Arts and CultureSan Francisco

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

The Bay's best newsletter for underground events & news

It’s gonna be like 71 degrees today in San Francisco, so why not go some place other than Dolores Park for a change?

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

Like this article? Make sure to sign up for our mailing list so you never miss a goddamn thing!
Previous post

This Week’s Events for the 5 Senses

Next post

Dirty Dishes at The Lookout on Thursday Night

Broke-Ass Stuart - Editor In Cheap

Broke-Ass Stuart - Editor In Cheap

Stuart Schuffman, aka Broke-Ass Stuart, is a travel writer, poet, TV host, activist, and general shit-stirrer. His website is one of the most influential arts & culture sites in the San Francisco Bay Area and his freelance writing has been featured in Lonely Planet, Conde Nast Traveler, The Bold Italic, and too many other outlets to remember. His weekly column, Broke-Ass City, appears every other Thursday in the San Francisco Examiner. Stuart’s writing has been translated into four languages. In 2011 Stuart created and hosted the travel show Young, Broke, and Beautiful on IFC and in 2015 he ran for Mayor of San Francisco and got nearly 20k votes.

He's been called "an Underground legend": SF Chronicle, "an SF cult hero":SF Bay Guardian, and "the chief of cheap": Time Out New York.


  1. March 23, 2010 at 4:25 pm — Reply


    There are other cheap things in Golden Gate Park, Friday Nights at the de Young for example are FREE and they happen EVERY WEEK! They always have live music, art activities, a cash bar, and a special menu in the cafe (3 small plate items for $15), plus tons of other fun things.

  2. Harry
    March 23, 2010 at 6:27 pm — Reply

    Hey Stuart,

    Plans are afoot to charge $7 to enter the Strybing Arboretum. Help us fight this.

    Golden Gate Park founder and Arboretum designer John McLaren and Helene Strybing must both be rolling in their graves! McLaren, who had envisioned a vehicle- and building-free oasis, would be aghast at the high ticket prices and corporate commercialism of our museums, the ugly gashes marking the entrance to the Warren Hellman parking garages, the Segway “tours,” and the very idea of astroturfed playing fields at Ocean Beach. He would be amazed that the once-free museums, Tea Garden, and Conservatory of Flowers, who faced hard times after Prop 13, are now cash cows. Likewise, Helene intended the Arboretum, whose creation she funded in her 1926 will, as a sanctuary which would remain free for all.

    Phil Ginsburg, absentee Mayor Gavin Newsom’s Director of Recreation and Parks, is trying to force a $7 entry fee on Arboretum visitors, having packaged this together with a $2 Coit-Tower surcharge. Provided they can prove residency, San Franciscans will not have to pay but we can expect this to change. Widespread community protest and outrage last year is the only reason Recreation and Park modified their previous plan to charge residents a $5 fee while soaking tourists for $7.

    The gardens are to become more and more Disneyfied: Plans include turning the “Demonstration Gardens” into a “special exhibitions” area, install “high-end” coffee carts, and institute corporate-sponsored “free days.”

    It is unclear who will foot the considerable costs needed to install kiosks, change signage and promotional materials, print tickets, pay for staff, and conduct audits. A further unknown is how this will pan out financially. Three of five entry gates will be permanently shut. The social loss will be immense and mulitgenerational.

    The first San Franciscans got wind of this was at the February 18th Recreation and Park Commission meeting when the Department’s Katharine Petrucione claimed that charging $7 will bring RPD an astonishing $250,000 net. We’re hoping to someday see the math, especially since only last year RPD was claiming that a “nonresident” levy would bring in $150,000 after expenses. Should the fee be rejected, Katherine laid it on the line: three gardeners from the Arboretum will be fired — a clear (and successful) attempt at blackmail!

    Astonishingly, the Botanical Garden Society has engaged BMWL, a lobbying firm with clients such as AT&T and Bechtel, who have lobbied members of the the Board of Supervisors (arriving with Society trustees in tow!) and organized “Save the Garden” astroturf rallies. The Society has a budget of $3 million and considerable clout within San Francisco’s ruling elites. What can we do to counter their influence? Contact the Supervisors, Mayor Newsom and Phil Ginsburg (831-2704) and demand a public meeting.

    The Arboretum is a special place where tourists and locals may meet in a utopian commons — an area free of ID cards, gates, and unreasonable restrictions. We should enshrine the principle that access to our biological heritage is a common right—one guaranteed to all, regardless of one’s skin pigmentation, passport, age, sex, or ability to pay. Future generations will thank us for it.

    Join the Facebook group to protest the fees:

    Sign the petition:!

    Join our Yahoo! “Keep the Arboretum Free” group:

  3. Rick
    March 24, 2010 at 4:00 pm — Reply

    Jesus. Couldn’t he have put in bullet points?

    Don’t forget Park Chalet for outdoor beers and food. Glorious on the ~15 sunny days a year.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *