My wife and I have been to the Golden Gate Park in San Francisco a number of times, when we were residing in the North Bay, that we often times forget and just take for granted the beauty of this park. However, after we moved to the East Coast, and seeing a lot of parks and comparing, I have decided that this park is the most unique and a must for tourists to visit if they love gardens and open spaces.
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Golden Gate Park, located in San Francisco, California, is a large urban park consisting of 1,017 acres (4.12 km2; 1.589 sq mi) of public grounds. Configured as a rectangle, it is similar in shape but 20% larger than Central Park in New York, to which it is often compared. It is over three miles (5 km) long east to west, and about half a mile north to south. With 13 million visitors annually, Golden Gate is the third most visited city park in the United States.
The domed Conservatory of Flowers is one of the world's largest. It is built of traditional wood sash and glass pane construction. It has been extensively renovated several times since its construction.
In the 1860's, San Franciscans began to feel the need for a spacious public park similar to Central Park that was taking shape in New York. 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 then-San Francisco's borders. Although the park was conceived under the guise of recreation, the underlying justification was to attract housing development and provide for 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 commissioner in 1871. He was later named California's first State Engineer and developed an integrated flood control system for the Sacramento Valley when he was not working on Golden Gate Park.
The actual plan and planting were developed by Hall and his assistant, John McLaren, who had apprenticed in Scotland, the homeland of many of the nineteenth century's best professional gardeners. The initial plan called for grade separations of transverse roadways through the park, as Frederick Law Olmsted had provided for Central Park, but budget constraints and the positioning of the Arboretum and the Concourse ended the plan. In 1876, the plan was almost exchanged for a racetrack favored by "the Big Four" millionaires, Leland Stanford, Mark Hopkins, Collis P. Huntington, and Charles Crocker. Hall resigned and the remaining park commissioners followed him. The original plan, however, was back on track by 1886, when streetcars delivered over 47,000 people to Golden Gate Park on one weekend afternoon (the city's population at the time was about 250,000). Hall selected McLaren as his successor in 1887.
North Windmill in Golden Gate Park.
Built in 1903, it was used to pump water throughout the park. The blades seen here were used to carry canvas sails. The first stage stabilized the ocean dunes that covered three-quarters of the park area with tree plantings. By 1875, about 60,000 trees, mostly Blue Gum Eucalyptus, Monterey pine and Monterey cypress, were planted. By 1879, that figure more than doubled to 155,000 trees over 1,000 acres (4 km²). Later McLaren scoured the world through his correspondents for trees. When McLaren 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. He lived in McLaren Lodge in Golden Gate Park until he died at age 96, in 1943.
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 a flower garden, a gift of Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands. These are planted with tulip bulbs for winter display and other flowers in appropriate seasons. Murphy's Windmill in the south of the park is currently being 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. However, the use of highly processed and recycled effluent from the city's sewage treatment plant, located at the beach some miles away to the south near the San Francisco Zoo is planned for the near future. In the 1950s the use of this effluent during cold weather caused some consternation, with the introduction of artificial detergents but before the advent of modern biodegradable products. These "hard" detergents would cause long-lasting billowing piles of foam to form on the creeks connecting the artificial lakes and could even be blown onto the roads, forming a traffic hazard.
Golden Gate Park is adjacent to Haight-Ashbury, and it was the site of the Human Be-In of 1967, preceding the Summer of Love. The tradition of large, free public gatherings in the park continues to the present, especially at Speedway Meadow. One of the largest events held annually at the park starting in 2001 has been the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival (formerly the "Strictly Bluegrass Festival"), a free festival held in October. Speedway Meadow also plays host to a number of large-scale events such as the 911 Power to the Peaceful Festival held by musician and filmmaker Michael Franti with Guerrilla Management.
Kezar Stadium was built between 1922 and 1925 in the southeast corner of the park. It hosted various athletic competitions and became the home stadium of the San Francisco 49ers of the AAFC and NFL from 1946 to 1970, also hosting the Oakland Raiders of the AFL for one season in 1960. The old 59,000-seat stadium was demolished in 1989 and replaced with a modern 9,044-seat stadium, but includes a replica of the original concrete arch at the entryway. It has been used in recent years for soccer, lacrosse, and track and field and is the host of the annual city high school football championship.
Conservatory of Flowers
The Conservatory of Flowers is one of the world's largest conservatories built of traditional wood and glass panes. It was prefabricated for local entrepreneur James Lick for his Santa Clara, California, estate but was still in its crates when he died in 1876. A group of San Franciscans bought it and offered it to the city, and it was erected in Golden Gate Park and opened to the public in 1879. In 1883, a boiler exploded and the main dome caught fire. A restoration was undertaken by Southern Pacific magnate Charles Crocker. It survived the earthquake of 1906 only to suffer another fire in 1918. In 1933 it was declared unsound and closed to the public, only to be reopened in 1946. In 1995, after a severe storm with 100 mph (160 km/h) winds damaged the structure, shattering 40% of the glass, the conservatory had to be closed again. It was cautiously dissected for repairs and finally reopened in September 2003.
AIDS Memorial Grove
The AIDS Memorial Grove has been in progress since 1988. In 1996, it was designated a national memorial by an act of Congress, becoming an affiliated area of the National Park System. The Grove's executive director, Thom Weyand, has said that "part of the beauty of the grove is that as a memorial which receives no federal money, it is blessedly removed from the fight over the controversy of AIDS."
Spreckels Temple of Music in Golden Gate Park
The Music Concourse is a sunken, oval-shaped open-air plaza originally excavated for the California Midwinter International Exposition of 1894. Its focal point is the Spreckels Temple of Music, also called the "Bandshell" where numerous music performance have been staged. It includes a number of statues of various historic figures, four fountains, and a regular grid array of heavily pollarded trees. Since 2003, the Music Concourse underwent a series improvements to include an underground 800-car parking garage, and pedestrianization of the plaza itself. It is surrounded by various cultural attractions, including:
M. H. de Young Memorial Museum
Named for M. H. de Young, the San Francisco newspaper magnate, the De Young Museum is a fine arts museum that was opened January 1921. Its original building had been part of The California Midwinter International Exposition of 1894, of which Mr. de Young was the director. The de Young was completely rebuilt and the new building opened in 2005.
California Academy of Sciences
The California Academy of Sciences is one of the largest natural history museums in the world, and also houses the Steinhart Aquarium and the Morrison Planetarium. The Academy of Sciences carries exhibits of reptiles and amphibians, astronomy, prehistoric life, various gems and minerals, earthquakes, and aquatic life. A completely new building for the Museum opened in September 2008 designed by Renzo Piano.
Japanese Tea Garden
Japanese Tea Garden
The five acre (20,000 m²) Japanese tea garden at Golden Gate Park is the oldest public Japanese garden in the United States. The garden was designed by Makoto Hagiwara for the California Midwinter International Exposition of 1894, including still-standing features such as the Drum Bridge and the tea house. Subsequent additions included a pagoda and Zen garden. It is the site of the introduction of the fortune cookie to America.
San Francisco Botanical Garden
The San Francisco Botanical Garden at Strybing Arboretum was laid out in the 1890s, but funding was insufficient until Helene Strybing willed funds in 1926. Planting was begun in 1937 with WPA funds supplemented by local donations. This 55 acre (222,500 m²) arboretum contains more than 7,500 plant species. The arboretum also houses the Helen Crocker Russell Library, northern California's largest horticultural library.
Stow Lake, the largest of the manmade lakes in Golden Gate Park, offers boat rentals
Stow Lake surrounds the prominent Strawberry Hill, now an island with an electrically pumped waterfall. Rowboats, pedal boats, and electrically powered boats can be rented at the boathouse. Much of the western portion of San Francisco can be seen from the top of this hill, which at its top contains one of the reservoirs that supply a network of high-pressure water mains that exclusively supply specialized fire hydrants throughout the city.
Spreckels Lake is located on the northern side of the park near 36th Avenue. As the home waters of the San Francisco Model Yacht Club, one can usually find model yachts sailing on Spreckels Lake. Many of these are of the 'free-sail' type used before the advent of the modern radio controlled model. The yachts are set up by their owners, and most include either an auxiliary wind vane or main sheet linkage to control the rudder in response to varying wind conditions. The yachts are then released, and pole handlers will walk down each side of the lake with a padded pole to prevent the yachts from colliding with the lake edge. The lake has been specifically designed for this type of operation, as it has a vertical edging (allowing the yachts to closely approach the shore) and a paved walkway around the entire edge. At one location near a grassy area, "duckling ramps" allow young wildlife to leave the pond safely.
Golden Gate Park Stadium
Golden Gate Park Stadium, also known as the "Polo Field", in the western section of the park was opened in 1906, originally envisioned as a 60,000 seat amphitheater with a mile-long circumference. The plan did not come to fruition, but the stadium did eventually incorporate bicycle and harness-racing tracks as well as a polo field. In 1967, stadium was the site of the Human Be-In which launched the Summer of Love and where Timothy Leary urged fellow hippies to "tune in, turn on, and drop out". Today, the stadium is marked by its raised perimeter and a small grandstand.
Bison have been kept in Golden Gate Park since 1891, when a small herd was purchased by the park commission. At the time, the animal's population in North America had dwindled to an all-time low and San Francisco made a successful effort to breed them in captivity. In 1899, the paddock in the western section of the park was created. The animals today are cared for by staff from the San Francisco Zoo.
In 1902, the parks commission authorized construction of two windmills to pump subterranean water to supply the park. The first one, on the north side of the park facing the Pacific Ocean, was completed in 1903 and became known first as the North Windmill and later as the Dutch Windmill; it is now paired with the Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden. The second, Murphy's Windmill, on the south side of the park, began operation in 1908. They operated for several decades, but fell into disrepair after the park switched to electric water pumps. The Dutch Windmill was restored in 1981, but, as of 2009, Murphy's Windmill's restoration is still in progress.
The two-story Beach Chalet faces the Great Highway and Ocean Beach at the far western end of the park. It was opened in 1925 in Spanish colonial revival style as a city-run restaurant and included changing rooms for beach visitors. Elaborate murals were added to the first floor as a 1936 Works Progress Administration project. After several years of closure and following a renovation completed in 1996, the building now houses the Beach Chalet Brewery and Restaurant on the second floor. Its sister restaurant, the Park Chalet, is an open-air dining room facing the park.
Here's a short video of a tour to Alcatraz Island and other tourists sites of the City besides Golden Gate Park.