Golden Gate Park is undoubtedly one of San Francisco's most beloved gems. From Children's Playground and the carousel to the Conservatory of Flowers and the California Academy of Sciences, there are plenty of "A-list" sights to keep you busy all year long. But there are also some fantastic lesser-traveled spots that are perfect when you feel like avoiding the crowds and getting off-the-beaten path.
Make an Echo
While playing on the lawn in front of the Conservatory of Flowers, you can often hear a lone saxophone, trumpet, or sometimes even a didgeridoo somewhere off in the distance. Listen closely and you'll find these sounds are coming from one of several pedestrian tunnels in this section of the park which are popular gathering spots for local musicians. If on your visit you find the impromptu jam is not in session, you're in luck because these same tunnels are an incredible echo chamber where you and the kids can conjure up some really, really cool sounds. (There are several pedestrian tunnels which near the California Academy of Sciences, The Conservatory of Flowers, the Music Concourse and the "blue playground" located at Fulton at 8th Avenue. The easiest one to find is at the foot of the Conservatory of Flowers lawn.)
(Image by San Francisco Days)
Try Your Hand at Bird Watching
The walking path around North Lake (part of the Chain of Lakes at the western end of Golden Gate Park, near 43rd Avenue) is a quiet and tourist-free spot for a relaxed stroll and a little bird watching. You're likely to see the usual ducks and seagulls which are always popular with little ones, but keep your eyes peeled for a possible egret, heron, or kingfisher sighting too. When it's break time, the benches dotted along the North Lake trail are a great place to enjoy a picnic. If you're new to studying birds, check out the Go Explore Nature blog which has a nice round up of tips for bird watching with kids and grab some kid-friendly picnic recipes and tips on A Little Yumminess.
(Image by the de Young Museum)
Sketch a Masterpiece
Okay... so the de Young Museum isn't exactly off-the-beaten path but their free family classes on Saturday mornings are definitely a lesser-known amenity. Happily they're free for members or with admission and explore a wide variety of subjects so there's lots to keep coming back for. It's a great way to bring art to life for the whole family and a nice opportunity to turn a morning of culture into some hands on fun. You might find yourself wandering the galleries on the hunt for colorful canines within the museum's collection, or sketching from a masterpiece. (Children under eight must be accompanied by an adult. For more information check out the education section of the de Young's website and their family "Doing and Viewing Art" series.).
Explore a Redwood Forest
If you don't have time to make the trip across the Golden Gate to magnificent Muir Woods, you can visit the world's only urban coast redwood forest which contains the oldest trees in the San Francisco Botanical Gardens. These giants were planted around the turn of the century, and over the years, the park's gardeners have introduced more than 100 other coastal plants, creating a tranquil place that will inspire awe no matter your age. It also happens to be a great place for pretending to be an Ewok or making a fairy house. (Entrance to the San Francisco Botanical Garden is $7 for adults, $5 for seniors and students, $2 for kids 5-12, and free for San Francisco residents and kids 4 and under.)
(Image by The San Francisco Botanical Garden)
Search for a Dinosaur
Dinosaur fanatics will love the "ancient plant garden" also located in the Botanical Garden which showcases modern plants which have descended from prehistoric botanical ancestors over the last 300 million years. The garden path is a raised boardwalk loop which is both stroller friendly and perfect for corralling any small explorers who have a tendency of wandering off. While the kids do a few laps around the garden you might just catch a glimpse of a dinosaur peeking out from behind a fern—or maybe it was just a cleverly snipped topiary.
Stacie Dong and Simran Singh are the moms behind A Little Yumminess, a family food blog where they share spiced-up recipes, hands-on activities and kid-friendly food adventures. You can also find them on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.
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