Number 47 - February 2015
Welcome to "Rick's Tips," Blue Heron Custom Tours and Travel's quarterly newsletter of fun and interesting things to do in San Francisco, the Bay Area, and Northern California. Whether you are visiting San Francisco or hosting visitors, Blue Heron can provide an unforgettable experience. Visit our website,, to learn more about our private, custom tours.

A Guide to Golden Gate Park

Golden Gate Park is one of San Francisco's treasures. These 1017 acres are home to world class museums, beautiful gardens, sports fields, and many other recreational opportunities. Over 13 million locals and visitors flock to Golden Gate Park each year to enjoy a bit of the outdoors in a dense urban environment.

The land on which Golden Gate Park sits was originally windswept sand dunes called the Outside Lands. The famed landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted, told the City that there was no way to convert these dunes to green space. Nevertheless, the park was founded in 1870. Work began the following year when William Hammond Hall became the park's first superintendent. Hall planted dune grass on the sand dunes to stop the drifting. He planted more trees and shrubs and laid out the beginnings of a park. After five years, Hall left. Then a few superintendents came and went. Finally, John McLaren took the job in 1890. He remained superintendent for 53 years. The only thing that stopped McLaren was his death at the age of 96 in 1943. Today Golden Gate Park honors the work and vision of these two founders.

Below is a guide to the attractions and activities that make Golden Gate Park such a beloved San Francisco institution.


The Music Concourse in the eastern end of the park is home to two world-class museums, the de Young Art Museum and the California Academy of Sciences.

The de Young Art Museum is one of two museums operated by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. The other is the Legion of Honor in Lincoln Park. The de Young features art from the United States, all of the Americas, Africa, and Oceania. It is also home to many touring exhibitions. The museum tower's observation deck is open to all without paying admission and offers a 360? view of the west side of San Francisco. The tower closes one hour prior to the museum's closing time. The de Young is open daily, except on Monday, from 9:30 until 5:15 p.m. The museum is open until 8:45 p.m. on Friday from early spring to late fall, and hosts special events in the lobby. Check the de Young's website for the current Friday schedule. On the first Tuesday of each month admission is free to the museum's permanent collections. There may still be a charge for the special exhibitions.

The California Academy of Sciences houses a planetarium, aquarium, natural history museum, and a four-story tall rain forest. The museum is open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. except on Sunday when it opens at 11:00 a.m. Admission charges range from $24.95 for children age 4 - 11 to $34.95 for adults. If you are planning to visit during the busy summer months, buy your tickets in advance to avoid the long lines. San Francisco residents receive free admission during two weekends per year. On designated weekends, San Franciscans who live in certain Zip Codes can enter the Academy for free. If you live in the city, visit the Academy's website to learn which weekends you can visit for free.


Golden Gate Park is full of gardens. The highlights are the Japanese Tea Garden, Conservatory of Flowers, and San Francisco Botanical Garden.

The Japanese Tea Garden traces its origins back to the Mid-Winter Fair of 1894. It is a very formal Japanese garden with many sculpted trees and shrubs. The prettiest time to visit is in the spring when the cherry blossoms are in bloom. The garden is home to a tea house where you can enjoy a variety of teas and snacks. The Tea Garden opens daily at 9:00 a.m. and closes at 4:45 p.m. from November 1 through February 28. The remainder of the year, the garden closes at 6:00 p.m. Admission is free on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday before 10:00 a.m. Otherwise admission costs $8 for adults; $6 for seniors aged 65 and over and youth between 12 and 17 years of age; and $2 for children between 5 and 11 years of age. Children under the age of 5 may enter the Tea Garden for free. San Francisco residents receive a discount.

The Conservatory of Flowers is a Victorian greenhouse modeled after the greenhouse in Kew Gardens outside London. The Conservatory opened in 1879 and houses a variety of tropical and aquatic plants. Temporary exhibits also come to the Conservatory about twice a year. The Conservatory of Flowers is open Tuesday to Sunday from 10:00 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. It is closed on Mondays except on Memorial Day and Labor Day. The greenhouse is also closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day and closes at 1:30 p.m. on Christmas Eve. Admission fees are the same as for the Japanese Tea Garden.

The San Francisco Botanical Garden consists of 55 acres/22 hectares and over 8,000 different kinds of plants from all over the world. The Botanical Garden opens at 7:30 a.m. every day including holidays. The park closes at 6:00 p.m. from October 1 through the first Saturday in November and from February 1 through the second Saturday in March. From the first Sunday in November through January the park closes at 5:00 p.m. From the second Sunday in March through September, the park closes at 7:00 p.m. Last entry is an hour before closing time. Admission is $7.00 for adults, $5 for youth and seniors, $2 for children, and $15 for families with two adults and two children under the age of 17. San Francisco residents and all children under the age of five can enter the garden for free. The park is free to all between 7:30 and 9:00 a.m. and on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day.

Other gardens in Golden Gate Park include the Rose Garden, Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden, and Shakespeare Garden.

Fun with Children

On a sunny day kids of all ages will enjoy taking a row boat, paddle boat, or electric boat out on
Stow Lake's 12 acres/5 hectares. Boats as well as Surrey Quadricycles can be rented at the Boathouse where you can also buy drinks, snacks, and sandwiches.

The Golden Gate Park Carousel in the Koret Children's Quarter has been offering children rides on a wooden dragon, camel, giraffe, ostrich, tiger, and horses since 1914. The Carousel is open daily from Memorial Day through Labor Day and on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday during the remainder of the year from 10:00 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. Rides cost $2 for adults and $1 for children aged 6 to 12. Children under the age of 6 can ride for free when accompanied by an adult. Adjacent to the Carousel is a terrific playground and a lawn for children to play on.

The Buffalo Paddock is not home to buffalo, which only live in Africa and Asia, but North American Bison, which we commonly call buffalo. Bison were first brought to Golden Gate Park in 1892 to highlight their near extinction. Today, the paddock is home to six female bison. The paddock is located on JFK Drive, just west of Spreckels Lake.


Golden Gate Park is home to tennis, basketball, handball, and petanque courts; baseball, soccer, football, and polo fields; horseshoe pits; lawn bowling greens; horse, cycling, and walking trails; an archery range; a nine-hole golf course; and a skate park.

On Sundays, the eastern half of JFK Drive is closed to traffic. Expect to see many skaters and cyclists. Near the Music Concourse you are likely to find a group of Lindy Hop enthusiasts dancing away. Feel free to join them. JFK is also closed to cars on summer Saturdays between the Music Concourse and Transverse Drive.

For more information on sporting activities in Golden Gate Park click here.


Segway tours are available starting behind the Band Shell in the Music Concourse. Electric Tour Company offers tours daily at varying hours. Participants must be age 12 and over and weight between 100 and 250 lbs./45 and 113 kgs. Check the website for current tour hours and rate information.

Quite a few companies offer bicycle tours of the park. More information can be found by clicking here. You can also rent bicycles, tandems, and even a seven-person cycle to ride on your own in the park. Click here for more information.

Where to Eat

Two restaurants, the Beach Chalet and Park Chalet, sit at the far western end of Golden Gate Park across the street from the ocean. The Beach Chalet offers great views, a varied menu, and very good beer that they brew. The Park Chalet is on the backside of the building and has a different menu. The Park Chalet serves the same good beer as the Beach Chalet. On nice days, the walls are opened at the Park Chalet, so you feel like you are sitting in the garden.

The de Young Cafe is open to the public without paying admission to the museum. The California Academy of Science has a cafeteria and a restaurant that are open only to museum visitors.

Hot dog stands are scattered around the park. You can usually find them behind the Band Shell in the Music Concourse, on the north end of the Music Concourse at JFK Drive, and on JFK in front of the Conservatory of Flowers. Sometimes other stands are set up around the park.

Coffee, pastries, and hot dogs are usually available at a stand behind the Band Shell in the Music Concourse. On busy days food trucks are parked next to this stand. Candy, ice cream, and snacks are available at a kiosk in the Japanese Tea Garden parking lot. A soft-serve ice cream truck frequently parks on Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive southeast of the Music Concourse.

A good number of restaurants are located just outside of the park on 9th Avenue and Irving Streets in the Sunset District. You can enjoy the cuisines of Vietnam, Mexico, Italy, Greece, Korea, the Middle East, Peru, the United States, and other regions of the world.

Coffee, snacks, and sandwiches are available at the Boathouse at Stowe Lake.

Getting to Golden Gate Park

Most visitors to San Francisco stay near Union Square, on Nob Hill, at Fisherman's Wharf, or on Lombard Street in the Marina District. You can get to the park by taxi or one of the alternative taxi services such as Uber and Lyft, car, or public transit.

If you are staying near Union Square and want to get to the park by public transit, make your way to the Powell Street Muni Metro station and take the N Judah streetcar to the corner of 9th and Irving Streets. Walk north on 9th Avenue into the park, which is a block away.

If you are staying on Nob Hill, you can walk about 3/4 mile/1 km. to the Powell Street Muni Metro station. Another option is to take the #1 bus, which runs along Sacramento Street, to 6th Avenue and California Street where you can transfer to the #44 bus. Go south on 6th Avenue and get off the bus in front of the de Young Museum.

From Fisherman's Wharf, take the #47 east on North Point and get off at Van Ness Avenue and McAllister Street. Transfer to the #5 heading west. The bus runs on Fulton Street along the north edge of the park and makes frequent stops. To get to the museums, get off at 8th Avenue.

From Lombard Street, catch the #28 heading west on Lombard Street. Get off at Park Presidio and Fulton Street. You can enter the park here on foot or transfer to the #5 which runs along the northern perimeter of the park.

Complete transit information may be found by phoning 511 or visiting

As you can see, Golden Gate Park greatly enhances the lives of San Franciscans. The Park is our backyard and much more. If you are visiting the city, make sure to spend part of your vacation in this urban oasis.

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Rick Spear
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