ADVERTISEMENT

San Francisco: 5 activities in Golden Gate Park

By Justine Sharrock
October 3, 2012
blog_100706_sanfrantrees_pano_original.jpg
Courtesy <a href="http://mybt.budgettravel.com/_Golden-Gate-Park-San-Francisco-CA/photo/9278978/21864.html">JMW2008/myBudgetTravel</a>

Sure, you've heard of the Japanese Tea Garden, the de Young, and the California Academy of Science, all located in Golden Gate Park's 1,017 acres (larger than New York City's Central Park—so there!) But the Golden Gate Park has a slew of other, lesser known activities, ideal for summer. Check out these five often overlooked attractions.

Boating Renting a rowboat at Stow Lake, the largest lake in the park, is perhaps the most romantic activity on offer here. The lake itself is stunning, with a waterfall and a pagoda-style gazebo surrounded by reeds and trees. Strawberry Hill, an island in the middle of the lake, is a popular picnic spots for couples. Boating on the lake is also a family-friendly activity—life vests are available for kids, as are paddle boats. 50 Stow Lake Dr. (between Martin Luther King, Jr. and John F. Kennedy Drives, near 19th Ave.), 10 a.m.-4 p.m. daily, 415/752-0347. Paddle boat, $20/hour, row boat $15/hour, one hour minimum.

Swing dancing Each Sunday, those light of foot flock to Lindy in the Park, a popular swing dancing meet-up that has become a weekend tradition in the last decade. The totally free afternoon starts off with a beginner lesson, then breaks into a huge dance party with a mix of jazz, blues, and swing music. The diverse crowd ranges from dancers who are completely green to professionals. Solos and couples welcome. 11 a.m.-2 p.m., weather permitting, JFK Drive between 8th and 10 avenues.

Fly fishing Even without fish, Golden Gate Park's fly-casting pools are considered some of best places in the country to practice casting. Located near the buffalo paddock, near JFK Drive and 36th Avenue, 415/386-2630

Remembering The National AIDS Memorial Grove is a somber yet peaceful memorial garden where visitors are encouraged to contemplate and pay tribute to loved ones who have passed away. The serene seven-acre sanctuary is filled with benches, various native plants, and trees, including California's famous Redwoods. Because the grove is off the beaten path, it's usually pretty empty, offering up a tranquil spot for remembrance. At the intersection of Bowling Green and Middle Drive East.

Playing The country's oldest public playground, the Children's playground (now officially called Koret Children's Quarter after a recent $3.8 million renovation), is great for kids of all ages. There's tons to do: spinning cups, a 50-foot climbing tower, rope structures, slides, and ziplines. It's perhaps the most popular playground in the city, so it gets crowded; mornings are definitely the best time to go. The adjacent carousel, built in 1912, is a real classic, with organ music and a range of ornate animals to ride, like camels, ostriches, and heavily decorated horses. $2 per ride, children ages 6-12, $1; free children under 5, 10 a.m.–4: 30 p.m. 320 Bowling Green Dr., between John F. Kennedy Drive and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.

Note: There is now a shuttle bus from the free Ocean Beach parking lot to various locations inside the park; it's just $2 for an all-day round trip pass.

Keep reading
Inspiration

America's backyard grub: Tastiest food for the Fourth

When I think of the Fourth of July, yes, I think about Betsy Ross and fireworks and the Declaration of Independence. But mostly I just think about hamburgers and hot dogs&mdash;and Friendly's Wattamelon Roll. Sure, you could stay home and grill up some burgers and dogs in your own backyard, but this is a travel blog, so where's the fun in that? Here are my personal picks for the best all-American eats worth traveling for. (Feel free to chime in with your own faves in the comments.) Fave hot dog place:Mel's Hot Dogs in Tampa, Fla.Red vinyl booths and the snappiest dogs in the South make this nostalgic joint a winner. Less than five minutes from the local Busch Gardens theme park, this hometown favorite was founded by Chicago-born traveling musician Mel Lohn in 1973. Don't miss the famous Chicago-style dog, with mustard, relish, pickles, tomatoes, celery salt, and hot sport peppers served on a steamed poppy seed bun. It's the tastiest version below the Illinois state line. Fave hamburger place:Shake Shack in New York City and Miami Beach.Started by renowned New York restaurateur Danny Meyer, Shake Shack is a celebration of all-American classics like burgers, fries, frozen custard, and the eponymous milkshake. As the sometimes hours-long lines out front can attest, this pick is far from a secret find. It has quickly become a New York institution. The true test of quality? The winding queue usually contains just as many picky, food-savvy locals as it does tourists. I can't say if the burgers are juicier or cheesier or meatier. They're just perfect-er. Now it's your turn: what is your favorite all-American hotspot to grab a hamburger or hot dog? (And, no, your backyard does not count!)

Inspiration

Things we love: "un-tours"

Next time you're looking for a city tour, ditch the confines of an oversized bus in favor of an "un-tour." These general orientation tours&mdash;led in small groups&mdash;are not cheap, but they deliver your money's worth. Instead of paying $20 per person to join a 30-person group, you pay a bit more and join a tiny group, with a local expert often at your beck and call. While "un-tours" have been around for a while, we wanted to remind you about their value as an affordable way to learn a ton about your destination's local history, art, and culture. Last fall, we told you how one of the major providers of "un-tours" has been expanding its offerings: Urban Adventures, which provides small group, off-the-beaten-path city outings on six continents. Every trip is available 365 days a year and ranges in length from two hours to an entire day. While there is power in numbers, Urban Adventures believes too many cooks spoil the broth&mdash;the maximum size for any group is twelve people. Another plus: Only English-speaking, experts with an extensive working knowledge of their city's local history, art, and culture are hired as "un-tour" guides. Urban Adventures is the brainchild of Intrepid Travel and the WHL Group (the largest local travel company). It's aimed at travelers who "want to get away from humdrum tourism," said Laurel Angrist, media consultant for the WHL Group. "Urban Adventures is a travel company for those who yearn for adventure." Prices generally include tickets and admission to major elements of a tour, but tip and personal purchases are never included. And while local transportation is included in the price for some tours, more often than not it is up to you to get to and from a tour. Geared toward a more budget-conscious traveler, nearly all of Urban Adventures day tours are under $100. One of the cheapest options, a roughly four-hour tour from $15 per person, can be found in Ho Chi Minh City. Spend the first part of the day taking in the major sights and smells through a cyclo, a three-wheeled, pedal-powered form of transportation with a passenger carriage. Then, leave behind the cyclo for a guided exploration of the Ben Thanh market. Try some "weasel coffee," which has been first served to weasels and then derived from their droppings. On the other side of the price range, is a nine-hour Seattle adventure for $214 per person. On this walk, bike and kayak excursion, travelers saunter through historic Pioneer Square, sample the local fare at Pike Place Market, and enjoy the artistic scenery at Olympic Sculpture Park. Next, vacationers take part in a cycle around the Seattle waterfront before hopping into a kayak to explore the coves, the homes, and the breathtaking views of the Seattle skyline from the Pacific. &mdash;Emily Liftman EARLIER Deal: New urban adventures from Intrepid Travel Secret Islands of Southeast Asia

Inspiration

N'awlins: Should you drop that seafood po'boy?

In some parts of Louisiana, oysters have become as rare as white truffles, as the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has led to the closure of more than a third of federal fishing waters. That's sad news because oysters are a star ingredient in New Orleans' famous sandwich, the po'boy. Sure, you can order a po'boy with roast beef instead of a mollusk. But a sub made of crusty bread, mayo, tomatoes, and lettuce just isn't the same without a fried oyster&mdash;or three. So, we checked in with some of the city's most popular restaurants, to find out the status of seafood po'boys. The good news is that seafood at any commercial establishment is still safe to eat, thanks to a small army of government inspectors. But restaurants are starting to remove oysters from their menus. The Parkway Bakery and Tavern, open since 1911, now serves all flavors of po'boys, except one: Owner Jay Nix took oysters off the sandwich board in May. He'll only return them "when things come back to normal." Prices for oysters are spiking, too&mdash;up 30 percent since the spill. And some dining spots are passing along the higher cost to consumers. At Johnny's Po'Boys, prices have gone up 50 cents to $1. For example, an oyster po'boy is now $12. Other restaurants are absorbing the financial pain. Consider Drago's Seafood Restaurant, which sold 3 million charbroiled oysters last year. Owner Tommy Cvitanovich says he would take the briny mollusk off the menu before he would increase the price. Other renowned restaurants, such as Commander's Palace, are also keeping prices in check. The long-term damage to oyster beds is unclear. In the meantime, if the image of an oyster basted in crude oil curbs the appetite, consider opting for shrimp instead. Shrimp prices have stayed about the same as many chefs order alternative shipments from Texas and China. That's a controversial move among local chefs, many of whom have a U.S.A.-first attitude. The local industry has really struggled to fight off cheap imports for years. Some restaurants refuse to buy foreign shrimp, claiming they're inferior in quality. Tory McPhail, executive chef at Commander's Palace, takes a feast, not famine approach. After buying 400 pounds of American shrimp straight from the dock, he organized a peeling party, then used the crustaceans to create a $32 shrimp and pasta entree featuring Creole tomatoes, pea shoots, basil and roasted shrimp heads pureed into a stock. Sounds delish! &mdash;Andrea Sachs

Inspiration

Paris Controversy: Banning cars by the Seine

Ever since 2002, when the City of Lights first introduced Paris Plages&mdash;three Seine spots transformed into riverfront beaches every July 20 for a month&mdash;Mayor Bertrand Delano&euml; has been rallying the French capital to expand on the program's popularity for a "reconquest of the banks of the Seine." His idea? Ban cars from a 1.2-mile stretch of expressway on the left bank, reaching from the Mus&eacute;e d'Orsay to (nearly) the Eiffel Tower. This July, Paris's city council votes on the ban, which would go into effect in 2012. Permanent foot and cycle paths would be installed along with 35 acres of new caf&eacute;s, parks, sports facilities, and floating islands&mdash;complete with palm trees. Not surprisingly, Parisian car and taxi drivers are furious about the plans. About 30,000-plus daily expressway drivers will be displaced. To test out the car-free experiment, the city has been closing the left bank expressway every Sunday for the past several years, with much acclaim from pedestrians who enjoy the respite from vehicles. What's your reaction to the possible car ban? Meanwhile, don't wait until 2012 to have some fun along the Seine. There are urban beaches to check out in late July and early August this year. MORE Up All Night in Paris: The Nuit Blanche art party Paris: Free art galleries worth visiting Budget Travel's Paris City page

ADVERTISEMENT