Things to do in San Francisco

15 of the Best Parks in San Francisco, CA

Explore the diverse parks of San Francisco with this comprehensive guide, offering everything from iconic views to family-friendly fun.

Welcome to the best parks in San Francisco, CA! Here, the hills are alive with the sounds of laughter, the air is laced with a touch of salt from the bay, and SF parks are ready to welcome you as you tie up your walking shoes and step out on a fabulous urban adventure.

Let's discover the parks in San Francisco that most inspire locals and visitors, from the iconic Alamo Square Park to the peace and tranquility of the San Francisco Botanical Garden. And who knows, perhaps watching one of our captivating shows could be one of the best things to do in San Francisco!

Historical and Cultural Parks

Step back in time and immerse yourself in the rich tapestry of San Francisco's history and culture through some of its oldest parks.

1. Alamo Square Park

As one of San Francisco's most historic public parks, Alamo Square offers fantastic views, including the famous "Painted Ladies" of Postcard Row. No, we don't mean women covered in paint, but rather the colorful Victorian houses you've seen in movies and TV shows set in SF.

Got little adventurers with you? That's awesome, as there's an accessible kids' play area that'll keep them grinning from ear to ear. And for our four-legged pals, there's a dog play area where noses twitch and new friends are made.

Feeling hungry? Head to the dedicated and accessible picnic area to soak up the good vibes with spectacular views of the city. After refueling, you can enjoy a game of tennis. Stay here as long as you like, as public restrooms are available whenever nature calls. Everything you need is right here in Alamo Square Park!

Photographer: Jordi Vich Navarro

2. Mission Dolores Park

Located in the bustling heart of San Francisco's lively Mission District, Mission Dolores Park offers nearly 16 acres of open space for fun and relaxation. Channel your inner Serena on the six tennis courts, or head to the outdoor basketball court for a hoop-tastic time. There's also a multi-use court for whatever sporting pursuits tickle your fancy.

For your furry friends, there are two off-leash dog play areas. Let those tails wag and paws prance! Did you know Mission Dolores Park was built on the site of a Jewish cemetery? It's also been a refugee camp for residents made homeless by the 1906 earthquake and fire.

Fast forward to today, and it's a popular spot for festivals, performances, and all things cultural. Jump on the Muni Metro J-Church Line, and you'll soon be in one of the best-loved SF parks.

Nature and Scenic Parks

From coastal cliffs to miles of trails, these parks are a haven for hikes in San Francisco. Check out these gorgeous SF parks, which offer a breath of fresh air as well as a visual feast.

3. Golden Gate Park

At more than 1,000 acres, Golden Gate Park is San Francisco's biggest green space. There's such a huge variety of activities on offer in this national park that it's like a choose-your-own-adventure story.

You've got the Japanese Tea Garden for a tranquil escape, the Conservatory of Flowers for a burst of color rivaling some of our brightest and best shows, and the Koret Children's Quarter and Carousel to keep the little ones entertained. Don't miss the bison paddock — where else can you spot bison in the middle of a city?

Golden Gate Park is also a cultural hotspot, with the de Young Museum and the California Academy of Sciences right on the doorstep. Explore unique restaurants in San Francisco for a complete win-win – art, science, and culinary delights at your fingertips.

Photographer: David Vives

4. Presidio of San Francisco

Having served as a military post for 218 years, Presidio of San Francisco has plenty of stories to tell. During your visit, be sure to check out the historic buildings, including the iconic red-roofed Montgomery Street Barracks.

In addition to the rich history, many San Franciscans head to the Presidio to soak up the beautiful scenery. From stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Baker Beach to lush eucalyptus groves and scenic trails, there's plenty here for your eyes to feast on. So roll out a blanket, unpack some treats, and enjoy the fresh air — the Presidio is San Francisco's most perfect piece of paradise.

5. Lands End

At Lands End, the Coastal Trail is the star of the show. Picture yourself walking along the cliffside with a salty breeze teasing your hair. It's the kind of stroll that makes you feel like you're on the edge of the world, even though the trail is easily accessible from downtown San Francisco.

Be sure to take note of the Sutro Bath Ruins, which give a glimpse into San Francisco's past. It was once the site of a 3-acre glass bathhouse, but today, the sounds of laughter have been replaced by the calls of gulls. It's a hauntingly beautiful scene.

Recreational and Family-Friendly Parks

A trip to the park is always more fun with a young (or young at heart!) person in tow. Here are some of the best parks in San Francisco to visit with kids.

6. Crissy Field

In 2001, the Parks Conservancy began to transform a former military airfield into Crissy Field Park. We think they've done a pretty awesome job, as this park is now the ultimate waterfront playground.

You can walk or cycle on a flat promenade beside the sandy shores, with the iconic Golden Gate Bridge as your backdrop — it's like a mini beach holiday without leaving the city!

Kite flying is a favorite local pastime here, thanks to the strong breezes that gust in from the sea. Grab your colorful winged companion and let it dance in the air, twisting and turning like one of our acrobats putting on their best-ever performance.

Here's a little secret: the sunsets at Crissy Field are pure perfection. Grab a blanket, find a cozy spot, and watch as the sky transforms into a canvas of colors. It's the ideal way to end a beautiful day in the Golden City.

Photographer: Haotian Zheng

7. Marina Green

If you're looking for a chilled-out public space where you can relax and enjoy the view, Marina Green is for you. Here, you get a front-row seat to some of San Francisco's most iconic sights, including Alcatraz Island. Grab your camera or just sit back and soak it all in — either way, it's a winner.

Marina Green's wide open spaces are perfect for a game of frisbee or a leisurely waterfront jog. Look out for boats gliding across the bay, adding a nautical touch to the scene.

Marina Green has restrooms, but the space isn't lit up at night, so it's best to visit during the day. However, twilight can also be a rewarding time, as the colors paint the sky to the west, while to the east, the city lights begin to twinkle.

Botanical and Specialty Gardens

If carefully curated greenery is your style, you'll love the botanical and specialty gardens on offer in the Golden City. Get ready for exotic blooms, desert displays, and gorgeous greenhouses!

8. San Francisco Botanical Garden

Home to over 8,000 different kinds of plants from all corners of the world, the San Francisco Botanical Garden can take you on a global tour without you ever having to leave its 55-acre site. From towering redwoods to delicate orchids, you can find many different kinds of plants here, all living in harmony.

Be sure to check out the California Native Garden to learn about local species and how they've evolved to thrive in this beautiful region.

Here's a little secret: the garden hosts special events at all times of year. From wreath-making to forest bathing and yoga, no matter when you plan your visit to SF, you're sure to find something going on at the San Francisco Botanical Garden to make your trip truly special.

9. Conservatory of Flowers

Located within Golden Gate Park, the Conservatory of Flowers is North America's oldest public glass-and-wood conservatory — and it's beautifully preserved! Home to exotic plants, this is the place to come if you want to see rare orchids, sunset palms, and birds of paradise.

If you're here in winter, be sure to check out the Conservatory Light Show, titled Photosynthesis, which begins 30 minutes after sunset every evening. Lights and music combine in a stunning 30-minute performance that we'd be proud to see on our own stage.

Urban and Community Parks

Community spirit is strong in San Fran, and nowhere is that more obvious than in the following selection of SF parks. These green havens are more than just patches of grass; they're vibrant communal spaces where people come to unwind, connect, and chill out.

10. Yerba Buena Gardens

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial is the star of the show at Yerba Buena Gardens. Let the sound of the cascading waterfall be your soundtrack as you read Dr. King's words inscribed on glass panels, and take a moment to reflect.

Several museums are right next door to Yerba Buena Gardens. Art lovers flock to Yerba Buena Center for the Arts to view contemporary visual art, including video installations and performances.

If you have little ones in tow, they're sure to love the Children's Creativity Museum, which offers a range of interactive experiences designed to spark your kids' imaginations.

Between museum visits, spend a little time on Yerba Buena Gardens' main lawn, a 5-acre green space where you'll find flowers, public art, and beautifully planted gardens. You might also like to seek out the Reflection Garden, which provides a quiet space for contemplation.

Photographer: Georg Eiermann

11. South Park

Welcome to South Park! No, not the animated show — one of the oldest and most loved SF parks. Although it dates back to the 19th century, South Park isn't showing its age at all, thanks to a $1 million renovation project completed in 2017. This pocket-sized park features unique art installations that are sure to impress.

Feeling peckish? South Park is surrounded by eateries, making it the perfect spot for a leisurely lunch or a quick coffee break. Grab a bite, find a bench, and enjoy the laid-back surroundings. Don't worry about the little ones getting bored — there's a children's play area where they can burn off some energy.

Parks with Unique Features

Looking for a park with a little more to offer? Why not climb the hill at Bernal Heights Park or head to Buena Vista Park for a combination of natural beauty and urban history?

12. Bernal Heights Park

Get ready to climb to new levels of fun at Bernal Heights Park! Panoramic views of the city skyline, a chill vibe, and a sense of community make it a must-visit park in San Francisco.

First things first, the hill. It's a bit of a trek to the top, but trust us, the views are worth every step. Once you reach the summit, you're greeted with a breathtaking 360-degree panorama of the city. The Golden Gate Bridge, downtown skyscrapers, and San Bruno Mountain are all on display — talk about a picture-perfect moment!

Look up for a glance of red-tailed hawks soaring overhead, or keep your gaze downward to spot a California alligator lizard sunning itself on the path. You might even see coyotes — but please don't try to pet or feed them, as they can be aggressive if approached.

13. Buena Vista Park

Get ready to explore the wild beauty of Buena Vista Park! This place is a hidden gem just off North Beach. Tucked away on a hill, it offers a variety of trails, lush greenery, and a sense of tranquility that feels a world away from the urban hustle. As you climb through the oak grove, the city noise fades away, replaced by rustling leaves and the chirping of nuthatches.

Did we mention the views? The peak offers stunning vistas of the city below, the Bay Bridge in the distance, and the rolling hills beyond. It's a postcard-worthy moment that'll make you fall in love with San Francisco all over again.

Did you know the trails and drainage systems of Buena Vista Park are lined with fragments of headstones? These were removed from old cemeteries in the early part of the 20th century and used to build park gutters, sea walls, and more. What's the oldest date you can spot?

Photographer: Richard James

Waterfront Parks

There's something calming about the coast. Get your sea breeze fix at these wonderful waterfront parks in San Francisco.

14. Embarcadero Plaza

Perhaps more than any other park in San Francisco, Embarcadero Plaza offers a dynamic slice of city life. From weekly farmers markets to concerts on the plaza's built-in stage, there's always something going on here.

Visit during winter, and you'll find the surrounding buildings lit up and a skating rink providing slippery thrills and spills to locals and tourists alike. In summer, you might prefer to sit by the Vaillancourt Fountain and cool off with an ice cream or cold drink from one of the nearby vendors.

15. Ferry Park

We end our tour of SF parks with a visit to Ferry Park, located in the Financial District. Here, you'll see workers enjoying their lunch breaks on the large grassy lawn or plentiful benches.

There's a public restroom and easy access from the Muni transport system. Come here to enjoy a quiet moment or visit Justin Herman Plaza, where the famous San Francisco Pillow Fight takes place every Valentine's Day.

Nature, History, and Culture: Parks in San Francisco

As we bid adieu to our whirlwind tour of parks in San Francisco, CA, one thing remains clear: This city knows how to blend natural beauty with urban flair.

Whether you're captivated by the panoramic views from Bernal Heights Park, enchanted by the lushness of the San Francisco Botanical Garden, or finding serenity in the midst of bustling Embarcadero Plaza, each park tells its own unique story.

It's time for you to embark on your own adventure, embracing the artistic spirit expressed in San Francisco's parks and echoed under the big top. Speaking of which, wouldn't it be a fantastic encore to your San Francisco experience to catch one of our mesmerizing shows?

Picture it — a day of park-hopping followed by an evening of breathtaking acrobatics. Whether you're a nature lover, an art enthusiast, or a history fan, we hope to see you soon in the parks of San Francisco — or in the audience of one of our shows in San Francisco.

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