Arts and CultureSan Francisco

Cheap Things to do in Golden Gate Park Illustrated with Vintage Postcards

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Golden Gate Park is 1,017 acres of a good time; in fact it is 174 acres more of a good time than Central Park in New York. And guess what, most of it is free. Feel like smoking a bowl and playing Frisbee? Head to the park. Wanna go for a jog and not have to dodge Dodges (or to be honest Mini Coopers)? GGP is your place. Your old lady kick you out and you can’t afford a hotel room? Nobody has to pay to sleep in the park! If you can’t figure out what to do with wide open green spaces and free time, I’m not gonna spell it out for you. But what I am gonna do is tell you about some of the specific attractions that you can go to when you’re tired of laughing at 17 year old kids on mushrooms who are rolling around in the foliage and yelling that they’ve made some profound discoveries about the universe. Some are free and some cost money; it’s up to you to decide which ones you want to visit. I can only take you so far.  But I do recommend you check out these vintage postcards of the park first.

Conservatory of Flowers

Opened in 1879, this lovely example of a Victorian era greenhouse is one of the oldest and most visited attractions in Golden Gate Park. I’m not much of a plantologist (I barely even eat vegetables), so I’m not gonna sit here and talk about a bunch of guff I know nothing about. I do have one great recommendation though; go to the Conservatory of Flowers on a really cold day. Because so many of the plants come from tropical regions, they keep the greenhouse hot and humid. So when it’s rainy and miserable in the middle of February, you can go pretend you’re in Bali. In fact, you should totally wear a big heavy coat with a swimsuit underneath, bring a magazine and a folding chair and pretend you’re sitting out on the beach. See how long it takes them to kick you out. This plant palace is free on the first Tuesday of the month. Otherwise it costs $5 or $3 with a student ID.

Japanese Tea Garden

Built in 1894 for a World’s Fair called the California Midwinter Exposition, the Japanese Tea Garden is the oldest public Japanese Garden in the US. The five acre garden is a favorite of locals and tourists alike because of it beautiful landscaping, yummy tea and its tranquility (although how tranquil can it be with tons of tourists snapping photos?). Last time I checked, admission was just $3.50. All I know is that motherfuckers seem to love this place.

San Francisco Botanical Garden at Strybing Arboretum

These 55 acres of pretty stuff is open and free everyday of the year. They even offer free walking tours if you really want to spend your day getting talked to about 7,000 varieties of plants (count me out). The garden itself officially opened in 1940, only to be drafted into the army three years later. It survived the war but lost an eye at Normandy (What else do you want me to say about a bunch of plants?).

Stowe Lake

Nothing gets the ladies going like a little row boating on Stow Lake'oh yeah! I only know this because, the one girl I brought there, I’ve been stuck with ever since (just kidding, I love you honey. Don’t make me sleep on the couch tonight.). But seriously, this is a great spot for a date because you can rent a little boat ($14 per hour), do some rowing around and then eat a little ice cream. If that’s not romantic, then I must be watching the wrong movies. Isn’t it ridiculous which things we’re conditioned to think are romantic? I feel there’s a lot of people being let down out there because the bar is set way to high by movies, TV and books, and people really believe that shit. I mean really, Dirty Dancing and Pretty Woman? That’s where the romantic bar is set? You’ve got to be kidding me. (I think I officially just ensured that I’m never going to get laid again).

Hippie Hill

Ok, so this last photo is obviously not a vintage post card, but they didn’t have hippies back when those were made.  So I just chose a vintage 1969 Robert Altman photo instead.

Just past where the Haight runs into the park, Hippie Hill is the place to go on a sunny day if you just wanna get stoned and chill out. Every Saturday you can find a drum circle there and if you are looking to buy drugs from strangers (which I almost never advise) this is your spot. The joke is that if you’re buying weed on Haight or in the park your getting a 'œHaith' instead of an 'œeighth' because it’s gonna be short. Regardless, Hippie Hill can be fun place to spend a few hours because it’s one of the best weirdo watching spots in the world.

What are some of your favorite things to do in the park?  Leave them in the comments below.

photos from and

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Broke-Ass Stuart - Editor In Cheap

Broke-Ass Stuart - Editor In Cheap

I've been called "an Underground legend": SF Chronicle , "an SF cult hero": SF Bay Guardian, and "the chief of cheap": Time Out New York, but to those familiar with my work, I'm just "that douchebag who writes books about cheap stuff and drinks a lot".