McLaren Park and Golden Gate Park and the Presidio at the other end of The city are an oasis in the middle of a very dense City. And in the case of McLaren Park, even on the weekends the park is underutilized. So, no matter when you go, there will most likely be no crowds, plus the park is so extensive that you can always find your own personal spot.
McLaren is located in the southeastern corner of the City; in both the Excelsior and Visitacion Valley neighborhoods, but mostly in the latter part of San Francisco. And it was named for John McLaren; the Scottish born American horticulturist who developed Golden Gate Park into the 1,000+ acre haven it is presently.
Getting there and around
If you have read other neighborhood articles on this webpage; you know that I always strongly advocate for biking or using public transit, and I still do. However, McLaren Park is not as easily accessible as other parts of the City. For one thing, the park is tucked away on the southern border of San Francisco, plus it is very hilly. Therefore, depending on where you live in the City, the bus ride will be longer than usual. And, if you plan on biking, you will definitely give your legs a workout. That said, however, I still think you should consider biking or bussing. The former option, especially, will allow you to roam around the park since it is rather spread out.
If you decide to drive to McLaren Park; there should be ample parking at various locations in or around the park. Just make sure, if you decide to ram around, to remember where you parked. There are many hiking trails and various sections to explore, which is a must. Therefore, you might wander around and forget where you left your car. And whatever mode of transportation you choose, look for the best routes on www.sfmta.com
The only thing I will say about driving to GG Park is that I firmly discourage it unless you absolutely need a car. Not only can finding a parking spot be a soul-crushing experience, which can rob you of precious time by circling and circling until you locate a spot but once you park somewhere, then you are more or less limited roam around a fixed radius from that parking spot, which is not convenient. GG Park, from Ocean Beach on the west side to Baker Street on the east, which includes the Panhandle, is approximately 5 miles (8 kilometers) long. A bike will provide freedom to move around, and even using a bus can be more convenient since you will walk to a nearby bus stop and ride home.
What to see
You can easily spend the day at McLaren Park just walking around and taking in the peace and quiet. Additionally, there are some special parts of the park for you, your kids, and your dog, such as:
- Peru Playground: located on the north side of the park at the intersection of Peru and Burrows Streets. This is a small playground, but trees surround it, there is parking nearby, as well as picnic tables and grassy areas where you can lay out.
- The Blue Water Tower: this is not exactly an architectural marvel, nor does it have an interesting story, but it is located on one of the park’s higher elevations and, perhaps for that reason, park visitors always seem to gravitate there, walk around, and check out the views.
- McLaren Upper Reservoir: this artificial pond is relatively small but actually has ducks and even ducklings during the right time of the year. Also, it is quite popular with dogs that love to swim around. Just be careful they don’t go after the ducks or their offspring.
- Jerry García Amphitheater: though terribly underutilized, it is a great place to wander around, let your kids play-act, or sit in the bleachers. There are events and performances here at times, but very infrequently. Still, it is worth seeing.
- Louis Sutter Playground: this area is located near the Yale Street parking lot on the northeastern edge of the park. There is also a large pond with wooden walkways, perfect for wandering around and checking out the plants.
- McLaren Bike Park: this half-acre mountain bike park is located on the south end of the Park, just off Sunnydale Avenue. Though the park is still being developed, you can wander around and ride around on your mountain bike when open. Visit www.mclarenbikepark.com for more information \
- Gleneagles Golf Course at McLaren Park: this very well-maintained golf course is located on Sunnydale Avenue’s southwest corner. Though I have never spent anytime here myself, several people have informed me that it is a great place to golf. Visit their website at www.gleneaglesgolfsf.com for more information.
Where to eat
There are absolutely no restaurants, cafes, or even snack shops within or around the park. The nearest eateries are mostly on Mission Street, approximately one mile to the northwest of the middle of the park. There are a few other ones closer to the southeast, but they are also a bit far; in Visitacion Valley, approximately three-quarters of a mile from the park center.