What's larger than New York's Central Park, once consisted of sand dunes, is now covered with more than one million trees and is bison-friendly?
To the people in 1870 out of the prescient notion that San Franciscans would one day feel overcrowded. This foresight proved invaluable, as 75,000 people now visit the park on an average weekend. Finding the land was the easy part. Someone still had to make grass and trees grow out of sand dunes blasted by harsh oceanside winds.
The person to do it was John McLaren, a brazen Scotsman and ardent nature lover. He arrived in San Francisco in the 1870s, and by 1890 he had established grass, trees and numerous plants in an environment most thought too barren for lush foliage.
The first buildings came with the Midwinter Fair, a sprawling expo and carnival meant to boost the economy and increase tourism. S.F. wanted to prove that it had culture -- so a fine-arts museum was built. To prove that outdoor activities could be pursued, horse stables and vast, unlandscaped greens were preserved. And to showcase the exotic and quirky atmosphere of the City, several theme areas were developed, including Cairo Street, Japanese Village and an Eskimo habitat.
The fair succeeded at what it set out to do. Millions of people visited San Francisco, business boomed and locals found renewed pride in their formerly sand-covered park. Today, the only remnants of that enormous event are the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum, the Japanese Tea Garden and the Music Concourse esplanade.
What remains today is a testament to the will of the City to preserve a place to play, relax and grow culturally. Following are more than 50 ways to spend a day in the park, ranging from French lawn bowling to riding an 87-year-old carousel.