Golden Gate Park
The 1,000-acre park, which straddles the line between the Richmond and Sunset districts west of downtown, is the heart and soul of the city. Built toward the end of the 19th century on what was formerly a stretch of empty sand dunes, it has since become the place where both visitors and locals come to relax. Among the attractions here are extensive botanical gardens organized by region (the collection of plants from Australia and New Zealand is especially impressive, as is the Japanese garden with lotus-covered ponds and a teahouse); a buffalo paddock, where the giant, lumbering creatures can be seen grazing and resting; and Stow Lake, where you can rent rowboats and paddle bikes, or hike on the trails covering the island of Strawberry Hill. At the far western edge of the park are the sands and thundering waves of Ocean Beach—where you can watch surfers do their thing from atop high bluffs—and two weathered antique windmills.
Tip: Take the kids on an evening “haunted tour” of Stow Lake—legend has it a woman drowned here more than a century ago and still makes spooky appearances.