Insiders Guide to San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park

Stow Lake in Golden Gate Park San Francisco
Beautiful Stow Lake in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park is both a respite and a center of activity.

This post was contributed by Lisa Crovo Dion

Did you know that at just over 1,000 acres GGP is larger than New York’s Central Park?

The archery range at San Francisco's Golden Gate Park
Use of the archery range at Golden Gate Park is free.

It’s also a wonderland of natural beauty and home to nine lakes, two waterfalls and 200 species of birds, as well as cultural landmarks like the DeYoung Museum and the Japanese Tea Garden. Many of us have hiked, biked, and played tennis in this lush playground but there are many other cool ways to enjoy this amazing natural landscape in the middle of San Francisco.

Tucked away in the northwest corner behind the Dutch Windmill is the Golden Gate Archery Range. The line of hay bales is free to use, but if you don’t have equipment, you can rent bows, arrows, and targets from nearby San Francisco Archery Pro Shop  or schedule lessons from the pros at Cupid’s Gate Archery.

Though it helps, you don’t have to be an old Italian guy to play bocce. You can even get a free lesson from a seasoned member of the San Francisco Lawn Bowling Club on Wednesdays at noon. The bocce court is adjacent to the Sharon Meadow Art Building (415-487-8787). Bust out those flat-soled shoes!

Two fun drop-in activities can be found on either side of JFK Drive that’s closed to traffic on weekends. Since 1996, Lindy in the Park has offered free swing dancing every Sunday from 11am-2pm. Look for swingers rockin’ cool retro fashions between 8th and 10th Ave. Be brave and check out a free beginner lesson at noon — no experience or partner required.

Nearby, off 6th Ave, Skatin’ Place is a haven for roller disco and inline skating divas. Since 1979, skaters have converged on this little patch of pavement, transforming it into an outdoor roller rink on Sundays from noon to 5pm, Wednesdays 3-5pm and Saturday afternoons.

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Stow Lake is on of GGP’s true gems, with graceful arched bridges, Strawberry Hill’s lofty city views in the middle, the delicately beautiful Chinese pavilion and the Boathouse ( where you can rent rowboats, pedal, and electric boats by the hour and enjoy a relaxing day on the lake.

On the southeast side of GGP, near Hippie Hill, Koret Children’s Quarter is the mack daddy of San Francisco playgrounds. With two sets of play structures that accommodate various ages, swings, concrete slides built into the hillside, a water feature, and the 1912 vintage carousel next door, you can exhaust the shorties while they overdose on fun.

Photos by Parker Dion and Dan Dion