Explore Golden Gate Park's Stow Lake by Boat!

July 21, 2015

Stow Lake

My kids and I always thought it would be fun to rent a boat and explore Stow Lake in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, so that's just what we decided to do last week! We've actually never done this before, but every time we went by there, we promised ourselves we would come back and do this one day. It's a lot of fun, and a must-do activity for families visiting the park.

Boating on Stow Lake is a San Francisco tradition that dates back to 1893, when this man-made lake was created in Golden Gate Park. In the middle of the lake is Strawberry Hill, which is the highest point in the park. The Stow Lake Boathouse, built back in 1946, is a charming building that looks kind of like an alpine chalet. It was recently restored and revamped, offering visitors a new fleet of boats for rent and locally-sourced food from its expanded cafe.

Stow Lake Stow Lake

Here you can rent pedal boats ($25 per hour), row boats ($20 per hour), electrically assisted pedal boats, and large four- to six-passenger pedal boats (both $34 per hour). We thought the choice of a pedal boat was perfect for us, since it held up to four people (two pedaling, two riding in back). All boaters are required to wear life jackets—safety first!

We put on our life vests, boarded our boat, and set out on the lake. Stow Lake is a serene oasis of peace in busy San Francisco, and pedal quietly past ducks, turtles, the majestic 110-foot Huntington Falls, a colorful Chinese pavilion, and the rustic Stone Bridge which dates back to when the lake was first created. The kids loved looking for turtles sunning on logs and rocks around the lake, and we took turns pedaling and steering our boat.

Stow Lake Stow Lake

Afterward, we thought we'd explore some of the areas we saw from the boat, so we headed out over the bridges onto the walking paths that circle the lake and take you across Strawberry Hill Island. The waterfall is even more amazing up close, and you can cross its base on stepping stones and even walk by it further up on a cute wooden bridge.

We grabbed a bite to eat at the Stow Lake Boat House. The cafe there serves locally-sourced snacks and lunch items, including hot dogs, burgers, It's Its, Three Twins organic ice cream, coffee, pastries, and of course the classic Wright's Pink Popcorn (if you grew up near San Francisco you know what this is). You'll find plenty of picnic tables in the area around Stow Lake, so you can also bring your own picnic to eat lakeside.

Stow Lake Stow Lake

We really enjoyed our outing to the lake. It makes a great destination for a fun afternoon, or a wonderful adjunct to your visit to Golden Gate Park.

If You Go

Stow Lake is located at 50 Stow Lake Drive near John F. Kennedy Drive in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. The Stow Lake Boathouse is open daily, 11 am to 5 pm Monday through Thursday and 11 am to 6 pm Friday through Sunday.

Stow Lake Stow Lake

To get there from Marin, take Highway 101 south across the Golden Gate Bridge and take the Park Presidio/19th Avenue exit. Follow Park Presidio to Cabrillo Street, where you'll turn right. Take another right on 14th Avenue, then right on Balboa Street and cross back over Park Presidio. Turn left onto 8th Avenue and follow it into the park. Turn right onto John F. Kennedy Boulevard, then left at the stop sign onto Stow Lake Drive. Parking is available in the lot near the boathouse or along Stow Lake Drive.

Kids aged 14 and under must be accompanied at all times by an adult (18 and up) on the boats.

Weather in Golden Gate Park can vary, so dress in layers and be prepared for fog or sunshine or anything in between. For more information, visit stowlakeboathouse.com.