’ll just sit and watch the birds or the flowers. The park is so beautiful,” she said. “There’s no cars now, so it’s good. It’s safer to walk or bike now. I don’t know how to bike but I’ve been wanting a scooter. One of these days,” she laughs.

Whether on wheels or on foot, one thing is certain: being outdoors is a mood-changer. “We have such stressful jobs. It’s good to even just take a 15-minute or 20-minute walk. You go back to work and it’s like you’re refreshed and have more strength for the rest of the day,” Ruth said. 



Famed Parisian artist Jean-Michel Othoniel stopped by Golden Gate Park last week for a dedication ceremony for his La Rose des Vents sculpture—a now permanent feature just outside the SF Conservatory of Flowers and very visible from the JFK Promenade. Othoniel, who maintains a permanent commission in the historical gardens of the Palace of Versailles, was inspired to create La Rose des Vents during a visit to the Conservatory, years ago. “I wanted to make this piece like a rose, to bring light to this site,” he said. “It’s a very hopeful work, and when the sun touches it, you’ll see it’s very flamboyant like the architecture itself.” Othoniel added that car-free JFK has created a more “joyful” atmosphere. “In Paris, we have so many cars. Once a week, they’ll stop the traffic, but it’s not all week.”



Sharaya, executive director of the American Indian Cultural District SF, tries to go walking along the JFK Promenade as often as she can since she lives near Golden Gate Park. Today, however, she came out to help with a street mural her organization has been collaborating on that will go on JFK Drive, just near the San Francisco Botanical Garden.

The mural, titled “We are on Native Land” by artist Rachel Znerold, is part of Paint the Promenade, which will see several murals being painted along JFK over the coming weeks. “We really wanted to do something that highlights Ramaytush Ohlone land,” she said. “It’s not just about native land, it’s also about honoring the animals that are here. We have conversations about the park and accessibility, but there are very few places in San Francisco that are non-developed where the coyotes go, where the hawks go.” She added, “There’s a collective responsibility that we as people have to these plants, to these animals, to protecting parks, and to protecting these areas that people utilize every day.”

park rangers

Park Rangers Fung and Totten

You might see Park Ranger Fung (left) or Park Ranger Totten (right) riding around the JFK Promenade on their electric bicycles, making sure everyone stays safe. “For the most part, it’s pretty self-governing here. People respect the rules. When they see a bicycle coming, they move out of the way or sometimes when there’s a group of elderly people crossing, people will stop,” Fung said. “Now that it’s car-free, it has changed a lot.” 

But, while biking on JFK Drive is one of the more fun parts of their job, the bikes are also useful for trekking dirt trails and footpaths deep inside the park. “Sometimes, there are issues in the park that are within these really tight trails and you can’t take even take an ATV through it. It’s basically like a pedestrian foot trail, so having a bicycle really helps me better perform my job,” Fung said.



Cole Valley resident Esteban is regular at Golden Gate Park. Usually, he’s skating with friends at the Waller Street Skate Park, but since it’s currently undergoing renovations, he’s on a mission to find other cool spots in the park. “It’s given me opportunities to explore other areas of the park, places that I wouldn’t typically ride around on my skateboard,” he said. “Sometimes, I’m trying to find an area to do some tricks, but a lot of the time I just find myself enjoying the green space, the flower gardens. The dahlia garden is my new favorite spot to go and take a break from the day.”

Although the JFK Promenade isn’t a skate park, Esteban said the serene—yet sometimes bustling—community space it’s become makes it a great place for a novice skater. “A lot of my friends who are learning to skateboard, we come to this space for them to find their footing, and have all this flat, open space to practice. It’s car-free, so that’s a huge plus,” he said.



Being active is a priority for Cody, 80, who comes to the JFK Promenade several times a week to bike. Having lived in San Francisco since 1967, Cody remembers the days when car-free JFK Drive was only a thing on Sundays. Now that its seven days a week, he said, the whole landscape of Golden Gate Park has transformed. “It’s much more pleasant to ride without having to pay attention to cars and it’s obviously much safer. It’s also nice to see on weekends when more people are out. It’s a nice community feel,” he said. “It’s certainly changed the atmosphere and usability for people who are not driving. It allows this to feel more like a park.”

Never shy about his love for San Francisco, you can oftentimes catch Cody biking in his signature San Francisco Wheelmen shirt—an homage to the historical club that once dominated the local cycling scene.



Tomi, a dance enthusiast, comes to Golden Gate Park at least twice a week. She’s either biking along the Promenade with her teenage daughter, or she’s performing outdoor personal dance pieces throughout the park. “Cars don’t really disturb my dancing, but I think making car-free streets is great,” Tomi says. 

She and her daughter pedal down JFK to Hellman Hollow, where they join a regular gathering of dancers.  Even though Tomi is all about movement, today she was resting her feet along a quieter section of the JFK Promenade, just near the Rose Garden—enjoying the natural setting and cool fog as she contemplated her next dance piece. “It is really nice to just sit here and not have cars coming by,” she said.

alex and anna

Alex and Anna

Keeping up with Alex and Anna—both avid pickleball players and bicyclists—can be a challenge. But every now and then the couple likes to take walks along the JFK Promenade, occasionally stopping by the Conservatory of Flowers to smell the dahlias. The lovebirds moved to San Francisco just over a year ago from Philadelphia, and haven’t looked back since. “We wanted a change of scenery,” said Anna. “We went on a road trip during the pandemic and got to do a lot of national parks and be outside. And we were like, ‘Why don’t we live somewhere where we can be outside and do all these sorts of things all the time.’”

Even though Anna and Alex are naturally outdoorsy, the JFK Promenade encourages them to step out more often. “It’s so inspiring seeing people do their thing out here; bikers, rollerbladers, people playing volleyball. It’s just really inviting, and I feel like that’s pushed us more to be outside every day,” Anna said.

Next on their to-do list: skateboarding along the Promenade and rolling around Skatin’ Place!

POTP v.1


Billy has lived near Golden Gate Park since the psychedelic 1960s. In his time, he’s watched icons like Janis Joplin and The Doors perform at the park. Of Joplin, he said, “To hear the sound of her voice just makes me shiver, you know what I mean? She was something else. She will always be my favorite.”

Having witnessed the evolution of Haight Street and Golden Gate Park over the decades, he laments, “It’s not the same anymore.” But Billy doesn’t mind the recent car-free changes, because now he can cruise the Promenade with ease as he listens to blues music on his speaker.

POTP v.2bbb

Nadine and Kelsey

It’s not a stretch to say that Nadine (right) and her best friend Kelsey (left)—both Washington High School cheerleaders—enjoy practicing their moves along the Promenade. “I love it because it’s a really open space and you can do just about anything and not have to worry about whether cars are coming or not. You can just be free!” said Kelsey. 

On top of cheering, the two besties also enjoy the park in other ways: roller-skating, picnicking, holidays, birthday parties—you name it. 

People of the Promenade v.4


Alfonzo’s hobby includes cars—tiny ones to be exact. He comes to the Promenade on his days off to fulfill his need for speed with his remote-controlled cars.

The mini machines are fast, but he’s always watching out for bicyclists and pedestrians. “These things can dodge just about anything,” Alfonzo said.

And while he’s all about his cars, he also likes the tranquility of the Promenade. “We come whenever we have a chance. JFK has calmed down a lot and allows more people to see what’s going on.” 

jfk people of the promenade skateboard

Nicky and Joy

If you ask Nicky (top), the San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers is the best spot in Golden Gate Park. But today he opted to join Joy (below) and try out her electric skateboard along the JFK Promenade.

“It’s pretty sweet because now we have free reign to do this. I wouldn’t feel safe doing this if cars were here,” Nicky said.

“This is our practice area,” Joy said. “I feel safer riding here than the streets.”

The board, which is controlled by a small handheld device, can go as fast as 30 mph. For now, however, the pair is playing it safe.

“This is my very first time,” Nicky—an avid snowboarder—said. “I’m just scared of the concrete. If I fall on snow, it’s perfectly fine because it’s very forgiving. So, I’m trying not to fall.”

jfk people of the promenade arnie 1


100-year-old Arnie has witnessed San Francisco make some big changes since he first moved to the city in 1957. One place that continues evolving for the better is Golden Gate Park, he says. The JFK Promenade is a 3-minute stroll from his second home--the San Francisco Lawn Bowling Club. He’s been coming here for the past 32 years.

“I came one day to try it and I liked it, and I’ve been stuck on it ever since,” he said. “I enjoy the open air, and all the good people that are around. I really enjoy everything about it. It’s really a community… and this is about the cheapest thing you can find compared to other sports.” 

And if you’re wondering what's Arnie’s secret to longevity, it’s simple: outdoor activity!

“When I was about 90 years old, I figured ‘I’m going to pass out and whither in a couple years. What’s the sense of going?’ But then, I just kept on going and now I’m 100 years old.” 

On his most recent birthday, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors declared July 26, 2022, Arnie Barros Day.