Everybody loves Golden Gate Park—people, dogs, birds, frogs, turtles, bison, trees, bushes, and flowers. Literally, everything feels unified here in San Francisco’s enormous arboreal front yard. Conceived in the 1860s and 1870s, this great 1,017-acre landmark, which stretches inland from the Pacific coast, took shape in the 1880s and 1890s thanks to the skill and effort of John McLaren, a Scot who arrived in 1887 and began landscaping the park. When he embarked on the project, sand dunes and wind presented enormous challenges. But McLaren had developed a new strain of grass called “sea bent,” which he planted to hold the sandy soil along the Firth of Forth back home, and he used it to anchor the soil here, too. Every year the ocean eroded the western fringe of the park, and ultimately he solved this problem, too, though it took him 40 years to build a natural wall, putting out bundles of sticks that the tides covered with sand. He also built the two windmills that stand on the western edge of the park to pump water for irrigation. Under his brilliant eye, the park took shape.
Today the park consists of hundreds of gardens and attractions connected by wooded paths and paved roads. While many worthy sites are clearly visible, there are infinite treasures that are harder to find, so pick up information at McLaren Lodge and Park Headquarters (at Stanyan and Fell sts.) if you want to find the hidden gems. It’s open daily 8am to 5pm and offers park maps. Of the dozens of special gardens in the park, most recognized are McLaren Memorial Rhododendron Dell, the Rose Garden, Botanical Gardens, and, at the western edge of the park, a springtime array of thousands of tulips and daffodils around the Dutch windmill. In addition to the highlights described in this section, the park contains lots of recreational facilities: tennis courts; baseball, soccer, and polo fields; a golf course; riding stables; and fly-casting pools. The Strawberry Hill boathouse handles boat rentals. The park is also the home of the de Young Museum Across from the de Young, you will find the California Academy of Sciences.
To get around inside the park on weekends and public holidays, a free shuttle service is provided. You can enter the park at Kezar Drive, an extension of Fell Street; bus riders can take no. 5, 28, 29, 33, 37 or 71.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.