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Best Parks and Gardens in San Francisco

Twelve best parks and gardens in San Francisco with extraordinary features like amazing gardens, lakes, waterfalls, trails, and major museums.


There are many great parks and gardens in San Francisco, and some of them are truly extraordinary. Two examples are Salesforce Park, which is an amazing 5.4-acre garden park on the roof of the Transit Center, and Golden Gate Park with several gardens, lakes, trails, museums, and more. This article covers the 12 most interesting San Francisco Parks and/or Gardens. These are places locals know and love and visitors want on their San Francisco Itinerary:

The Dozen Best Parks and Gardens in San Francisco

All of these are in Golden Gate ParkThese are scattered around San Francisco
1. Golden Gate Park7. Presidio National Park
2. Botanical Garden $8. Crissy Field (part of Presidio NP)
3. Conservatory of Flowers $9. Lincoln Park
4. Japanese Tea Garden $10. Palace of Fine Arts
5. Stow Lake & Strawberry Hill11. Salesforce Park
6. Bison Paddock12. Yerba Buena Gardens
$ These have an entry fee; the others are free

This article covers these subjects for each of the 12:

  • Brief descriptions
  • Reasons why they’re great places to visit
  • A link to a Google map with the parks and gardens pinned
  • In some cases, tiny bits of history
  • Locations, time needed to visit, and helpful links
  • Best time to visit San Francisco
Variety of flowers in San Francisco Botanical Garden.
Views around San Francisco Botanical Garden.

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San Francisco Parks and Gardens Map

Click the map image below to go to the expandable, interactive Google Map. It has the parks and gardens pinned. Click on the pins for brief descriptions.

Interactive map with pins marking 12 extraordinary Parks and Gardens in San Francisco.
Click the map to open in Google Maps.
Temple Gate in the Japanese Gardens in San Francisco.
Temple Gate in the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park.

1. Golden Gate Park

Golden Gate Park is a 1,017-acre urban oasis packed with gardens, lakes, trails, a great children’s playground, and even a Bison Paddock. It also has two major museums and is the venue for a variety of (mostly free) concerts and festivals.

There are about a dozen smaller gardens scattered around the park’s 1.6-square miles. Among them are: Tree Fern Dell, Fuchsia Dell, Shakespeare Garden, Rose Garden, Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden, and more. Find them on the official, downloadable park map (see links below).

Location: Golden Gate Park is a 3-mile long, half a mile wide strip between the Sunset and Richmond Districts. It’s bordered by Fulton Street, Lincoln Way, Stanyan Street, and the Pacific Ocean.
Time: You can easily spend the whole day. For example, visit the California Academy of Sciences, have lunch, visit the Japanese Tea Garden, go to Stow Lake, visit a couple of the other gardens, and perhaps stop by the Bison Paddock. This would pretty much fill your day.
Links: Golden Gate Park
Park Map (Downloadable)
Golden Gate Park Free Shuttle

Spend the Day in Golden Gate Park

Golden Gate Park is also home to two major museums: the California Academy of Sciences (CADS) and the de Young. You can easily spend a whole day in the park by visiting one or both of the museums and some (or all) of the gardens and lakes recommended here.

Both CADS and the de Young have cafes, and there are neighborhood restaurants on both sides of the park. My favorite is the Beach Chalet at the park’s west end, overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

Purple and yellow flowers in the SF Botanical Gardens.
Botanical garden.

2. San Francisco Botanical Garden

The Botanical Garden is 55-acres chock full of trees, plants, and flowers from around the world. View the downloadable map to see the huge variety of flora and how it’s organized. The Rhododendron Garden is an amazing sight in spring when so many are in bloom.

Location: 1199 9th Avenue in Golden Gate Park
Time: Allow about 90 minutes to walk through all of the areas.
Link: San Francisco Botanical Garden

Visiting the Beautiful glass and wood Conservatory of Flowers is one of the best things to do in Golden Gate Park.
Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park.

3. Conservatory of Flowers

Opened in 1879, the Conservatory of Flowers is a glass and wooden greenhouse modeled after London’s Kew Gardens. It’s a beautiful building, and it houses an great collection of rare and exotic plants including bromeliads, carnivorous plants, and giant Amazon lily pads.

Location: 100 John F. Kennedy Drive in Golden Gate Park
Time: 30-60 minutes
Link: Conservatory of Flowers

Moon bridge in the Japanese Tea Garden San Francisco.
Moon bridge in the Japanese Tea Garden.

4. Japanese Tea Garden

The beautiful, peaceful 5-acre garden is complete with Koi ponds, a Temple Gate and Pagoda, Zen Garden, moon bridge, bronze Buddha, a 9000-pound Peace Lantern, and a Tea House serving tea and refreshments. We can thank Makoto Hagiwara for the beautiful garden. He created and maintained it between 1894 and 1925.

Location: 75 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive in Golden Gate Park (next to the de Young Museum)
Time: About an hour; perhaps more if you have tea and take lots of photos
Link: Japanese Tea Garden

Huntington Falls in Golden Gate Park, one of the waterfalls in San Francisco.
Huntington Falls on Strawberry Hill in Stow Lake, Golden Gate Park.

5. Stow Lake and Strawberry Hill

Stow Lake is a 12-acre manmade lake in the middle of Golden Gate Park. Strawberry Hill is an island in the middle of the lake and both Huntington Falls and a Chinese Pavilion are on Strawberry Hill.

What you can do at Stow Lake:

  • Walk all the way around the lake on the flat, paved, 2.1-mile trail.
  • Cross the Roman or the Rustic Bridge to get onto Strawberry Hill. Huntington Falls and the Chinese Pavilion are both on the hill and there are trails over and around it.
  • Rent a boat at the Stow Lake Boathouse (pedal, row, or electric) and explore the lake.
  • Birdwatching: On my recent visit there were blue herons and their nests in a Strawberry Hill tree.
  • Photography: There are great photo-ops including Huntington Falls, Rustic Bridge, the Chinese Pavilion, and lots of red-eared slider turtles sunning themselves on floating logs.
Rustic Bridge connects Golden Gate Park’s Stow Lake to Strawberry Hill in San Francisco.
Rustic Bridge connects Stow Lake to Strawberry Hill.

Location: Stow Lake is behind (west of) the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park. There’s a short trail and flight of stairs leading up to the lake. If driving, turn onto Stow Lake Drive from either Martin Luther King Jr. Drive or John F. Kennedy Drive. Parking is free along Stow Lake Drive.
Time: 1 hour; 2 hours if you rent a boat
Links: Stow Lake
Stow Lake Boathouse

Herd of bison in Golden Gate Park.
Golden Gate Park has been home to a herd of bison since 1892. (Not the same bison, of course).

6. Bison Paddock

Yes, there are Bison in Golden Gate Park and there have been since 1892. Decades before the San Francisco Zoo opened, the park had a small collection of animals including bear, elk, deer and sheep. Now only the Great Plains Bison remain. It’s an all-female herd, so new bison are occasionally added; five new calves were added in 2020.

On my recent visit, I walked in from 36th and Fulton Avenues to the north side of the paddock. It was great that all of the bison happened to be on that side, but they were busy eating and wouldn’t pose for my photos.

Location: Along John F. Kennedy Drive just west of Spreckels Lake in Golden Gate Park. 
Time: 15 minutes (unless, like me, you’re trying to get photos)
Link: Bison Paddock

17-acre public landscape at Lucasfilm’s Letterman Digital Arts Center, San Francisco Presidio.
17-acre public landscape at Lucasfilm’s Letterman Digital Arts Center.

7. Presidio National Park

The Presidio is a former US Army base that is now a 1500-acre National Park. It’s a gorgeous location where San Francisco Bay joins the Pacific Ocean, and the Golden Gate Bridge touches down in San Francisco.

Strategically located at the southern entrance to San Francisco Bay, the Presidio began as a Spanish garrison in 1776. It passed to Mexico for a couple of decades, and then served as a US Army base until the base closed in1994.

What you can do at Presidio

The Presidio has picnic areas, a lot of trails, and all of these:

  • Baker Beach
  • Crissy Field
  • Fort Point
  • Lucasfilm’s Letterman Digital Arts Center (Yoda Fountain and 17-acre park)
  • Mountain Lake
  • Presidio Officers’ Club (the park’s cultural center and museum)
  • Presidio Visitor Center
  • San Francisco National Cemetery
  • Walt Disney Family Museum

Location: Start at the Visitor Center: 210 Lincoln Boulevard on the Presidio’s Main Post. 
Time: Allow 15-30 minutes for the Visitor Center; then add time for whatever else interests you. For example, add 2-hours for the Walt Disney Family Museum and 90-minutes to walk the Ecology Trail to Inspiration Point and back.
Links: Presidio National Park
Presidio NP Visitor Center
Presidio Trails Map (Downloadable PDF)

Overlooking Crissy Field from the Presidio Promenade.
Overlooking Crissy Field.

8. Crissy Field (part of Presidio National Park)

Crissy Field is a 100-acre waterfront park with beaches, a tidal lagoon, acres of grass, picnic areas, and gorgeous views of San Francisco Bay, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the city skyline.

For decades, Crissy Field was the airfield for the Presidio Army Base. When the base closed in 1994, Crissy Field was a contaminated, dilapidated mess. It took 20 years, thousands of volunteers, and about $35 million to restore the land and create the beautiful and popular park it is now.

Crissy Field’s Golden Gate Promenade

Crissy Field has a very popular 1.8-mile trail running through it called the Golden Gate Promenade. The promenade is part of the Bay Trail and follows the water’s edge from the Marina District to Fort Point. It’s wide, flat, and fully accessible. You can walk, run, bike, push a stroller or wheelchair, and bring your dog (leashed, of course).

Location: On the waterfront between Baker Street and the Golden Gate Bridge. There is a large, free parking lot near the east end by East Beach.
Time: At least an hour just to wander the lagoon and part of the waterfront trail and take in the views.
Link: Crissy Field

View of the Pacific Ocean from Lands End in Lincoln Park San Francisco.
View of the Pacific Ocean from Lands End in Lincoln Park.

9. Lincoln Park

The Legion of Honor Art Museum, Lands End Trail, and a public golf course are all located in Lincoln Park. This 100-acre park on the Pacific Ocean has beautiful views of the ocean, especially from the Lands End Trail, which skirts around the park’s ocean-front perimeter.

Location: It’s in San Francisco’s northwest corner with about 2-miles of rugged Pacific Ocean shoreline.
Time: Depends on what you do. Visiting the art museum or walking the full Lands End Trail could each take a couple of hours.
Link: Lincoln Park

Palace of Fine Arts, a faux Greco-Roman ruin in San Francisco.
Palace of Fine Arts, a faux Greco-Roman ruin.

10. Palace of Fine Arts

The Palace of Fine Arts was built for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition. It was a World’s Fair and celebrated the completion of the Panama Canal and San Francisco’s recovery from the 1906 earthquake. The faux Greco-Roman ruin is a very popular photo op, especially for wedding and graduation photos.

Location: 3601 Lyon Street & Marina Blvd.
Time: About 30 minutes to wander through the ruin and checkout the swans and other wildlife in the pond.
Link: Palace of Fine Arts

A section of the trail and garden in the 5.4-acre roof-top park at the Salesforce Transit Center in San Francisco.
Section of Bus Fountain in the Salesforce Transit Center Park.

11. Salesforce Park (Roof Top Garden)

San Francisco’s new Salesforce Transit Center has an incredible 5.4-acre rooftop park on the fourth floor. It covers the entire roof of the 3.5 block-long building with over 50 species of trees and 230 species of plants. There are also free classes, activities, and concerts held in the park.

Fun Fact: Bus Fountain is one of the park’s really cool features. It’s dancing waters are triggered by buses moving on the floor below. The fountain is 1,200-feet-long and has 247 water jets.

Location: The 3.5 block-long Transit Center is between Beale and 2nd Streets, so you can enter anywhere along Natoma or Minna Streets between Beale and 2nd. Take the escalator or an elevator to the 4th floor.
Time: Allow at least 30 minutes to walk the full loop, admire the trees, plants, and flowers and read some of the signage. Add more time if you just want to sit and contemplate how they created this amazing landscape on the roof of a 4-story building.
Link: Salesforce Park Garden Guide (Downloadable PDF)

A waterfall in Yerba Buena Gardens honoring Dr. Martin Luther King. His vision of peace and unity is behind the falls.
This waterfall in Yerba Buena Gardens honors Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Walk behind the falls to see his vision of peace and unity.

12. Yerba Buena Gardens

Covering most of 2-square blocks, the park is above the underground areas of Moscone Convention Center. The entire complex includes the Esplanade, an Ice-skating rink, a children’s playground, and a beautifully restored 1906 Carousel.

The 5-acre Esplanade is a park with a large lawn area, stage, gardens, and great public artworks. The Esplanade hosts a variety of free public concerts, performances, and festivals. The best reason to visit the Esplanade is the incredible memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King behind a huge waterfall.

Location: The most direct entrance into the Esplanade is on Mission Street between 3rd and 4th Streets.
Time: Plan an hour just to see the Dr. Martin Luther King Memorial, wander the grounds, and see the garden and scattered artworks. If you have children with you, allow time for the playground and carousel, and maybe the ice-skating rink.
Link: Yerba Buena Gardens

Best Time to Visit San Francisco

Weather-wise, mid-September through mid-November is best. The summer fog (nature’s air conditioner) doesn’t roll in as often and the winter rains haven’t yet started. The rest of the year, the weather is mixed: there are often gorgeous, sunny days in winter and overcast, chilly days in summer.

Getting to the Parks and Gardens

Links are provided for all 12 sights so you can easily get details like operating days/hours, ways to get there, and, if required, to purchase tickets. Golden Gate Park and most of the other parks and gardens are easily reachable on public transit. If you’d like more detailed public transit information about routes, apps, maps, fares, and ways to pay, see our related San Francisco Public Transit article.

The old Dutch windmill in Golden Gate Park dates back to the early 1900s.
The old Dutch windmill in Golden Gate Park dates back to the early 1900s.

Conclusion

There are many dozens more parks and gardens in San Francisco, but the 15 described here have unique or special amenities that make them especially popular with visitors. I hope you found some that matched your interests and enjoyed them.

To discover more sights that match your interests, check out these related articles:

About the Author

Ginny Vail is a travel writer, whose goal is to help you pack your travels with more adventure and less stress. Her posts, photos, and videos will help you discover places to visit, sights to see, sight locations, ways to get to them, and when to go. She is a native Californian, and, although she’s visited all 50 states and traveled around the world, her main focus is the San Francisco Bay Area, where she lives.