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The Perfect Day in Golden Gate Park

Tips to Make the Most of Your Time in this SF City Park

Golden Gate Park is a gorgeous attraction on the western side of San Francisco. To the east, it borders the Haight Ashbury district. It's western neighbor is the Pacific Ocean.

Inside this 1,000+ acre beauty, you will find some of SF's top museums such as the California Academy of Sciences and the de Young Fine Arts Museum. You will also find luscious gardens such as the Botanical Gardens and the Japanese Tea Garden.

While you can't visit it all in one day, I've come up with what I consider 'The Perfect Day in Golden Gate Park.' It includes a step-by-step itinerary to help you make the most out of your visit to this beautiful park in just one day.

9am: Stroll through the Japanese Tea Garden

Today's journey starts with a relaxing walk through the Japanese Tea Garden. This colorful SF attraction opens every day of the year at 9am, including major holidays.

japanese tea garden

The best time to visit is in the spring when the pink and white cherry blossoms bloom. It's also free to enter every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 9am to 10am.

Your visit here will take about 30 minutes. Click here for more photos and additional details on what it's like to visit.

9:30am: Say "Hi" to Claude at the California Academy of Sciences

claude in sf

After you finish at the Japanese Tea Gardens, walk across the street to the California Academy of Sciences. This amazing building houses four museums in one: the Morrison Planetarium, the Steinhart Aquarium, the Kimball Natural History Museum and Rainforests of the World.

In addition, you get to experience what it is like to be in an earthquake and visit Claude, their rare white alligator.

Head over to the Penguin habitat area at 10:30am for their morning feeding and make sure you stop by the aquarium at 11:30am for the coral reef dive.

The museum opens Monday – Saturday at 9:30am and on Sunday at 11am. Find additional photos and even more details on what you get to see during your visit.

Avoid the lines and save some time by buying your ticket online in advance. Click here for online ticketing information through Viator.

12:00pm: Grab a Quick Lunch

golden gate park food trucks

You have a few options for lunch. You can grab lunch inside the Academy (they have two restaurants) or walk behind the pavilion for some pastries, gourmet Indian food or one of Annie's delicious hot dogs.

Right next to these food vendors is where your next adventure will begin, so you will have plenty of time to sit down and enjoy your meal.

12:30pm: Journey through the Eastern End of the Park on a Segway

segway ggp

One of the best ways to learn more about Golden Gate Park is by taking their daily Segway tour. This fun and interesting tour (click here to read about my experience) takes you through the eastern end of the park.

You will glide past top attractions including the Conservatory of Flowers, the California Academy of Sciences and the de Young Fine Arts Museum. You will also roll past lesser-known areas such as Stow Lake and the Shakespeare Gardens.

Throughout your adventure, you will learn more about the history of the park, who built each area and what you can expect when you visit each attraction.

The entire journey takes about two and a half hours (including a 30-minute Segway training session). You'll need to check in at 12:15pm, so make sure you do that either before or after you grab your quick lunch next door.

Click here to get your tickets on Viator in advance for this tour. This is a popular time to take it, so make sure you get your tickets before you arrive!

3pm: Enjoy Flowers and Plants from Around the World at SF's Botanical Gardens

botanical gardens

You will finish your Segway tour around 3pm. This leaves you a little time to visit one more attraction.

I recommend heading over to the Botanical Gardens. It houses more than 60,000 plants and flowers from around the world. All year long, there is something beautiful in bloom.

It closes at different times each season, but the earliest closing time is around 5pm during November, December and January. This gives you at least two hours to walk around the park.

Click here for pictures from my last visits and a few more details on the gardens.

An alternative is a visit to the Conservatory of Flowers. The challenge with this option is that it closes at 4pm. It's a great though if you decide to stay longer at the Academy of Sciences and skip the Segway Tour or want to take a quick trip through instead of spending time in the Botanical Gardens. Click here for pictures and details on what it's like to visit the Conservatory of Flowers.

5pm: Head Out to the Inner Sunset District for Dinner and Drinks

After you finish your visit to the Botanical Gardens, head south out of the park to the Inner Sunset District. This local neighborhood is the perfect spot for a great dinner and a couple of drinks.

The minute you walk out of the park, you will find more than a dozen restaurants on 9th Avenue. Walk down one block to Irving Avenue for even more.

My favorites in this area include Manna, an inexpensive Korean restaurant; Hanami Brasserie, a middle range sushi and Japanese cuisine restaurant and Park Chow, a middle range comfort food restaurant.  Other cuisines in this neighborhood include pizza, Thai and several American restaurants.

If you want to stay for a few drinks, I recommend checking out Yancy's Saloon. This casual bar also offers some pub food such as pizzas and burgers. It's cozy and you will feel at home the minute you step in the door.

Getting to the Starting Point

The best way to get to Golden Gate Park from Union Square is by taking the N Judah train. You can pick it up at the underground Powell Street station at Powell and Market Streets. Take it all the way to the 9th and Irving stop. From here, walk north to the park. The journey takes about 35 minutes.

It will take a little more time to get here from Fisherman's Wharf. Pick up the 30 bus on the corner of Columbus Avenue and North Point Street. Take it to the stop at Chestnut and Laguna Street. At this stop, you will then pick up the 28 and take it to the stop at Park Presidio Boulevard and Fulton Street.

From here, you can walk into the park and make your way over to the Japanese Tea Garden (the walk takes about 10 minutes). The entire journey will take about an hour.

Click here to download a printable copy of The Perfect Day in Golden Gate Park tour.

Other Golden Gate Park Attractions

It's impossible to visit everything in Golden Gate Park in one day. If you have the time, I recommend coming back for a second day and visiting a few additional places. Click here to learn more about some of the other top things to do in Golden Gate Park.

Save Money on Your Trip

The best way to save money during your trip is by buying your tour and event tickets through Goldstar. This online ticket retailer offers up to two hundred tickets in San Francisco for up to 50% off their full retail cost.

You can see a theater performance, catch a ride on a bay cruise or even go on a night Segway tour for a fraction of the cost. I use them often and love their selection.

After you purchase, you will receive a voucher. You simply take this voucher to the tour operator or event ticket counter and they will exchange it for a ticket. It's quick, easy and a great way to stretch your money a little more.

Click here to view their current list of discounted tickets.park goldstar Also, check back often as they update their site with new deals almost every day!

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