Golden Gate Park's Hidden Treasures
Within its 1,000-plus acres, Golden Gate Park contains some of San Francisco's most famous and most visited attractions. Everyone knows about museums like the California Academy of Sciences, de Young Museum or the Conservatory of Flowers and serene spaces like the Japanese Tea Garden and the San Francisco Botanical Gardens, but there is still plenty to see that you might not know about yet. It's time you went beyond the what's well-known and discovered Golden Gate Park's hidden treasures for yourself.
Located at the west end of the park (47th Ave. and Fulton St.), the archery field is open to archers of all skill levels. The field has nine hay bales for shared use, and equipment can be rented nearby. Archers are encouraged to bring their own targets, bows and arrows. If you do not own a bow, arrows, and other athletic gear associated with the sport, the nearby San Francisco Archery Shop (3795 Balboa St.) offers complete equipment package rentals.
Why visit a home on the range when you can see real buffalo roaming right here in Golden Gate Park? See these majestic creatures, who have called the park home since 1890, in an open, safe habitat along John F. Kennedy Blvd. To reach this entertaining attraction, head for the western end of the park, where a large fenced-in region holds these prized animals . This splendid sight is also located close to North Lake, as well as the corner of Chain of Lakes Drive East. . Interesting fact: although you may not have the chance to observe, bison are known to reach speeds of up to 30 miles per hour.
Located steps from the Pacific Ocean on the west side of the park is the Beach Chalet. Stop by for lunch, dinner, or drinks. Come out for Prime Rib Mondays, featuring prime cuts of meat, plenty of sides and for $5 more, you can add a dessert. Don't forget about the $10 martinis. The Spanish Colonial architecture and history associated with the building (formerly a changing house for beach frolickers) are worth checking out, too.
Dutch and Murphy Windmills
Standing at 75 feet tall, the north windmill was originally constructed in 1902 to pump water. Today it’s known for the thousands of colorful tulips surrounding the historic landmark in the northwest corner of the park. The windmill is worth a visit anytime, but tulip time (February and March) is the best. The Dutch Windmill was such a successful attraction when it was first built that a second windmill, the Murphy Windmill, named after a local banker and benefactor, is located in the southwest corner of the park.
Inhabited by drum circles and covered in a haze of cannabis smoke, Hippie Hill is always good for an adventure. Infamous for the flower children who gathered there during the 1960s, the meadow and slope are still a good place to enjoy the city and people-watch on a sunny day.
From 1946 to 1970, the San Francisco 49ers called Kezar Stadium home. Today, Kezar remains a multi-purpose stadium that hosts collegiate football games and other sporting events, like local lacrosse, soccer, and track and field teams. There's also an eight-lane track open for public use. While the stadium is not as big as it was in its heyday, it still can seat 10,000 people.
Located at the center of the museum district of the park, the Music Concourse was originally built for the festivities of the 1894 Midwinter Fair. Check out free performances of the Golden Gate Park Band on Sundays from April to October, and keep an eye out for other major headliners. Don’t forget to say "hi" to Ludwig Van Beethoven, Ulysses S. Grant, and the other statues of historical figures that line the concourse. A schedule of events can be found at goldengateparkband.org.
National AIDS Memorial Grove
The National AIDS Memorial Grove is dedicated to the millions of lives AIDS has affected. The origins of the memorial began at the height of the AIDS pandemic when a small group of San Franciscans sought to find a sacred space to honor loved ones who were lost to AIDS. Known simply as “the Grove”, it was created as a dedicated space where millions of Americans touched directly or indirectly by AIDS could gather to heal, hope, and remember. In 1996, legislation was signed into law, elevating “the Grove” as the nation's sole federally-designated National AIDS Memorial. This space is open to the public for picnics and regularly hosts performing arts events and weddings.
There's plenty of public art to see throughout the park, and it's easiest to explore by renting a bike to go on a self-guided tour. Jean-Michel Othoniel's "La Rose des Vents" is a can't-miss sculpture that's installed in front of the Conservatory of Flowers. This kinetic sculpture made from gold and aluminum pays homage to the compass rose.
Located in the Koret Playground are Vicki Saull's sandy creatures. Children are free to frolic and play amongst these aquatic forms.
There are multiple bronze monuments scattered throughout the park, too. Learn about the important roles that public figures like John McLaren, Thomas Star King, General John Pershing, and many others have played in San Francisco.
Make your way to the western end of Golden Gate Park to Beach Chalet, where you'll find an impressive mural by Depression-Era muralist Lucien Labaudt, who spent most of his career in San Francisco. He's also best known for the murals he created at Coit Tower.
Arthur Page Brown's "Portals of the Past" is a relic of the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906, consisting of the marble remains of the Towne mansion. This public art can be found on the north shore of Lloyd Lake. Today, it's used as a popular backdrop for weddings and photo ops.
In the 1930s, colorful lights were installed to illuminate this beautiful waterfall, giving it its name. The falls greet visitors as they enter and exit the park near Crossover Drive. If you’re up for a hike, check out the Prayerbook Cross near the top of the waterfall. Dating back to 1894, the Celtic-style landmark is the tallest in the park. The best time to view the falls is in the early morning or later afternoon before most of the crowds appear.
Hellman Hollow and Lindley Meadows
Two of San Francisco’s biggest music festivals, Outside Lands and Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, brings thousands of people to Golden Gate Park and, specifically, to these two meadows every August and October. You can head to these grassy patches any time of the year for a nice picnic, a sweet outdoor nap, or a game of frisbee.
A favorite attraction for all ages, Spreckels Lake is the perfect place to stroll, jog, bike, or read under the Monterey Cypress trees. Situated on the northern side of the park, you will find Spreckels Lake close to 36th Avenue. The lake was named after a sugar magnate and former Park Commissioner of San Francisco, Adolph B. Spreckels. Keep your eyes peeled for frogs, turtles, and fish among the model yachts.
Stow Lake, Golden Gate Park's biggest body of water, is a pristine man-made lake in the heart of the park where you can rent a boat from the Stow Lake Boathouse. The surrounding views and grounds are gorgeous. The boathouse café sells food, snacks, and drinks to keep you going throughout your park adventure. It’s a lovely place to spend the afternoon.
Situated in the middle of Stow Lake and measuring 430-feet-high, the island is the highest point in the park. Take the Rustic Bridge or the Roman Bridge on either side, and hike to the top to see a stunning view of Mt. Tamalpais and the Golden Gate Bridge. Don’t forget to meditate at the Golden Gate Bridge Pavilion, a Chinese temple-like structure that was a gift from the city of Taipei to commemorate early Chinese settlers. Take the southern bridge to get there. You may never want to leave.