Escape the urban jungle and find plenty of places to relax and get back to nature in the City by the Bay.
For a city relatively small in size, San Francisco is chock-full of green space—from huge Golden Gate Park to the Presidio to small neighborhood stomping grounds. Here are a few parks you just shouldn’t miss.
Golden Gate Park is a lush green strip that covers more than 1,000 acres from the center of the city to the far western edge. What is now home to lakes, meadows, museums, monuments and sports fields was once a great sand bank of windswept rolling dunes. Many attractions are free, including the Children’s Playground, Strybing Arboretum and the Dutch and Murphy windmills.
One of the largest museums of natural history in the world, the California Academy of Sciences is composed of the Steinhart Aquarium, Morrison Planetarium and Kimball Natural History Museum. After being closed since 2005, it’s scheduled to reopen Sept. 27, 2008, in one of the city’s greenest buildings—designed by architect Renzo Piano.
55 Music Concourse Drive, tel. 415-379-8000. www.calacademy.org. Beginning Sept. 27, 2008, open Mon. to Sat. 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission: $24.95 adults, $19.95 kids ages 12 to 17 and seniors, $14.95 kids ages 7 to 11, free to children ages 6 and under.
The de Young Museum was founded in Golden Gate Park in 1895 and was recently renovated to great acclaim in 2005. This copper-clad museum showcases collections of 17th through 20th century American art, as well as art of the Pacific, Africa and native Americas. Start with a bird’s-eye view of the park from the museum’s tower, followed by a snack in the de Young Café—which features ingredients grown within 150 miles of the museum. Exit through the outdoor sculpture garden, which never fails to beckon children to touch the artwork (especially the luscious-looking apples, my niece Sofia’s favorites), even though they’re not supposed to.
50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, tel. 415-750-3600. www.famsf.orf/deyoung. Open Tues. to Sun. 9:30 a.m. to 5:15 p.m., Fri. until 8:45 p.m. Check with the museum for holiday hours. Admission: $10 adults, $7 seniors, $6 kids ages 13 to 17 (and college students with ID), free to children ages 12 and under. Admission free on the first Tuesday of each month.
Flower lovers should head immediately to the Conservatory of Flowers and the Japanese Tea Garden. The Conservatory of Flowers is housed in a jewel box-like glass Victorian greenhouse, and is North America’s oldest existing public conservatory. This living museum features a treasure of rare tropical plants, including orchids, bromeliads, palms and even carnivorous plants. Venture through lowland and highland tropics, gaze at the assortment of potted plants or check out the changing special exhibits. Until Nov. 2, 2008, see The Butterfly Zone—an exhibit that allows you to walk among free-flying butterflies.
JFK Drive, tel. 415-666-7001, www.conservatoryofflowers.org. Open Tues. to Sun., 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Check with the Conservatory for holiday hours. Admission: $5 adults, $3 kids ages 12 to 17 and seniors, $1.50 kids ages 5 to 11, free to children ages 4 and under.
The Japanese Tea Garden was originally established for the California Midwinter International Exposition (World’s Fair) in 1894, and is the oldest public Japanese garden in the United States. Explore the garden with its hedges, azaleas, bridges and statues; find a quiet corner to relax; or visit the Japanese Tea house for a cup of tea.
72 Tea Garden Drive, tel. 415-752-4227. Open daily, 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission: $3.50 adults, $1.25 children ages 6 to 12 and seniors, free to kids under 6 years.
The 1,491-acre Presidio of San Francisco is a national park that’s taken more than a decade to remake from a U.S. Army base. The park offers a dozen major hiking and walking trails, stunning views of San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge, as well as historic 19th century troop housing at the Main Parade—home to the oldest existing buildings in the Presidio. The Walt Disney Family Foundation has plans to open a museum in the Main Parade in 2009.
A former munitions dump and airfield, Crissy Field is the Presidio’s waterfront park where dog walkers and kite flyers roam. Swing by the Farallones Marine Sanctuary Association’s Visitor Center, located at the west end of Crissy Field (tel. 415-561-6625), to get your hands wet and learn about marine life just outside the Golden Gate.
Visit Fort Point, the West Coast’s only Civil War-era brick and morter fort (Building 201, tel. 415-556-1693), located right under the Golden Gate Bridge.
If all the activity has made you hungry, drop in at the Warming Hut Bookstore and Café at the west end of the promenade at Crissy Field (Building 983, tel. 415-561-3040), which features organic treats and eco-friendly gifts. Or try the Presidio Social Club for cocktails and dinner, as well as live music (Building 563, tel. 415-885-1888).
Presidio maps are available at the Visitor Center at the Main Parade, or online at www.nps.gov.
Angel Island State Park is the largest island in San Francisco Bay, located just inside the Gate. Take the Blue & Gold Fleet ferry (tel. 415-773-1188) from Pier 41 or from the Ferry Building (round trip: $18 adults, $11.50 kids ages 6-12) for a day trip. The island was once a hunting ground for Miwok Indians, an immigration station (known as the “Ellis Island of the West”) and a World War II-era prisoner of war camp. Hike or bike the island’s many trails, or go on a Segway tour. Bring a picnic lunch, or stop by the Cove Café for sandwiches and its oyster bar.
Tel. 415-897-0715, www.angelisland.com. Open daily, 8 a.m. to sunset.
Destinations: San Francisco
Academy of Sciences I remember going on field trips to the Academy of Sciences in Elementary School. It was one of my favorites! I can't wait to see the new facility when it opens.