Home to many star attractions, including the Conservatory of Flowers, and the redeveloped DeYoung Museum and Academy of Sciences, the East Section is where most visitors dip their feet into the park. The neighboring swirl of Haight Ashbury brings in crossover crowds through the spotty encampments of Alvord Lake and Sharon Meadow. Bicyclists enter the park-long stretch of JFK Drive from the welcome mat of the Panhandle.
The first area of the park to be formally developed, the East Section's diversity is designed to leave an impression. If you skirt the boundaries of the popular features, it is entirely possible to find pockets of solitude. The network of paths around the Fuchsia Dell seem a world away from the traffic of nearby Stanyan and Fulton Streets. The DeLavega Dell/AIDS Memorial Grove just west of the Tennis Courts is inherently tranquil, with its lovingly landscaped grove and shady, rock-strewn dry creek.
Lakes and meadows make a dramatic series of appearances in the Middle Section, with the magnum opus Stow Lake and its cradled island peak Strawberry Hill getting the most attention. On the north side, the placid Lloyd Lake and its elegant earthquake memorial Portals of the Past connect with Rainbow Falls via a stream running along JFK Drive. The secluded paths of the southern Middle Section wind around the underrated trio of Metson, Mallard, and Elk Glen Lakes.
The most meticulously cared-for gardens in the park also appear here. Accurately described as a "park within a park", the sprawling Botanical Garden is both outdoor plant museum and idyllic chain of pastures, paths, and groves. Its neighbor to the north, the Japanese Tea Garden, is the oldest permanent feature of the park and a must-visit in the springtime, when cherry blossoms are in season.
Bordering the Pacific Ocean, the tourist magnet Beach/Park Chalet and the dreamlike Dutch Windmill with its occasionally turning spars are enduring emblems of the park's West Section. Deeper inside, the beautifully marshy Chain of Lakes are reedy pools of refuge for wildlife and visitors.
Traditional, even antiquated recreational activities are offered dedicated spots in the West Section. The nine-hole Golf Course, Archery Range, and Soccer Fields keep company with Fly Casting Pools, an Equitation Ring, and a Pentaque Court. Model boats are sailed on Spreckels Lake, just north of the park's Polo Field (and de facto second Soccer Field). The park's only remaining captive animals, a small herd of Bison, reside in the Paddock bordering JFK Drive.
A collection of photos taken in Golden Gate Park between the 1880s and the 1950s. Many long-vanished features appear, including the Page Street Gate, the original larger Kezar Stadium, the first Band Stand, Sweeney Observatory, the sailing ship Gjoa, the DeYoung Museum, and the extensive developments in the Music Concourse area for the 1894 Midwinter Fair. Features that are still around, including Alvord Bridge and Lake, Sharon Building, Farmer Brown's Barn in the Playground, the Carousel, Horseshoe Courts, and Huntington Falls, are shown in their younger state.
The popularity of Golden Gate Park and the pride of San Franciscans in what they had developed is reflected in the range of postcards made and used in decades past. Cards depicting carriages and strolling pedestrians converging in the Music Concourse are captioned as "mid-winter" scenes to show off the relatively favorable climate to far-away recipients. Familiar sites like the Conservatory of Flowers appear to have changed very little. Stow Lake is similar but more sparse, as the grasses and trees have had over 100 years to make themsevles at home.