Golden Gate Park’s largest body of water, Stow Lake is a popular spot for strolling, picnicking, and pedaling around in boats, which can be rented at the boathouse. Created in 1893, the lake was designed for leisure boating, as a promenade for horse-drawn carriages, and as a reservoir for park irrigation. The 12-acre doughnut-shaped lake surrounds Strawberry Hill Island, a wooded hill named for the wild strawberries that once flourished on its flanks.
A trail follows the lake’s perimeter, passing Huntington Falls, a 110-foot artificial waterfall that cascades from another reservoir higher up on Strawberry Hill; the Golden Gate Pavilion, a colorful Chinese pagoda presented to San Francisco by its sister city Taipei in 1976; and the Stone (or Rustic) Bridge, built in 1893, and Roman Bridge.
Both bridges connect the lakeshore trail to Strawberry Hill Island, where trails follow the shoreline and climb to the hill’s summit, the highest point in Golden Gate Park at more than 400 feet. You can still catch glimpses of the city through the thick groves of trees, but in the 1890s the hill provided sweeping views. Sweeney’s Observatory, an elaborate castle-like structure built on the summit in 1891, was actually a vista point. Horse-drawn carriages took visitors around the lake and up to the observatory until 1906, when it was destroyed in the great earthquake.
Stow Lake Boathouse, on the lake’s north shore, rents pedal boats, row boats, and has a snack bar. The current building, built in 1946, replaced the original 1893 boathouse.