Top 8 Golden Gate Park Attractions for the Whole Family

A visit to San Francisco isn’t complete without a tour of the Golden Gate Park. Located only a seven minute drive from the Golden Gate Bridge, the Golden Gate Park attracts more than 13 million visitors each year. Designed by architects William Hammond Hall and John McLaren in the 1870s, this 1,017-acre park is currently the 96th largest park in all of America.

Due to the sheer size of this park, it can be quite daunting for first-time visitors to choose what to see while here. In this article, we’ll go over eight of the best Golden Gate Park attractions. Be sure to add a few of these destinations to your travel itinerary before you head off to sunny San Fran.

1. American Bisons Near Spreckels Lake

Yes, there are real bison roaming around Golden Gate Park. Don’t believe us? Well then, just take a stroll along John F. Kennedy Boulevard to the area between Spreckels Lake and North Lake. You can’t miss the dozens of American buffaloes roaming around the nearby Bison Paddock.

Believe it or not, the San Francisco area has a long history of protecting bison from extinction. The city brought its first bison bull and bison cow to Golden Gate Park in 1890. A few years later, the park received a few bison from Yellowstone National Park. From then on, the pack of bison at this park continued to grow.

Despite an outbreak of bovine tuberculosis, the bovine community is still thriving in Golden Gate Park. Indeed, thanks in large part to San Francisco’s efforts, America’s bovine population finally went above the 200,000 mark. Without a doubt, the Bovine Paddock is one of the most unique Golden Gate Park attractions.

2. The Dutch Windmill And Tulip Gardens

At the beginning of the 20th century, San Francisco relied heavily on its two windmills in the western section of Golden Gate Park. Although they’re only historical relics today, the Dutch Windmill (aka the North Windmill) and the South (Murphy) Windmill are still well worth a visit. Authorities at the Golden Gate Park first commissioned the Dutch Windmill in 1902 to help pump water.

After this windmill proved a success, city officials built the larger South Windmill. As technology advanced, these windmills fell into disrepair. Luckily, the city government began massive renovation projects on both windmills in the 1960s. Locals even built the Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden by the Dutch Windmill in the 1980s. If you want to get some incredible photos while here, be sure to visit between February and March when the tulips are in full bloom.

Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden at San Francisco's Golden Gate Park

Image Source: Flickr

3. The Conservatory Of Flowers

Perhaps the most famous of all Golden Gate Park attractions is the Victorian-style Conservatory of Flowers. This stunning botanical garden was built way back in 1879, which officially makes it the oldest building in Golden Gate Park. Inside the Conservatory you’ll find five galleries with well over 2,000 rare plant species.

There are always special events and exhibitions going on at the Conservatory, so be sure to check out their official website before you visit. You can visit this greenhouse for a small fee Tuesdays through Sundays from 10AM – 4:30PM. Just so you’re aware, the Conservatory is open for free on the first Tuesday of every month.

San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

4. De Young Museum

The De Young Museum is one of the greatest Golden Gate Park attractions for art buffs. Located on Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, this museum houses an impressive collection of American art from the late 1600s to the modern era. The museum welcomes around 1 million tourists annually, which makes it the sixth most popular art museum in all of America.

A few famous paintings you’ll see in the American Art area include Bingham’s Boatmen on the Missouri and Frederic Edwin Church’s Rainy Season in the Tropics. A few of the other permanent collections at De Young include Oceanic Art, Costume and Textiles, and Art of the Americas.

DeYoung Museum San Francisco

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

5. The Japanese Tea House And Garden

After you’re done wandering through the De Young Museum, be sure to visit the Japanese Garden next door. For most people, this authentic Japanese Tea House and Garden is one of their favorite Golden Gate Park attractions. This five-acre garden remains the oldest and one of the most beautiful Zen gardens in the USA.

Makoto Hagiwara, a Japanese-American gardener, designed this garden for the 1894 World’s Fair. In addition to Buddhist and Shinto influences, Hagiwara incorporated references to Japan’s Mt. Fuji and included some plants from China. Be sure to stop in the Tea House and order a cup of Japanese green tea to really soak in the majesty of this beautiful garden.

Japanese Tea Garden, San Francisco

Image Source: Pinterest

6. Strawberry Hill

The highest point in Golden Gate Park is on an island in the middle of Stow Lake called Strawberry Hill. People who climb to the top of this 430-feet tall hill are rewarded with great views of the surrounding mountains as well as the iconic Golden Gate Bridge.

But Strawberry Hill isn’t only a great place to take a few pictures. Many people bring a packed lunch here and eat by the island’s rushing waterfall. There are also numerous great opportunities for bird watching all around this island. Whatever you choose to do, you can’t go wrong spending a few hours on this serene island.

Strawberry Hill, San Francisco

Image Source: Pinterest

7. The Golden Gate Park Aquarium

The Golden Gate Park Aquarium (aka the Steinhart Aquarium) is located within the greater California Academy of Sciences’ complex. The entire aquarium is divided into two floors and has numerous galleries to explore. A few popular exhibits include the Philippine Coral Reef Gallery, the Tusher African Hall, and the Rainforests of the World Gallery.

The two main live events at this aquarium are the penguin feedings at 10:30AM and 3PM as well as the coral reef dives at 11:30AM and 2:30PM. Be aware, you must purchase a ticket for the Academy of Sciences to enter this aquarium.

Golden Gate Park Aquarium, San Francisco

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8. The Historic Beach And Park Chalet

Without a doubt, one of the greatest Golden Gate Park attractions for foodies is the Beach and Park Chalet. Situated right alongside the Pacific Ocean, this restaurant is a museum piece in its own right. Built during the 1920s, the Beach and Park Chalet have tons of historical items to marvel over.

There’s even a 3D toy model of Golden Gate Park you can check out here. Although you’re not required to eat here, you won’t regret ordering a meal at this fine restaurant. Just a few popular items here include flatbread pizzas and grilled salmon. You could also just order a drink and enjoy the refreshing views of the nearby Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden.

Beach and Park Chalet San Francisco

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Summing Up

Like any other city in America, San Francisco can be a stressful place to live and work. That’s why locals cherish Golden Gate Park. Not only will you see some of San Fran’s finest natural treasures, you’ll also learn a great deal about the city’s heritage while visiting these Golden Gate Park attractions.

All of these sites have been highly reviewed by tourists from around the world for their uniqueness and beauty. So, after you’ve finished taking your requisite photos by the Golden Gate Bridge, hightail it over to Golden Gate Park! You won’t regret it.