San Francisco, California, is known for its stunning beauty, laid-back culture, and numerous unique things to do. And along with that laid-back, let’s-have-a-glass-of-wine-in-the-sun attitude comes a ton of fabulous parks, from neighborhood parks to massive green areas. The best parks in San Francisco include the museum-packed Golden Gate Park and the historic (and newly renovated) Presidio. Most are easy to reach and all offer something uniquely San Franciscan.
If you’re planning your SF trip, make sure to add a few of these options to your travel to-do list.
The best parks in San Francisco
For being a major US city, San Francisco is surprisingly outdoorsy. SF residents are known for spending weekends biking in Marin County, skiing in Tahoe, or camping in the Sierras, and the best parks in the city are like miniature versions of those outdoor playgrounds. Most parks are accessible via Bay Area Rapid Transit (SF’s public transportation system), but you may still have to walk a bit when exploring some of the larger parks. If you don’t feel like riding BART, rideshares are easy, and it never takes too long to get anywhere since SF is a relatively small city.
Golden Gate Park
Golden Gate Park is a large urban park in San Francisco, covering more than 1,000 acres. It’s home to a variety of attractions, including the California Academy of Sciences, the de Young Museum, and the Japanese Tea Garden. The park also has many walking and biking trails, as well as playgrounds, sports fields, and picnic areas.
Some other notable attractions within Golden Gate Park include the Conservatory of Flowers, which is home to a collection of rare and exotic plants; the Strybing Arboretum, which has a wide variety of plants and flowers; and the San Francisco Botanical Garden, which features more than 8,000 types of plants (including redwood trees).
In addition to these attractions, Golden Gate Park also has a number of cultural events and festivals throughout the year, including the Outside Lands music festival and the SF Pride Parade. The park is a popular destination for both locals and tourists, and it is a great place to spend a day exploring the outdoors in the heart of the city. Don’t be surprised to see locals in hackysack circles and families playing with dogs on every available green space. The park is located just a few blocks from the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, so head there after a day in the park to have dinner.
Dolores Park is a popular public park located in the Mission District of San Francisco. The park covers more than 14 acres and offers a variety of amenities, including a playground, tennis courts, a basketball court, and a soccer field. The park is also home to several grassy areas that are popular for picnics and sunbathing.
One of Dolores Park’s main attractions are its views. The park sits on a hill, and from certain vantage points, you can see the downtown skyline and the San Francisco Bay. It’s one of the most popular parks in San Francisco for cultural events, festivals, music, and film events throughout the year, during which there are usually food trucks and street vendors nearby. On summer weekends, it can be hard to even find a place to lay your blanket, let alone have space to yourself. It’s very social and very fun, but not the best place for a romantic picnic if you’re looking for space to yourself.
Dolores Park is easily accessible by public transportation, with several bus and streetcar lines serving the park. It’s near several popular neighborhoods, such as the Mission, Noe Valley, and the Castro, which makes it a convenient destination for those staying in the city.
Alamo Square Park
Alamo Square Park is a small park in the Western Addition neighborhood of San Francisco. The park is best known for the “Painted Ladies,” a row of Victorian houses featured in many movies and TV shows. The houses, just across the street from the park, are painted in bright colors and are a popular tourist attraction.
One of the most famous TV shows to feature the Painted Ladies is Full House, a popular sitcom that aired from 1987 to 1995. In the show, the houses were used as the exterior shots for the home of the main character and his family.
In addition to the Painted Ladies, Alamo Square Park also has a playground and a small grassy area for picnics and outdoor activities. Because of the nearby Victorian houses, it’s a popular spot for photographers, and the off-leash dog play area makes it one of the best dogspotting parks in San Francisco (and there are a lot of dogs in SF). The closest BART station is Civic Center, though it’s still a roughly 20-minute walk.
Crissy Field is a popular park located on the waterfront in San Francisco. The park is near the Golden Gate Bridge and offers beautiful views of the Bay and the Marin Headlands. If you want the quintessential SF photo — a shot of you in front of the Golden Gate Bridge — head to Crissy Field. It has the best views of the bridge from any of the parks in San Francisco (including Golden Gate Park, which doesn’t have bridge views).
Crissy Field was once a military airfield, but it was transformed into a public park in the 1990s. Today, the park is a popular destination for outdoor recreation, with a variety of amenities including a beach, a playground, and several walking and biking trails. The park is also home to a number of restaurants and cafes, as well as a visitor center with exhibits about the history of the park and the surrounding area.
In addition to its natural beauty and recreational opportunities, Crissy Field is also a popular destination for events and festivals. The park hosts a number of music and cultural events throughout the year, and it is a popular spot for picnics and outdoor gatherings. It’s also a popular destination for cycling, and there are several bike rental shops in the area and tours that go from the city to the park and back. Companies like Unlimited Biking run bike tours through Crissy Field and eventually over the Golden Gate Bridge.
Near Crissy Field is one of the most historic parks in San Francisco: the Presidio. The former military base covers more than 1,500 acres on a bluff overlooking the San Francisco Bay. The park is home to a number of historic buildings, including a number of Spanish colonial-style buildings dating to the late 1700s.
One of the more unique features of the Presidio is the network of walkways that crisscross the park. These walkways were originally built to allow soldiers to move around the base without getting their feet wet during the rainy season. Today, they’re open to the public and are a popular destination for walking, running, and biking. The walkways have views of the park, the Bay, and the surrounding city. Some of the walkways are elevated and offer panoramic views of the San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge, while others are located at ground level and pass through wooded areas and gardens.
In addition to the raised walkways, the Presidio also has plenty of other recreational amenities, including several walking and biking trails, scenic overlooks, and cultural attractions, including the Walt Disney Family Museum and the Presidio Officers’ Club.
Lincoln Park is the northwesternmost part of SF. It’s home to several well-known sites, including the Sutro Baths, Lands End, and Mile Rock Beach.
The Sutro Baths were a public bathhouse in SF’s Outer Sunset neighborhood. Built in the late 1800s, the baths were a popular destination for swimming and recreation, and featured several large pools filled with seawater. The baths were housed in a massive glass and steel structure, and were considered a technological marvel at the time of their construction. There was also a museum, a concert hall, and an ice skating rink.
However, the Sutro Baths fell into disrepair in the mid-1900s and were eventually closed to the public. The baths are now in ruins and are a protected historical site. Visitors can still visit the site and explore the remains of the baths, which offer beautiful views of the ocean and the surrounding area.
Just north of the Sutro Baths is Mile Rock Beach, tucked into a small, lovely cove on the coast. This is very near the famous SF rock labyrinth, known as the Land’s End Labyrinth. It was first built in 2004 and has been rebuilt and maintained in some fashion ever since. This is also close to China Beach, which has beautiful sunsets (when it’s not foggy, of course).
Yerba Buena Gardens
Yerba Buena Gardens is a large park located in the heart of downtown San Francisco. It’s between Third and Fourth Streets and Mission and Folsom Streets, and covers two city blocks. The park is a popular destination for locals and tourists alike, and offers a wide range of cultural and recreational attractions.
One of the main attractions of Yerba Buena Gardens is the Children’s Creativity Museum, a hands-on museum designed for children and families. The museum features a variety of interactive exhibits and activities related to art, technology, and media.
The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) is another popular attraction within the park. SFMOMA is one of the largest museums of modern and contemporary art in the United States, and features a wide range of artworks by artists from around the world. Buy your tickets in advance to avoid a long line (it’s $25 for adults and closed on Wednesdays).
The Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA) is another cultural attraction within the park. YBCA is a multidisciplinary arts center that presents a variety of exhibitions, performances, and events throughout the year, including free public talks from thought leaders and current creative minds from around the world.
In addition to its cultural attractions, Yerba Buena Gardens also features a number of outdoor spaces, including a large lawn area, a fountain plaza, and a number of gardens and landscaped areas. The park is a popular destination for outdoor activities such as picnicking, lounging, and enjoying a sunset drink. It gets crowded, but it’s a pretty area for a break if you’ve been exploring the city all day and need to kick your shoes off for a bit.
Where to stay in San Francisco
You have no shortage of options of where to stay in San Francisco, so you’ll find a hotel for every price and style. Just keep in mind that the BART system isn’t super extensive, so you may want to get a room in the neighborhood you plan to spend most of your time in. Of course, there are plenty of Airbnbs, too.
We hope you love the spaces and stays we recommend! Just so you know, Matador may collect a small commission from the links on this page if you decide to book a stay. Listed prices are accurate as of the time of publication.
The Lodge at the Presidio
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If you’re planning on spending lots of time near the Presidio, this is the coolest place to stay. The cool hotel is inside the old military barracks building from the late 1800s and has awesome views out across the water.
The Beacon Grand
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The Beacon Grand offers old-school San Francisco vibes, with a luxe lobby and rooms finished with crown molding and high-end fixtures and finishes. It’s in Union Square, which is in a central part of SF and near the BART, so you can easily get to some of the best parks in Sa Francisco. Most of the rooms still show the property’s historic architecture, and rooms start around $209 a night, plus resort fee and taxes.
Hotel Zephyr San Francisco
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If you’re planning to visit Fisherman’s Wharf, Alcatraz, and the famous sea lions of San Francisco, consider staying at the Hotel Zephyr. It’s just a five-minute walk from Pier 39 and has nautical-themed rooms and harbor views. If you’re looking for something trendy and different from your standard run-of-the-mil chain hotel, it’s a good pick. Rates for a standard king room range from $160 to $600, depending on the day and season.