So you’ve come to visit San Francisco, and along with checking out the city’s famous bridge during HI SF Downtown hostel’s bicycle tour, you’ve got a visit to Golden Gate Park on your list of must-dos. Along with being a mecca for Summer of Love pilgrims, the park is a 1,000-acre wonderland of beautiful landmarks and has a world of activities for art and science lovers, outdoor sports fanatics, and nature enthusiasts. So where do you start? Well, start by taking the N Judah Muni bus from the hostel to Golden Gate Park, and then read our guide to some of our favorite things to do in this magical place.
Go paddling on Stow Lake
You can escape the bustle of city for a little while with a serene paddle on Stow Lake, a man-made haven with an island in the middle. As you glide on the water on a row boat, you might see wildlife and birds while passing Instagram-ready landmarks like the Stone Bridge, Chinese Pagoda, and the Huntington Waterfall. Afterwards, pop into the Boathouse café for a coffee and a snack, or even better, bring a picnic to enjoy at the top of the floating hill in the lake’s center.
Good to know: Stow Lake is between John F. Kennedy Drive and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, and paddle boat rentals are available from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. for $22 an hour.
Look for bison in the Buffalo Paddock
Some of Golden Gate Park’s most iconic residents are the herd of bison living and grazing in the Buffalo Paddock on the western end of the park. American buffalo were first moved to this meadow in 1899 after years spent on the other side of Golden Gate with elk, deer, bear, and sheep before San Francisco opened its first zoo. Today, you can stop to see a new generation of bison doing their thing in the paddock while you go on a park walk.
Good to know: You can find the bison just west of Spreckels Lake along JFK Drive.
Get your mind blown at the California Academy of Sciences
Set aside a good couple of hours for a visit to the California Academy of Sciences, which is an aquarium, planetarium, four-story rain forest, natural history museum, and weekly nightclub all under one roof. In fact, even the very top of the building is an attraction: the living roof is accessible to visitors and also serves as a weather station and solar energy provider. With fascinating exhibits and events, the Academy of Sciences is the type of place you can visit over and over again.
Good to know: HI San Francisco guests get discounted admission to the museum, both for general admission, and the Thursday Nightlife events.
Walk over the Moon Bridge at the Japanese Tea Garden
If you’re looking to seriously zen up during your travels, make a beeline for the Japanese Tea Garden, a five-acre haven guaranteed to bring tranquility and harmony. Designed in the style of a classic Japanese garden, the space features native Japanese plants, koi ponds, stone lanterns and paths, and an actual zen garden. Complete the experience with a cup of something warm and a snack in the pond-facing tea garden.
Good to know: The garden is open from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. in the summer, and admission costs $9 for non-San Francisco residents. You can find the garden east of Stow Lake on Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive.
Sniff the blooms at the Conservatory of Flowers
Whether you’re a gardening aficionado or just someone who appreciates Mother Nature’s magical creations, you’ll love the enchanting Conservatory of Flowers greenhouse and botanical garden. The conservatory has almost 2,000 plant species from all over the world, and also features a special exhibit gallery with a temporary installments plus after-hours events like beer gardens and murder mystery nights. In celebration of the Summer of Love anniversary, every night the Conservatory of Flowers serves as a canvas for a spectacular light show every half hour.
Good to Know: The Conservatory of Flowers is open Tuesday to Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., and admission is $8 for adults. Entry is free on the first Tuesday of the month!
HI USA Tip: Tick of more items on your San Francisco bucket list during HI SF Downtown’s Mission walking tour, and if you’re looking to check out more of city’s parks, take a look at some of the sunniest neighborhood spots in San Francisco.