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Golden Gate Park: Urban Weekender

The largest park in San Francisco features more than a thousand acres of greenery, as well as the Academy of Sciences and the de Young Museum.

Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, picture
Photo credit
Photo: Della Huff/Alamy
Photo caption
Golden Gate Park's ornate Conservatory of Flowers opened in 1879.

San Francisco’s urban playground, Golden Gate Park, covers 1,017 acres and stretches from the tip of the Panhandle to the Pacific. Miles of garden paths, plus two world-class museums, make it a prime destination rain or shine.

  • Step into the elegant Conservatory of Flowers for a trip to the steamy tropics and peruse orchids, carnivorous pitcher plants, and other exotics. Through Apr. 10, a special exhibit features model trains zipping around re-creations of the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition.
  • View Maori wood carvings, Maya figurines, and American paintings and sculpture at the de Young Museum. Opening Mar. 12: a world-premiere retrospective of work by fashion designer Oscar de la Renta.
  • At the California Academy of Sciences, the heavens glow in planetarium shows while butterflies, birds, and amphibians inhabit a walk-through rain forest. (AAA members receive up to $7 off an adult ticket; discount available only at AAA branches.)
  • The wildlife is considerably tamer at the enclosed 1914 carousel in the Koret Children’s Quarter, where 62 brightly painted wooden creatures—including a dragon and a camel—circle a rousing German band organ.
  • Check out the San Francisco Botanical Garden’s collection of nearly 100 rare and historic magnolia trees, at their flowery finest mid-January through March.
  • Microbrews and pub grub, such as a bacon-crab melt, come with ocean views at the Beach Chalet. The lobby is adorned with stunning murals of 1930s San Francisco by Lucien Labaudt.
  • At Nopalito, just outside the park on Ninth Avenue, a bowl of pozole rojo or a mug of Mexican hot chocolate warms you on a chilly day.
  • If the sun peeks out, head for Avenue Cyclery on Stanyan Street, one of several bike rental shops near the park.

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This article was first published in Winter 2016. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.