Four hours after going to sleep, I was awake again. Foolishly I had booked my flight from Orlando for 7am, without thinking about what that would mean in terms of getting to the airport in the wee hours of the morning. A shuttle bus was coming at 3.30am, and fortunately they came on time – I would have been very unimpressed if they were late after I’d woken up so early! The trip to the airport was uneventful, and the flight was on time. It was a four hour flight, and I managed to have a nap on the plane. Once at San Francisco I found a shuttle bus which took me to the hotel. There’s a 3 hour time difference between Orlando and San Francisco, so even though it was a 4 hour flight it was still quite early in the morning when I arrived and I wasn’t able to check in to my room. I was hoping for a nap, because combined with lots of busy days and a lack of sleep the night before I had a sore throat and was starting to feel a bit run down.
The hotel I was staying in was an older, boutique hotel which had recently been renovated on the inside. It’s right on Market Street which has a street car that goes through Downtown and then right around to Fisherman’s Wharf and the Golden Gate Bridge. It turned out to be a really good location, and the staff at the hotel were very friendly. After checking in, the man behind the counter (Wes) gave me a map and suggested some ways for me to spend the afternoon. One of those suggestions was the Golden Gate Park which was quite close by and looked like a relaxing way to spend the day. He also recommended a French patisserie around the corner. I’d had breakfast at the airport, but I was ready for a second breakfast so I stopped there for a coffee and French toast. It was really good – so good that I ended up going back for breakfast again the next day!
After breaky I looked up directions to the park and made my way to the bus stop. The bus came within 10 minutes and I jumped on. It was $2 for a ticket (at this stage I hadn’t discovered that there is a 3 day pass you can get) and I was on my way. It was an interesting bus, because it drove on the road like a normal bus, but was powered by electricity from cables above the road similar to a tram. It’s quite impressive that the bus stays connected to the wires while it changes lanes and turns corners.
My first impression of the park was that it had a very natural feel, with dirt paths winding through patches of trees. It felt more like a national park than a man-made garden because the plants seemed to be growing quite freely. Parts of the park were carefully manicured with flowerbeds and pruned bushes, but in general it was a more natural setting.
The first thing I came across in the park was the Conservatory of Flowers. It’s a large greenhouse with rare and exotic plants inside. It’s possible to buy a ticket and go inside, but I was quite happy to just take a look at the gardens near the conservatory.
I could hear music off in the distance, so made my way towards it. The park opened up to a paved area between two large buildings. The buildings were the California Academy of Sciences and the de Young Museum. I didn’t go in either of these, because my attention was captured by the Bay Area Classic Yo-Yo Championships! That’s where the loud music was coming from.
It was incredible! There was a big stage set up, and hundreds of people gathered to watch as people competed in the championships. It was amazing to see what some people were able to do with a yo-yo, including tricks that involved a small ball on the other end of the yo-yo string. I have no idea how they managed to do it all and not get the string tangled. I stopped for a while, mesmerised by the yo-yo’s, then decided to move on.
Just across from this area was the Japanese Tea Garden. I was ready for a break, so ordered a sencha tea and sat by the pond to drink it. It was very peaceful sipping my tea to the sound of water flowing and looking out over the pond at the carefully manicured gardens.
After I’d finished my tea I spent some time exploring the gardens. There were stone statues, sculptured plants and lots of water features. There was an interesting bridge in the shape of a water wheel, and many of the trees were growing in interesting shapes – they reminded me of oversized bonsai plants.
There was even a life sized Zen garden, complete with raked gravel! It was great to explore the Japanese gardens, and well worth the $7 entry fee.
From the Japanese garden, I walked around the lake to the boat house. There were quite a few people on the lake in row boats and paddle boats. There was also a man feeding the ducks, and a few turtles resting on a log! I stopped at the boathouse for some French fries and enjoyed the sun and the view. It was really lovely weather.
It was starting to get late in the afternoon, and I was keen to get to the other end of the park to see the beach. I’d done a lot more walking than I was planning to, and I was starting to feel quite tired. There’s a free shuttle bus that goes around the park, so I found the nearest stop and waited for the bus. It took about 20 minutes to come, and while I was waiting all sorts of people went past on bikes, skateboards, “pedicabs” and roller blades! I don’t think I’d seen anyone on roller blades since I was at school, but there was a surprising number of people out and about, skating around the park.
The bus pulled up and I jumped on board. I went a few stops to the bison paddock where I got off, keen to see the bison. From what I had read in the brochure I imagined a lot of bison roaming freely in a paddock. It turns out there were only a few of them, and they’re behind a tall wire fence. They did have a lot of open space, but it wasn’t quite what I was expecting.
As I was walking back towards the main path, I noticed the smell of eucalyptus in the air. To my surprise, the area near the paddock was a lot like the Australian bush, complete with eucalyptus trees! I’m not sure if these were planted by the people who designed the park, or if the trees are native to the area. I thought they were only found in Australia, but it was quite nice walking through such a familiar setting so far from home.
Next stop after the bison paddock was the equitation field. There was a crowd of people gathered around, and a couple of horses. It looked like there had been some sort of show earlier in the afternoon, but they were starting to pack up and getting ready to leave for the day. There wasn’t a lot to see, so I continued on my way.
From there it was about another 10 minute walk to the end of the park. The trees started to change to a more scrubby bush as I got closer to the beach. The ground also started to change, from dirt and rocks to sandy soil. At the end of the park, one in each corner, are two windmills. The windmills were initially built to pump fresh water to irrigate the parks. Now they’ve been replaced with more modern forms of irrigation, but the windmills still stand. Recent work has been done to restore the windmills, although they’re no longer used.
I cross the road at the end of the park, heading to the beach. With the name “Golden Gate” Park I had assumed the Golden Gate Bridge would be there. Unfortunately I was wrong, and this part of the coast just opens out onto the ocean. Still, it was a nice view although it was incredibly windy. There were a couple of people in the water surfing, but it was too cold for casual swimmers. I took a quick photo, then hurried back to the park which was much more sheltered from the wind.
Having wandered for quite a while I was ready for another break, so I stopped off at the Beach Chalet. There was a band playing outside on the deck, so I grabbed a beer and found a seat, only to find they were wrapping up their last song. It was a nice spot to sit though, with a mix of banana lounges and tables and chairs. Some people were on the grass and there were dogs playing around the edge of the clearing.
While I sat there, a group of people asked if they could join me because they were looking for a table to eat at. They sat down, and we had a chat while I finished my drink and they waited for their food. They gave me some suggestions for things to do during my visit, and were good company while I sat there.
After that I went back up to the road, and caught a public bus back to the hotel (no way I was walking the full length of the park back!) I checked in to my room which was on the third floor facing the Market Street. It was a little bit noisy, especially with the street car stop right outside, but I found it fine for sleeping.
I was pretty tired at this stage, so after dropping off my things I went around the corner where I had passed a few restaurants earlier in the day. I found a cosy Italian restaurant, enjoyed a nice bowl of pasta, then moseyed back to the hotel for an earlyish night.