This peaceful oasis in the heart of the city has been a favourite leisure haunt for locals and visitors alike since 1871.
Take a breather from the city heat in over 400 hectares of natural parkland stretching from the Haight-Ashbury district to the Pacific Ocean. Opened in 1871 as a rural retreat for city-dwellers inspired by New York’s Central Park, Golden Gate Park made its indelible mark on popular culture during the Summer of Love in 1967, when San Francisco’s flower children spread their message of love and peace to the world. Half a century on, the hippie legacy lives on in the Janis Joplin tree, a notorious spot for illicit marijuana smokers said to be just large enough to conceal a girl and her guitar within its branches.
Many people come here to relax among the landscaped gardens and lakes and enjoy the refreshing ocean breezes and sweet-smelling flowers. Others take a bicycle ride around the perimeter or jog along the network of woodland trails where they'll spot herons, egrets and woodpeckers if they're lucky. There’s also a surprise to be found near Spreckels Lake, home of the San Francisco Model Yacht Club – a resident herd of bison! The animals have been bred in the park since 1891, helping to protect this endangered native species.
The park is the location for several important cultural and scientific institutions, including the de Young Museum, an architectural treasure which houses priceless artefacts from Asia and Africa as well as an unrivalled collection of American paintings. The fascinating interactive exhibits in the California Academy of Sciences are housed in a ground-breaking living building with a rolling “green” roof. The institution, which was totally rebuilt in 2008, also comprises an aquarium and planetarium.
The Conservatory of Flowers is one of the largest in the world and provides a seasonal riot of colour. Dating back to 1879, the traditional wood and glass structure has survived earthquakes, fires and periods of closure and neglect, reopening most recently in 2003 following extensive storm damage almost a decade earlier. The nearby botanical garden and arboretum contains more than 7,500 plant species, as well as an important horticultural reference library.
The Japanese Tea Garden is a favourite landmark in the centre of the park. This tranquil spot was created for the 1894 Midwinter Exposition and features a pagoda and Zen garden as well as a popular tea house where you can enjoy a calming cuppa before heading back to the city.
Golden Gate Park is well served by San Francisco Municipal (Muni) public transport. There is limited street parking nearby or garage parking on Fulton Street and 10th Avenue.