In the late 1800s, California's first state engineer, William Hammond Hall, and his assistant, a Scotsman named John McLaren, transformed more than 1000 acres (405 hectares) of sand dunes into a wondrous haven in the midst of the city, christened Golden Gate Park after the eponymous strait nearby. Stretching over 50 blocks from Stanyan Street to the Pacific Ocean, the lush landscape is etched with numerous trails for walking, jogging, biking and horseback riding, alongside a golf course, bowling greens, a lake with paddle boats, soccer fields and a baseball diamond. From the Japanese Tea Garden and the Conservatory of Flowers to the California Academy of Sciences and the De Young Museum, San Francisco's Golden Gate Park encompasses a wealth of scenic beauty and cultural intrigue within is expansive embrace. There are also several playgrounds, a quaint carousel, an aquarium, a buffalo reserve and an outdoor bandshell where open-air concerts are hosted each summer.
Located at the western end of Golden Gate Park is San Francisco's biggest beach. It extends from Fort Funston in the south, to the Cliff House in the north. Typically, the cold winds, fog and low San Francisco temperatures deter any regular beach activities (unless you're lucky enough to be there on a hot day) but visitors fly kites or just walk along and admire the views of Seal Rocks and Point Lobos. Adventure seekers love surfing here. There are also bonfire pits provided on the beach for the general public; to claim one, go early in the evening.
Dolores Park is one of the main hot spots in San Francisco and is the major meet-up place for many citizens. Though it is not very large, it attracts crowds of people and the beautiful views make it worth the visit. Recreational resources include a few tennis courts, basketball courts, two soccer fields and a children's playground, but most of all Dolores Park is often used as a venue for special events such as movies in the park. Its surrounding area is known for some of San Francisco's major culinary attractions: Delfina, Pizzeria Delfina and the Tartine Bakery. It is also a great place to chill with some ice cream from the Bi-Rite Creamery. Saturday hang-outs in the park are often events themselves and it's always packed on weekends. Given its location, it's almost always sunny; the famous fog knows better than to ruin the oasis that is Dolores Park. Whether you choose to sit in Dog Beach, Hipster Beach, Speedo Ridge or partake in actual activity at the playground or tennis courts you are sure to have an unforgettable time.
Located in Golden Gate Park, the California Academy of Sciences is one of the greenest buildings in the city and has a platinum certification from the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). The museum features the newly renovated and expanded Steinhart Aquarium, complete with a hands-on tide pool and the well-known alligator swamp. Other exciting features are the Morrison Planetarium, the four-story rain-forest dome, and the Hall of African Mammals. In addition to these educational gems, the museum features other natural history exhibits as well as exhibits about global warming. The Academy Cafe offers international cuisine, while the elegant Moss Room restaurant is the only dining option available in the park past museum closing time.
Redwood Regional Park is located in the hills of Oakland. It boasts the largest remaining natural strand of coastal redwood in the East Bay. Early mariners used to use these tall redwood trees to help them navigate the San Francisco Bay. Many locals enjoy hiking and biking around the available trails, which offers gorgeous scenery. In addition to the deer, rabbits and squirrels that roam the park, it is also home to rare wildlife species such as the golden eagle and the striped racer snake. The Roberts Regional Recreation Area, a park within the park, features a swimming pool and playgrounds. Throughout the park, you will find access to a well-maintained system of restrooms, water fountains and picnic tables. The Chabot Observatory and Science Center is one of the park's most prominent attractions.
This shallow, 195-acre (7,89,137 meter) lake is considered by many to be the heart of Oakland. Once an arm of the San Francisco Bay, it actually served as a sewer for a time before Samuel Merritt proposed a dam in order to clean up the lake and have it become the focal point for civic pride and recreation that it is today. As the lake was also a common place to see many migratory birds and ducks, the lake was turned into the first wildlife refuge in North America in 1870. In 1925, the lake's "necklace of lights" was installed, and still stands today making the lake beautiful during day or night. The lake provides many recreational opportunities, including boating, playgrounds, picnic areas and the legendary Children's Fairyland storybook park.
At one time this beautiful area in Hayes Valley was scarred by the lanes of the Central Highway. The highway has since been demolished and in its place is Patricia's Green. Renamed for the local community activist Patricia Walkup (it was previously known as Hayes Green), this urban oasis represents many of the ideas that she fought for. With a play area for kids and unique installations of local art put forth by the Hayes Valley Art Coalition, this park delivers a rest from the bustle of the city. Nearby cafes make this neighborhood commons area a fun retreat for the day.
Maintained by The San Francisco Recreation & Parks Department, Howard Langton Community Garden sprawls over an area of 9,204 square feet. The park houses a wide range of flora, because of which it is rightfully recognized as the green heart of SoMa.
The verdant Jefferson Square Park occupies an area of 5.6 acres (2.26 hectares) and remains one of the finest recreational spots in Fillmore. The lush green landscape and dense plantations offer ample shade to strollers and visitors, thus making it a popular picnic spot. Jefferson Square Park is also home to a well-laid out off-leash space, where pets can roam about freely. Perched atop a small hill, it offers scenic views of Fillmore and Western Addition.
Nestled in the heart of the city, Yerba Buena Gardens is among the top urban parks in the nation. Located near local attractions such as the Yerba Buena Center For The Arts (YBCA), Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, Children’s Creativity Museum, Contemporary Jewish Museum, Moscone Center and METREON, it is a great place to relax, play, shop and dine. It comprises of 10 gardens which includes the likes of The Esplanade, Children’s Learning Garden, Oche Wat Te Ou or Reflection Garden, East Garden and Sister City Gardens. Explore this massive green land at your leisure and enjoy the free annual festivals which are held here. There are about 150 events ranging from acrobatic, concerts, poetry, arts and magic shows, that will transport you to wonderland.