Except for trips to the California Academy of Sciences and a boat ride around Stow Lake, as well as a recent visit to the M.H. de Young Museum, I have never explored the Golden Gate Park. With Monday's warm weather, a reminder of the fast approaching summer, I decided it would be the perfect day to go on an adventure in the third most visited city park in America. The only problem was that I could only spend 3 hours there, luckily I had a car.
With its ordinary name, Golden Gate Park in San Francisco is anything but. It spans 1,017 acres from the California coast to Haight, a 4-mile drive inland. Larger than New York's Central Park, it is a state all on its own. Lakes, hills, islands, meadows, gardens, and views, the park provides visitors with lots of space. There are many sights and activities to do in the park, such as: touring a museum, bird watching, statue hunting, fly-fishing, and even swing dancing.
I entered the park from Fulton Street and decided to go wherever the road took me. My first stop was the Children's Playground, established in 1887, which was under construction. New equipment has replaced those of the olden days; a green triangular climbing-thing towered beside a purple and green jungle gym complete with a glider, slides, and bridges. Opposite the playground is a restored 1912 originally carved Herschell-Spillman carrousel that is free for children under 5 and .50 cents for 6 to 12 year olds ($1.50 for adults).
An old building adjacent to the carrousel is the historic Sharon building (now an Art Studio) where children and adults can take classes in ceramics, jewelry, watercolor, and drawing. Also in this section were lawns for lawn bowling and a wide grassy area where children played soccer and, in the distance, crowds gathered around a group of men playing bongos.
From there, my next stop was in front of the National AIDS Memorial Grove. Stones with carved names of those who died of AIDS or were affected by it trim the path. Inconspicuous seating areas are hidden among the trees and bushes. Developed in 1991, the 7-acre Grove has 6 sections. The most prominent being an area where the Redwood trees encircle boulders making an alcove. It was a magical and serene place where the trees protected the area from the heat of the sun. Further down the path was a meadow where sprawled out couples lay embracing each other.
My next stop was Stow Lake which serves as the park's principal reservoir. It is the largest lake in the park where paddleboats and rowboats can be rented. A path curves its way around the lake where turtles come up for air at the water's edge and fluffy goslings sleep, with their parents in close watch. On one bench, a pink ceramic mother figure sits, facing the island, watching the ripples of the lake and the sun sparkled leaves. Somewhere along the path, there is a stone bridge leading to an island in the middle of Stow Lake.
Strawberry Hill is a 428 feet high, naturally formed island. An path circles upward around the hill, a 15+ hike up to the top, providing a 360 degree view of the park and San Francisco - well, somewhat, through the trees. I read about this hill before and I got the impression that the view at the top would be breathtakingly magnificent. I suppose it would have been if they chopped all the tree tops off, but it was still worth the trek up because of what could be seen (the view of the Pacific Ocean, St. Ignatius Church, and the Golden Gate Bridge), as well as the lush foliage and trees you see along the way.
At one side of the island there is an artificial waterfall with stairs beside it so visitors could have a closer look. At the bottom of the hill, close to the waterfall is a small Chinese Pavillion. It was a nice relaxing walk next to the waterfall but the stairs were steep. After this long hike and walk around the island my 3 hours was almost up. As I was driving around trying to find an exit out of the park I stumbled across the Buffalo Paddock where herds of brown, brawny Bison stood eating grass. I've been wanting to see them for the longest time, so it was really exciting to watch them not move for 5 minutes. It was a perfect ending in my 3 hour adventure. (And I still haven't even seen half of the park!)