San Francisco loves their urban parks. Though we’re one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world, the city does an incredible job of making sure a park is always nearby. Did you know there are 220 in the city? And in 2017, San Francisco became the first city in the nation where all residents have access to a park within a 10-minute walk!
From San Francisco’s newest urban parks to classics with stunning views that you can’t miss out on, here’s my top 8 to check out!
Golden Gate Park
Anyone San Francisco should absolutely make time to explore Golden Gate Park, the city’s iconic 1,017 acre gem. Don’t miss out on the Japanese Tea Garden, Botanical Garden, Conservatory of Flowers or any of the park’s museums which include the De Young and California Academy of Sciences, which has a fun adults-only night on Thursdays. Other places of interest include the Bison Paddock, which is home to a herd of American Bison that are taken care of by the San Francisco Zoo; the brand new tennis complex that includes pickleball courts and a nice clubhouse; free, live concerts at the Bandshell; and so much more. Make a full day of it and rent a boat to see this urban park from a different perspective on the calm waters of Stow Lake.
This is the city’s newest, most cutting edge park. Built over the tops of the Presidio Parkway highway tunnels, the Presidio Tunnel Tops park is home to 14 acres of new national park land — a “must see” San Francisco destination for anyone visiting the city. Designed by James Corner Field Operations, the firm behind New York’s beloved High Line, Presidio Tunnel Tops features scenic overlooks with stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the City, paths and gardens, a welcome plaza with food and visitor services, a campfire circle, picnic grounds, a nature play area, and more.
Mission Dolores Park
This is one of my favorite parks in one of my favorite parts of the city. Mission Dolores Park is a 16 acre urban oasis surrounded by beautiful Victorian homes in the middle of the vibrant Mission District. Located in the sunniest part of the city, it’s the perfect place for sunbathing, picnics, hanging out with friends and taking in the amazing views of the city. There are also six tennis courts, a basketball court, a children’s playground and the entire park is dog friendly.
It’s great for people watching, and depending on the day, you can find random cultural events, festivals, music playing… it’s always a lively place. Grab a burrito and some agua fresca from La Taqueria (or any of the taquerias in the area — you can’t go wrong!) and enjoy the afternoon here. There are also tennis courts, a basketball court, a children’s playground and the entire park is dog friendly.
This 4.5 acre urban park is the newest one in the city and overlooks beautiful Aquatic Park right on the water. Situated on San Francisco’s first largest reservoir, the space has been empty since 1940. This park features a super modern playground for the kids, a fenced dog-run for the furry friends, and a community garden for all! Not to mention Francisco Park has gorgeous views of the Bay and Golden Gate Bridge while being in close proximity to some of the city’s top tourist attractions that include Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 39 and Ghirardelli Square. Also good to note? It’s right by that Powell-Hyde cable car — be sure to jump on!
One of the Inner Sunset’s best kept secrets is Grandview Park, also known as Turtle Hill by locals. The park features unobstructed 360 degree views of the city. From Ocean Beach to the downtown skyline to Sutro Tower, the vista is simply unbeatable on a clear day. Built atop a 140 million year old rock, this windswept park is home to both geological and botanical rarities and is a must in the area.
The best way to get here is by climbing the stunning Mosaic Steps beginning at 16th and Moraga. The ceramic tiled staircase is truly a sight, complete with scenes of the ocean and sea life; local flowers, birds and insects; a beaming sun and even a starry night. Another colorful staircase worth seeing is the Hidden Garden Steps which climb up 16th Avenue between Kirkham and Lawton.
This is a lovely, well landscaped park that’s within a 10 minute walk to Hotel Kabuki. It offers guests plenty of grassy lawns, a tennis court, a children’s playground and an off-leash dog area making it ideal for the whole family, plus pets. Lafayette Park also offers a picnic area with views of many of San Francisco’s scenic areas including Buena Vista Park, Alcatraz, Twin Peaks, and of course the sparkling Bay. Situated in the affluent Pacific Heights neighborhood, it’s so nice that many choose to get married in the park’s gathering area!
Glen Park Canyon
A lesser known gem that is truly the definition of an urban oasis is Glen Park Canyon in Diamond Heights which offers hiking trails, wildlife spotting and wildflowers in the back of a Safeway parking lot. If you know, you know. Also in Glen Park are two tennis courts, a children’s playground, recreational fields and a club house. And if you’re feeling real adventurous, you can hike all the way from here to Twin Peaks. Follow the Creeks to Peaks urban hike, across Portola Avenue, which clocks in at 1.8 miles one way. The trail connects Islais Creek in Glen Canyon Park, to the iconic peaks.
Known as one of the city’s favorite urban parks is Alamo Square. Home to the famous Painted Ladies or Postcard Row, and the TV show “Full House” house, it’s highly photogenic. This historical square features iconic views of the city, including the entire skyline; grassy lawns; flowerbeds and willows; places to picnic for the whole family and more. It’s a popular place for dogs and children thanks to the dual-level playground and tennis court. It’s certainly a must for anyone exploring the best of San Francisco sites.
If you love San Francisco history and stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge, check out Battery Bluff, a new six-acre park along the Presidio Promenade trail. The name comes from the historic gun batteries that can be visited and seen in the hillside above the sprawling Crissy Field Park that were built by the U.S. army between 1899-1902. This urban park offers guests views of iconic San Francisco tourist spots including Angel Island and Alcatraz and is a great place for a picnic with plenty of grassy space and gardens that boasts 60,000 plants.
Situated on a steep hillside, Alta Plaza is yet another beautiful park boasting panoramic views of the city spanning from Sutro Tower to the Downtown skyline. Alta Plaza is a 12 acre park that’s in the upscale neighborhood of Pacific Heights, a place where, if you don’t mind the hills, is great for admiring some of the city’s most impressive homes. With its children’s playground, basketball court and tennis courts, it’s a perfect place for kids and families. Or anyone looking to get active! As most urban parks in San Francisco, it also is home to an off-leash dog section, ideal for dog parents as well.
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