Mesmerizing jellyfish can be seen at California Academy of Sciences. // © 2016 Chelsee Lowe
Feature image (above): Koret Children’s Quarter is an epic play space that was renovated in 2007. // © 2016 Chelsee Lowe
Development of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park began in 1871, and the rectangular swath of land measures in at 1,017 acres — a vast playground that’s full of surprises for nature lovers of all ages. No trip to the city by the bay is complete without spending a few hours here. Following are our top picks for gallivanting in the park with children.
Most people associate bison with Yellowstone National Park, but a significant herd of the animals has called Golden Gate Park home since 1892. The original bison were brought to California from the Great Plains; later, some actually did arrive from Yellowstone. While the herd has waxed and waned in number over the years, there are always a handful munching grass in the park’s Buffalo Paddock. Families can access the spot via Anglers Lodge on John F. Kennedy Drive, which is in the western end of the park.
Fly a Kite
Situated on the Pacific side of San Francisco, Golden Gate Park is often shrouded in coastal fog and rather windy. So while it may be cold, the park’s numerous grassy fields are dependable kite-flying locations. We love the one adjacent to Koret Children’s Quarter. Other favorites include Lindley Meadow and Speedway Meadow.
Play at Koret Children’s Quarter
Originally opened in 1888, this amazing spot is thought to be one of the country’s first public playgrounds — and back then, dedicating a space to kids’ play was pretty forward-thinking. Renovated in 2007, the playground has climbing walls, jungle gyms, rope structures, swing sets and beloved stone slides — riders tote pieces of cardboard up the adjacent stairs, then slide down the twisty channels like they’re snow sledding. Nearby, there’s also a working historic Herschell-Spillman carousel (the cost runs $2 per adult and $1 for kids ages 6 to 12; kids 5 and under are free); great lawns for picnics, soccer games and kite flying; and Sharon Art Studio, a public art space that hosts workshops and programming for kids throughout the year.
Stroll Stow Lake
Construction of this man-made lake wrapped in 1893, and since then, it has delighted pedestrians with its winding lakeside walking path, resident duck and geese flocks and paddleboat rides. Restrooms and a cafe can be found in the quaint wooden boathouse, and there are picnic tables near here, as well. Be sure to find a bridge and cross over to the inner “island,” where you’ll find a waterfall, a pretty pagoda and a hiking trails up Strawberry Hill.
Visit California Academy of Sciences
This museum delivers a three-for-one experience — it’s an aquarium, planetarium and natural history museum rolled together. It’s hard to tackle the entire site in a single visit. For first-time guests with little ones, head to the four-story Osher Rainforest exhibit, where you might spot butterflies, birds and amphibians. After that, say hello to albino alligator Claude; see sea creatures up close in the Steinhart Aquarium space; and catch a penguin feeding. All of the day’s programs and activities are listed on the brochure provided upon entrance.