fun to do kids golden gate park san francisco california   Travel for Kids
  | California | San Francisco

San Francisco - Golden Gate Park

In the late 19th century, what is now Golden Gate Park was just a bunch of sand-dunes. Starting in 1870, and over next 50 years, this unpromising landscape was transformed into one of the most beautiful parks. At the eastern edge of the park are museums and a Japanese tea garden. Throughout Golden Gate Park are playgrounds, lake for boating, biking trails, where kids can enjoy the outdoors. The western edge of Golden Gate Park ends at Ocean Beach, with windswept views of the Pacific.
Golden Gate Park Photo Album

California Academy of Sciences – One of our favorite places in Golden Gate Park is the California Academy of Sciences. A museum that celebrates the natural world, it includes a superb aquarium, planetarium, natural history exhibits, and live rainforest, and living roof. Plan on spending your whole day with kids here.


Before you start exploring the museum, take the elevator to the Living Roof. The roof is planted with native plants that don't need water or fertilizing, and the plants help keep the museum at a comfortable temperature. Plus, there are views of Golden Gate Park.

Rainforest California Academy of Sciences

Inside the museum, two big globes enclose the planetarium and living rainforest. (The planetarium is included in your museum admission, but stop over to get a pass for the 30 minute planetarium show - shows typically appeal to older kids.)


In the Rainforest, step inside a living rainforest, where you can see blue and yellow macaws, leaf cutter ants growing a fungus farm, tomato frogs, green day geckos, sun beetles. At the top level are free-flying butterflies - don't be surprised if a large blue Morpho butterfly lands on your hand (and doesn't want to leave).

video cal academy sciences san francisco
    From the Rainforest, the elevator goes directly down into the Amazon Flooded Forest and Steinhart Aquarium. The walk through tunnel of Amazon fish is mesmerizing, with ancient-looking fish, such as arapaima.

In the Aquarium check out the tanks with marine life of the California Coast, Twilight Zone (marine life deep in the ocean), Philippine Coral Reef. The aquarium is a unique opportunity for kids to see amazing marine life, inches from your face.


Don't miss feedings of the African penguins in the mornings and afternoons (penguins are in African Hall).

    Curiosity Grove is a play space for little ones (kids 6 and under) – families have fun with games, puppets, books, activities, in a California forest setting.
    Another super feature of the museum, is excellent self-service cafe with a wide variety of real (not fast) food, all kid-friendly, and an outdoor area where kids can run around and play.

Tip: Use your San Francisco CityPass.


Music Concourse

      Between Cal Academy and de Young Museum is a bandshell, rows of trees (fairy door in one of the trees), and lots of benches. Perfect spot for lunch outdoors. In summer, often free live music on weekends.
      Behind the bandshell are restrooms, food trucks and snacks. Here you can rent bikes (kids' bikes are available) and surreys.

De Young Museum

    First stop, after you've sat on all the nice Andy Goldsworthy stone boulders at museum entrance, is the Hamon Observation tower. From the observation tower, there's an expansive view of Golden Gate park, San Francisco neighborhoods, the Golden Gate Bridge and Marin headlands in the distance.

Tip: While you're waiting for the elevator to the observation deck, don't miss exquisite woven artworks by Ruth Asawa, hanging from the ceiling and on the walls.

      Some of our favorite pieces in museum permanent collection – Three Machines (three colorful gumball machines) by Wayne Thiebaud, clay and glass work, Pacific Northwest and Hopi Native American art, and exquisite Maya artifacts.
  Japanese Tea Garden – This Japanese-style garden was created for the 1894 Exposition. It was designed by Makoto Hagiwara, who is also credited with the invention of the fortune cookie. Today, explore this exquisite landscape with a beautiful red pagoda and temple gate, statue of the Buddha, Lantern of Peace, ponds, waterfalls and sunken gardens.
    Kids will want to go over the Moon Bridge several times. Look for a deer, two wading birds, and four frogs (bronze statues) in the garden. Stop in the tea house for Japanese snacks, sweets, udon, mochi ice cream, tea and soft drinks.
  Heroes Redwood Grove (JFK Promenade)

Near the Rose Garden is a mini-grove of redwoods. Coastal redwoods were planted as a memorial to soldiers of World War I. It's a peaceful, quiet stroll through soaring redwood trees, light filtering through the branches.

      To walk through the grove, from the Rose Garden near the entrance from JFK Promenade, you'll see a dirt path through the trees. Follow the path east, it comes out on the promenade, behind the deYoung Museum observation tower.
golden gate park carousel
  Koret's Children's Quarter and Carousel (Keezar Drive) – This large playground is a favorite place for local kids. Swing on the toddler swings, crawl through big tubes, climb on the multi-colored structures, whoosh down the long slide, splash water and play in the sand.
    Little kids will also enjoy the beautifully restored carousel.
  Picnics Golden Gate Park is the perfect place for a picnic. You can spread a picnic out wherever there is a grassy spot.
      There are picnic tables near the Children's Playground, Rose Garden, Pioneer Cabin, and tables and bar-b-que grills in Lindley Meadow, Marx Meadow (along John F. Kenney Drive, west of Crossover Drive.)
stow lake pedal boating
  Blue Heron Lake (formerly Stow Lake) – Blue Heron Lake is a large artificial lake with an island, Strawberry Hill, in the middle.
    Rents boats at Blue Heron Boathouse – pedal boats and row boats are available. As you boat around Stow Lake, you'll pass by the Golden Gate Pavilion, a Chinese-style gazebo with green-tiled roof, and Huntington Falls.
      Rent bikes Next to Blue Heron Boathouse, you can rent bikes and pedal surreys for two, four, or six people. Surreys are ideal if you have little kids.
      Climb up Strawberry Hill – Cross over the rustic bridge, and climb up the path to the top of Strawberry Hill. At the top, there are fine views of the Golden Gate Bridge through the cypress trees.
Fairy Doors
fairy door golden gate park
    Look for fairy doors in Golden Gate Park. Fairy doors are tiny doors situated at the bottom of trees – "Welcome Fairies."
    We've located three doors in the park – and provided maps to make them easy to find. On our blog: Fairy Doors in Golden Gate Park
Elk Glen Lake
      Small scenic lake with sandy beach, ducks paddling in the water, surrounded by trees, benches to sit down. Lake is located west of Blue Heron Lake and Crossover Dr.
      Tip: A fairy door is located on the trail around the lake. Check blog post above for map to locate the door.
Hellman Hollow
      Looking for a place to picnic and kids run around? This is great spot to come on a holiday weekend, when other areas are more crowded and parking is difficult.
      Very large grassy area with plenty of picnic tables and restrooms. Bring kites to fly, it's usually windy. and balls to toss around.
bison golden gate park
Bison Paddock – Bison, or buffalo as they are more popularly called, are long gone from the American prairies, but you can see them in Golden Gate Park. Bison have been grazing in Golden Gate Park for over a 100 years. Tip: Often the bison are not very visible, grazing far up the field.
Beach Chalet and Dutch Windmill – Stop in the Beach Chalet, now a Vistor's Center and restaurant. In the visitor's center, there is a wonderful diorama of Golden Gate Park (complete with gobs of miniature trees.) The murals on the walls depict scenes from San Francisco in the 1930's.
      Next to Beach Chalet is the "Dutch Windmill." This 75 ft. windmill was originally built to pump water for use in Golden Gate Park. The windmill has been restored and the arms move in the wind.
kids books  alcatraz san francisco
golden gate park a to z  
Golden Gate Park A to Z
Marta Lindsey, Michael Wertz

From artist Ruth Asawa, to bison, fairy doors, incredible views, Karl the Fog, pedal boats, Japanese Tea Garden, waterfalls, zebras on Koret carousel. (Picture book)



Growing up on a farm in California, Ruth was inspired by plants, dragon flies, spider webs and created shapes with folded paper. As an artist, she looped wire into graceful sculptures, suspended in air. Gorgeous collage illustrations celebrate Asawa's life and art. (Picture book)

Ruth Asawa is a San Francisco artist, and you can see her “light-as-air” sculptures in the De Young Museum.


a life made by hand
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