The story of Golden Gate Park begins in 1860 when San Franciscans, inspired by Central Park in New York, began to think of creating their own civic open space.
Though plans were put into motion in the 1860’s, it wasn’t until 1870 that a young field engineer named William Hammond Hill developed a topographic map of the new park site. Mr. Hill was named park commissioner one year later and is responsible for the park’s initial development.
In 1870 three-fourths of the park was covered by sand dunes blasted by the harsh wind coming off the Pacific Ocean. Many thought that plants would never grow in this challenging environment. Within five years there were close to 60,000 trees in the park. Approximately 95,000 trees were planted over the subsequent four years bringing the total to 155,000 trees over 1,000 acres of land. The famous Dutch Windmills found at the western end of the park were initially built to pump water throughout the park to support the ambitious landscaping. They were placed in 1903 and 1905. Today, only the north windmill remains.
In 1894 San Francisco hosted the California Midwinter International Exposition. The expo was intended to increase tourism and boost the economy. The Japanese Tea Garden was built for the expo along with a fine arts museum. Outdoor activities were showcased by the building of horse stables and the preservation of vast open green spaces.
There have been many additions to the park over the years, including the De Young Museum, built in 1921. The extensive botanical gardens and Strybing Arboretum were designed in 1890, but due to a lack of funds they did not become a reality until 1937.
Park fauna has also changed over the years. Moose, caribou and antelope once galloped through the meadows. Donkeys, goats and chickens inhabited the Children’s Playground. Zebras, elephants, kangaroos, ostriches and peacocks also roamed the park. In 1927 John McLaren, Park Superintendent, moved the animals to a new home in the San Francisco Zoological Garden. Today, the only animals to officially call the park home are the bison located at the Buffalo Paddock.
Golden Gate Park today has earned the title of one of the most visited parks in America, entertaining over 13 million visitors per year. It continues to evolve while maintaining old customs and traditions. We’ve offered a short list of the many attractions and activities in the park, but space here doesn’t permit a complete list with descriptions. We recommend the parks official web site at http://sfrecpark.org/ggp.aspx .
MUSEUMS AND GARDENS AT THE PARK
California Academy of Sciences: Focuses on 11 scientific fields, so there’s something interesting for a visitor of any age.
Conservatory of Flowers: Spectacular collection of over 1,700 plant species from around the globe. Some of the most popular plants include the conservatory’s carnivorous plants, rare orchids, prized century-old philodendron and lily pads that could hold the weight of a small child.
Garden of Shakespeare’s Flowers: Home to approximately 150 plants and flowers mentioned in the Bard’s poems and plays.
Japanese Tea Garden: This intricate and private (depending on the season) complex of paths and ponds features Japanese and Chinese plants.
De Young Museum: The oldest museum in San Francisco. The first and second floor feature permanent collections of American paintings, decorative art and sculpture, and an international collection of carvings, textiles and costumes, to name a few of the many exhibits.
The basement is reserved for their many special exhibits.
Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden: Thousands of tulips interspersed with Iceland poppies.
San Francisco Botanical Garden at Strybing Arboretum: A 55-acre horticultural paradise with more than 8,000 plant varieties.
Rose Garden: Designed in 1961, the garden highlights hybrid tea, floribunda, grandiflora and miniatures.
ACTIVITIES AT THE PARK
Archery: An archery field lies just north of the golf course. Lessons and equipment (for rent or purchase) are available at the nearby San Francisco Archery Shop.
Basketball: Pick-up games are usually going on in the Panhandle.
Biking and Skating: Seven miles of paved trails lead you by lush waterfalls and gardens.
Dog Runs: There are three areas for your canine friend to frolic with other dogs ;: the southeast section bordered by Lincoln Way, Martin Luther King Jr. Dr., 5th Ave. and 7th Ave.; the northeast section off Stanyan St. between Hayes St. and Fulton St.; and the western section, bordered by Martin Luther King Jr. Dr., Middle Dr., 34th Ave. and 38th Ave.
Fly-Fishing: There are no fish in the ponds, but the fly casting pools are considered some of the best in the country for practice.
Golf: A nine-hole public golf course is located at the west end of the park.
Handball: The park has two indoor and two outdoor handball courts which are open every day.
Horseshoes: 16 courts are available. They were renovated in 2009 .
Kezar Stadium: An all-weather track is available for public use and a field can be reserved for various sports. There are a gymnasium and basketball courts available in the pavilion.
Lawn Bowling: The San Francisco Lawn Bowling Club manages three greens and offers free lessons.
Lindy in the Park: Swing dancing every Sunday (weather permitting), from 11 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Free beginner lesson at 12:00 p.m. John F. Kennedy Dr. between 8th Ave. and 10th Ave.
Pétanque: This French bowling game, similar to bocce, has a small but devout following in the Bay Area. Bring your own equipment.
Spreckels Lake: This artificial lake hosts both wind-powered and motor-powered model boats.
Stow Lake: This beautiful lake, the largest in the park, is popular with fly fishers and amateur boaters.
Strawberry Hill: A good day hike, this naturally formed island in the middle of Stow Lake provides views of the surrounding park, the Golden Gate Bridge and Mt. Tamalpais.
Tennis: There is a tennis complex in the park containing 21 courts. Reservations are required. See the Golden Gate Park Tennis Club website for more info.
Disc Golf: There is a permanent 18-hole course at Marx Meadow.
There are many other sights and activities at Golden Gate Park, in fact, too many to list in this article. An arts and craft, Ocean Beach, the Childrens Quarter, the Buffalo Paddock, McLaren Lodge, and the National AIDS Memorial Grove. The San Francisco Opera provides a free annual outdoor concert.
We really can’t do proper justice to this amazing landmark in this space. The best way to get to know the park is to visit often.
Golden Gate Park, one more reason to love San Francisco.