Breakfast & Conservatory of Flowers
Before your walk through San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, fuel up at nearby Whole Foods on the corner of Stanyan and Haight Streets. They have coffee and breakfast treats. But don't let the tantalizing sights and sounds of Haight Street lure you off schedule - that's a trip for another day.
After breakfast, head down Stanyan to Kezar Drive and the east entrance of the park. Kezar becomes John F. Kennedy Drive, the road you'll follow for most of the walk. (If you're in San Francisco on a Sunday, the Park is closed to cars.) In roughly fifteen minutes you'll pass a gorgeous glass structure on your right, San Francisco's Conservatory of Flowers. You'll have to make a separate trip to appreciate all of the conservatory, but its public grounds are a feast for the eyes.
Hamon Observation Tower At DeYoung Museum
Another fifteen minutes will bring you closer to the brown, boxy structure that dominates the center of the park. The Hamon Observation Tower of the deYoung Museum is the best central view of San Francisco. You can spot all of San Francisco's neighborhoods, as well as Mt. Tam towering over the Marin headlands to the north and Oakland and Berkeley in the East Bay. A perfect opportunity to scan all of San Francisco and plan more adventures.
DeYoung Museum — Photo courtesy of Tom Molanphy
The DeYoung is in the middle of a hub of excellent activities, such as the recently renovated California Academy of Sciences and the Japanese Tea Garden. It will be hard to tear yourself away, but there are more fine sights ahead.
Most plants thrive in San Francisco's moderate climate, so you'll hardly ever have to wait to smell the roses at the San Franciso Rose Garden. Tourists and natives alike have enjoyed this tranquil spot since 1961. With more than 60 beds and dozens of varieties, you're sure to catch some flowers in bloom. And how many places in the world can you enjoy roses and redwoods together?
Rose Garden — Photo courtesy of Tom Molanphy
Lunch & Stow Lake
If you started your walk mid-morning and need lunch, Stow Lake is a good place for a meal and impressive views. You can climb up Stow Lake Drive from JFK and find plenty of picnic tables, as well as paddle boats for rent for those water-lovers. And the recently renovated Stow Lake Cafe uses local ingredients for its hand-made Russian piroshkies and Central American pastries.
Stow Lake — Photo courtesy of Tom Molanphy
You might not expect these American icons to be wandering around a city park, but San Francisco loves to surprise its visitors. The Buffalo Paddock herd started in the late 19th century and has dwindled to just a few, but they can put on a show if you have the patience to wait. Tip: keep an eye on their tails. If they begin to raise their tails, they are becoming excited and may get more animated.
Bison Paddock — Photo courtesy of Tom Molanphy
Dinner & Murphy Windmill
After languishing in disrepair for over a decade, the landmark 1905 Murphy windmill was capped with a gorgeous copper roof in 2011 that will catch the rays of the setting sun as you finish your hike through the park.
Murphy Windmill — Photo courtesy of Tom Molanphy
Romantics can walk the newly landscaped grounds around the windmill before enjoying the sunset on Ocean Beach.
Ocean Beach — Photo courtesy of Tom Molanphy
But if you've worked up an appetite, head south down the Great Highway for a few blocks and catch the N-Judah train east.
N Judah Train — Photo courtesy of Tom Molanphy
A twenty-minute ride will get you to 9th and Irving, full of cafes and restaurants, or you can hold out until Cole Valley for more choices. If you're up for a full-blown night out, stay on the train all the way downtown.