The Outside Lands

Every place has a story to tell, and Golden Gate Park, an icon and keystone of San Francisco's park system, is no exception. Millions of people have visited the Park over the years, but only a few know of all the rich nuggets that it harbors. Golden Gate Park offers a dizzying array of treasures: fascinating buildings, scenic meadows and lakes, important monuments, and major museums.


The history of Golden Gate Park goes back to the 1860s. In San Francisco’s Gold Rush days, the area that is now Golden Gate Park was marked on maps as part of the “great sand waste,” and untrammeled “Outside Lands,” located well beyond the reach of the city’s masses. In fact, the entire Sunset District as you know it was barren, uninhabitable land owned by the U.S. government. Nonetheless, the City and County of San Francisco, which was growing rapidly, desired the land and petitioned for it in the 1850s. After years of court battles, the U.S. Government declared the area part of San Francisco in 1866.


Surveyor and engineer William Hammond Hall won the contract to survey parkland, completed his report on February 15, 1871, and in August that year was appointed engineer of the Park. Hall and his work crews took on the task of transforming the sandy, sparsely vegetated 1,017 acre park tract between Stanyan Street and the ocean into a pleasure ground which would convey “warmth, repose, and enlivenment” to citizens.


Golden Gate Park welcomed pedestrians, ladies, and gentlemen in fine carriages, equestrians, and hordes of bicyclists after 1880. Park use reflected the recreational activities of all San Franciscans, and included band concerts, floral displays, picnicking, croquet, tennis, and racing carriages on the speed road.


In 1906, the Park served as a place of refuge for thousands of displaced citizens in the wake of the earthquake. Earthquake refugees built tent cities in the park as the city struggled to recover from the damage. The neighborhoods of the Richmond and Sunset surrounding the Park resounded with new building as the city’s population moved from the devastated area into the spacious Outside Lands.


In the tumult of the 1960s, parks emerged as peaceful neutral terrain in troubled urban America. Golden Gate Park became San Francisco’s common ground, a gathering place and magnet for counterculture. Flower children from Haight-Ashbury communed with nature on “hippie hill” and attended rock concerts and events held in the Park and Panhandle.


Today, Golden Gate Park is the third most visited park in America, hosting 13 million visitors each year. The Outside Lands Music & Arts Festival takes place at the Polo Fields, Speedway Meadow, and Lindley Meadow (approximate festival grounds outlined in red). In addition to these areas, the Park features numerous attractions, including the Japanese Tea Garden, the De Young Museum, the Conservatory of Flowers, and more (see attractions).


For information on the history of San Francisco’s Outside Lands area, go to


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