Nature-Girl’s Guide to San Francisco

I’ve recently spent a month in the San Francisco Bay area–a month that was both beautiful and challenging.  I was in Marin (since I’m a nature girl), but still, I was quite close (15 minutes away across the Golden Gate).  During the month I had some amazing experiences I’d love to share.  I like to think of myself as an “everything girl”, but it’s not entirely true.  I am a little-bit-of-everything girl.  I do absolutely love some things about cities and city life, but I’ve tended to live near them rather than in them…for the nature.

So, from a nature-girl who still enjoys a bit of fast-paced city POP now and then, here are some of my favorite things to do in San Fran…

  1.  Japanese Garden:  I love this place!  It is serene and beautiful–full of flowers, artfully trimmed bushes and trees, and lovely Japanese buddhas, bridges, and pagodas.  It has an $8 entry fee but is free on M, W, F before 10am.  I met a friend (who happened to be 39 weeks and 5 days pregnant) here for miso soup and tea, both of which were good.  The ambience was wonderful–peaceful, contemplative, reverent, and PINK!  I was lucky enough to catch the tail end of cherry blossom season.  It was a bit crowded, but that was expected and did not significantly take away from my enjoyment of the place or my experience there.


  2. Conservatory of Flowers: This is a gorgeous (and warm) place located, like the Japanese Garden, inside Golden Gate park. I went on a cold and rainy (and kind of gloomy) day, and the visit really brightened my mood.  Cloudy didn’t matter inside the Conservatory, which is essentially a multi-room greenhouse.  Cold is not an issue either.  It’s positively tropical inside.  I loved all the colors.  I also really loved the thick, humid air–full of oxygen and earth-smelling life!  I really am a serious flower lover, so this place probably ranks as one of my all-time favorite city destinations ever (including all cities I’ve visited around the world).  It is a living flower museum.  There are more orchids than anything else, but there still are a good many other flowers and plants.  The collection includes some very rare varieties of orchids.  Despite living 2+ years in Hawaii, including 7 months on the “Orchid Isle” (Big Island), I still had not seen many of the orchids in the Conservatory’s collection.  I was blown away and blissed out by this place, and if you love flowers, you probably will be, too!


  3. Land’s End Park:  Land’s End is a dramatic spot at the edge of the city.  I go there every time I’m in San Francisco.  I love the energy.  It’s eerie, moody, and contemplative when foggy and electric + elevating when sunny.  I’m convinced there must be a number of ley lines (magnetic energy lines in the earth) running through or near this spot.  It’s just that charged.  It’s pretty peaceful on this side of town.  Not too much traffic.  Relatively minimal crowds.  It’s one of the few places in the city that I really don’t mind the weather.  The place feels different depending on the state of the sky, but it still feels good every time, in every way.  There are nice views directly from the parking lot, but I recommend taking one of the brief hikes (1/2 mile to several miles) along the ridge, through the coastal forest land.  The paths lead you closer and closer to the Golden Gate bridge and offer some wonderful views and nature-vibes.  You’ll almost forget you are in the city!  On my most recent trip here, I met up with a friend who is a fellow bohemian-gypsy-psychiatrist-free-spirit.  I cannot believe I’m not the only one, but indeed there are more of us!  There are at least two…
  4. East Beach:  This is a beautiful beach in the Presidio Park right by the Golden Gate bridge.  There is a long, double-wide hiking and walking trail that goes from the beach parking areas all the way to the bridge (several miles).  On the day I visited it was cloudy and foggy (This is San Francisco, after all!).  There were still lots of bikers, joggers, and walkers out enjoying the day and the views.  Highlights here are:  great views of the bridge, the walking path, and the lovely shrubs and plant-life between the path and the beach.  I really liked this spot and would definitely have returned on a sunny day if I’d had more time.


  5. Palace of Fine Arts:  The Palace of Fine Arts is a beautiful temple complex with architecture straight out of Greece.  It is really huge and impressive.  The photos do not do it justice at all.  There was a lovely ballerina doing a professional photo shoot the day I was there.  She really contributed to the artful vibe for me, so I took a few photos of her myself!  There is a park, pond, and walking path adjacent to the Palace complex.  There were a lot of locals and tourists enjoying the views and great energy.  I found a sort-of secret parking lot on the backside of the adjacent building.  It offered 4 hours of free parking and was not even full!  This was a surprise to me and seemed like a total score!  I stayed in the lot all day while enjoying nearby parks and beaches.  When I returned to the Palace in the evening there were people performing inside with glow poi and other bohemian art toys (hula hoops, etc).  It’s an amazing place to feel a part of the creative pulse in the city.
  6. Union Square: In general I can get a bit energetically overwhelmed in the middle of cities.  Thus, most of my explorations tend to focus on exterior parks and neighborhoods.  Union Square is an exception.  I love this spot!  It is full of life and excitement.  Great energy!  Parking is a bit of a pain (expensive garages or limited parallel street spots), but it’s not a major deterrent.  (It is the city, after all!)  I like to come here on a sunny day and order a cappuccino from one of the cafes on either end of the square.  Then I find a seat on the steps and enjoy some of the best people watching around.  Sometimes there are street musicians performing in or alongside the square, and there are occasionally art exhibits here, too.  On my second most recent visit, there was a mixed-media mandala exhibit–perfect for me!  (I LOVE mandalas and even named my holistic psychiatry practice after them!) Oh, and this square is decorated with huge colored hearts on the corners.  How sweet is that?
  7. Botanical Garden:  The San Francisco Botanical Garden is a great place for a nature-lover to find a bit of calm in the city.  It’s a beautiful garden located in Golden Gate park.  The admission is $7 but free on every second Tuesday of the month (which is when I just happened to visit!).  There are several different areas and micro-gardens within the garden, such as is typical for botanical gardens.  There was an Australian Garden, a Japanese Garden, a California Native Plants Garden, etc.  My favorite spot in the park was within the Japanese area.  There was a sculptural pink magnolia tree growing quite low to the ground with only a few pink blossoms remaining (peak blooming season had passed in the previous three weeks).  The few blooms the remained were surrounded by hundreds of tiny blue forget-me-nots.  It was really an artistically appealing sight.  (It’s the featured image for this post…)  I love photography and live for things like that–scenes in nature that just beg to be photographed and reworked into art.
  8. Marina Green Park:  This is a lovely little park situated immediately adjacent to East Beach.  There is not too much to see here, other than some boats and a strip of green grass used for frisbee, toss-the-ball-to-your-dog, etc.  BUT…there is also a tiny patch of plants at the edge of this park that were so vibrant, so beautiful that it made the whole park rank among my favorite places in the city!  I walked through this sandy little path on a rainy urban hike I did from the Palace of Fine Arts all the way to Ghirardelli Square.  I discovered it on the return portion of the hike, and I was thrilled!  Everything was so vibrant and blooming (despite it being February)–clearly loving the rain.  I must have hung out in this little patch of garden for 1/2 an hour–taking photos and admiring all the incredible colors.  I’m not sure I’d recommend an explicit trip just to this park (unless, like me, you love flowers), but if you feel like an urban hike from East Beach through Fort Mason (an old fort complex turned park) to Ghirardelli, then definitely swing through this little garden paradise.  It’s magical!
  9. Urban Hiking:  There are several great places to do some urban hiking in the city, but most of them I don’t visit often because they are deep in the matrix.  I like to stay on the periphery.  So, if you are not a total city girl (or guy), like me, you might also enjoy this urban hike:  it’s a ~5 mile (round-trip) walk from East Beach to Ghirardelli Square and Fisherman’s Wharf.  The entire route follows dedicated walking paths through and alongside parks and the ocean.  There are public bathrooms along the route (in the parks), interesting people to watch, bikers to avoid, flowers to admire, and a chocolate reward at the end (well, in the middle for the there and back hike)!  Plus, it’s good exercise!  IMG_5507
  10. De Young Museum:  De Young is a fine art museum located in Golden Gate Park.  It is situated in a scenic and happening area of the park (great people watching, with fountains, right outside the door).  The museum is large and has an impressive permanent collection, but what drew me most strongly to the museum was the Oscar de la Renta fashion exhibit.  I am a nature girl with a pretty bohemian sense of style, BUT I do really appreciate fashion.  I am not sure where this interest comes from, but it’s always been there!  I loved playing dress-up as a child (Most children like dress-up, but I REALLY liked dress-up.  And I still like dress-up!!).  My family owned a clothing boutique until I was in medical school, so I had the opportunity to deck myself out for many years … at a discount!  This certainly helped encourage my interest in fashion!  I also had the opportunity to be a buyer and a model for the shop in high school and college.  I loved that!  I actually ended up briefly pursuing modeling outside of the boutique (was pictured in Teen magazine), but I quickly realized I was not tall enough and probably not quite exotic enough to really make it in the profession.  Still, it interested me.  It’s part of my paradox!  I’m a nature-girl who likes a bit of glamour.  I’m a doctor who once considered being a model.  Anyway, the exhibit was expensive ($30), but it was beautifully done.  I loved seeing all of the exquisite creations of de la Renta, including a few designs I recognized from celebrity red carpet appearances.  This is a temporary exhibit (Mar 12-May 30, 2016), but I learned from a few city friends that the museum regularly has fashion exhibits (including some from other countries/cultures).  Checking the De Young website will reveal what exhibits (fashion or other) are happening when and for how long (and how much).  Definitely recommended!


So…That’s my list…

It’s certainly not exhaustive.  It’s just a list.  It’s what this nature girl likes, even loves, to do in the city.  There are definitely a few places I also like to eat and shop, but generally, I stick to the parks … with a side of squares and art.   I’ll write a post about my outside-of-the-city adventures soon…

Until then, I’m on the loose!  Searching for that Muse… 


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