In a previous post, I shared my observations about the Botanical Garden and the Japanese Tea Garden in the Golden Gate Park.
By the time I left the Japanese Tea Garden, despite covering so much ground, I hadn’t even scratched the surface. I realised with mild apprehension that I’d never see the remainder of the gigantic Golden Gate Park. I walked on nevertheless.
Following the maps installed every few feet in the park, I walked towards the Stow Lake. The park’s size amazed me as as I realised that it could be a tiny town by itself. With well-paved roads, car traffic, bicycle lanes, traffic lights, and pedestrian walkways the park had everything necessary for human habitation. And although a huge tourist attraction, the park is also a part of local lifestyle.
Joggers and walkers passed me at every turn, flashing a smile and counting a mile. Tennis courts echoed with players keeping scores: “love all, ya’ll”. Dogs brought their humans for a walk in the park. These locals went about their everyday routine unperturbed by backpackers or touring groups. That’s the true worth of the park—not only is it a national tourist magnet, but it’s also the life of the Bay area’s residents.
When I arrived at Stow Lake, I noticed a path leading upwards. unsure of what I’d find there, I followed the path. After walking what seemed uphill for about 10 minutes, I came to a small clearing. It seemed like a flat surface, but also with a path leading further up.
A park attendant was gathering up water hoses while responding to another gentleman holding a map. I approached the two men and asked where the hell I was. The park attendant smiled, informing me that I stood on an island on the lake. Ha, I hadn’t even realised it. If I follow the trail uphill, he said, I’d come to the top of the Strawberry Hill.
That hill wasn’t on any map. The island was, but I had no idea that the island was indeed a hill, and had such an intriguing name. I reached the top.
It was a beautiful sight: I stood on the rugged edges of the hill and on one side, the lake spanned below me. The other side faced more hills and rocks. Unlike anything suggestive of the name, the Strawberry Hill was brown and barren. There weren’t many plants on it, but it seemed a wonderful picnic spot. Families and friends had hiked all the way up the hill for a quiet lunch. Tables lined one corner of the hill, hosting picnicking families. A father and daughter sat on rock stumps looking through photographs in their camera. As a gentle breeze kissed my cheek, I wanted to linger for hours together.
But I was just a traveller. I had to move on.
On the way down, I came across the park attendant again. He recommended that I visit the de Young Museum and, instead of going in, going up to the observatory. The museum was pricy (I knew from research) but the observatory was free. I did not know that from research.
I asked him for directions and he questioned me in return: “Do you want to take the short route or the scenic route?”
Scenic, of course.
He directed me through the Fallen Oak Path (I’m sure he made that name up, but I like it nevertheless), past a waterfall, and down a bridge to the main street that led to the museum.
Up the observatory I went, and in a few moments, I had seen the entire park from above. The best of nature and the best of human architectural talent married to make the park what it is. For the second time that day, I wished I could stay put.
I left because more jaw dropping sights awaited. That day I cherished the freedom of travelling. The only reason to go is to see more places, and that’s more than enough of a reason.