Golden Gate Park

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The most popular park in San Francisco and one of the most popular in the world, it’s hard to believe that Golden Gate Park was once just an area of barren sand dunes to the west of the city proper. Today, this 1,017-acre park is not only a great place to spend the day, but an integral part of the city’s landscape and culture.


When New York constructed Central Park in the middle of the 19th century, the rest of the country took notice. The importance of open space in urban settings had become more apparent by that time and many people were anxious to bring the same sort of international recognition to the west coast that had been generated in New York. With this in mind, the city designated a 3 mile by ½ mile swatch of land to the west of its borders to that task. Larger than Central Park by over200 acres, the initial area intended for Golden Gate Park, which is named after the nearby Golden Gate Strait, mainly consisted of uninhabitable sand dunes.

The first commissioner for Golden Gate Park was a field engineer named William Hammond Hall who, along with his assistant John McLaren, took over the monumental task of changing this barren landscape to one more suitable for an urban park. This endeavor began in 1875 when the two oversaw the planting of over 60,000 trees as a means to neutralize the sandy landscape. In four years, more than twice as many trees, (155,000) were present on the over 1,000 acre area.

John McLaren took over as the park’s commissioner and superintendent in 1887 and continued to develop the overall look and tree-scape that we see today. McLaren’s influence and advocacy is the single most prominent feature of Golden Gate Park today. He developed the horticultural aspects of the park himself and insisted that a natural look reign supreme, shunning typical urban park initiatives such as ‘Keep off the Grass’ signs and the use of statuary. John McLaren was so dedicated to his work in Golden Gate Park that a special amendment was passed to allow him to stay on as superintendent past the required city retirement age of 60. He lived out his life as not only the keeper of the park, but its most well-known resident, living in McLaren Lodge on the grounds until he died in 1943 at the age of 96.

In addition to planting hundreds of thousands of trees in the park over his lifetime, McLaren was also the driving force in bringing the two now-famous Dutch-style windmills to Golden Gate Park which were added in 1903. Located at the westernmost end of the grounds, these windmills were used to pump water to all parts of the park for many years until they were supplanted by modern technology and sanitation requirements.

Today, it’s hard to imagine Golden Gate Park as anything but the lush urban meeting grounds it is today. In addition to the public open space that the park provides, there are several major features that offer perks to residents and visitors alike. This includes checking out sporting events at Kezar Stadium, admiring the park’s natural wonders at the Conservatory of Flowers, Japanese Tea Garden, Arboretum, and AIDS Memorial Garden as well as visiting one of the parks two main cultural attractions, the de Young Museum and the California Academy of Sciences.

Main Attraction

Golden Gate Park is one of the largest public parks in the world, so clearly there is a lot to do there when you visit. It is located right off of John F. Kennedy Drive in the city’s northwest corner. Visitors can spend anywhere from a few hours to several days touring all the nooks and crannies that Golden Gate Park has to offer as well as seeking entertainment at its public places such as the Music Concourse, Carousel, Children’s Playground, and Tulip Fields.

Entrance into the park itself is free and open year round. However many of the attached attractions such as the museums and arboretum (botanical gardens) carry entrance fees and have more limited operation. Many tours that are offered in and around the San Francisco area may include a trip to Golden Gate Park that can give visitors a peek at its history and there are ample walking and bike trails throughout the park for exercise as well as self-led tours.

Why It’s a Must-See

There are a lot of amazing places to go and things to do in the San Francisco area, which is one of the largest cities in the country. That’s why taking some time away from the hustle and bustle of the city can be so rewarding. Golden Gate Park offers tourists and residents alike the chance to enjoy horticultural and natural wonders within the city limits and is a great way to spend the day in Northern California.