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Golden Gate Park
Born of sand dunes in the late 1800s, Golden Gate Park today is a rich blend of gardens, play spaces and museum culture. The new de Young Museum, San Francisco’s fine arts icon, opened to rave reviews in 2005. The Beach and Park Chalets at the west end provide sustenance and entertainment. In between are walking and bike trails, the San Francisco Botanical Garden at Strybing, lakes, and the resident herd of bison.
Outer Sunset District
Walk from the east end of Golden Gate Park to Ocean Beach, and you’ll feel a bit like Magellan making that last turn around the Cape. Where Golden Gate Park will soothe you with its shaded trails and vegetation-bound lakes — emerge on the west side and the horizon pops open — literally. At that point, it’s just you, the Pacific, and more than three miles of Ocean Beach alongside the Great Highway. It’s a great place to stroll and to cool off on San Francisco’s warmer days.
Fisherman’s Wharf – Hyde & Beach
Aquatic Park offers a number of parks in one. It’s the aquatic playground of Dolphin Club members who brave the Bay’s ice waters for their swims. It’s also home to San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park, a treasure zone of San Francisco’s maritime history and historic ships.
From Aquatic Park, you can walk through Fisherman’s Wharf and along the Embarcadero waterfront toward the San Francisco Ferry Building. Or, you can make the journey through the Fort Mason area and into the Marina District — and, if you’re ambitious — into the Presidio area as well.
Crissy Field, in the Presidio, is a former airfield and success story of habitat restoration. The tidal marshes, grasslands and cypress trees followed asphalt removal, hazardous waste clean up and hours upon hours of volunteer efforts in cleaning and planting. Crissy Field Center was seeded and opened to the public in 2001. On a sunny day, the aesthetic of the Bay, the bridge, and views of the city are breathtaking.
Snacks and park maps, books and gifts are available at the Warming Hut and at Crissy Field Center and Cafe.
Marina / Pacific Heights / Presidio Heights
For more than 200 years, the beautiful land of the Presidio was a military post. In 1994, the Presidio was transferred to the National Park Service and is now home to businesses, non-profit organizations, walkways, secluded green spaces, and a growing number of restaurants and recreational venues. The Presidio is an absolute must with visitors. The views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the night-lights of the Palace of Fine Arts showcase San Francisco at its best.
Lands End & Coastal Trail
- Sutro Baths
- USS San Francisco
- Lincoln Park Golf Course
- The Legion of Honor Museum
- The Cliff House and Camera Obscura
- Fort Miley & Battery Chester
Access to the Lands End Trail is easy, with parking off Point Lobos Avenue (for the Sutro Baths area) — also at the Legion — and then at Eagles Point, the 32nd Avenue entrance to the Coastal Trail.
Yerba Buena Gardens
SoMa/South of Market – 3rd & Mission
Bordered on one side by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and on another by the Museum of Craft and Folk Art as well as the new Contemporary Jewish Museum (new in 2008)– Yerba Buena Gardens is a lush green escape in a hub of a busy arts district. (See the Guide to San Francisco Museums for more area museums.) The centerpiece of the gardens is the waterfall cascading across the Martin Luther King, Jr Memorial. Walk under the waterfall to peruse the exhibits, or explore number of sculptures and amenities, including activities for children (Zeum, skating rink, a play space).
Alamo Square Park
Between Haight Ashbury & Hayes Valley – Hayes & Steiner
The Alamo Square Park website has a photo taken during the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906. It’s a photo you may see often if you peruse archival images of San Francisco — of people watching the city burn, from the grass of Alamo Square Park.
Buena Vista Park
Haight Ashbury – Haight & Central
Buena Vista Park and the nearby Corona Heights Park are two refuges of wilderness in the midst of urban grid. At Buena Vista Park, you may see a variety of raptors, including Red-tailed Hawks and Cooper’s Hawks. The park also has tennis courts and a children’s playground.
You can hike up into Buena Vista Park from Haight Street — on dirt trails with an occasional set of terraced steps. Or you can begin at the top of the park from the Buena Vista Heights neighborhood, off Buena Vista Avenue East.
Mission Dolores Park
Mission District – Dolores between 18th and 20th
Dolores Park is near the old Mission Dolores, established in 1776 as Mision San Francisco de Asis — and today, a popular visitors’ destination. The park itself is almost 14 acres and is the site of many events throughout the year, including the free summer series Dolores Park Movie Night.
The park is a popular sunny-day hang out, with Mission District amenities like Dolores Park Cafe and Bi-Rite Creamery just across the street. If you’re a first-time visitor to San Francisco’s Mission District, don’t miss the stunning murals you’ll find throughout the neighborhood.