Golden Gate Park holds the title of the largest park in San Francisco. Having celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2020, it’s time to learn all about one of the biggest parks in the U.S. Next time you visit Golden Gate Park, you’ll be ready with juicy tidbits about its history and some fun stories to recount.
Read on for 31 fun facts and amazing stories about Golden Gate Park.
Golden Gate Park Fun Facts and Amazing Stories
- Its name Says it all. The name Golden Gate was thought up in 1846 by Captain John C. Fremont as he conjured up images of the Golden Horn of the Bosporus (Turkey). It refers to the entrance of the San Francisco Bay.
- Want some sand with that park? Previously, Golden Gate Park was covered in sand and devoid of plant life.
- Designed by a 25 Year Old Civil Engineer William Hammond Hall, 25 at the time, was designated the park’s designer. His first challenge was creating a lush paradise, earning him the park’s first superintendent title.
- Step 1 – Barley. Hall was delighted to see thick grass growing after accidentally spilling barley from a horse feed bag. Barley grass withstood the windy terrain, provided shelter for other plants, and helped Golden Gate Park grow.
- 130,000+ trees span the park. Each tree in the park was planted. Starting with 22,000 plants in 1872, the tree count quickly grew to 60,000 by 1875 and now sits around 130,000.
- Central Park’s size doesn’t stand a chance against Golden Gate Park. Golden Gate Park measures 1,017 acres—panhandle included. It contains 680 forested acres, 130 acres of meadows, 15 miles of roads, and 33 acres of lakes. It’s more than 150 acres larger than Central Park in NY.
- John McLaren is praised for his involvement in creating the park. Horticulturist John McLaren, Hall’s successor, receives most of the credit for creating the park even though Hall was the initial superintendent. McLaren kept the title of superintendent for 50+ years, nearly never leaving the park (he even built his home on the premises – McLaren Lodge).
- There are 25 million visits annually. This number does not include the number of visitors who spend time at the park. This number, estimated by S.F. Recreation and Park, notes ¾ of visitors traveling from the Bay Area, 2/3 being San Franciscans.
- Golden Gate Park once had exotic wildlife exhibits. Before the San Francisco Zoo opened, the park held everything from zebras to bison. An impressive 500 bison calves were born in Golden Gate Park.
- Myths abound here. One continually told myth features a mother who lost her newborn child and accidentally drowned in Stow Lake trying to save it. Legend says she continues to wander in anguish around Stow Lake, the largest in the park, completed in 1893.
- Home to “earthquake shacks.” The 1906 earthquake left many without a home, though they were able to live in Golden Gate Park in wooden structures. Depending on the source, the displaced were estimated at 200,000 people (S.F. Recreation and Park).
- 20 statues in remembrance of men span the park. Yet only two statues of women reside in the park: a pioneer woman with her two children (circa 1914) found by the Stow Lake Boathouse and a statue of educator Sarah Cooper.
- McLaren despised having statues in the park. He believed that parks should remain natural spaces, referring to statues as “stookies.” Ironically, a statue of McLaren is on display in the park.
- It’s home to water-pumping windmills. Two windmills reside in Golden Gate Park, which originally aided in growing the green spaces in the once sandy park by pumping water. The first windmill was built in 1903 with great success, and the second followed shortly in 1907.
- Spreckels Lake was created for model yachting. Since 1898, the San Francisco Model Yacht Club has been around in the Golden Gate Park. It’s thought to be the oldest model yacht organization in the U.S.
- Golden Gate Park is the birthplace of Twitter. Believe it or not, the first tweet was sent from in front of the herd of bison in Golden Gate Park.
- You can hunt for buried treasure in the park. Supposedly, Byron Preiss buried a ceramic vase (“casque”) in plexiglass in Golden Gate Park, though it’s been unconfirmed. This treasure is one of 12 vases hidden in North American parks. Supposedly there is a key in each vase to a NY deposit box that holds valuable jewels.
- The opening of the Conservatory of Flowers in 1879 signified the first official structure in the park. This conservatory features a Victorian design inspired by London’s Kew Gardens. After 100 mph winds shattered some of the conservatory’s glass, it took eight years to repair.
- Take advantage of free archery at Golden Gate Park. You can spend time at the archery range from sunrise to sunset. It’s the only free-range in the city, though you need to bring your own bow and arrows to shoot at the nine hay bale targets.
- Enjoy the three dedicated fishing pools used by the flyfishing club. Anyone can borrow some fishing gear to enjoy catching fish. Initially, this club was established in 1894 in Golden Gate Park and only used Stow Lake. Check out the fishing library for additional fishing information.
- Koret Playground holds the title of one of the first public U.S. playgrounds. Initially called the Sharon Quarters for Children, this park previously held a small barn, miniature rabbit town (Rabbitville), and live animals.
- The park carousel was part of the 1939 Treasure Island World’s Fair. It contains 62 animal figures, such as tigers, giraffes, dragons, and ostriches. It wasn’t installed until 1941, 30 years after it was built.
- Did you know the Japanese Tea Garden was meant to be a temporary installation? It was built for the 1894 California Midwinter International Exposition, equivalent to Golden Gate Park’s “world fair.” It has a connection to a “Japanese village” exhibit at the fair and was thought up by George Turner Marsh, a businessman. The city hired Makoto Hagiwara to turn it into a real garden and tea house with imported fish and birds from Japan.
- 180 buildings were built in five months for the World’s Fair. Recycled Chicago World’s Fair materials helped speed up the process, an idea of de Young. John McLaren disagreed with this event. However, he was vetoed because of the amount of money the event was said to bring in.
- The California Academy of Sciences was fully rebuilt after a devastating earthquake. It took three years (2005-2008) to reconstruct the new facilities Renzo Piano designed.
- Search for the park’s mushrooms, but don’t touch or eat them. We don’t recommend eating them, but they’re fun to hunt down. You can find these “magical mushrooms” throughout the park.
- Golden Gate Park holds 10 breathtaking lakes. These lakes include Stow Lake, Spreckels Lake, Mallard Lake, Metson Lake, Lloyd Lake, Elk Glen Lake, Alvord Lake, and the three lakes that make up the Chain of Lakes. According to park management, Elk Glen Lake is noted as one of the most popular lakes visited in the park.
- Two artificial waterfalls reside in the park – Huntington Falls and Rainbow Falls. You may be surprised that the park can turn them off for upkeep. Rainbow Falls was initially named after the multi-colored lights that decorated the falls. Though, they’re no longer present.
- The AIDS Memorial Grove was created after a 1996 Congress act and was the first memorial of its kind in the U.S. This memorial was founded in 1991 by volunteers and is maintained by volunteers and private donations.
- Due to its location, this park easily became a hippie hangout. An impressive gathering of about 30,000 people attended the “Human Be-In” during the Summer of Love. Now nicknamed Hippie Hill, this spot in the park once held an impromptu concert by George Harrison, the Beatles’ guitarist.
- Look for the bust of Shakespeare in the Shakespeare Garden (built circa 1928). Here, you’ll find flowers from Shakespeare’s stories and quotes from some of his famous works.
- BONUS: Robin Williams Meadow was originally named Sharon Meadow. Sharon Meadow was named after William Sharon, a prominent park benefactor, and a U.S. senator. In 2017, the park was renamed after the famous movie star, actor, and comedian Robin Williams after his 10-year support of the annual S.F. Comedy Festival held in the park.
Take a Golden Gate Park Tour
Now that you know all about the park, it’s time to visit Golden Gate Park.
You can enjoy The Official Golden Gate Park Segway Tour, a 2.5-hour group activity with the official park tour operator found at a Music Concourse kiosk. With Segway training before your tour and small intimate groups, you’ll be ready for a fun and educational tour.
Opt for a daily tour or book a splurge-worthy three-hour VIP Private Golden Gate Park Tour.