9 must see parks in San Francisco

Published by: BouncePosted Updated

San Francisco boasts a mix of shopping, culinary tours, and sightseeing, with vibrant neighborhoods offering something that'll satisfy your thirst for adventure. Tourists flock here each year to sunbathe, sample its Michelin-starred dining, catch a glimpse of some of the city’s iconic landmarks, and delve deep into arts and culture. Though it’s one of the country’s most densely populated cities, San Francisco has no shortage of places where you can sit, take a breather, and appreciate the beauty of nature around you.

Sure, Golden Gate Park may be the city’s crown jewel and rank among its top attractions, but there are many other parks in San Francisco with miles of quiet tranquility. Couples and families have discovered Ina Coolbrith Park for its amazing views, while residents find a peaceful respite at Mission Dolores Park. No matter which part of the city you’re staying in, you’re sure to find green surroundings that offer opportunities for recreation, entertainment, and relaxation.

Below is a list of some of the best parks in San Francisco that you can tour for hours or stop by to rest while sightseeing. And if you want to participate in any activity, don’t think twice, and store your bags in a bounce storage locker in San Francisco to lighten your load. Once done, you can collect your items at any time.

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Buena Vista Park

Despite being the oldest park in San Francisco, Buena Vista Park remains unknown to many. Its grassy slopes have been a place of rest, activity, and natural recreation for those who have discovered this historic gem in the middle of a thriving metropolis.

The stunning views of San Francisco atop this elevated green space are undoubtedly the highlight of your visit. Wear comfy shoes, as some paths are steep and strenuous. Once there, your effort will be rewarded with the gorgeous vistas in front of you. It’s centrally located and one of the city’s highest points, so it’s pretty easy to spot.

Buena Vista Park is perfect for all ages, with plenty of shaded seating areas, tennis courts, and a playground with climbing rings and slides. You can tackle one of the paths or bring your furry friend to explore the wooded and winding trails.

Golden Gate Park

This park needs no introduction. Whatever your reason for visiting San Francisco, you can’t leave without going to Golden Gate Park. Whether you’re looking for a place to enjoy a vista, hike, picnic, forget your worries, or discover centuries of history, Golden Gate Park is a remarkable San Francisco Park you can’t miss.

Dedicate hours to explore over 1,000 acres of green spaces, bucolic lakes, groves, gardens, lovely trails, and several points of interest. Start your adventure at the Botanical Garden, a living museum featuring fifty-five acres of open spaces and landscaped gardens. You should also check out the Japanese Tea Garden, the nation’s first public Japanese Garden, with a drum bridge, pagoda, and tea house. If you’re here for views, ride the SkyStar wheel, a Ferris wheel that'll take you 150 feet above the ground to admire the views of Golden Gate Park.

For art enthusiasts, stop by the De Young Museum to see an outstanding collection of art, including paintings, sculptures, textiles, and other artifacts from countries worldwide. Constructed in 1879, the Conservatory of Flowers is the oldest structure in Golden Gate Park, where visitors will be mesmerized by the colorful array of seasonal flowers. If you want to stay active and see more of the outdoor scenery, rent a paddle boat, take a segway tour, or jog around the park. There are no limits to what you can do at Golden Gate Park.

The Presidio

For over two centuries, the Presidio served as a vital army post for three countries. Today, it welcomes locals and international visitors to experience diverse cultural and natural history. You can explore the wild open spaces and learn about its long, historied past through a number of historical sites in the area. It’s part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and a famous destination for adventure seekers, nature lovers, families, or anyone who wants to witness a different side of the bustling metropolis.

On the park’s northeast corner, you’ll find Crissy Field, a sandy stretch attracting windsurfers, kiteboarders, and families. It used to be a military airstrip and was transformed into a public space with walking and bike paths, open grassy fields, a beach, and scenic views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Marin County. Head southwest of the Golden Gate Bridge, and you’ll end up in Baker Beach, which stretches a mile below the rugged cliffs.

If you’ve had enough of the great outdoors, there are some indoor destinations at this national park. These include the Walt Disney Museum and Café, the visitor center, and the Presidio Officer’s Club.

Alamo Square Park

Alamo Square Park in San Francisco is a photographer’s favorite spot, with large lawns, beautiful flower beds, a full tennis court, and many walking trails. This photogenic hilltop park has also appeared in several film and TV productions, so if it seems familiar to you, but you don’t remember having been in this neighborhood, you’ve probably seen it in shows like Full House.

This tranquil residential park offers residents and visitors a resting place in front of the renowned Painted Ladies, also known as Postcard Row. Don’t forget your camera and take photos with this row of multi-colored Victorian houses as your backdrop. Take your little ones, who'll have hours of fun at the dual-level playground, while dogs can get much-needed exercise at the off-leash area.

No worries if you didn’t pack a lunch or skipped breakfast before going to the park. As you walk along Hayes Street, you’ll spot some incredible restaurants serving American and international cuisines.

McLaren Park

John McLaren Park attracts different types of visitors due to its range of activities. It’s San Francisco's second-largest park, spanning 313 acres of passive and active recreational opportunities, so you won’t run out of things to do so and places to explore, whether you want to sweat or just relax in one of the picnic areas.

Sports and outdoor enthusiasts come to play and hike, with numerous walking and hiking trails, six playgrounds, basketball and tennis courts, a golf course, baseball diamonds, and more. It has an elevation change of over 425 feet, offering sweeping views of the East Bay, the Pacific Ocean, San Bruno Mountain, and downtown San Francisco. The off-leash play area is famous among dog owners who want to give their furry pets freedom in natural areas.

More passive visitors come to take advantage of the remote serenity, read a book, watch the wildlife in their natural habitats, or stroll around the bodies of water. The community garden is also a favored place among horticulture enthusiasts.

Washington Square

It’s probably not the best park in San Francisco for a calm and quiet stroll, but Washington Square has a distinct charm that makes it irresistible among residents and tourists. Nestled in the heart of San Francisco’s energetic North Beach Neighborhood, Washington Square is a green oasis, just a stone’s throw from cafes, restaurants, historic buildings, and shops. You can store your shopping bags and buy snacks and refreshments to enjoy while sitting on one of the benches around the park.

Washington Square is a historic town square and one of the oldest city parks in San Francisco, established in 1847. It’s a famous resting area for North Beach visitors and locals and a gathering place known for hosting free movie nights, festivals, concerts, and other events throughout the year. Bordering the Square Park are lines of eateries offering casual and fine dining, so you’ll definitely find something that will please your taste buds.

Ina Coolbrith Park

Ina Coolbrith Park isn’t as famous as other San Francisco parks, but this hidden natural sanctuary is worth a visit, and it’s easy to see why. It’s a small park in the quaint Russian Hill neighborhood that promises one of the best views of downtown San Francisco and the bay. If you’re a photographer, you don’t want to miss this place if you want to take great photos of the San Francisco skyline from above.

The park is open from 5 AM to midnight, so if you want to do a light workout and don’t mind the steep hills, visit early to witness the amazing sunrise. The night views are equally captivating, as you’ll see the city comes alive with lights after dark. Although narrow and uphill, every step is worth it. There are also stairs and benches to rest and a variety of plants and wildlife. And the best part? It remains one of the best-kept secrets in the City by the Bay, so you’ll rarely find crowds hiking here.

Mission Dolores Park

Find peace amidst the chaos of city life at Mission Dolores Park, an outdoor hotspot that has been enjoying great popularity since its reopening in 2012 after a major renovation. Opposite the park is the miraculous Golden Fire Hydrant that saved the neighborhood from certain fiery doom in April 1906.

Mission Dolores Park, or simply Dolores Park, is an anchor of the Mission District community, bringing people from all walks of life together on a sprawling lush lawn. But before it became a popular park, the site served as two Jewish cemeteries in the 1800s. In 1905, it was officially named Mission Dolores Park, several months before the earthquake and fire destroyed much of the city. Then it became a refugee camp for many families.  

No matter what day of the week, it’s common to find flocks of people gathered here to chat, play, picnic, and bask in the sun. Besides the tall palm trees and well-maintained lawns, it features tennis courts, a soccer field, a children’s playground, and a multi-purpose court. Dolores Park also hosts live music, festivals, readings, and other cultural events. It consists of 16 acres of grassy surroundings, so no matter how packed, you’ll always find a spot to sit and relax.

Pioneer Park

Perched atop Telegraph Hill is another must-see historic park in the Golden Gate City. Its most prominent feature is the majestic Coit Tower, which has been a significant emblem of the San Francisco skyline since 1933, designed by Arthur Brown Jr.

Additionally, the hill used to feature the Marine Telegraph Station, which was destroyed in a storm, resulting in the development of Pioneer Park. Those who explore the park will not only witness a breathtaking view of San Francisco and the bay but will also have a chance to understand more about the area’s history.

Be careful when hiking here, as most of this five-acre park is a steep hillside covered in trees. You can access the peak by the Filbert Street stairs and the Greenwich Steps. Those who want to see the tower up close can visit the park on their own or join a guided tour for four to six people. It’s a great way to learn about Coit Tower’s inception, the park’s history, and the artists behind to tower.

The best San Francisco parks for solitude, leisure, and outdoor fun

Though a small city and one of the busiest places in California, San Francisco provides its residents and visitors with miles of green spaces where they can escape the traffic and the buzzing city life. Numerous parks in San Francisco offer more than just a place to sit, read a book, or have a picnic; they also allow you to revel in California's fascinating wildlife (take a visit to Pier 39) and landscape, discover iconic landmarks and cultural sights, and have time for yourself away from the stressors in life.

Can’t get enough of San Francisco’s natural wonders? Discover other outdoor adventures you can do by reading our guides, 6 beaches near San Francisco and the 8 best hikes in San Francisco.

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