Great Parks in San Francisco

San Francisco's parks are part of the reason the Bay Area feels like paradise to those of us who live here. Although the entire Bay Area is a bounty of wilderness and protected areas, even within the bounds of the city, parks and green spaces offer an opportunity to explore diverse terrain and habitat.

The options are endless, ranging from a bike ride in the Presidio and along Crissy Field, to bird watching in the restored wetland areas at Heron's Head Park, to enjoying panoramic views from the top of Grand View Park.

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    1. Golden Gate Park

    Access from the Sunset, Richmond & the Haight

    Born out of sand dunes in the late 1800s, Golden Gate Park today is a rich blend of gardens, play spaces and museum culture. The new de Young Museum, San Francisco’s fine arts icon, opened to rave reviews in 2005, and the California Academy of Sciences is right across the way. The Beach and Park Chalets at the west end provide sustenance and entertainment. In between are walking and bike trails, the San Francisco Botanical Garden, Stow Lake, and the resident herd of bison.

    Eastern border: Stanyan
    Western border: Great Highway/Pacfic Ocean
    Northern border: Fulton
    Southern border: Lincoln

    See Golden Gate Park on the San Francisco Parks Map

    Photo © Ingrid Taylar

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    2. Ocean Beach

    Outer Sunset - Spans 3.5 miles along the Pacific and on the west side of Golden Gate Park

    Walk from the east end of Golden Gate Park to Ocean Beach, and you'll feel a bit like Magellan making that last turn around the Cape. Where Golden Gate Park will lull you with its shaded trails and vegetation-bound lakes -- emerge on the west side and the horizon pops open -- literally. At that point, it's just you and the Pacific. And more than three miles of Ocean Beach alongside the Great Highway. It's a great place to stroll and to cool off on San Francisco's warmer days and to spot the endangered Snowy Plovers who scuttle along the shoreline.

    See Ocean Beach on the San Francisco Parks Map

    Photo © Ingrid Taylar

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    3. Aquatic Park

    Fisherman's Wharf - Hyde & Beach

    Aquatic Park is a number of parks in one. It's the aquatic playground of Dolphin Club members who brave the Bay's ice waters for their swims. It's also home to San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park, a treasure zone of San Francisco's maritime history and historic ships.

    From Aquatic Park, you can walk through Fisherman's Wharf and along the Embarcadero waterfront toward the San Francisco Ferry Building. Or, you can make the journey through the Fort Mason area and into the Marina District -- and, if you're ambitious -- into the Presidio area as well.

    See Aquatic Park on the San Francisco Parks Map

    Photo © Ingrid Taylar

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    Crissy Field Airstrip and Hangars
    ••• Photo © Ingrid Taylar

    4. Crissy Field

    Marina District

    Crissy Field, in the Presidio, is a former airfield and success story of habitat restoration. The tidal marshes, grasslands and cypress trees followed asphalt removal, hazardous waste clean up and hours upon hours of volunteer efforts in cleaning and planting. Crissy Field Center was seeded and opened to the public in 2001. On a sunny day, the aesthetic of the Bay, the bridge, and views to the city are spectacular.

    Snacks and park maps, books and gifts are available at the Warming Hut and at Crissy Field Center and Café.

    See Crissy Field on the San Francisco Parks Map

    Photo © Ingrid Taylar

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    Batteries to Bluffs Trail in Presidio San Francisco
    ••• Photo © Ingrid Taylar

    5. The Presidio

    Marina / Pacific Heights / Presidio Heights

    For more than 200 years, the beautiful land of the Presidio was a military post. In 1994, the Presidio was transferred to the National Park Service and is now home to businesses, non-profit organizations, walkways, secluded green spaces, and a growing number of restaurants and recreational venues. The Presidio is an absolute must with visitors. The views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the night lights of the Palace of Fine Arts showcase San Francisco at its best.

    See Presidio San Francisco on the San Francisco Parks Map

    Photo © Ingrid Taylar

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    6. Lands End & Coastal Trail

    Outer Richmond

    Lands End and the Lands End trail offer some of the most spectacular views of the Golden Gate Bridge. These green spaces at the edge of the Outer Richmond incorporate nature trails, beaches, and historic artifacts:

    Access to the Lands End Trail is easy, with parking off Point Lobos Avenue (for the Sutro Baths area) -- also at the Legion -- and then at Eagles Point, the 32nd Avenue entrance to the Coastal Trail.

    See Lands End on Map of Outer Richmond Attractions and also on the San Francisco Parks Map.

    Photo © Ingrid Taylar

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    7. Yerba Buena Gardens

    SoMa/South of Market - 3rd & Mission

    Bordered on one side by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and on another by the Museum of Craft and Folk Art as well as the new Contemporary Jewish Museum-- Yerba Buena Gardens is a lush green space in a hub of a busy arts district. (See the Guide to San Francisco Museums for more area museums.)

    The centerpiece of the gardens is the waterfall cascading across the Martin Luther King, Jr Memorial. Walk under the waterfall to peruse the exhibits, or explore number of sculptures and amenities, including activities for children (Zeum, skating rink, a play space).

    See Yerba Buena Gardens on the San Francisco Parks Map

    Photo © Ingrid Taylar

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    8. Mission Dolores Park

    Mission District - Dolores between 18th and 20th

    Dolores Park is near the old Mission Dolores, established in 1776 as Misión San Francisco de Asís -- and today, a popular visitors' destination. The park itself is almost 14 acres and is the site of many events throughout the year, including the free summer series Dolores Park Movie Night.

    The park is a popular sunny-day hang out, with Mission District amenities like Dolores Park Cafe and Bi-Rite Creamery just across the street.

    If you're a first-time visitor to San Francisco's Mission District, don't miss the stunning murals you'll find throughout the neighborhood.

    Photo © Ingrid Taylar

    See Dolores Park on the San Francisco Parks Map

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    9. Alamo Square Park

    Between Haight Ashbury & Hayes Valley - Hayes & Steiner

    The Alamo Square Park website has a photo taken during the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906. It's a photo you may see often if you peruse archival images of San Francisco -- of people watching the city burn, from the grass of Alamo Square Park.

    The park is known for its postcard row of "Painted Ladies" Victorian homes. Even if you've never traveled to San Francisco, chances are you've seen this camera-perfect shot as a still or as a backdrop in film. It's a great place to take a rest and enjoy the view if you're walking through the Haight Ashbury area.

    See Alamo Square Park on the San Francisco Parks Map

    Photo © Ingrid Taylar

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    10. Buena Vista Park

    Haight Ashbury - Haight & Central

    Buena Vista Park and the nearby Corona Heights Park are two refuges of wilderness in the midst of urban grid. At Buena Vista Park, you may see a variety of raptors, including Red-tailed Hawks and Cooper's Hawks. The park also has tennis courts and a children's playground.

    You can hike up into Buena Vista Park from Haight Street -- on dirt trails with an occasional set of terraced steps. Or you can begin at the top of the park from the Buena Vista Heights neighborhood, off Buena Vista Avenue East.

    See Buena Vista Park on the San Francisco Parks Map

    Photo © Ingrid Taylar

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    11. Washington Square Park

    North Beach - Columbus & Union

    Washington Square Park is at the heart of North Beach, surrounded on all sides by the neighborhood's famous Italian eateries, gelato shops, and the general buzz of human interaction. It has survived at this location for more than 150 years -- in spite of various development threats. It's the site of the North Beach Festival and other events throughout the year, as well as a popular place to grab some sun or eat outdoors during lunch hour.

    See Washington Square Park on the San Francisco Parks Map

    Photo © Ingrid Taylar

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    12. Stern Grove & Pine Lake Park

    West Portal Area - 19th & Sloat

    Stern Grove is the site of the free, summer-long music series -- the Stern Grove Festival. But the park is much bigger than its outdoor amphitheater (pictured here). Stern Grove and the adjacent Pine Lake area cover more than 60 acres with some wooded terrain and shaded trails. The park also has amenities like tennis courts and picnic tables.

    See Stern Grove and Pine Lake Park on the San Francisco Parks Map

    Photo © Ingrid Taylar

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    mclaren park view
    ••• Photo © Ingrid Taylar

    13. John McLaren Park

    Visitacion Valley - Mansell & Visitaction

    McLaren Park is more than 300 acres of walking and running trails, athletic fields, tennis courts, playgrounds, waterways (lake/reservoir), trees, meadows and abundant wildlife habitat. The park is also home to the Jerry Garcia Amphitheatre where the annual Jerry Day celebration takes place.

    McLaren park is one of the Bay Area's many park successes -- where volunteers helped revive a neglected park through habitat restoration projects and community diligence.

    See John McLaren Park on the San Francisco Parks Map

    Photo © Ingrid Taylar

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    14. Heron's Head Park

    Bay View/Hunters Point - End of Cargo Way (former Pier 98)

    Heron's Head Park takes its name from the park's shape as seen from the air. It's part of a project which aims to create a 13-mile corridor in this area, connecting points along the waterfront in a green belt.

    Heron's Head Park is 24 acres of wetlands with a path leading out into the Bay. There are views to [protected] wetlands where you can see a variety of birds, especially in the winter months.

    See Heron's Head Park on the San Francisco Parks Map

    Photo © Ingrid Taylar

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    15. Fort Funston

    Off Highway 35, just south of San Francisco

    Fort Funston, just south of the city, is a dog-walkers' paradise with a hilltop dog park and views of the Pacific. You can hike along the bluffs and sand dunes, on groomed trails, and take paths that veer toward beaches below. There’s a large and diverse population of flowers and plants. You may see a variety of birds, rabbits, hawks and other wildlife. Kites and hang gliders lift off from the cliffs at Fort Funston and the old military batteries make for interesting exploration.

    From southbound 35, pass John Muir Drive. Take the first right (signed Fort Funston). See Fort Funston on the San Francisco Parks Map

    Photo © Ingrid Taylar

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    16. Cayuga Park

    Excelsior District - Cayuga & Naglee

    Cayuga Park is an unlikely destination, tucked under a well-traveled section of BART track. But what draws people into the 11-acre sanctuary is the striking wood carvings, created by the park's caretaker, Demetrio Braceros.

    If you link to the photo gallery, you won't be as taken aback as if you walked in cold. Still, it's difficult to describe the mood created by this park's sculpture garden, juxtaposed against the industrial feel of the area.

    See Cayuga Park on the San Francisco Parks Map

    Photo © Ingrid Taylar

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    Grand View Park

    17. Grand View Park

    Inner Sunset / Hills - Entrance at 14th and Moraga

    Be prepared to climb if you want the reward of Grand View's vista. You can drive to a spot near the base of the park, but part of the joy is the journey up stairs and trails to the peak view. 

    Grand View Park is a gem tucked into the hills above the Inner Sunset District. There's a panoramic view from the top, and if you leave by way of the western stairs, and into Golden Gate Heights, you'll travel down a camera-worthy mosaic stairway descending through a garden area.

    See Grand View Park on the San Francisco Parks Map

    Photo © Ingrid Taylar

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    18. Lafayette Park

    Pacific Heights

    On the top of the hill with sweeping bay and city views, this park has tennis courts, rolling lawns, a dog park, a newly revamped playground that offers endless fun. It's also home to the first astronomical observatory on the west coast, built in 1879. 

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     19. Corona Heights

    Duboce Triangle

    With some of the best views in the city, this park boasts a beautiful wildflower population and a dog park that has sweeping skyline views. Beware of poison oak, which provides shelter and good to numerous bird species but will give you a very irritating rash. Wildflowers include California poppies, Douglas Iris and mule's ears.