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- Gardens, Groves and Lakes
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.
Conservatory Drive East off of JFK Drive | Map It
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, including this delightful little garden of camellias.
780 Frederick Street | Map It
The .66-acre Golden Gate Park CommUNITY Garden features 67 raised bed community garden plots for budding gardeners to enjoy. The Recreation and Park Department has also made available common landscape materials (mulch, chips and fines) stocked in holding bins and a gardening-tool lending library, demonstration gardens and educational programming. Environmentally sustainable practices are emphasized here, both in the garden’s design and in its programmatic and operating features, including a native plant nursery as part of the materials distribution component.
Conservatory of Flowers
Pompeii Circle off of JFK Drive | Map It
Plans to build the Dahlia Garden were introduced in 1940 by Interstate Commerce Commission Director Richard T. Eddy and Park Superintendent John McLaren. Their intent was to cultivate dahlia species from all over the world and create an international garden. Located inside the oval of the Conservatory driveway turnaround, the kidney-shaped garden is tended by the Dahlia Society of California, whose members nurture its some 1,000 plants into full bloom by late August.
Conservatory Drive East off of JFK Drive | Map It
This secluded hillside spot was developed in 1940 to showcase fuchsias. Originally called the Golden Gate Fuchsia Grove, the hillside garden was created by the Park Department. Little is known of its early history, but the original fuchsia plants most likely came from the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition (GGIE), noted for the fuchsias featured in some of its landscaping. Park Superintendent John McLaren was a special adviser to the GGIE fair commission and was known to have recycled many plantings from the Panama-Pacific International Exposition to the park many years earlier. In the middle of the dell there is a brass sundial on top of a square masonry pedestal that was placed in 1983.
Japanese Tea Garden
Tea Garden Map | Tea Garden Ticketing Website
|Queen Wilhelmina Garden|
1690 John F. Kennedy Drive | Map It
Below the towering Dutch Windmill is the Queen Wilhelmina Garden, where some 10,000 tulip bulbs planted each fall blossom the following March; interspersed with Iceland poppies, the tulips seem even more glorious and colorful. The bowl-shaped garden was designed by Roy L. Hudson and named in 1962 to honor the long-reigning queen of the Netherlands, who had died that same year. Tulips, the emblem of perfect love, originate from central Asia and Turkey, from where they were introduced into Europe and the Americas in the 17th century.
John McLaren Rhododendron Dell
John F. Kennedy Drive near 14th Avenue | Map It
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.
San Francisco Botanical Garden
335 Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive | Map It
The California Spring Blossom and Wild Flower Association established the half-acre intimate formal garden in July 1928 to showcase the plants and trees mentioned in William Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets. Today, this charming, secluded garden is the perfect urban getaway spot to enjoy a good read or have a romantic lunch. Of course, with love and Shakespeare in the air, this garden has become one of the city’s most popular wedding venues.
AIDS Memorial Grove
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.
|Arch of Colonial Trees|
John F. Kennedy Drive and Stow Lake Drive | Map It
A symbolic group of trees, one from each of the original 13 states, was planted on October 19, 1896, in a gentle 450-foot-long curving pathway. The grove, planted just east of the Pioneer Log Cabin, was a gift of the Sequoia Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Today it is difficult to discern the original patriotic trees. Replacement trees were planted in March of 2012 in a re-dedication ceremony and others will be added over time.
|Heroes Redwood Grove|
John F. Kennedy Drive to the north of the de Young Museum | Map It
In a moving ceremony on Memorial Day 1919, some 12,000 people, many in mourning black, dedicated this grove to the heroes of World War I, which had ended just seven months earlier. Although some redwood trees (the official tree of California) had been previously planted, the first tree specifically dedicated to the heroes was planted on the occasion and topped by a small American flag. The triangular-shaped 15-acre plot contains symbolic noble evergreen coastal redwoods, also called coastal sequoia (Sequoia sempervirens), dedicated by the Gold Star Mothers organization.
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.
|Redwood Memorial Grove|
John F. Kennedy Drive near 14th Avenue | Map It
The Native Sons and Daughters of the Golden West planted 39 saplings here in 1930 to celebrate those soldiers who had given their lives in the Spanish-American War and World War I. A tract for the grove was initially selected between Sloat Boulevard and Ocean Avenue, but the reddish brown-barked noble coastal redwood trees (Sequoia sempervirens) ultimately ended up in this basin area of the park.
|Tree Fern Dell|
John F. Kennedy Drive across from the Conservatory of Flowers | Map It
Step into an exotic, jungle-like world in this delightful, shady garden stretch, located along JFK Drive opposite the Conservatory of Flowers. Filled with Tasmanian tree ferns, the dell offers visitors a unique stroll through what you’d imagine a dinosaur garden would be.
|Washington Bicentennial Grove|
Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive, near 23rd Avenue and Lincoln Way | Map It
The George Washington Bicentennial Grove was planted to honor the country’s first president, on the bicentennial of Washington’s birth. The National Women’s Relief Society of San Francisco planted the sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum) trees, two of which were donated by the Los Angeles Parks Department, on February 22, 1932.
Stanyan Street at Haight | Map It
This small, picturesque, artificial lake was named for William Alvord, a park commission president, mayor of San Francisco, Bank of California president, and city police commissioner, among many other distinguished positions. The lakelet, created in 1882, was improved with a donation by Alvord in 1894. Alvord asked that it be called “The Lakelet,” but others insisted that Alvord’s name be used. A bronze frog, the gift of a park supervisor, spouts water in the lake.
|Chain of Lakes|
Chain of Lakes Drive | Map It
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
|Elk Glen Lake|
Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive and 25th Avenue | Map It
Imitating a wild setting, this reed-surrounded artificial lake was named for the enclosure that housed the park’s first pair of Roosevelt elk, given in 1890 by Alvinza Hayward, a business associate of banker William Ralston’s. The lake was created in 1936, with a capacity of 2.064 million gallons, as a holding pond for treated sewage water.
Stow Lake Drive East | Map It
One summer, Park Superintendent John McLaren visited naturalist John Muir in the High Sierra. Muir, who had little use for human-made parks, pointed out several waterfalls set among magnificent trees. When McLaren returned to San Francisco, he described his vision to W. W. Stow, the wealthy chair of the park commission. Stow agreed that a waterfall would be a wonderful addition to the park and took his friend, railroad magnate Collis P. Huntington, for a buggy ride, passing Strawberry Hill several times. McLaren joined them, but it was Stow who convinced the tycoon that a waterfall tumbling down the slope would be a wonderful addition to the park, and two days later, a check arrived for $25,000 for construction of the falls.
Off of Nancy Pelosi Drive near the AIDS Memorial Grove | Map It
A scenic, dipping path meanders around what was once a quarry, opened in 1871 to supply bedded chert rock for paving the park’s drives and paths. Chert is a thin, brick red strata of shells and protozoa layered with shale from the lower Jurassic period. After much of the rock was removed, the area was cultivated in 1902 as Cook’s Lake, around which peacocks once strutted and shrilled. Its towering escarpment on the north side provides a picturesque backdrop to the pond, once inhabited by ducks, turtles, and water lilies. Workers for the 1894 Midwinter Fair used the banks of the lake as a resting place during lunch breaks and affectionately called it “Hobo Lake.”
800 John F. Kennedy Drive | Map It
If history had taken another direction, this placid, clay-lined lake, known by some as Mirror Lake, might have been called Kissane Lake. The lake, developed in 1905, is named for Ruben Headley Lloyd, a park commissioner and attorney whose older brother was a notorious felon. To avoid any connection with her outlaw son, Ruben’s mother had assumed her maiden name of Lloyd, as did her two younger sons. Standing on the shores of Lloyd Lake is an interesting monument, the remains of the entrance way of a San Francisco mansion that was flattened during the 1906 earthquake. It was moved to the park and remains as a symbol of perseverance of San Francisco.
Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive near 28th Avenue | Map It
The overgrown Mallard Lake, one of the park’s few natural bodies of water, is a favorite of waterfowl. It was first developed in 1909. A modest artificial waterfall, approved by the park commission in 1938, babbles down a slope at the lake’s east end. Stepping-stones cross the stream to the densely wooded, idyllic south side of the lake.
Middle Drive West, near the Polo Field | Map It
An artificial cascade tumbles from a rise at the eastern end into Metson Lake, which is inhabited by turtles. Exiting the lake’s opposite end, the babbling stream culminates in a marsh at the intersection of Middle Drive West and Metson Road. The artificial lake cost $9,513 to construct and was dedicated on April 11, 1908, as an irrigation reservoir that received its water supply from the Murphy Windmill. Its namesake, William Henry Metson, was president of the park commission, a lawyer, a Sacramento delta farmer, and a Yosemite park commissioner.
John F. Kennedy Drive near Crossover | Map It
The hill where this artificial waterfall occurs was originally quarried for chert rock to pave the park’s roadways. The Park-Presidio Improvement Association requested the quarry’s beautification in 1926, and by 1928, when nothing had been done, neighbors were beginning to complain about the growing eyesore, which had become a dump. To resolve the issue, the park commission appropriated $17,500 in June 1929, and the site was magically transformed into an artificial gushing cascade, drawing water from Lloyd Lake. The name of the falls is derived from the multicolored electric lights that once illuminated the cascade. Remnants of the bronze light fixtures can still be seen from near the top of the cascade.
John F. Kennedy Drive and 36th Avenue | Map It
Landlubbers have the opportunity to test their seamanship with power- and sailboats at this shallow, artificial lake. The park’s second largest lake, with a capacity of 7.81 million gallons, was the 1902 brainchild of the Model Yacht Club after its members experienced conflicts with real boats on Stow Lake. Fresh water from the wells of the Dutch Windmill started flowing on January 14, 1904, into the basin, initially used as an irrigation overflow reservoir. A giant concrete turtle resides in the lake’s west end, acting as an island for the terrapin to catch the sun’s warming rays. The lake was named for then Park Commission Board President Adolph Bernard Spreckels.
Stow Lake Drive and JFK Drive | Map It
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.
|Hellman Hollow (formerly Speedway Meadow)|
880 John F. Kennedy Drive | Map It
The long, lush meadow leading toward the stadium is all that remains of the old Speed Road that ran diagonally from where John F. Kennedy Drive meets Lloyd Lake to a point just before 41st Avenue, where it turned north. It was inaugurated on May 3, 1890. Its straightaway allowed drivers to reach exciting speeds on horses and, later, with the newfangled horseless carriage. Today, Hellman Hollow, formerly Speedway Meadow, is the perfect spot for a picnic or large event. The annual Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival is held here.
1000 John F. Kennedy Drive | Map It
This sunken meadow bordering J.F.K. Drive is a pleasant place to host large picnics. It was named in 1918 to honor Curtis Holbrook Lindley, a park commission president. A large concrete platform, on the south rise, is all that remains of a grand totem-like sculpture.
906 John F. Kennedy Drive | Map It
Many park visitors wonder if Karl Marx was the namesake for this trough-like glade, but in fact, it was named for Johanne Augusta Emily Marx of Napa. Of an estate totaling $200,000 when she died in 1914, she willed $5,000 to the park for general improvements. Marx is a true meadow in wet months of the year, sometimes submerged. The adjacent path is the remains of a roadway that led to Crossover Drive; named Marx Meadow Drive, it closed in 1982. The meadow is home to an 18-basket disc golf course. The game involves a player aiming a flying disc toward strategically placed baskets. The course was championed by members of the San Francisco Disc Golf Club, but anyone who enjoys the sport can play.
573 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive | Map It
Mother’s Meadow was designated as a safe haven for parents and their children when Golden Gate Park formally accommodated popular yet more hazardous pastimes in the park, such as racing horses. Ever since, endless picnics and play dates have unfolded at the grassy expanse located just off of South Drive, and is now considered one of the most beloved playground spaces in San Francisco.
240 John F. Kennedy Drive | Map It
This verdant, enclosed meadow, a place where resident peacocks display their elaborate plumage, was established sometime before 1893. The meadow was originally enclosed by “a neat iron fence” that also corralled a small number of Persian sheep. In 1920 camellias were planted along the north edge of the meadow. In 1927 Mary A. McNear Bowles of Piedmont gave a collection of mostly Himalayan hybrid rhododendrons in memory of her husband, Philip Ernest Bowles. A bronze plaque, that was attached to a boulder in the southwest corner of the meadow describing the donation, is now missing.
|Robin Williams Meadow (formerly Sharon Meadow)|
320 Bowling Green Drive | Map It
This broad, flat expanse of green pastoral turf close to public transportation plays host to many large public concerts and festivals throughout the year. The lawn, Hippie Hill and surrounding trees beautifully frame the Sharon Building, seen in the distance, when viewed from McLaren Lodge. Originally, about 1894, this area was named Hammond Valley for surveyor Major Richard Pindell Hammond Jr., who was president of the park commission and a cousin of Park Superintendent William Hammond Hall. Sharon Meadow was renamed in honor of famed local comedian and actor Robin Williams in 2017.
Stow Lake Drive | Map It
Surrounded by Stow Lake, Strawberry Hill is the highest point in Golden Gate Park, offering a variety of trees and shrubbery and breathtaking views of the park. The fabulous vista from atop Strawberry Hill inspired wealthy citizen Thomas U. Sweeny, a.k.a. Sweeney, to donate $8,000 for Sweeny Observatory in the 1880s. The outlook was so popular after its dedication on September 9, 1891, that an additional glassed-in second story, costing $5,000, was added the following year. Today, you can still spot ruins from the old observatory.
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.