ROMANCE IN THE PARK ITINERARY
Designed for: Couples looking to spend a memorable day together
Transportation: A car is recommended for this itinerary
Start the day in the east end of the park, and visit one of two newly renovated museums:
- Option 1: California Academy of Sciences
Say good morning to the African penguins (which mate for life) at the California Academy of Sciences, and catch their 10:30am feeding. While you’re there, don’t miss the hot and steamy four-story Rainforests of the World exhibit (complete with free-flying birds and butterflies), and the chance to zoom through the Universe in the world’s largest all-digital planetarium. Before you leave, pick up picnic provisions at the Academy Cafe. www.calacademy.org, 415-379-8000, time estimate: 2-4 hours.
>> Next door to the Academy, step into the secluded Shakespeare Garden for a quiet stroll. Designed in 1928, this garden honors the plants and flowers mentioned in the Bard's poems and plays, and is a popular wedding venue. Time estimate: 0.5 hours.
- Option 2: Fine Art at the de Young Museum
The de Young Museum is proud to be the only museum in the world to present two consecutive special exhibitions from the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. The second exhibition, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne and Beyond: Post-Impressionist Masterpieces from the Musée d’Orsay will be on display through January 18, 2011. Before you leave, pick up picnic provisions at the de Young Café. Closed Mondays. http://deyoung.famsf.org/, 415-750-3600, time estimate: 1-2 hours.
>> On Sundays from 11am – 2pm, swing dancers congregate for Lindy in the Park. They meet near the de Young Museum on John F. Kennedy Blvd. between 8th and 10th Ave. (weather permitting). Watch and enjoy, or participate in the free lesson offered at noon. Time estimate: 0.5 hours.
Lunch: Picnic at the top of Strawberry Hill
For a picnic lunch and afternoon stroll, head to Stow Lake, and take a short walk to the top of Strawberry Hill, located in the middle of the lake. Your reward at the top: spectacular views of the surrounding park, the Golden Gate Bridge, and Mt. Tamalpais. Don’t forget your camera! (Elevation gain: 423 feet.)
After lunch, continue west on John F. Kennedy Jr. Drive, and stop at one, or all three, of these free destinations along the way:
- Option 1: Stop and smell the roses
Golden Gate Park’s Rose Garden showcases numerous species, and is in bloom from April to October, with peak blooms May-June and second burst in September. Time estimate: 0.5 hours.
- Option 2: Disc golf
If you can round up a Frisbee, challenge your date to a round of disc golf. The 18-hole course is free, and suitable for beginners and experts alike, but you must bring your own disc. Nearby Golden Gate Park Bike & Skate rents Frisbees by the hour or day (3038 Fulton St., 415-668-1117). www.sfdiscgolf.org, time estimate: 1-2 hours.
- Option 3: Windmill and Tulips
Pull over at the Wilhelmina Tulip Garden for a scenic afternoon stroll, and charming ambiance straight out of the Netherlands. The garden features colorful flowers throughout most of the year, and the tulips bloom from mid-March to mid-April. The garden surrounds the Park’s 108-year-old Dutch Windmill, which stands 75 feet tall. A few blocks away, you can also visit Ocean Beach, a scenic dune-lined beach which is a lovely place to get some sand between your toes, but due to strong currents, is not recommended for casual swimming. Time estimate: 0.5-1 hour.
Enjoy a romantic dinner at The Beach Chalet Brewery & Restaurant, located at the western-most edge of Golden Gate Park, in a building which features some amazing historic WPA frescoes created by Lucien Labaudt in the 1930s. The restaurant features a stunning ocean view, modern American cuisine, and hand crafted ales. Reservations are recommended. www.beachchalet.com, 415-386-8439.
GIRLS-ONLY GETAWAY ITINERARY
Designed for: A group of friends looking for some fresh air, culture, and stellar cuisine.
Transportation: For those who wish to do an archery lesson, a car is recommended. Otherwise, there are several options to move from the west end to the east end of the Park at mid-day: a taxi, car, or the 5-Fulton bus. Once you arrive in the east end of the Park, all stops are within walking distance of one another.
Start your day with a little friendly outdoor competition:
- Option 1: Fore!
Play a round of girls-only golf at the 9-hole Golden Gate Park Golf Course. Equipment is available to rent, and beginners can sign up in advance for a Sunday morning “Golf in a Day” class. www.goldengateparkgolf.com, 415-751-8987, time estimate: 1-3 hours, depending on activity.
- Option 2: Try your Hand at Archery
Step aside Robin Hood, the Golden Gate Park Archery Range is open to archers of all skill levels (including beginners!). Arrange in advance for a group lesson and equipment rental through the San Francisco Archery Pro Shop. Learn the basics with an instructor, and then practice as long as you like. First person to hit the bull’s eye buys lunch! Note: You will need to return your gear to the shop the same day, so access to a car is recommended. www.bysel.com/sfarch/main, 415-751-2776, time estimate: 1.5-2.5 hours.
Time for lunch:
- Option 1: BBQ Picnic
Located at the Golden Gate Park Golf Course, Ironwood BBQ is known for their pulled pork sandwiches. After working up an appetite, grab some barbeque to-go, and head to the Botanical Garden (see below) for a picnic.
- Option 2: Lunch at the Moss Room
Have lunch in the Moss Room at the California Academy of Sciences, recently selected as one of the “50 Best New American Restaurants” by Travel + Leisure Magazine. Proprietor Loretta Keller promises a refined and elegant approach to farm-to-table dining, and a bar showcasing artisan-produced wine and spirits. www.themossroom.com, 415-876-6121.
>>Tip for drivers: Street parking in the east end of the Park is limited to 3-4 hours, check posted signs. Paid parking in the Music Concourse Garage is convenient to all of the itinerary stops from the Moss Room onward.
Walk and talk your way through the Botanical Garden at Strybing Arboretum, home to 8,000 varieties of plants from around the world, including some which are no longer found in their native habitats. Docent-led tours are available daily at 1:30pm. www.sfbotanicalgarden.org, 415-661-1316, time estimate: 1-2 hours.
For a Zen-like finish to your afternoon, visit the Japanese Tea Garden, the oldest public Japanese garden in the United States. This complex of paths and ponds features native Japanese and Chinese plants, and sculptures and bridges scattered throughout. Be sure to stop at the teahouse for traditional Japanese tea and confections. http://japaneseteagardensf.com, 415-666-3232, Time estimate: 1-1.5 hours.
The fun continues into the evening in and around the east end of Golden Gate Park:
- On Thursday nights from 6-10pm, explore the California Academy of Sciences during NightLife. For adults, NightLife is a unique way to see the world’s greenest museum – with bars, music by some of San Francisco’s best DJs, and fun activities that change every week. Academy exhibits (including the all-digital planetarium, aquarium, living roof, and four-story rainforest) are also open to explore. Food and drinks are available for purchase. Open to ages 21+. www.calacademy.org, 415-379-8000.
- On Friday nights from 5-8:30pm, check out Cultural Encounters: Friday Night Soirées at the de Young Museum. Each event offers music, performances, and hands-on activities for free. Food and drinks are available for purchase, and regular admission fees apply to visit the galleries. This is a great opportunity to visit the special exhibit Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne and Beyond: Post-Impressionist Masterpieces from the Musée d’Orsay (through Jan. 18, 2011). Open to all ages. http://deyoung.famsf.org, 415-750-3600.
- Any day of the week, Golden Gate Park visitors will find a wide range of restaurants, bars and shops near the intersection of 9th Ave. & Irving St., just one block south of the east end of the Park.
FAMILY FUN IN THE PARK ITINERARY
Designed for: Families with children.
Transportation: This tour through the east end of Golden Gate Park can be done by bike or car. Bikes can be rented from either Golden Gate Park Bike & Skate (3038 Fulton St., 415-668-1117), or at Stow Lake (50 Stow Lake Dr., 415-668-6699).
Start your day surrounded by exotic plants at one of two lush and historic locations:
- Option 1: Conservatory of Flowers
Get up close and personal with rare and endangered plants from around the world at the Conservatory of Flowers. This Victorian-age building is an architectural landmark, and the oldest wood and glass conservatory in North America. The Conservatory features four permanent galleries, and a selection of special exhibits each year. The colorful flower beds out front are a stunning backdrop for family photos. Closed Mondays. www.conservatoryofflowers.org/, 415-831-2090, Time estimate: 1 hour.
- Option 2: Japanese Tea Garden
San Francisco’s Japanese Tea Garden is the oldest public Japanese garden in the United States. This complex of paths and ponds features native Japanese and Chinese plants, and sculptures and bridges scattered throughout. Be sure to stop at the teahouse for traditional Japanese tea and confections. http://japaneseteagardensf.com, 415-666-3232, Time estimate: 1-1.5 hours.
Visit the newly reopened California Academy of Sciences and come face-to-face with a colony of African penguins, an albino alligator, and thousands of other residents. The Academy is the only place in the world to combine an aquarium, planetarium and natural history museum together under one roof. Check out one of many family-friendly daily programs included with admission, and don’t miss the four-story rainforest. For lunch, grab a bite at the Academy Cafe, operated by local celebrity chef Charles Phan. www.calacademy.org, 415-379-8000, Time estimate: 2-4 hours.
After lunch and a museum, it’s time to burn off some energy.
- Option 1: The Koret Children’s Quarter
The Koret Children's Quarter, formerly known as Children's Playground, was originally built in 1887 and is commonly thought to be the nation's first public playground. Recently renovated, it now includes wave-shaped climbing walls, old-fashioned cement slides, swings, and a giant rope climbing structure. Nearby sits another park gem: the 1912 Herschel-Spillman carousel.
- Option 2: Live Bison and Model Yachts
Peddle or drive out to Golden Gate Park’s bison paddock and say hello to the enormous creatures that live there. Bison were originally brought to the Park in 1891, when the species was teetering on extinction, and have remained ever since.
Next, stop at nearby Spreckels Lake, a facility devoted to building and sailing model yachts. Step into the clubhouse to marvel at an impressive collection of motor and sail boats. If you’re lucky, you may even catch a regatta on the lake. http://sfmyc.org/, 415-386-1037.
>>Note to bicyclists: the bison paddock and Spreckels Lake are about 2 miles from the Academy and de Young museums.
Next, head to the de Young Museum to wind down with world-class art, panoramic views, and a snack at the de Young Cafe. Take a free elevator ride to the top of the de Young tower for a 360-degree view of San Francisco. Then check out the museum’s permanent collections, or the special exhibit Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne and Beyond: Post-Impressionist Masterpieces from the Musée d’Orsay, on display through January 18, 2011. Closed Mondays. http://deyoung.famsf.org/, 415-750-3600, Time estimate: 1-2 hours.
>> On Friday nights, the de Young Museum stays open until 8:30pm with free music, performances, and hands-on activities for all ages.