Gardens, Groves, Lakes and Meadows
Whether you're looking for a nice quiet spot to read a book or in search of some awe-inspiring nature, Golden Gate Park features a wide array of gardens, groves, lakes and meadows for you to enjoy, each with its own distinct character and charm.
Tea Garden Map | Tea Garden Ticketing Website
John F. Kennedy Drive near 14th Avenue |
Until January 8, 1961, San Francisco had no municipal rose garden, although a two-acre informal one had existed in the park on Stanyan Street between Oak and Page Streets early in the century. Today, the park’s Rose Garden contains examples ranging from a simple single five-petal configuration of the wild rose to hybridized elegant blooms in a wide variety of sizes, shapes, and fragrances. These delicately perfumed blossoms are a universal symbol of love and romance and offer the perfect backdrop for a budding relationship. For events happening at the Golden Gate Park Rose Garden, visit https://sfrosesociety.org.
The National AIDS Memorial Grove is a living tribute to all whose lives have been touched by AIDS, and a dedicated space where people can gather to heal, hope, and remember. Its purpose is to ensure that those who have suffered from the AIDS epidemic — both those who have died and those who have shared their struggle — are not forgotten.
While most of Golden Gate Park has been landscaped with lawns, flowerbeds and other ornamental features, a few remnants of San Francisco’s oak woodlands still exist in this world-renowned park. The northeast corner of Golden Gate Park is home to some of the oldest coast live oak trees in San Francisco.
|Chain of Lakes
Chain of Lakes Drive |
Consisting of North, Middle, and South Lakes, the Chain of Lakes was formed in part from freshwater swamps. Park Superintendent John McLaren envisioned picturesque bodies of water in the rustic style espoused earlier in the century by architect and landscape gardener Andrew Jackson Downing. A total of seven islands dotted the waterscapes, each planted in 1899 with a different species of shrub or tree to augment the grasses and willow trees native to the area. North Lake was re-puddled and landscaped in 2004; the roadway west of the lake was shut to vehicle traffic but allows pedestrians.
Danger Warning for North Lake: There is currently a danger warning for North Lake. Toxins from algae in this water can harm people and animals. Stay out of the water until further notice. Do not touch scum in the water or on shore. Do not let pets or other animals drink or go into the water or go near the scum. Complete information from the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) can be found here: English | Spanish | Chinese | Filipino
Stow Lake Drive and JFK Drive |
Surrounding Strawberry Hill is Stow Lake, the park’s largest lake and a serene setting for boating or strolling. Photographic opportunities abound here; one choice site is the Golden Gate Pavilion, an exotic sight among the naturalistic character of the lake. A wide variety of waterfowl can be seen throughout the year, and turtles that sun themselves on waterborne logs have long delighted and fascinated Stow Lake’s visitors. Water-loving plants inhabit the water’s edge, and in some places, create a hedge between the lake and the surrounding footpath. The highest point of the park, the summit of Strawberry Hill, commands a 360-degree view; an observatory once stood here, until the 1906 earthquake put it into ruins.
Golden Gate Park never stops blooming, and its gardeners never stop working. The entire park is a garden created out of sand dunes by gardeners’ hands in the 1870s, and generations of gardeners since then have planted many rare and exotic plants throughout the park. And because San Francisco has very little frost and ample winter rain, there is always something growing, flowering, going to seed, or changing color here.
Although Golden Gate Park has beautiful destination gardens, it was designed for folks to “get lost.” Wander any trail and you will find interesting features, surprising plants, magnificent tree groves, and sunny glades. And did you know that there are ten lakes in the park?
Below are just a few hints on the park’s blooming seasons.
Conservatory Valley’s legendary floral displays, installed in October, begin to bloom with annual flowers planted in intricately patterned carpet beds. Across John F. Kennedy Drive from the Conservatory, don’t miss the Tree Fern Dell and hidden Lily Pond. Look for pink-hued magnolias blooming here and there throughout the park, and some rhododendron surprises. The park is a feast of green as plants thrive in winter’s growing season.
In the tree groves, the grass is emerald green. Long walks are fun in Golden Gate Park, with its gentle topography. You can still “feel” the rhythm of the graceful sand dunes underneath the planted park. The carpet beds in Conservatory Valley will be brilliant all spring until late April, possibly early May.
The Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden, under the windmill at the park’s west end, is a popular destination now. Tulips are expected to be in fine glory from March 15 through April 15. Spring flowering shrubs are blooming in the park throughout the spring season. One favorite is the fragrant blue or white ceanothus (California lilac), a California native.
If you didn’t make it to the Tulip Garden in March, be sure not to miss it now. While you’re there, check the lovely perennial gardens near the Beach Chalet/Park Chalet restaurants at Ocean Beach for birds and butterflies. The Shakespeare Garden’s crabapple trees are in flower. Wander around the Rhododendron Dell to see what’s blooming and listen to the birds singing. Golden pollen from cypress trees can be seen shimmering in the dappled light and on the surface of lakes.
The Rose Garden will be dazzling from mid-May through July. Bring the whole family and a picnic; a picnic area is just west of the garden. A mysterious redwood grove lies to the east. Conservatory Valley’s display flowerbeds are being changed this month, so there will be no carpet beds in bloom until late June. The nearby Fuchsia Garden will be in flower until November. Lots of trees and shrubs continue to bloom.
The Dahlia Garden, a favorite of photographers and families, will be in radiant color until October. Enjoy the long days of summer with a picnic after work in one of the meadows.
Conservatory Valley delights the eye with its full summer splendor. Climb the de Young Museum’s tower to look down on the park spread out below you, and the city beyond. The tower is always free.
Conservatory Valley’s intricately patterned flowerbeds are at their most spectacular.
This is the last month of the year to enjoy the flowerbeds in Conservatory Valley, although the floral clock and plaque on the slope may last a bit longer. Look for crinum lilies in the Tree Fern Dell across JFK Drive. The Rose Garden shows a flush of fresh blooms this month.
Fall transforms the Japanese Tea Garden’s maples to shades of orange, while sycamores throughout the park turn a translucent gold. In Conservatory Valley, the gardening crew will be removing the annual plants from the flowerbeds and preparing to plant the young starts in new designs.
The Japanese Tea Garden’s magnificent gingko turn butter-yellow mid-month and cover the ground with their startling color.
Winter rains replenish the earth, and the golden grass of summer is renewed in vibrant green.