1. Local

Great Parks in San Francisco

By

Go to: San Francisco Photos | San Francisco Parks, Nature & Animals

San Francisco's parks are part of the reason the Bay Area feels like paradise to those of us who live here. Although the entire Bay Area is a bounty of wilderness and protected areas, even within the bounds of the city, parks and green spaces offer an opportunity to explore diverse terrain and habitat.

The options are endless, ranging from a bike ride in the Presidio and along Crissy Field, to bird watching in the restored wetland areas at Heron's Head Park, to enjoying panoramic views from the top of Grand View Park.

1. Golden Gate Park

Access from the Sunset, Richmond & the Haight

Born of sand dunes in the late 1800s Golden Gate Park today is a rich blend of gardens, play spaces and museum culture. The new de Young Museum, San Francisco’s fine arts icon, opened to rave reviews in 2005. The Beach and Park Chalets at the west end provide sustenance and entertainment. In between are walking and bike trails, the San Francisco Botanical Garden at Strybing, lakes, and the resident herd of bison.

Eastern border: Stanyan
Western border: Great Highway/Pacfic Ocean
Northern border: Fulton
Southern border: Lincoln

See Golden Gate Park on the San Francisco Parks Map

Photo © Ingrid Taylar

2. Ocean Beach

Outer Sunset - Spans 3.5 miles along the Pacific and on the west side of Golden Gate Park

Walk from the east end of Golden Gate Park to Ocean Beach, and you'll feel a bit like Magellan making that last turn around the Cape. Where Golden Gate Park will lull you with its shaded trails and vegetation-bound lakes -- emerge on the west side and the horizon pops open -- literally. At that point, it's just you and the Pacific. And more than three miles of Ocean Beach alongside the Great Highway. It's a great place to stroll and to cool off on San Francisco's warmer days.

See Ocean Beach on the San Francisco Parks Map

Photo © Ingrid Taylar

3. Aquatic Park

Fisherman's Wharf - Hyde & Beach

Aquatic Park is a number of parks in one. It's the aquatic playground of Dolphin Club members who brave the Bay's ice waters for their swims. It's also home to San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park, a treasure zone of San Francisco's maritime history and historic ships.

From Aquatic Park, you can walk through Fisherman's Wharf and along the Embarcadero waterfront toward the San Francisco Ferry Building. Or, you can make the journey through the Fort Mason area and into the Marina District -- and, if you're ambitious -- into the Presidio area as well.

See Aquatic Park on the San Francisco Parks Map

Photo © Ingrid Taylar

4. Crissy Field

Crissy Field Airstrip and Hangars Photo © Ingrid Taylar

Marina District

Crissy Field, in the Presidio, is a former airfield and success story of habitat restoration. The tidal marshes, grasslands and cypress trees followed asphalt removal, hazardous waste clean up and hours upon hours of volunteer efforts in cleaning and planting. Crissy Field Center was seeded and opened to the public in 2001. On a sunny day, the aesthetic of the Bay, the bridge, and views to the city are spectacular.

Snacks and park maps, books and gifts are available at the Warming Hut and at Crissy Field Center and Café.

See Crissy Field on the San Francisco Parks Map

Photo © Ingrid Taylar

5. The Presidio

Batteries to Bluffs Trail in Presidio San FranciscoPhoto © Ingrid Taylar

Marina / Pacific Heights / Presidio Heights

For more than 200 years, the beautiful land of the Presidio was a military post. In 1994, the Presidio was transferred to the National Park Service and is now home to businesses, non-profit organizations, walkways, secluded green spaces, and a growing number of restaurants and recreational venues. The Presidio is an absolute must with visitors. The views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the night lights of the Palace of Fine Arts showcase San Francisco at its best.

See Presidio San Francisco on the San Francisco Parks Map

Photo © Ingrid Taylar

6. Lands End & Coastal Trail

Outer Richmond

Lands End and the Lands End trail offer some of the most spectacular views of the Golden Gate Bridge. These green spaces at the edge of the Outer Richmond incorporate nature trails, beaches, and historic artifacts:

Access to the Lands End Trail is easy, with parking off Point Lobos Avenue (for the Sutro Baths area) -- also at the Legion -- and then at Eagles Point, the 32nd Avenue entrance to the Coastal Trail.

See Lands End on Map of Outer Richmond Attractions and also on the San Francisco Parks Map.

Photo © Ingrid Taylar

7. Yerba Buena Gardens

SoMa/South of Market - 3rd & Mission

Bordered on one side by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and on another by the Museum of Craft and Folk Art as well as the new Contemporary Jewish Museum (new in 2008)-- Yerba Buena Gardens is a lush green space in a hub of a busy arts district. (See the Guide to San Francisco Museums for more area museums.)

The centerpiece of the gardens is the waterfall cascading across the Martin Luther King, Jr Memorial. Walk under the waterfall to peruse the exhibits, or explore number of sculptures and amenities, including activities for children (Zeum, skating rink, a play space).

See Yerba Buena Gardens on the San Francisco Parks Map

Photo © Ingrid Taylar

8. Mission Dolores Park

Mission District - Dolores between 18th and 20th

Dolores Park is near the old Mission Dolores, established in 1776 as Misión San Francisco de Asís -- and today, a popular visitors' destination. The park itself is almost 14 acres and is the site of many events throughout the year, including the free summer series Dolores Park Movie Night.

The park is a popular sunny-day hang out, with Mission District amenities like Dolores Park Cafe and Bi-Rite Creamery just across the street.

If you're a first-time visitor to San Francisco's Mission District, don't miss the stunning murals you'll find throughout the neighborhood.

Photo © Ingrid Taylar

See Dolores Park on the San Francisco Parks Map

9. Alamo Square Park

Between Haight Ashbury & Hayes Valley - Hayes & Steiner

The Alamo Square Park website has a photo taken during the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906. It's a photo you may see often if you peruse archival images of San Francisco -- of people watching the city burn, from the grass of Alamo Square Park.

The park is known for its Postcard Row of Painted Ladies Victorian homes. Even if you've never traveled to San Francisco, chances are you've seen this camera-perfect shot as a still or as a backdrop in film. It's a great place to take a rest and enjoy the view if you're walking through the Haight Ashbury area.

See Alamo Square Park on the San Francisco Parks Map

Photo © Ingrid Taylar

10. Buena Vista Park

Haight Ashbury - Haight & Central

Buena Vista Park and the nearby Corona Heights Park are two refuges of wilderness in the midst of urban grid. At Buena Vista Park, you may see a variety of raptors, including Red-tailed Hawks and Cooper's Hawks. The park also has tennis courts and a children's playground.

You can hike up into Buena Vista Park from Haight Street -- on dirt trails with an occasional set of terraced steps. Or you can begin at the top of the park from the Buena Vista Heights neighborhood, off Buena Vista Avenue East.

See Buena Vista Park on the San Francisco Parks Map

Photo © Ingrid Taylar

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.