Golden Gate Park

#3 in Best Things To Do in San Francisco
Golden Gate Park picture
Golden Gate Park
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Dean Krafft/Flickr

Price & Hours

Free
Hours for park attractions vary by season

Details

Parks and Gardens, Recreation, Zoos and Aquariums, Free Type
Half Day to Full Day Time to Spend
4.6scorecard
  • 5.0Value
  • 4.5Facilities
  • 4.5Atmosphere

If California had a Central Park equivalent, Golden Gate Park would undoubtedly be it. Though Golden Gate Park sees a small fraction of the visitor's its New York counterpart does (Central Park gets upwards of 25 million, while Golden Gate gets more than 13 million yearly), it's about 174 acres bigger (Central Park is 843 acres). The park offers so much to see and do, it could take an entire day to experience all that it has to offer. Trails, picturesque picnic spaces, playgrounds, sports courts, gardens, museums and more can be found within its evergreen borders. With so many options available, it's best to map out ahead of time what you want to do, though some attractions warrant a visit, regardless of traveler taste.

The Japanese Tea Garden is one of those standout sites. This attraction is one of a kind, serving as the oldest Japanese Garden in the USA. It features five acres of manicured gardens outfitted with cherry trees, bamboo-lined pathways, koi ponds, a five-story pagoda, Zen Garden and actual tea house, among other features. There's also the Conservatory of Flowers, the oldest existing public conservatory in the Western Hemisphere. The conservatory offers visitors a look at a plethora of vibrantly colored blooms and a chance to learn more about the nearly 2,000 species of plants that call the conservatory home. 

Another big standout in the park is the California Academy of Sciences, a unique attraction that features an aquarium, planetarium, natural history museum and the Osher Rainforest, a 90-foot-tall dome-shaped facility that houses 1,600 live animals. Animal lovers will also take to Golden Gate Park's bison paddock located near Spreckels Lake. Those interested in art will take to the De Young Museum, which houses 20th century and contemporary art as well as a sculpture garden, and others wanting a good hike will enjoy exploring Strawberry Hill.

Recent visitors agree there are tons of things to do at Golden Gate Park. So much so that most admit they wouldn't be able to see everything in a day, and recommended travelers pick what they want to do before they go. Even if you have limited time though, visitors suggest making a trek to the park for a short stroll, the scenery is worth it. Some suggested to make sure your journey ends right at the ocean, which borders the park on the west side.

You'll find Golden Gate Park on the northwestern edge of San Francisco. Muni Metro light rails and several bus lines service the park. While entrance to the area is free, some attractions within the park (like the Conservatory of Flowers, the California Academy of the Sciences and the Japanese Tea Garden) cost a fee. For more information on attractions, ticket prices, upcoming events and more, visit Golden Gate Park's website.

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Golden Gate Bridge
California Academy of Sciences
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Time to Spend
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#1 Golden Gate Bridge

The Golden Gate Bridge's vaulting, orange arches amidst the rocky seascape of the San Francisco Bay have made it one of the West Coast's most enduring symbols and the city's most popular tourist attraction. The bridge's name, "Golden Gate," actually refers to the body of water it spans (the Golden Gate Strait that connects the Pacific Ocean with the San Francisco Bay), and was built to make travel between San Francisco and Marin County an easier feat. 

There are plenty of great spots to capture a snap of the majestic bridge. But if you want a truly postcard-worthy shot, head to the Golden Gate Bridge Vista Point, situated high on a hill overlooking San Francisco. If you have extra time, make sure to explore the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The actual span of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area encompasses multiple places in San Mateo (south of San Francisco), San Francisco and Marin Counties (Alcatraz and Muir Woods included), but notable parts of this recreation area can be found just a stroll away from the Golden Gate. From the bridge, travelers will find some scenic, bayside trails, some of which lead to secluded beaches, including Kirby Cove and Black Sands Beach. If you really want a trek, journey to the Point Bonita Lighthouse for sweeping views of the bay, found at the very tip of the Golden Gate Strait.

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