Top 20 San Francisco attractions

Golden Gate Park

free admission

Golden Gate Park is on the western shore of San Francisco and attracts 13 million visitors each year.

The rectangular shaped Golden Gate Park is modeled on New York’s Central Park, and is a huge park, 3 miles long by 0.5 miles wide. 

The 1,017 acres at Golden Gate Park were originally sand dunes, but converted to a lush garden-scape in the 1870’s by using the two windmills on the western side of the park to irrigate it.

Entrance to the Golden Gate Park is free, but an admission fee is required for the Japanese Tea Garden, San Francisco Botanic Garden, Conservatory of Flowers, De Young Museum, and California Academy of Sciences.

10 best things to do at Golden Gate Park

1. Explore the 55-acre San Francisco Botanic Garden.

Golden Gate Park San Francisco Botanic Gardens

The San Francisco Botanic Garden is a 55-acre garden, with an incredible diversity of global plant collections. The Botanic Garden features 9,000 different species from Australia, NZ, Chile, South Africa, Southeast Asia, the Mediterranean and California.

2. Enjoy the scenic Japanese Tea Garden.

The Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park has a Tea House, Gift Shop, and five acres of stunning gardens.  Serene paths meander along stepping stones, a koi pond, arched drum bridge and five-story Pagoda.

3. See a fantastic art collection at De Young Museum.

The De Young Museum is in a striking, modern building in the Golden Gate Park, with a spiraling 144-foot tower.  The De Young’s permanent exhibitions include American art from the 17th Century to today, and African and Oceanic Art.

4. Experience soaring views at the FREE Hamon Tower.

The Hamon Observation Tower is at the De Young Museum, and has panoramic views of San Francisco. It's free to visit!

5. Visit a rainforest and aquarium at the California Academy of Sciences.

The California Academy of Sciences is inside a spectacular building with two 90-foot glass domes that house a planetarium and a multi-story rainforest. There’s also a huge aquarium in the basement, and a meadow on the living roof.

6. Walk through the exquisite Victorian Conservatory of Flowers.

Conservatory of Flowers at Golden Gate Park

Stroll through this picturesque, Victorian glasshouse, one of the most beautiful buildings in San Francisco.  It’s packed to the brim with exotic plants and flowers.

7. Rent a boat at Stow Lake.

Stow Lake Boathouse

Visit the charming Stow Lake Boathouse for a snack, and then hire a paddleboat to explore the two islands on the Lake.  You can paddle beneath an enchanting stone bridge, and past the striking Huntington Falls and Golden Gate Pavilion. 

Stow Lake San Francisco

A 1-mile walking path also circumnavigates the lake with two pedestrian bridges to Strawberry Hill Island.

Stow Lake Golden Gate Park

8. Take your kids to the Koret Playground & Carousel.

Koret Playground

Koret Playground is a bit hits with kids!  This massive play structure has towers, walkways, climbing structures and concrete slides.  Kids can also ride a traditional carousel for a small fee.  There's a visitor center behind the playground in a historic building.

9. Visit the quieter Mothers Meadow Playground. 

Mothers Meadow Playground at Golden Gate Park

This lovely playground is directly south of Stow Lake, along Martin Luther King Junior Drive.  It's quieter than Koret Playground and has a large lawned area with a restroom. 

It's a brisk ten minute walk uphill to reach Stow Lake from the playground, or you can also drive up to the lake.

10. Eat at the historic Beach Chalet Brewery and Restaurant.

Eat at the Beach Chalet Brewery and Restaurant along the Great Highway near the Golden Gate Park, with gorgeous ocean views from the upper level. 

Go downstairs to check out the San Francisco Visitor Center and restored 1930's WPA murals.  This building is the original bathhouse for beach goers where they changed into their swimsuits, and was constructed in 1925.

Where do I park at the Golden Gate Park?

  • On-street parking:  Park along the two main boulevards inside the Golden Gate Park; JFK Drive and Martin Luther King Drive. Note that the eastern side of JFK Drive is closed to cars half-days on Saturday, and all Sunday.

  • Parking garage:  The Music Concourse Garage is at the De Young Museum, but is usually full.

  • Weekend Shuttle:  Park at the Ocean Beach parking lot along the Great Highway, then look for the green Golden Gate Park shuttle sign at the south end of the lot.  The shuttle is FREE and leaves every 15 minutes, stopping at all major attractions in the park.

Best restaurants at the Golden Gate Park

  1. Historic Beach Chalet Brewery and Restaurant
  2. Stow Lake Boathouse.
  3. Botanic Gardens - Tea House
  4. De Young Museum - cafe
  5. California Academy of Sciences - cafe and restaurant

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