San Francisco
San Francisco
Golden Gate Park

In the late 19th century, what is now Golden Gate Park was just a bunch of sand-dunes; starting in 1870, this unpromising landscape was transformed into one of the most beautiful parks. At the eastern edge of the park are museums and gardens. The western edge of Golden Gate Park ends at Ocean Beach, with windswept views of the Pacific.

California Academy of Sciences - One of our favorite places in Golden Gate Park is the new California Academy of Sciences. A museum that celebrates the natural world, it includes a superb aquarium, planetarium, natural history exhibits, and live rainforest, and living roof. Plan on spending your whole day with the kids here.
Before you start exploring the museum, take the elevator to the Living Roof. The roof is planted with native plants that don't need water or fertilizing, and the plants help keep the museum at a comfortable temperature. Plus, there are views of Golden Gate Park.
Inside the museum, two big globes enclose the planetarium and living rainforest. (The planetarium is included in your museum admission, but stop over to get a pass for the 30 minute planetarium show - shows typically appeal to older kids.)
In the Rainforest, step inside a living rainforest, where you can see blue and yellow macaws, leaf cutter ants growing a fungus farm, tomato frogs, green day geckos, sun beetles. At the top level, there are free-flying butterflies - don't be surprised if a large owl or blue Morpho butterfly lands on your hand (and doesn't want to leave).
From the Rainforest, the elevator goes directly down into the Amazon Flooded Forest and Steinhart Aquarium. The walk through tunnel of Amazon fish is mesmerizing, with ancient-looking fish, such as arapaima.
In the Aquarium, check out the tanks with marine life of the California Coast, Twilight Zone (marine life deep in the ocean), Philipine Coral Reef, plus a Discovery Tidepool where kids can touch the plump little sea stars and spiny sea urchins. The aquarium is a unique opportunity to see amazing marine life, inches from your face.
Don't miss the feedings of the South African penguins in the mornings and afternoons. (Penguins are in the African Hall).
Curiosity Grove is a play space for kids 6 and under – families have fun with games, puppets, books, activities, in a California forest setting.
Another super feature of the museum, is a first rate self-service restaurant with a wide variety of real (not fast) food, all kid-friendly, and an outdoor grassy area where kids can run around and play.
De Young Museum - What's great about the de Young Museum, in its brand-new building, is it has an American art collection, as well as arts from Africa and Oceania. There's stuff here you won't see in other museums, and it's beautifully exhibited, so you can really enjoy the artworks.
First stop, after you've sat on all the nice Andy Goldsworthy stone boulders at the main entrance, is the observation tower. From the observation tower, there's an expansive view of Golden Gate park, San Francisco neighborhoods, the Golden Gate Bridge and Marin headlands in the distance.
Some of our favorite pieces in the museum - Three Machines (that's three gumball machines) by Wayne Thiebaud, the New Guinea clan wood carvings, African masks, exquisite Maya goodies, and a costume collection in the textiles gallery.
When you buy your tickets, rent the children's family audio tour, (audio tours are available at both the main entrance and lower level entrance).
Japanese Tea Garden - This Japanese-style garden, created for the 1894 Exposition, was designed by Makoto Hagiwara, who is also credited with the invention of the fortune cookie. Today, explore this exquisite landscape with a beautiful red pagoda and temple gate, ponds, waterfalls and sunken gardens.
Kids will want to go over the Moon Bridge several times. Look for one deer, two wading birds, four frogs (bronze statues in the garden). Stop in the tea house for Japanese snacks, sweets, green tea and soft drinks.
Koret Children's Playground and Carousel (Keezar Drive) - This large playground is a favorite place for local kids. Swing on the toddler swings, crawl through big tubes, climb on multi-colored structures, whoosh down the long slide, splash in the water play area and play in the sand. Little kids will also enjoy the old-fashioned carousel.
Picnics - Golden Gate Park is the perfect place for a picnic. You can spread a picnic out wherever there is a grassy spot. There are picnic tables near the Children's Playground, Rose Garden, Pioneer Cabin, and tables and bar-b-que grills in Lindley Meadow, Marx Meadow (along John F. Kenney Drive, west of Crossover Drive.)
Stow Lake - Stow Lake is a large artificial lake with an island, Strawberry Hill, in the middle. Rents boats at the boathouse - pedal boats, row boats and electric boats are available. As you boat around Stow Lake, you'll pass by the Golden Gate Pavilion, a Chinese-style gazebo with green-tiled roof, and man-made Huntington Falls (the water may be running.)
Rent bikes - Next the boathouse, you can rent bikes, scooters, skates, and pedal surreys for two, four, or six people. Surreys (carriages you pedal) are ideal if you have little kids. There are miles of bike paths in Golden Gate Park, and John F. Kennedy Dr. is closed to traffic on Sundays.
Climb up Strawberry Hill - Cross over the rustic bridge, and climb up the path to the top of Strawberry Hill. At the top, there are fine views of the Golden Gate Bridge through the cypress trees.
Pioneer Log Cabin - This old log cabin is made of redwood logs, floated down the river from Northern California (nothing to see inside). Close by the cabin is a 1914 statue of "Pioneer Mother," a sculpture of a mother dressed in typical pioneer clothing, serenely standing over two itchy-looking kids.
Spreckels Lake - This shallow lake is where people sail their model boats. Many of them are radio controlled, but you could also bring a toy boat, and launch it on the lake.
Bison Paddock – Bison, or buffalo as they are more popularly called, are long gone from the American prairies, but you can see them in Golden Gate Park. Bison have been grazing in Golden Gate Park for over a 100 years. Very homey. Tip: Often the bison are not very visible, grazing far up the field.
Beach Chalet and Dutch Windmill - Stop in the Beach Chalet, now a Vistor's Center and restaurant. In the visitor's center, there is a wonderful diorama of Golden Gate Park (complete with gobs of miniature trees.) The murals on the walls depict scenes from San Francisco in the 1930's.
Next to Beach Chalet is the "Dutch Windmill." This 75 ft. windmill was originally built to pump water for use in Golden Gate Park. The windmill has been restored and the arms move, although it no longer pumps water. Around the windmill is a garden, planted with thousands of tulips.

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