Golden Gate Park is a 1,017-acre sanctuary stretching from the Haight to the Pacific Ocean. It houses a multitude of attractions, from museums to botanical gardens and recreation facilities. Here are the top picks for the park:
Courtesy Academy of Sciences
With its living roof – seven undulating hillocks—housing a tapestry of native plant species, this stunning modern structure designed by Renzo Piano blends seamlessly into the landscape. This state-of-the-art museum, built with sustainability in mind, features an aquarium, a self-contained four-story rainforest, a planetarium, and two outstanding restaurants.
There’s no mistaking the new de Young Museum: this stunning modern building designed by Herzog and de Mueron is sheathed in copper and features a 144-foot tower. The broad collection includes works of American, African and Oceanic art. The collection of California artists, including Wayne Thiebaud and Richard Diebenkorn, is especially impressive.
This beautiful 1878 glass structure, a masterpiece of Victorian architecture, is topped with a stunning glass dome. The building was modeled after the palm garden at Kew Gardens in London and was shipped over from Ireland. Inside, the greenhouse like space is warm and humid. Highlights include the aquatic species section with carnivorous plants, and outside, the Dahlia and Rhododendron gardens.
Courtesy Japanese Tea Garden
The Tea Garden was originally developed in 1854 as a Japanese Village for the California Midwinter International Exposition. Wend your way through the bridges, pools, and statuary and take in the lush plantings of trees and flowers before stopping in the tea house for refreshment. The garden is especially pretty in April when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom.
This is the largest lake in the park; come here to rent paddle boats, row boats or bicycles. Within Stow Lake is the artificial island called Strawberry Hill, with its cascading Huntington Falls and picturesque Chinese pavilion. Located on Stowe Lake Drive between Martin Luther King and JFK Drives; call 415-752-0347 for details.
This 55-acre arboretum is a great spot to picnic, with picturesque bridges, ponds, and statues dotting the landscape of 6,000 types of trees and bushes. Check out the fragrance garden with its heady sent of lemon verbena and lavender. There is a small bookstore from which tours are given daily.
Courtesy Koret Children's Quarter
This is the country’s first public children’s playground; the site was completely overhauled in 2007 and now includes tree houses, a tide pool, and a canal for water play. The gloriously restored carousel, built in 1912 and housed in a Greek temple, is reason enough to visit if you are traveling with kids.
Courtesy Beach Chalet Restaurant and Brewery
With its dramatic ocean views, this restaurant is a great place to linger over brunch or sunset cocktails. Built in 1925 and restored in 1996, the Beach Chalet has its own visitors’ center with stunning Art Deco murals. The house made beers, brewed onsite, have names like Riptide Ale and West End Wheat.
9. Buffalo PaddockOne of the park's little-known attractions is the herd of buffalo that roam a 35-acre enclosure. (Technically these shaggy animals are American Bison. There are 14 of them; 1 male and 13 female). The paddock was opened in 1892, when the park was a sort of free-range zoo, with bison, bears, elk, goats, and many more animals. Today, the buffalo live in a corral where they graze freely. Located on JFK Drive east of Chain of Lakes Drive.