Now: The western section of Golden Gate Park contains fewer celebrated attractions, but the meadows, paths, and lakes offer a greater chance to lose oneself in hidden pockets of idyllic scenery.
Then: This side of the park was apparently the most difficult to originally develop, because of the proximity to the ocean and the strong winds that uprooted anything planted in the sandy ground. The Dutch Windmill at the park's northwest edge was built in 1902 to power irrigation to the park from underground water sources.
How To Get There: The west side of Golden Gate Park has many access points. It's easy to park along Fulton Street in this area anad enter from the north. 41st Avenue in the Outer Sunset leads directly into the Chain of Lakes area from the south side. The west edge, with the Beach/Park Chalet and the Dutch Windmill, is also accessible by crossing the Great Highway from Ocean Beach (there is a parking lot on the beach side).
For much more information on Golden Gate Park, see Christopher Pollock's impeccably researched and beautifully written book, San Francisco's Golden Gate Park.
Part of the vast "chain of meadows" in this middle section of Golden Gate Park, Marx Meadow is located near Fulton Street and the 25th Avenue park entrance. It's a sloping bowl of lawn bordered on two sides by the Disc Golf Course. The meadow is named for a Napa resident who left a donation to the park.
North edge of Marx Meadow
Marx Meadow, north of Speedway Meadow, between JFK Drive and Fulton Street (near 25th Avenue)
On the path leading above Marx Meadow, toward 26th Avenue and Fulton
Marx Meadow on a Sunday afternoon
Marx Meadow, from a wooded area above
Marx Meadow flooded after early spring rains, drained by park maintenance
A recent addition to the park, this course opened in 2007 near 25th Avenue at Fulton. Players aim frisbees toward sequentially placed baskets in the wooded area. Website.
Starting point for the Disc Golf Course at JFK Drive between Marx Meadow and the east end of Lindley Meadow
Map for the Disc Golf Course, near 25th Avenue and Fulton Street
Disc Golf Course Bakset
Disc Golf Course
Disc Golf players in the east section of the course
One of the baskets for the Disc Golf Course at the end of a long clearing
The site of this meadow actually was a speedway in the late 1800s, where carriage races took place. This expansive stretch of grass, along with the adjacent Lindley and Marx Meadows are now the location for large scale events in the summer and fall months, including Outside Lands and Hardly Strictly Bluegrass.
East edge of Speedway Meadow in Golden Gate Park
The east section of Speedway Meadow
Far section of Speedway Meadow, facing east
Hellman's Hollow, at the east end of Speedway Meadow
Rock with dedication to Warren Hellman, in recognition of the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival
The west end of Speedway Meadow, looking toward the picnic area in the distance
Painted stump at the south edge of Speedway Meadow near a path leading down from Middle Drive West
Picnic table in the east section of Speedway Meadow
Picnic areas at Speedway Meadow on a Sunday afternoon
Sprinklers watering the west section of Speedway Meadow
Speedway Meadow, from the wooded area between Middle Drive West and the meadow
Speedway Meadow, from a wooded ridge above
A small maintenance area off limits to visitors, plant specimens are kept in the yards.
Urban Forestry Center - a park maintenance area - at Middle Drive
View of the Urban Forestry Center from the fence on the east side
Walking path near the Urban Forestry Center
So easy to pass by, especially driving on MLK, this little gem of a lake features a shady stream on its east shore. This is apparently a natural, pre-existing lake.
Mallard Lake, near south edge of Golden Gate Park, at about 27th Avenue
Stream on the east side of Mallard Lake
Mallard Lake, from MLK Drive on the north shore
Mallard Lake, from the walking path on the south side
Picnic Area between Middle Drive West and MLK Drive, just north of Mallard Lake
Metson Lake, south of Speedway Meadow, at about 30th Avenue
Metson Lake, from the south shore
Benches on the south side of Metson Lake
Looking south across Metson Lake
Metson Lake, from the north shore at Middle Drive West
View from the hill above the east shore of Metson Lake
Named in 1918, this curved valley of a meadow catches luxurious amounts of shade in the late afternoon. Along with Speedway and Marx Meadows, this area is filled with thousands of people during summer and fall concert events.
Sign on JFK Drive pointing to Lindley Meadow
The edge of JFK Drive at Lindley Meadow
Trees in Lindley Meadow
Lindley Meadow, between JFK Drive and Polo Field
West edge of Lindley Meadow, from the path near the Stables and Polo Field
Lindley Meadow from the west edge, in March
Picic table on the south edge of Lindley Meadow
Picnic table on the southeast edge of Lindley Meadow
Tree on the path through the wooded area connecting Lindley Meadow with Speedway Meadow
Bordering the 36th Avenue entrance at its west edge, Spreckels is home to the model boat club. Lacking current from streams or waterfalls, the expanse of water is still as glass. The clubhouse is just opposite the lake, to the west.
Spreckels Lake in Golden Gate Park, between JFK Drive and Fulton Street, near 36th Avenue
View over Spreckels Lake to the north, toward Fulton Street
Spreckels Lake from JFK Drive
Turtles at Spreckels Lake
Model boat at the shore of Spreckels Lake, near sign with incorrect spelling
Door of the Model Boat Club building at Spreckels Lake
This little traffic island dividing JFK Drive and the 36th Avenue entrance is planted with Rhododendrons in season.
North edge of Rhododendron Island, facing the Model Boat Club
The center of Rhododendron Island, in March
Pink rhododendrons, in the valley of the island
Pink flowers at the east corner of Rhododendron Island
Rhododendron Island in the late afternoon
Rhododendron Island late in the year, after the flowers have bloomed
Reportedly closed for repairs, the stable area adjacent to the Polo Fields has been abandoned for some time.
Shacks at the Golden Gate Park Stables, north of the Polo Field
From inside the courtyard at the closed Golden Gate Park Stables
Field in the closed Golden Gate Park Stables
Old water basin on the north side of the stables, near JFK Drive
Section of seating for the Polo Field, and part of the stables
Horse in the enclosure near the stables
The Police Stables are next to the abandoned park stables. Horses for the park police are kept here.
Entrance to the Police Stables, near JFK Drive
The Police Stables, next to the Golden Gate Park Stables
Horses in the Police Stables, west of the Golden Gate Park Stables
Plans to build a larger and more elaborate stadium on this site came and went during the early 1900s. Used most often now for soccer, it's a vast reminder of what might have been.
Entrance to the Polo Field on the west side
Polo Field, also known as Golden Gate Park Stadium, or Soccer Fields
Entrance to the Polo Field from the south side
Polo Field from the south
Cement seats, an old part of the structure for the Polo Field
Trees off of walking path near Polo Field
Path along north edge of Polo Field
Path leading down to the Dressage Ring on the west side of the Polo Field
Close view of the Dressage Ring west of the Polo Field
Path on the north side of the Polo Field
Trees on the ridge at the north side of the Polo Field
Trees on the north side of the Polo Field
The par course wraps around the perimeter of the Polo Field. The starting point is at the parking lot on the south side of the field.
Start of the Par Course, on the south side of the Polo Field near the parking lot
Stops on the Par Course are located around the perimeter of the Polo Field
The Balance Beam, a Par Course stop on the west side of the Polo Field
Labeled in early maps as "Bridle Path", it extends in segments all the way from the west edge of the park to 19th Avenue near the Breon Gate. It stretches through secluded wood areas between Lincoln Way outside the park and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive inside the park.
Path along Lincoln Way, east of Sunset Boulevard
Walking path along the south edge of Golden Gate Park
Walking path along the south edge of the park
Walking path near Lincoln Way and 25th Avenue
The south edge of the park at Lincoln Way and 27th Avenue
Entrance to Golden Gate Park at Sunset Boulevard
This center welcomes anyone over age 55 to participate in featured activities and classes. The 1932 building was originally a police station, and became the Senior Center in 1980.
Senior Citizen's Center building, at Fulton Street and 37th Avenue
Front door of the Senior Citizen's Center
Picnic area behind the Senior Citizen's Center
Pentaque is a French game played with metals balls on a hard surface, dating back to 1907. Like the Horseshoe Courts this field is a quaint relic of a park feature dedicated to an antiquated recreational activity.
Sign on a tree inside the Pentaque Field
Game borders on the ground at the Pentaque Field
Pentaque Field, opposite the Dog Training Area
This dry, fenced-in area is reserved for off-leash dog play. This is one of only four areas in Golden Gate Park where dogs are allowed off leash. The other three are the Dog Run areas just west of Whiskey Hill, the one at the park's far northeast corner, north of the Horseshoe Courts, and the one between MLK Drive and Middle Drive West, just south of the Polo Field.
Sign at the entrance to the Dog Training Area, near Fulton Street and 40th Avenue
Dog Training Area, near Fulton Street at 40th Avenue
Dog Training Area
Of the variety of animals housed in the park to entertain visitors in its early days, only these few bison (aka buffalo) remain. Introduced to the park in 1891 when their population was dangerously low, the bison are cared for by the staff of the San Francisco Zoo.
Bison Paddock, off of JFK Drive at about 38th Avenue
Back of the Bison Enclosure, near the Pentaque Court
Bison inside the enclosure
Dedicated in 1938, these shallow concrete pools do not contain fish - only targets for fly casting practice. The accompanying Angler's Lodge also dates back to the depression era. 415-386-2630.
Fly Casting Pools, west of the Polo Fields
Angler wading into the Fly Casting Pool
Targets floating in the Fly Casting Pools
View of the Fly Casting Pools from the ridge next to the Angler's Lodge
The Angler's Lodge building, from the walkway at the Fly Casting Pools
Angler's Lodge, at the Fly Casting Pools
Sculpted from existing natural marshes, the Chain of Lakes feature the tall grasses and willows native to the area. The North Lake is the largest of the three in the chain, with an irregular shape and small islands jutting from the shallow water. A walking path follows the lake shore all the way around, and blackberry bushes dominate the banks on the west side.
Chain of Lakes, in the west section of Golden Gate Park
Part of North Lake, at the west edge of Chain of Lakes Drive
The North Lake, in the Chain of Lakes
Looking south across the North Lake
Looking south across the North Lake
Benches around the edge of the North Lake
Walking path around the North Lake
Clearing on the east side of the North Lake
Bridge on the west side of the North Lake
Of the three lakes, the Middle Lake most resembles the original marshes that dominated this area. Its grassy west shore borders Chain of Lakes Drive, and paths follow its rough edges around the thick trees on the east side.
Middle Lake, part of the Chain of Lakes
Trees at Middle Lake
Bench near Middle Lake, in the Chain of Lakes
Meadow south of Middle Lake, facing west
Looking down at the shore of Middle Lake, on the east side
Center section of Middle Lake, from the shore on the east side
Fallen tree near the shore of Middle Lake
View from the path along the southeast edge of Middle Lake
Grassy meadow south of the Fly Casting Pools
Trees on the path near the meadow adjacent to Middle Lake
Drainage Stream on the slope between the Fly Casting Pools and Middle Lake
Looking down over the Drainage Stream toward Middle Lake
Bordering MLK Drive, the small South Lake has grassy slopes and benches along its shore. An elongated meadow sits between the Middle and South Lakes, bordered by trees on all sides.
Sign on MLK Drive pointing the way to South Lake
The South Lake, part of the Chain of Lakes
The banks of the South Lake at MLK Drive
Blossoms at South Lake in early spring
Path next to the South Lake, leading out to MLK Drive
The South Lake, from the north side
The premier spot in the park for running horses around in a circle. This fenced in ring of dry dirt is just west of Chain of Lakes Drive. No permit needed to bring horses into the park or ride on designated bridle paths.
Bercut Equitation Ring, near the Chain of Lakes
Path from JFK Drive just southwest of the North Lake
Wooded paths north of the Equitation Field
A flat field with a row of stuffed bales against a bushy incline. Use of this field is free, but you need to bring your own equipment, including targets. Just don't play in the bushes behind the bales.
Sign at the entrance to the Golden Gate Park Archery Range, at 47th Avenue near Fulton Street
The Archery Field, near Fulton and 47th Avenue
Archers taking aim at targets in the Golden Gate Park Archery Range
The official Golden Gate Park map and guide refers to this 9-hole course as "short but tricky". Dedicated in 1951, the course features a restaurant and is open every day. Reservations not required - availability is first come, first served. Adult Green Fee is $14 Monday through Thursday, and $19 Friday through Sunday. 415-751-8987. Website.
Entrance to the Golden Gate Park Golf Course
Golden Gate Park Golf Course
Inside the Golden Gate Park Golf Course
Golf Course, from the south side, facing north
Cypress trees in the Golf Course
Restaurant in the Golden Gate Park Golf Course
This playground is a little ocean-themed oasis bordering Lincoln Way and 45th Avenue.
Playground near Lincoln Way and 45th Avenue
Boat in the West Playground
Swings in the West Playground
Picnic area adjacent to the West Playground, at 45th Avenue near Lincoln Way
Picnic Area and Playground at the west end of the park
Path leading from the West Playground to Lincoln Way at 45th Avenue
Completed in 1908, this was meant to be a bigger sequel to the already successful Dutch Windmill. Apparently an oustanding example of turn-of-the-century mechanical ingenuity, its sails were the longest in the world for this type of windmill. The site has been under renovation since 2000, and reports indicate that the top portion of the windmaill has been restored and shipped back from the Netherlands as of late 2009.
Murphy Windmill (aka South Windmill) under renovation
Sign on the Murphy Windmill, through the fence surrounding it
Millwright's Cottage, next to the Murphy Windmill
These vast fields, bordering the tree-lined western edge of Golden Gate Park, are available free by reservation for soccer. New fields may be added in the torn-up area south of the existing ones, where a water treatment facility used to be. Free, reservations required. 415-831-5510.
Entrance to the Beach Chalet Soccer Fields, from the west stretch of JFK Drive
Soccer Fields from the entrance and parking lot on the west side
Looking north across the Soccer Fields
Beach Chalet Soccer Fields, from the west side
Wooded path along the west side of the Soccer Fields
Section of the park under development, between the soccer fields and Murphy Windmill
The current building housing the Beach Chalet and Park Chalet opened in 1925. The visitors center on the ground floor is decorated with 1930s frescoes painted by Lucien Laboudt, depicting scenes and local personalities of the era. The Park Chalet has an indoor bar area, and outdoor lawn seating. 415-386-8439. Website.
Front of the Beach Chalet
Looking toward the Ocean from the front of the Beach Chalet
Roald Amundsen Memorial, next to the Beach Chalet
Visitors Center, inside the Beach Chalet
1930s Lucien Laboudt fresco paintings in the Visitors Center
Frescoes inside the Beach Chalet Visitors Center
Elevator doorway leading to the Park Chalet from the Visitors Center
Inside the Park Chalet
At the bar inside the Park Chalet
In the back area of the Park Chalet
The Park Chalet on a Sunday afternoon
Park Chalet Garden, just east of the Chalet
Designed to pump fresh water from below ground to irrigate the park, this windmill began operating in 1903. Electric pumps began to be used over the next decade, and both this windmill and its southern counterpart (the Murphy Windmill) fell to disuse and disrepair. A restoration of the Dutch Windmill was completed in 1981, and it is a purely decorative icon now.
The Dutch Windmill, near the northwest corner of Golden Gate Park
Yellow tulips in front of the Dutch Windmill
The Dutch Windmill and garden, in the fall
Visitors to the Dutch Windmill and Queen Wilhemina Tulip Garden
Directly underneath the base of the Dutch Windmill
The Dutch Windmill, from a southeast vantage point
Tree grove just south of the Dutch Windmill
Path on the south side of the Dutch Windmill and Tulip Garden
The Dutch Windmill, from behind
The Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden features a blanket of tulips in bloom during February and March. The garden was dedicated in 1962 in honor of the queen of the Netherlands.
Sign at the entrance to the Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden
Yellow tulips in the Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden
Yellow tulips in a ring around the center of the garden
Red tulips at the Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden in the afternoon sun
The center of the Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden
Visitors to the Tulip Garden in the early spring
People taking photos of each other in the Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden
The Tulip Garden, looking south from the Windmill
Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Gardens, in the late fall
Inscribed boulder marking the west entrance to Golden Gate Park at the edge of the Great Highway and Pacific Ocean. This is steps away from the Beach Chalet, and across the Great Highway from the Pacific Ocean.
The west end of JFK Drive, and Golden Gate Park, at the Pacific Ocean
West entrance to Golden Gate Park, at the Great Highway
Looking across the Great Highway to the Pacific Ocean, from the west entrance to Golden Gate Park
Boulder marking the entrance to Golden Gate Park at the southwest corner
The southwest corner of Golden Gate Park, facing the ocean
The very southwest corner of the park, where the soil turns to sand
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