San Francisco’s iconic Golden Gate Park just got a bit more fun with the re-opening of the Stow Lake Boat House. A San Francisco tradition, the Boat House recently underwent extensive renovations and now is open with a fleet of 42 brand spankin’ new row, paddle, and electric boats, just waiting for your family’s use. Stow Lake, a nature oasis right in the middle of San Francisco, is the perfect spot for some family-friendly fun, now complete with new boats that are sure to thrill your kiddos.

When to go: Stow Lake is an ideal outing for a day with nice weather. Take advantage of the sun (or a break in the fog) by renting a boat and exploring the surrounding area on foot. While you can explore the area any day, the boats are only available to rent Wednesday through Sunday from 10:00 am – 4:00 pm.

How to get there: The official address is 50 Stow Lake Drive. From the East entrance of the Park, head west on JFK a quarter mile or so past the de Young and turn left on Stow Lake Drive.

How to dress: It’s San Francisco so come prepared for sunny, foggy, and cloudy weather. We suggest layers, comfy shoes for hiking, biking, and boat pedaling, and hats and play clothes are always a good idea.

What to do: Take advantage of the revamped Stow Lake Boat House. With newly sanded stained dock, a new fleet of boats and a new food vendor, you’ll want to make this the first stop on your Golden Gate Park tour. Once your family rents a boat, spend some time out on the Lake circling Strawberry Hill. Remember that the idea of a paddle boat or a row boat may be exciting at first, but your kiddos’ legs may not reach the pedals and their little arms may get tired of rowing so you’ll be the one manning the boat. If you’d rather opt for the non-thigh/arm burning experience, try renting an electric boat instead. Be sure to pack some old bread to feed the many ducks out on the pond, and be on the look out for turtles who like to sun themselves on the rocks.

If you’re still itching for more fun after a spin out on the lake, rent a bike (or bring your own) and cruise on over to the buffalo paddock, located near the 36th Avenue gate. Sundays are an ideal day to explore Golden Gate Park on bike because JFK is closed to cars, which means that you and your fam will have full reign of this very wide paved road.

Definitely take the time to explore Strawberry Hill Island, which Stow Lake surrounds, and climb the hill’s summitt–the highest peak in Golden Gate Park at more than 400 feet. Though the trees may block most of the views, we predict your little ones will find plenty of birds and plants to gawk at.

Lunchtime possibilities: If you want to minimize the hassle and cost, we suggest BYOP (Bring Your Own Picnic) and snag a nice spot near the lake for a relaxing lunch. Another great option is picking up some lunch goods from the new and improved Boat House food vendor. While the new food vendor is still renovating the place (it should fully re-open in a few months with a totally revamped menu that includes veggie spring rolls and Salvadorian pastries), the cafe is offering a “renovation time menu” so boaters won’t go hungry. Choices include all natural hot dogs, seasonal vegan soup, turkey and swiss cheese sandwiches, and organic fair-trade coffee. The most expensive item on the current menu is the tuna salad, priced at $6.95. And, don’t worry the menu still includes pink popcorn, a staple treat for all of us adults who visited Stow Lake as kids.

Cost of trip: Inexpensive to moderate, depending on whether you decide to rent a boat or bike.

More Info: or call 415-752-0347

— Erin Lem