If there’s one thing San Francisco loves more than bacon, it’s parks. One hint of hot, sunny weather and we migrate in bikini-clad droves to the nearest grassy space, spread out our picnic blankets, and soak up as much Vitamin D as humanly possible before the sun rolls down behind the hills. Sure, we have a beach, but in a lot of ways the park has become an even better warm-weather alternative–an easy-to-get-to piece of nature in an otherwise urban sprawl.
Golden Gate Park
If you’re an out-of-towner, “San Francisco parks” probably conjures up images of the illustrious Golden Gate Park–and with good reason. It’s a massive green space, home to The California Academy of Sciences, the Japanese Tea Garden, the Exploratorium, the De Young, a wealth of colorful flowers, and the Golden Gate Park Buffalo Paddock (which, oddly enough, houses only bison). It’s also just a short hop from the famous Haight-Ashbury area, encouraging an easy transition from beatnik to picnic. But Golden Gate is far from the only space worth stopping off at.
For the young, hip, and local crowd, Dolores Park (in the Mission District) has become the place to bring a bottle of wine and a gang of friends to enjoy the summer sunshine. Renovations are underway to expand the park’s playground and bathroom facilities, which means that this favorite spot may take on a more family-friendly flavor in the near future, but for now it remains the site of twenty-somethings’ get-togethers, summer film screenings, cultural celebrations, and open-air theater performances like Shakespeare in the Park.
San Francisco’s Presidio is another ambitious outdoor space: a former military post filled with beautiful historic buildings and serpentine grassland plants. The environment here is definitely more “wild” than the previous two spaces, and visitors will find the nearly 1,500 acres to be more conducive to bird-watching than beer-drinking. In fact, two of my favorite local birds–the Red Tail Hawk and the Lesser Goldfinch–number among the park’s over 200 avian species. It’s a nice break from S.F.’s pigeon-dominated downtown.
Sutro Heights Park
If summer makes you want to slip into some nice, comfy hiking boots, mark Sutro Heights Park on your map. While I haven’t been to the spot myself (it’s at the top of my “To Do” list, I swear), Land’s End is easily one of the most popular hiking trails within city limits. The full trek will take you past the Sutro Baths, China Beach, and the Legion of Honor, and the views you’ll get of the Marin Headlands are unparalleled. Do a Flickr search for “Land’s End San Francisco” if you need some photographic motivation.
Have a favorite local park of your own? Let us know what sets it apart in the comments section.
Image Credits (Top to Bottom): “Bridge over the reflecting pond in the Japanese Garden in Golden Gate Park” by Frank Kovalchek; “Dolores Park” by Geoff Stearns; “san francisco’s great blue heron (ardea herodias)” by George Ruiz; “Land’s End – San Francisco, CA” by Helena Price.