Stow Lake is a beautiful man-made gem in the heart of Golden Gate Park. At this San Francisco attraction, there are several things to do including hiking to the top of Strawberry Hill, taking a pedal boat out on the lake, and spending a little time relaxing in the Chinese Pavilion. You can also grab a bite to eat at the Stow Lake Café.
During your visit, make sure you also spend a little time soaking in the beauty of Huntington Falls and watching the birds and turtles playing around in the water.
I love stopping here when I'm in Golden Gate Park. It's quiet and the scenery is beautiful.
There's are some fun things to see and do here - yet it's not as touristy or crowded as some of the other attractions in the park.
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One of the most popular activities here is renting a boat. The Stow Lake Boathouse is on the north western side of the lake. This is where you can rent both pedal boats and rowboats.
The Stow Lake Boathouse is open most days from 10 am to 5 pm with rentals ending one hour before closing. The cost to rent pedal boats is $32.50 an hour. The cost for rowboats is around $26 a hour. You can also rent a 4 to 6 passenger pedal boat for $45 an hour.
The lake is a pretty decent size – so you could spend a relaxing hour or two on the boat. There are usually plenty of boats available, so you don't need to worry about making a reservation in advance.
During high season, the boathouse also has a snack bar with very simple sandwiches and other lunch items.
One of the things that I love to do here is hiking and running on the trails. You have a couple of options.
Your first option is the fairly flat trail that goes all the way around the lake. It's one of the best places to run - since there usually aren't very many people here. On this trail, you also don't have to fight any major San Francisco hills.
It's also fun to take a stroll around this trail watching the birds and the turtles. The trail has several benches so you can sit down and rest for a while too.
Your second option is the trails on Strawberry Hill. Strawberry Hill is an island in the middle of the lake.
You can access Strawberry Hill from the two bridges. While it's not large, there are a few trails the you can walk around and even hike to the top of the hill.
One of the other SF attractions at here is the colorful Chinese pavilion. This was gifted to the city of San Francisco in the mid-1970s and has called Stow Lake home since that time.
The pavilion is located on Strawberry Hill, you can easily walk across the southern bridge to get to the pavilion. It's a great place to hang out, relax, and just enjoy the day.
I also love hanging out and spending a little time enjoying Huntington Falls. The falls are also located on Strawberry Hill. However, your best view of the falls is from the flat walking trail around the lake.
The falls are near the Chinese Pavilion – on the eastern side of Strawberry Hill. The 110-foot waterfall is also man-made so it doesn't depend on the rain for its water supply.
If you want to grab some yummy bites, and a drink or two, then you will want to check out the Stow Lake Café. All ingredients are locally sourced, organic, and sustainably grown if possible. Some of the items on the menu include hamburgers, salads, ice, and they even have vegan choices.
You may not know this, but the Stow Lake Café is famous for the pink popcorn. If you've never had it, you have to try it!
They are open 7 days a week from 10 am to 5 pm.
The easiest way to get to here is by entering the park from the north at the 8th Avenue entrance. From here take a left and head west along John F. Kennedy Drive. There's a small trail that leads from John F. Kennedy Drive into Stow Lake.
From the south, the easiest way is to enter is from 9th Avenue. Take that street (which turns into Martin Luther King Jr Drive once you enter the park) all the way around until you see the sign that says Stow Lake. From here, you will have to walk up a small hill in order to reach the lake.
It's about a half mile walk or more from each of these entrances. You can see both entrances and your destination on the map below. The blue star marks the lake.
There is also plenty of parking in this part of Golden Gate Park - so this is another great option if you don't want to take public transportation and walk.