Golden Gate Park guide and audio tour


Golden Gate Park is a serene oasis in San Francisco, teeming with museums, lakes, bison, a Ferris wheel, and over a thousand acres of meadows, redwoods, and organized gardens, all being 20% ​​larger than Central Park in New York.

But it didn’t happen that way without some drama. The story of Golden Gate Park is also the story of arrogant tycoons humbled by natural disasters, gunfire and corruption, a city that honors its dead, and a giant 150-year-old plush grizzly bear (which stands found to be on the California flag).

You’ll find all of the above on Total SF’s First Audio Tour, an entertaining hike through Golden Gate Park for locals, newcomers, and tourists. Join Chronicle writers Peter Hartlaub and Heather Knight as they share their love for exploring San Francisco, as they scour the San Francisco Chronicle archives for the best stories no one talks about.

The secrets of Golden Gate Park are enhanced by VoiceMap, an audio tour app that uses GPS to keep the narration moving with you as you walk. Those on the tour will walk 4.6 miles past the de Young Museum, the California Academy of Sciences, and the Conservatory of Flowers – with stops at AIDS Memorial Grove, atop scenic Strawberry Hill in Stow Lake, and some places not listed in the guides.

Park goers paddle boat at Stow Lake in Golden Gate Park.

Stephen Lam / The Chronicle

The voices of your guides will be in your headphones, as if they were with you on the hike, and as you move, the audio moves with you, so you’ll always know when to turn and where to go.

Share your tour photos with Hartlaub and Knight on social media and follow the Total SF podcast to hear live event announcements – where Hartlaub and Knight can show up on the tour route to offer more Golden Gate Park history and award prizes. You can also check out The Chronicle’s other audio tour, Unfolding the Financial District: Design adventures in San Francisco’s Hub with Chronicle Urban Design reviewer John King.

Each visit is available for $ 5.99 and exclusively $ 3.99 to all Chronicle subscribers. Click here to access your promotional code before purchase. To purchase the tour, visit www.sfchronicle.com/audiotours or download the VoiceMap app, search for “San Francisco Chronicle” to take the tour anytime.

Each visit costs $ 5.99 and only $ 3.99 for all Chronicle subscribers; click here to access your promo code before purchase. Tours are produced by the San Francisco Chronicle and hosted on the VoiceMap app.

Here are some highlights from Secrets of Golden Gate Park:

A woman walks her dog past the site of the old Sweeny Observatory atop Strawberry Hill inside Golden Gate Park.

A woman walks her dog past the site of the old Sweeny Observatory atop Strawberry Hill inside Golden Gate Park.

Jessica Christian / The Chronicle

Mother Nature is the most severe critic of architecture:

Thomas U. Sweeny built the Sweeny Observatory in 1891 at the highest point in Golden Gate Park near Lake Stow, paying in cash so no one could protest its fortress-like structure which has ruined some of the best views in the world. Park. But fate had other plans.

The Strawberry Hill Observatory was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake, and park officials were openly happy with the turn of events. William Hammond Hall, one of the original designers of the park, was quoted in The Chronicle as saying, “Apparently a higher power has taken matters into their own hands.”

(Hear the full story on the tour, and see the remains of the Sweeny Observatory, still visible more than 115 years after it went missing.)

The California Academy of Sciences with Living Roof seen from the Hamon Observation Tower at the de Young Museum in San Francisco.

The California Academy of Sciences with Living Roof seen from the Hamon Observation Tower at the de Young Museum in San Francisco.

Santiago Mejia / The Chronicle

There is an incredibly old fish in the Steinhart aquarium

The museums, gardens, lakes and roads of the park are filled with violent, uncomfortable and often very strange stories.

Like the time they put live reindeer in an elevator to the roof of the California Academy of Sciences. Or the vendetta between the namesakes of the de Young Museum and Spreckels Lake. And we salute Methuselah, the Australian lungfish that’s at least 90 years old – maybe a lot older – and has been a Steinhart Aquarium exhibit since the 1930s.

A taxidermized grizzly bear walks into a park …

Monarch the Grizzly Bear remains one of the state of California’s greatest animal celebrities, though few know the full story.

The owner of the San Francisco Examiner, William Randolph Hearst, sponsored a hunt for one of the state’s last grizzly bears in 1889, and Monarch was captured in a news cycle as important as a royal wedding. and the OJ Simpson trial combined. He eventually ended up on the California flag, although by then the man had completely driven grizzly bears out of the state.

Where is Monarch now? Closer than you might think. He’s drunk, sitting in an underground archive, and still making appearances at the California Academy of Sciences.

Director Dr. Bob Calonico leads the Golden Gate Park Band as they perform inside the Orchestra at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco.

Director Dr. Bob Calonico leads the Golden Gate Park Band as they perform inside the Orchestra at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco.

Carlos Avila Gonzalez / The Chronicle

The group that never separates

During the tour we tell the stories of Robin Williams, Luciano Pavarotti and the Grateful Dead performing at Golden Gate Park. But the biggest name in our book is the Golden Gate Park Band, which has been playing non-stop since 1882, which was 83 years before Jefferson Airplane got together.

They perform in the bandshell at the Music Concourse in Golden Gate Park, including classical marches and other music you might have heard here in 1882 when they first started, as well as programs focused on more recent songs. Learn more about the band and listen to them on our tour.

A statue of the late John McLaren is nestled in the greenery along John F. Kennedy Drive near 6th Avenue inside Golden Gate Park in San Francisco.

A statue of the late John McLaren is nestled in the greenery along John F. Kennedy Drive near 6th Avenue inside Golden Gate Park in San Francisco.

Jessica Christian / The Chronicle

Park founder John McLaren reportedly hated this statue

The Chronicle has partnered with the VoiceMap app to create GPS audio tours of San Francisco reported and hosted by Chronicle reporters. To purchase a guided tour, visit www.sfchronicle.com/audiotours or download the VoiceMap app and search for “San Francisco Chronicle”. For the best sightseeing experience, you’ll need comfortable shoes, a well-charged phone, and a pair of headphones. Have a good exploration!


Longtime Golden Gate Park Superintendent John McLaren is the hero of our story, and a little eccentric too. He was pivotal in transforming the sand dune park into fertile lawns, gardens, and woodlands, and he fought to build parks within walking distance of every home in San Francisco.

But the die-hard naturalist may have gone a little too far, resisting the museums in Golden Gate Park and battling the statues – ordering his gardeners to cover the new ones with shrubs and vines.

We tell the story of McLaren’s own statue; why it is different from others, and why it is worth paying homage to the horticulturalist even several generations after his death.

Peter Hartlaub is the cultural critic for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @PeterHartlaub