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A Walk Along GGP's JFK Promenade

San Francisco closed JFK Drive in Golden Gate Park to cars during the pandemic to create "JFK Promenade" and recently voted to make the promenade permanent. I cannot express how much I love the promenade. Closing JFK to cars changed my perspective on Golden Gate Park, and I became a GGP fanatic who takes a walk in the park at least 5 times a week, no matter the weather!

My favorite way of seeing the various attractions of the park is walking along JFK Promenade, starting on the easternmost edge of the park in the Panhandle and walking west until Stow Lake. Join me (not actually) on this walk to discover some of GGP's best attractions!

The Panhandle

On the eastern edge of the park lies a 1 mile long narrow parklet: The Panhandle — the handle to the pan that is apparently GGP. It is a beautiful park on its own and a favorite with locals. If you have the time, start your walk at the Panhandle and enter GGP from here. For bonus points, grab a coffee at Flywheel Roasters (one of my favorite coffee shops in the city) at the edge of the park.

The Conservatory of Flowers

The first landmark on our tour is the Conservatory of Flowers that will appear on your right shortly after we start our walk. As the name implies, there are flowers here. It's very pretty inside, but if you don't want to spend the $13 for entry it's great hanging out outdoors too. On weekends and days with good weather you can often find food trucks on JFK Promenade across from the conservatory. There's also an outdoor piano for you to play or listen to San Francisco's incredibly talented residents!

Speaking of prices, this is a good point to tell you that there is a combo deal you can get that gets you into the Conservatory of Flowers, Japanese Tea Garden and SF Botanical Garden for a discount. All of these are awesome spots that you should totally go to, so I'd get the package deal for sure!

Skystar Wheel

Continuing on your walk, you'll see the museums and Skystar wheel around a pavilion. You will likely start seeing the wheel before you even enter the park, so I can't not mention it. Going on a ride will set you back $18 per person (you may be sensing a theme by now). I haven't caved and gone on it yet, but I've seen pictures from atop and it looks gorgeous. One day I'm sure I'll splurge on this.

De Young Museum

De Young is one of SF's best art museums, certified as "super cool" by my sister who is studying Art Practice. For less artsy types like myself, they also have very interesting rotating exhibits, the most recent of which was the Ramses exhibit. Equally importantly, the odd tower on the right side of the museum is an observation deck that is free to access for those of us hesitant to pay for the Skystar wheel. The views of the park are impressive, and not paying $18 a person sure feels good!

California Academy of Sciences

Known locally as "Cal Academy", this is San Francisco's equivalent of a natural history museum. The museum hosts plenty of cool exhibits, an aquarium, planetarium and more. If you have children, this is probably a must-visit destination — I'm told they have awesome child-oriented exhibits. If you are traveling sans-kids though, it may be worth checking out Night Life at Cal Academy that happens every Thursday. I once went to Night Life here when they had USF Conservatory students giving concerts, it was the best museum experience of my life!

Lift Every Voice Installation

At the end of the pavilion lies a half dome with the words "Lift Every Voice". It's a great stop on your walk (it's fun to stand in the middle and hear your voice echo) and sometimes they have super cool (and free!) concerts throughout the summer. Check out the concert plan for 2023 to find out concerts that fit your trip!

Japanese Tea Garden

At over 120 years old, San Francisco's Japanese Tea Garden is one of the oldest in the country. It's quite a large space which is impeccably maintained (and it's free for residents!). It's always a joy to be here, and who can argue with a good cup of tea in the afternoon!

SF Botanical Garden

The Botanical Garden occupies a considerable space on the southern edge of the park. It's split into 5 sections based on climate, and has really cool collections like the country's biggest magnolia collection. Every fall they host the "Flower Piano Festival", when many pianos placed throughout the garden transform the park into an open-air concert venue.

Stow Lake

I distinctly remember pestering my parents to go on paddle boats every time they took me to a park (specifically Hyde Park). I still quite enjoy rides on the boat, so if you (or your children) are like me, Stow Lake is your spot!

Next Steps & Logistics

After Stow Lake, you can continue on the promenade until you reach the western edge of the city: Ocean Beach. I love taking this walk in the late afternoon to catch the sunset over the Pacific Ocean. If you're done walking at this point, there's a free daytime shuttle that operates along the promenade in 15 minute intervals. Just north of the park, along Fulton street is the 5 Bus Line that will take you from Ocean Beach all the way to FiDi. A couple blocks south of the park lies the N MUNI (Light Rail) Line, that can also take you from Ocean Beach to FiDi and connects to Bart.


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