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Golden Gate Park is a 1017 acre park and recreation area in San Francisco, CA. Larger than New York’s famed Central Park, Golden Gate Park is the third most visited park in the US. Since the 1860s, the park has been a refuge to San Francisco citizens and a delight to visitors.
The park was built outside the city limits of San Francisco, though later additions to the city soon surrounded it. Field engineer William Hammond Hall and his assistant, John McLaren, designed the area and organized most of the original planting. By 1879, 155,000 trees had been planted. To aid in water distribution, a pair of Dutch windmills were built in 1903 and stood as landmarks on the western edge of the park. Customarily, the area around the windmills is planted with tulips to replicate a Holland aesthetic.
In the 1960s, Golden Gate Park played a significant part in the peace movement in San Francisco. Bordered on the east by the Haight-Ashbury district, the park was the site of the Human Be-In of 1967. This event is considered the predecessor of the Summer of Love, and focused on issues of community, ecology, and higher consciousness.
The natural features of the park include several lakes, the two largest being Stowe Lake and Spreckles Lake. On Stowe Lake, visitors can rent pedalboats and rowboats and wind their way through the scenery. Spreckles Lake is well-known for model boat activities and has been modified to aid boating hobbyists.
Several areas of the park are designed as groves for specific planting. The Rhododendron Dell is filled with huge flowering rhododendron plants that bloom in an explosion of color each May. The Shakespeare Garden contains herbs and flowers mentioned in the writer’s plays, along with plaques listing famous quotes. The AIDS memorial grove is the only national memorial to AIDS victims, and is a peaceful and quiet area of the park.
Golden Gate Park contains several significant major features, many of which are considered San Francisco Landmarks. The Japanese Tea Garden is the oldest Japanese garden in the US, and includes five acres of sculptures, bridges, ponds and a teahouse where guests can enjoy tea and cookies. The De Young museum, reopened in 2005 after renovations, features cultural art collections from around the world. At the California Academy of Sciences, visitors can enjoy the Steinhart Aquarium, Morrison Planetarium and study natural history throughout the complex’s many exhibits. The glass-paned Conservatory of Flowers is one of the largest in the world, and features an enormous collection of high-altitude orchids.
A few odd features mark the landscape of Golden Gate Park, awaiting the surprised visitor. Most unusual is the bison herd, which has lived in the park since 1892. Some non-San Franciscans believe the penned herd of American Bison to be a myth along the lines of a jackalope, but they truly exist and can easily be seen on a visit to the park.
Golden Gate Park is free to the public, although many of the exhibitions charge entrance fees. On weekends, when local residents flock to the park’s many open spaces and walking paths, parking may be difficult, so be sure to plan ahead. A day at Golden Gate Park is an essential part of San Francisco tourism, and should not be missed by any visitor wishing to experience the heart of the city.