Cornejo and her daughter, 7-year-old Ellyana Cornejo,
strike a pose atop the rope climbing structure in
the Koret Children's Quarter Playground in San
Francisco's Golden Gate Park on June 4, 2016.
FRANCISCO — A superb playground and carousel,
carnivorous plants, paddle-boat rides beside paddling
ducks, a simple wooden structure that delights both
children and adults for big, wonderful chunks of time —
there may be no better bet for family fun than Golden Gate
four blocks from Haight and Ashbury streets, a landmark
that to put it mildly lacks a kid-friendly vibe, the
1,107-acre rectangular greenbelt stretches 3 miles
westward to the Pacific Ocean. In this great municipal
park, guardians can let their guard down. Maybe not all
the way down, but enough to be able to focus on enjoying
the park’s many attractions.
family, which includes a 7-year-old, went there twice in
recent weeks and sampled as many sites as we could manage.
Golden Gate Park is roughly bisected by Highway 1, and we
restricted our movement, which covered a lot of ground, to
the eastern side.
are some attractions in the order we experienced them, and
others we couldn’t squeeze into our visits.
Children’s Quarter, which was built in 1888, is thought
to be one of the country’s oldest public playgrounds,
although its huge play structure is modern and in good
Saturday afternoon in early June, my family went to the
playground with friends Camilla Kendall and her 5-year-old
daughter, Gia Nichols, of Rancho Cordova. Gia and my
daughter, Prairie, made good use of the rock waves and two
cement slides down which kids glide (pretty slowly; it’s
not anywhere near bobsled-esque). They also took a couple
of spins on the neighboring Herschell-Spillman Carousel,
which was constructed in 1914 and operated in Los Angeles
and Portland before being installed at Golden Gate Park in
an animal rights activist, called the carousel incredible,
pointing out it "had anything from a cat to a wild
boar to ride. And after all, the only way to ride any
animal is on a carousel!"
resident Cindy Cornejo and her 7-year-old daughter,
Ellyana, climbed to the top of a cone-shaped rope
structure in the middle of the playground.
used to come here when I was younger," the mother
told me after gingerly descending. "I really wanted
to bring her here to experience this."
20-minute walk away, the lush 5-acre Japanese Tea Garden
and its striking five-story pagoda offered other serene
and Prairie became fixated with what they referred to as
the circular bridge (although it’s actually shaped more
like half an oval, round side up, and some would call it a
moon or drum bridge). Up and over they went, again and
again, giggling, as did many older people who seemed to
find the steep, wooden structure a perfect place to pose
the bridge, koi provided more photo ops, their
bright-orange scales pairing nicely with all the
surrounding deep-green foliage. Staring at the pond’s
banks, they seemed to be waiting to be fed once the garden
closed and the tourists had departed.
in 1894, the tea garden is also the oldest such site in
the United States. The pagoda dates from the
Panama-Pacific International Exposition of 1915, and the
bronze Buddha sculpture behind it was cast in Japan in
to the playground, the Conservatory of Flowers is Golden
Gate Park’s oldest building. Its white, curvy,
windows-and-metal exterior has served as a signature sight
since 1879, with about 1,700 species of aquatic and
conservatory’s kids booklet "Tropical
Trekkers!" offers visitors a checklist of activities,
with two pages devoted to dinosaurs and their diet —
ferns and cycads — 200 million years ago.
do we know what dinosaurs ate?" the booklet asks.
"Scientists look at fossilized dino dung, called ‘coprolites,’
for evidence of plants or bones from prey animals."
Sure enough, next to that description is a photograph of a
7-inch-long pile of a fossilized No. 2.
inside are such marvels as the purple, dangling
insect-eaters broadly identified as pitcher plants.
land, carnivorous plants catch gnats, flies, moths and,
rarely, small animals," explains a sign, neatly
weaving education with the "ew" factor. "In
water, the plants ‘eat’ mosquito larvae and other
tiny, aquatic organisms. Nearly all these plants dissolve
their prey with enzymes and absorb the nutrients."
Oct. 16, the conservatory’s special exhibit in the west
wing is "The Wild Bunch: Succulents, Cacti & Fat
also enjoyed strolling around 12-acre Stow Lake and
scoping out all the ducks, paddle-boaters and rowers
there. Human-made in 1893, the roundish lake contains
Strawberry Island and its 110-foot waterfall and walking
path, which is accessible via handsome stone bridges.
encountered our only disappointment at the San Francisco
Botanical Garden at Strybing Arboretum, a 55-acre site
that opened in 1940. We were impressed with the 8,000
varieties of bushes and trees, including the Australian
section, certainly, and there is boundless room for
children to run off energy and explore nature. But we got
frustrated in trekking to the children’s area tucked as
far as possible from where we entered at the main gate,
with minimal and confusing signage. When we finally got
there, we found its sand pits and olfactory garden bereft
of children and looking derelict.
the way, though, our daughter was happily distracted by a
black, orange-spotted insect that inched across a path in
the California Native area of the garden. The pipeline
swallowtail butterfly caterpillars, we learned, eat plants
that make they themselves toxic to any creature that
deigns to eat them.
most children, that’s cool trivia.
California Academy of Sciences and de Young Museum, both
on the park’s eastern half, are kid-friendly
attractions, too. The academy contains an aquarium,
planetarium and natural history museum, and is
chock-a-block with opportunities for children to sow
scientific seeds into their developing minds. San
Francisco Recreation & Parks calls the current version
of the academy, which opened in 2008, the world’s
largest "green" museum due to its sod-covered
roof, solar panels and other eco-sensitive design
de Young’s building is three years older, and includes a
144-foot-tall tower from which visitors can look across
the park and city. The museum offers several programs for
children, including two 90-minute Saturday classes in art
techniques and appreciation geared toward 4- to
around the park all morning is a good way to build an
appetite. Answering that call are several snack bars,
including one by the carousel that serves hot dogs (both
traditional and vegan) and pretzels. A few food trucks
park behind the band shell at Spreckels Temple of Music;
we sampled samosas (two for $4) and chana masala ($8) from
the Annakoot Indian truck. There was also a coffee/pastry
stand and a Sam’s Chowder Mobile with lobster rolls
($13-$18) and fish ‘n’ chips ($11.25-$14.50).
Japanese Tea Garden’s very popular cafe sells, of
course, cups of tea (genmaicha, hojicha, jasmine and
sencha). They cost $3.25 to $4.99. Food items such as
soup, edamame, green tea cheesecake and sandwiches run
from $3.95 to $8.99.
boathouse has a snack bar, and both museums contain cafes.
our two visits, we concluded that our wish list of seven
sites had been too ambitious for the time we had allotted.
It is remotely possible you could see all those things in
one day, but unless you are willing to short-change most
of them (or you are a marathoner and your kids star on
their schools’ cross-country teams), be choosy.
playground/carousel, it should be noted, might be of
little interest to teenagers.
you park in one spot for the day and walk among the park’s
eastern-half attractions, wear proper footwear and, if
your children are young enough, bring a stroller. One
Sunday we parked (for free) on Kezar Drive near the
playground and walked, all told, nearly 7 miles to and
from Stow Lake.
you and your kids have any patience and energy left, at
the end of the day drive to the park’s northwest corner
and check out the Dutch Windmill and nearby Murphy
Windmill. Seeing them, coupled with the sun setting over
the Pacific Ocean across the street, make a great cap to a
day in the park.