What’s the biggest park in San Francisco after Golden Gate Park (1,017 acres)? We were stumped, too, until our staffers stumbled upon a hidden gem of a park in south San Francisco’s Visitacion Valley. John McLaren Park, part of the San Francisco Rec & Parks system, is a 312-acre oasis laced with seven miles of meandering hiking trails and also sporting the Jerry Garcia Amphitheater. Named for the Scotland-born horticulturalist who served as superintendent of the Golden Gate Park for 53 years, the park features two of the largest off-leash dog-play areas in the city, one behind the amphitheater and one near the Crocker Amazon playground at the intersection of Mansell Street and John F. Shelley Drive. It’s definitely off the beaten track—and definitely worth discovering.
For a better known taste of nature in the city, map out half a day for the spectacular Lands End Trail, hugging the city’s rugged northwest coast featuring shipwrecks, crashing surf and wind-bent cypress trees. Summer wildflowers and Golden Gate views make this one of the premier urban hikes in the nation. After you’ve tired your legs and eyes, pop in for lunch or brews at the Park Chalet Garden Restaurant behind the wildly popular Beach Chalet and near the Queen Wilhemina windmill at the bottom of Golden Gate Park. Small plates and house-brewed beer are specialties, and sunny lunchtimes see lots of patrons with four-legged companions sharing tables on the lawn.