San Francisco Golden Gate Park
No simple city park, San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park is filled with lush California green and serves as an expansive, approachable and a welcome escape from the traffic and close quarters of urban San Francisco. The park contains a number of features that attract visitors and city-dwellers, grandparents and high schoolers, rollerbladers and benchwarmers alike. You could spend an entire day or just a few hours enjoying your own favorite museums, gardens and attractions in this beautiful park that helps to define San Francisco’s character.
Golden Gate Park, located in San Francisco, California, United States, is a large urban park in the United States. It is administered by the San Francisco Recreation & Parks Department, which began in 1871 to oversee the development of Golden Gate Park. Configured as a rectangle, it is similar in shape, but 20 percent larger than Central Park in New York, to which it is often compared. It is over three miles (4.8 km) long east to west, and about half a mile (0.8 km) north to south. It is the fifth most-visited city park in the United States after Central Park in New York City, Lincoln Park in Chicago, and Balboa Park and Mission Bay Park in San Diego.
The park welcomes more than 13 million visitors each year and is one of San Francisco’s greatest treasures. From a vast, windswept expanse of sand dunes, park engineer William Hammond Hall and master gardener John McLaren carved out an oasis–a verdant, horticulturally diverse, and picturesque public space where city dwellers can relax and reconnect with the natural world. Within Golden Gate Park’s 1,017 acres you’ll discover gardens, playgrounds, lakes, picnic groves, trails, and monuments, plus an array of cultural venues, events, and activities. The rest, as they say, is history.
Here comes the History of the Park. In the 1861s, San Franciscans began to feel the need for a spacious public park similar to Central Park, which was then taking shape in New York City. Golden Gate Park was carved out of unpromising sand and shore dunes that were known as the Outside Lands, in an unincorporated area west of San Francisco’s then-current borders. Conceived ostensibly for recreation, the underlying purpose of the park was housing development and the westward expansion of the city. The tireless field engineer William Hammond Hall prepared a survey and topographic map of the park site in 1870 and became its commissioner in 1871. The park drew its name from the nearby Golden Gate Strait.
The plan and planting were developed by Hall and his assistant, John McLaren, who had apprenticed in Scotland. The initial plan called for grade separations of transverse roadways through the park, as he was inspired by Frederick Law Olmsted, the creator of Central Park in New York. The budget constraints and the positioning of the Arboretum and the Concourse ended the plan. In 1876, the plan was almost replaced by one for a race track, favored by “the Big Four” millionaires: Leland Stanford, Mark Hopkins, Collis P. Huntington, and Charles Crocker. Hall resigned, and the remaining park commissioners followed. The original plan, however, was back on track by 1886, when streetcars delivered over 47,000 people to the Park out of a population of 250,000 in the city. Hall created a hilly park with a varying landscape of lakes, meadows, ridges and winding roads. To convert the sand dunes into a forested parkland, innovative sand reclamation techniques were used and a dike was built to protect the park from the sea. Hall selected McLaren, a Scottish native as his successor in 1887.
The first stage of the park’s development was centered on planting trees in order to stabilize the dunes that covered three-quarters of the park’s area. By 1875, about 60,000 trees, mostly Eucalyptus globulus, Monterey pine, and Monterey cypress, had been planted. By 1879, that figure more than doubled to 155,000 trees over 1,000 acres. Later, McLaren scoured the world for trees, by correspondence. When he refused to retire at age 60, as was customary, the San Francisco city government was bombarded with letters: when he reached 70, a charter amendment was passed to exempt him from forced retirement. During the 56 years as superintendent of the park, McLaren converted the area into the park as we know it today.
In 1903, a pair of Dutch-style windmills were built at the extreme western end of the park. These pumped water throughout the park. The north windmill has been restored to its original appearance and is adjacent to the Queen Wilhelmina tulip garden, a gift of Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands. These are planted with tulip bulbs for winter display and other flowers in appropriate seasons. The Murphy Windmill in the southwest corner of the park was recently restored. Most of the water used for landscape watering and for various water features is now provided by groundwater from the city’s Westside Basin Aquifer.
In the days following the devastating 1906 earthquake Golden Gate Park became home to one of the largest refugees for displaced people. More than 40,000 people took shelter here, setting up their own camps and helping each other get through the tragedy. Outdoor kitchens were set up in the park to help feed the homeless and outdoor hospitals were set up to provide care to the wounded. Golden Gate Park was a central gathering spot for many of the protests, contests and daily activities of the hippie generation during the 1967 Summer of Love and the years around that time. A nod to that history can be seen today in the daily gatherings at Hippie Hill.
The main attractions of the park are located at the eastern side. Here you find the Conservatory of Flowers as well as the Japanese Tea Garden and the adjacent M.H. De Young Museum. The Conservatory of Flowers, a Victorian-style greenhouse is modeled after the Palm house at the Kew Gardens in London. It was built between 1876 and 1883 and houses a collection of tropical plants and flowers. The M.H. The De Young Museum has its origins in the 1894 Midwinter International Expo. The Fine Arts Museum, temporarily built for the expo, was so successful that it was decided to establish a permanent museum. The museum has a very diverse collection, including paintings from the Laurance Rockefeller collection. Another remnant from the 1894 expo is the Japanese Tea Garden. Following the success of the expo’s Japanese village, a Japanese Tea Garden was constructed to display the Japanese lifestyle. The garden, covering five acres features a teahouse, sculptures, ponds, bridges and many native Japanese plants. The park houses the Academy of Sciences that carries exhibits of reptiles and amphibians, astronomy, prehistoric life, various gems and minerals, earthquakes, and aquatic life.
The Golden Gate Park has many more attractions including the Buffalo paddock, a rose garden, the Steinhart aquarium, Garden of Shakespeare and the Botanical Garden. Garden of Shakespeare’s Flowers has more than 200 different flowers featured, which is also adorned with quotes from the famous plays and poems of Shakespeare. At the park, there is even a Dutch garden, complete with an authentic windmill. The park houses the Kezar Stadium, which was built between 1922 and 1925. It hosted various athletic competitions. The park is also popular for its sports facilities which include tennis, pétanque, golf, fly-fishing, biking, inline skating, archery, handball and horseback riding. On weekends, the meadows in the park are used by many visitors as picnic grounds.
In addition to the formal gardens, some great places to see in the Park include: AIDS Memorial Grove, Stow Lake and Spreckels Lake. AIDS Memorial Grove was set up in 1988 to recognize and honor the millions of people affected by AIDS. In 1996, Congress designated it as a national memorial. One can feed the ducks or take a paddleboat ride at the Stow Lake in the center of the park. Spreckels Lake is a lesser-known lake and is located on the north side of the park.
The Park is a really popular place for concerts and other wonderful outdoor entertainment. The most popular event of the year is the annual Outside Lands concert, a three-day music event that draws tens of thousands of people. Another large music event, but one that is free, is October’s Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival. There are frequent free musical concerts held in this pretty outdoor stage area. If you are a fan of art, then you may want to keep an eye out for the many statues that have been erected throughout Golden Gate Park. These include historical figures like musicians (Beethoven), politicians (President Garfield) and authors (Cervantes) as well as fictional characters like Sancho Panza.
The Park has appeared in many films. Charlie Chaplin filmed scenes in the park for at least two movies, including A Jitney Elopement and In the Park, both from 1915. A scene in Orson Welles’ The Lady from Shanghai was shot in the Steinhart Aquarium in the old California Academy of Sciences building, and the Conservatory of Flowers was filmed in Harold and Maude. Dirty Harry scenes were filmed in Kezar Stadium.
There are people who have lived in San Francisco for decades and still not seen all that Golden Gate Park has to offer. There is just so much to see and enjoy here. The park is also one of the best spots for a jog or run, with or without your dog! The Golden Gate Park forms a fantastic destination for any kind of visitor.