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A local's guide to San Francisco's Golden Gate Park

Ryan Guillou, the curator of the park’s San Francisco Botanical Garden, offers an insight into the city’s biggest park.

By Julia Buckley
Published 5 Nov 2020, 08:28 GMT
Ryan Guillou of the San Francisco Botanical Garden.

Ryan Guillou of the San Francisco Botanical Garden.

Photograph by Andria Lo

Tell us about Golden Gate Park and its greenery
Originally, this end of San Francisco was all sand dune. Manure was trucked in from downtown and all these trees were planted. Today, we have these 150-year-old Monterey cypresses and Monterey pines, growing 100ft tall. They’re up to five times the size they’d be in the wild; sheltered together here, they’ve just rocketed. Eucalyptus and Torrey pines are the other main trees in the park.

What’s special about the Botanical Garden?
We sit in the perfect foggy sweet spot here — it’s a weird Goldilocks climate, and we can grow anything that doesn’t need heat or cold. Our collections are divided geographically. We have the fourth-most-significant magnolia collection in the world, and a redwood grove that was planted in 1909 — it’s as lovely as Muir Woods [a forest outside the city], but not as crowded.

What would you recommend to a first-time visitor?
There are big institutions in the park, like the California Academy of Sciences and the de Young Museum, plus hidden gems. I like the bison paddock — the herd you see today are descendants of those given to then-mayor Dianne Feinstein by her husband in 1984. There’s also the Polo Fields stadium, and boats for rent.  

Discover more Tales of San Francisco

Published in the November/December 2020 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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