A perfect day in San Francisco

San Francisco is many things, but cheap is not one of them. Unless you take advantage of the city’s mild weather and plentiful green spaces, where you can spend a lazy Sunday exploring its rich history and culture, essentially for free. (Food and drinks extra.)

Golden Gate Park

They say the early bird gets the worm, but a much better deal is free admission to the San Francisco Botanical Garden in Golden Gate Park between 7:30am and 9am with Nature. You can essentially take a trip around the world at the 55-acre arboretum. Check out the international offerings (e.g. Lilly Pilly trees from Australia), take a deep breath in the Fragrance Garden and see what’s blooming in sections focusing on Andean Cloud Forest, South Africa, Asia and more . You’re also likely to see locals practicing their tai chi in the fresh air.

Nearby is the de Young Museum which opens at 9:30am on Sundays. At the museum, enjoy the cafe without paying an entrance fee to the galleries. The coffee is good and you can enjoy it on the shaded terrace and explore the adjacent sculpture garden, including works by Claes Oldenburg and James Turrell. Also free to visit: the nine-storey tower with a panoramic view of the city.

For years, a portion of the park’s main thoroughfare, John F. Kennedy Drive, has been closed to cars on Sundays. Now 1.5 miles of it is closed to cars every day. You can spend the whole day wandering the 1,000 acres of green space: rowing your boat on Stow Lake or seeing where the buffalo roam. If you walk west, almost to the Pacific Ocean, the Beach Chalet has great food and even better views, as well as a brew pub. Don’t miss the 1930s murals on the first floor. A long stretch of the Great Highway that skirts Ocean Beach is now car-free on weekends.

To the waterfront

A far more scenic spot to see open water is a few miles north and east of the park, at Marina Green. This microclimate city can experience fog and wind year-round, especially near the bay, so bring a jacket.

On your way to the north waterfront, Clement Street offers a wide range of enticing spots to refuel. At the east end is Ariscault Bakery, known for its croissants; Celebrate surviving the long line with a Kouign-Amann with your coffee. (Calories don’t count on Sundays, do they?) Continue north on Arguello for the scenic route through the Presidio to reach Marina Boulevard.

San Francisco_Maritime Museum_Pat Tompkins

The Beach Chalet has numerous murals painted in the 1930’s.

Maritime Museum

Parking in San Francisco is a competitive sport. But if you’re willing to do it, you might find a spot in the parking lots near Fort Mason. Follow a long set of stairs and a paved path east over a hill to the Aquatic Park. Among the exquisite offerings is the Maritime Museum, an overlooked gem in a former streamlined modern public bathhouse built in 1939. Go for the colorful murals. It is one of many buildings in the city that were enhanced by WPA artists during the Great Depression. Free and open every day. Instead of heading further east to noisy Fisherman’s Wharf with lots of tourist shops, head back west to Fort Mason.

Fort Mason

While the Maritime Museum is practically a secret, Fort Mason and adjacent Marina Green are not, but offer ample space for roving locals and visitors alike.

Fort Mason’s piers shipped more than 1.5 million soldiers to the Pacific during World War II. Today, Fort Mason, now a National Historic Landmark, is an arts and cultural center. Options include the small but appealing Museo Italo Americano; It is open on Sundays from 10am to 2pm and, unlike the larger museums in the city, is free to visit. When strolling through urban green spaces, I usually skip a seated meal, but the pioneering vegetarian restaurant Greens is an attractive spot for lunch. The food is as good as the superb view of the bay from the wall of windows.

San Francisco_Ft Point_Lighthouse_Pat Tompkins

The Little Lighthouse at Ft. Point at the southern end of the Golden Gate Bridge dates back to the Civil War.

Marina Green to Fort Point

I’m more likely to head further west along Marina Green to hit-and-run at Dynamo Donut and Coffee Kiosk, a tiny branch of the Mission District shop. (Spiced Chocolate or Chocolate Rose? Only you can decide.) As a rainbow of kitesurfers fly by, stretch your legs on a trail through Crissy Field to Fort Point, tucked under the southern end of the Golden Gate Bridge. This area is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area; A welcome pit stop along the way is the aptly named Warming Hut. (No one ever said summers were sizzling in San Francisco.) Refresh yourself with tea, hot chocolate, or coffee and browse the store’s full of national park-related goodies.

A National Historic Site, the red-brick Fort Point dates back to the Civil War, and the location offers a new angle of the bridge overhead, complete with crashing waves. (Yes, the fort is free to visit and is open Friday through Sunday year-round.) And Hitchcock fans might recognize the place from a scene in dizziness filmed in the city. Sit down, put your feet up and enjoy the view. You are in the perfect place to catch the sunset.

About Stephanie McGehee

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