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San Francisco Run – Western Golden Gate Park

September 2, 2009

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GG Park San Francisco: Western Golden Gate Park

Start: Great Highway & Lincoln Way

Access: Public Transit: N-Line, #71

Distance: 5.3 miles [up to 6.5 miles]

Water Fountains: 5

Restrooms: 4

Terrain: Small Hills

Ocean Beach

Pedestrian Traffic: Medium

Running north along the park you will see Ocean Beach to the west.  This beach lay mostly undeveloped on the western most part of what was originally known as the Outside Lands by San Franciscans.  In 1884 a railroad was finally built to bring citizens to the beach.  San Franciscans could find much entertainment out here around the turn of the century, including the Ocean Beach Pavilion which held dances and concerts, as well as an amusement park and the Cliff House.

Despite being covered in fog for much of the late spring and summer months, today you will find people utilizing the bonfire pits located on this stretch of the beach almost every night.  Surfers take advantage of the waves, despite the dangerous upwells that can easily pull a swimmer out to sea.  There is also a 3-mile running path that stretches from the Cliff House to Fort Funston.

In front of you and up the hill you will see the Cliff House originally built in 1863 it was destination spot for prominent

View of the Cliff House from Ocean Beach

View of the Cliff House from Ocean Beach

San Franciscans.  As the years passed, however, it fell out of favor and became a place for travelers and the less elite.  In 1883 Adolph Sutro, a former mayor of San Francisco purchased the Cliff House in hopes of restoring it to its former glory.  In the 1890s the Parallel, a ship abandoned and filled with dynamite, crashed into the rocks below the Cliff House and exploded.  After this, Sutro rebuilt the Cliff House in a French Chateau style as an entertainment center.  The Cliff House has been built and rebuilt several times over its history and is now owned by the Golden Gate National Park Serve.  It houses a gift shop and two restaurants worth visiting, if only for the view.

At the same time Sutro was rebuilding the Cliff House he was constructing the Sutro Baths.  The establishment was located just below the Cliff House and opened in 1896 as the largest indoor pool complex of the time.  It housed seven swimming pools of different temperatures including one salt water pool.  The pool water was cycled through every few hours, powered by the waves at high tide and a water pump located in a cave at sea level during low tide.  The baths burned to the ground in 1966 and their ruins can still be found in the area below the Cliff House.

On your right you will see the Beach Chalet.  This was built in 1925 and has served a variety of purposes from changing rooms to an army residence.  In 1981 it was closed for restoration, reopening in 1996. Today it housed the Golden Gate Park visitor center, worth checking out for the Lucien Labaudt’s fresco paintings.  It also holds a restaurant with views of the park and the Dutch Windmill.  Try eating out on the lawn on a sunny day to take advantage of the ocean breeze.

John F. Kennedy Dr. is the next street you will come to.  Cross the Street and take a right, running  into the park.

Dutch Windmill and Tulip Garden

Dutch Windmill and Tulip Garden

Dutch Windmill

Pedestrian Traffic: Medium

In front of you, you will see the Dutch Windmill.  This was built in 1902 to pump water into the Strawberry Hill reserve (located at Stow Lake).  This in turn supplied the water to irrigate the park and develop it from the original sand dunes that covered the area.  By 1913 however it was replaced by electric pumps and began to fall into disrepair. It was finally restored in 1976, but has seen little work since.   The windmill is surrounded by the Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden, named in 1962 for the late queen of the Netherlands.

Next you will see the entrance to the Golden Gate Park Golf Course.  This is 9-hole, par 3 course built in 1951.  This course provides a convenient place to play for city-dwellers and really caters to beginners, offering a variety of classes.

Keep taking the path to the left, eventually staying to the left to stay on JFK Dr.

John F. Kennedy Dr.

Pedestrian Traffic: Medium to Light

The original plan for Golden Gate park encompassed an area stretching from City Hall (Civic Center) to Ocean Beach, but because of resident protest, land purchases, and city ordinances the Panhandle became the eastern most part of the park and is significantly less wide than the rest of the park.

Frederick Law Olmstead, the designer of Central Park, was originally called to design the park, but called the task impossible.  In 1870 William Hammond Hall began work on the Panhandle.  He used this area as an experimental ground to find the ideal plants and trees to be used in the rest of the park.  After the panhandle, he started planting on the western side of the park and worked his way east.

**Restroom and Water Fountain Located here**

To your left is North Lake.  IF you are looking to extend the run, the beautiful vegetation and landscaping around this lake make it well worth the .6 mile look.

Bison Paddock

Bison Paddock

Next on your left is the Bison Paddock.  In 1891 the Park Commission purchased two bison.  At that time bison were nearing extinction because of over hunting.  Today over 100 calves have been born from the heard in Golden Gate Park and the buffalo population of the US exceeds 200,000.

Stay to the left as the road splits.

**Restrooms and water are located here**

This is Spreckels Lake.  This lake was built specifically for the use of model boats.  It was given to the San Francisco model Yacht Club in the early 20th century.  The club house is located on the north side of the lake along Fulton Ave. and houses a collection of model boats.  You will often find model boating events here on weekend mornings.

You will next pass the Disc Golf Course.  A rather new addition to the park the now 18-hole course was permanently

Start of the Disc Golf Course

Start of the Disc Golf Course

developed and opened in 2007 by the San Francisco Disc Golf Club.  This is a great way to spend a relaxing afternoon.  There are always people on the course, although it can get very crowded when the weather is nice.

The next lake to your left is Lloyd Lake.  You will notice a structure on the other side.  This is actually the porch of a house that used to stand on Nob Hill.  The house itself was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and the porch stands as the only public memorial to the disaster in the city.

Just past this you’ll notice the small water fall into the lake. The stream flowing behind it is unique as it appears to be flowing uphill.

**Water Fountain on the corner**

Continue running under the bridge.  You will see a waterfall to your left.  At the next cross walk cross the street and run up the path.  This will take you to Stow Lake.

**Restrooms and Water Fountain located here**

Run past the building and catch the path, running clockwise around the lake.

Stow Lake

Pedestrian Traffic: Medium

Stow Lake is the largest lake in the park, completed in 1893.  In the middle is located Strawberry Hill.  Strawberry Hill stands 428 feet high and provides great views of the park and western San Francisco. On top of the hill is the park reservoir.

If you want to add an extra half mile to your run, cross the bridge and do a loop around the perimeter of Strawberry Hill.

At Stow Lake you can rent paddles boats to enjoy the lake, as well as bikes to enjoy the park.

Chinese Pavilion @ Stow Lake

Chinese Pavilion @ Stow Lake

As you come around the other side of the lake, you will be able to see the Chinese Pavilion on Strawberry Hill.  This was a gift to San Francisco from its sister city, Taipai, in 1981.

At this point you will see the road turn off and head down to Martin Luther King Jr. Dr.  Take the next path to your left down the hill to catch MLK Dr.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr.

Pedestrian Traffic: Very Light

Keep to the right and run west on MLK Dr.

The first meadow you will pass is called Mother’s Meadow.

**There are restrooms and a water fountain located here**

Next you will come to 19th Ave.  There is heavy traffic here, so be careful crossing.

Keep to your left as the road splits.

Golden Gate Park

Golden Gate Park

The southwest side of the park is the quietest part of the park with woods and trails making up most of it.  I recommend just enjoying the scenery and peacefulness of the park.

**Water Fountain located on the corner of MLK Dr. and Chain of Lakes Dr.**

As you approach the western side of the park (approximately 1.5 miles from 19th Ave.) keep to your left as MLK Dr. splits, meeting JFK Dr.

You will see an area to your right under reconstruction.  This was the site of Murphy’s Windmill.  A supplementary windmill built in 1905 to increase the capacity of the Dutch Windmill on the North side of the park.  The windmill is currently under renovation, with much of its pieces being sent to the Netherlands for restoration.

As you come to Lincoln Way take a right to get back to the beach and the starting position. Hope you have enjoyed your run and your time in San Francisco.

One Comment leave one →
  1. November 9, 2009 8:56 PM

    Still looking forward to the next Boston run! We only a few more weeks of good running days left before it’s too cold for me… 🙂

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