One of my favorite spots in San Francisco is Golden Gate Park, a mere eight minutes walk from where I used to live. Some guidebooks cite this rectangular piece of land as one of the must-sees in the city, and rightfully so. Unfortunately, its location away from the main tourist areas makes it less frequented by tourists.
While most locals wouldn’t be caught dead near many of the city’s top attractions – for example, walking around Fisherman’s Wharf, visiting Lombard’s “Crooked Street” or riding one of those touristy cable cars are no-nos for San Franciscans; Golden Gate Park today is a living, functioning landmark which is visited by tourists and locals alike. As a 1000 acre park that is 3 miles long, Golden Gate is larger than New York’s Central Park and dare I say, more varied. Aside from the usual trees and park benches that are mainstays of city parks anywhere in the world, Golden Gate houses a music concourse, museums, windmill, botanical greenhouse, beach chalet plus a roaming ground for bison.
Walking from one end of the park to another is possible, although tiring. I ended up walking at least 4 hours in order to see all the main sights. From the western end, I started at the windmill as most people do. A curious sight in San Francisco, it was actually built in 1903 as a functional supplier of water.
From the windmills moving eastward, the next stop is usually the bison paddock, which contain these grazing animals normally associated to the United States. A number of artificial lakes are also located in this section of the park, including Stow Lake and the man-made island in the middle.
Towards the eastern side of the park is the public Japanese Tea Garden, reputedly the oldest Japanese garden in the United States. The five-acre enclosure is a chargeable area, at $5 a pop.
The main highlight of the park is probably the grand, white-colored conservatory. It is the oldest building within the compound. During summer, the main lawn facing the greenhouse is filled with elaborately-designed flowerbeds.
I was fortunate to be in San Francisco when the De Young Museum was opened right after the new building was completed. They offered free admission as well as souvenirs to the visitors during the first week. There is a viewing deck at the topmost floor that has good views of the park’s long expanse.
Other activities: biking, rollerblading, rent a boat, play frisbee, enjoy a free concert
How to get there: Take Bus 5 from downtown San Francisco and get off at Fulton Street. The bus goes through the whole length of the park.