Stone Bridge over Stow Lake

Rustic Bridge over Stow Lake

One of several lakes in Golden Gate Park, Stow Lake is notable for being the largest and the only lake that offers boat rentals so you can spend the afternoon in your own version of a Nicholas Sparks book.

Stow Lake is located roughly in the center of Golden Gate Park, just east of where Highway 1 runs through the park. The lake is accessible via either MLK Jr Drive or JFK Drive on the road named Stow Lake Drive that loops entirely around the lake.

The donut-shaped lake serves as kind of a moat surrounding the island of Strawberry Hill, which is connected to the mainland by two bridges. The Roman Bridge on the north side, and the Rustic (or Stone) Bridge in the south, which were both built in 1893.

There’s a walking trail all along the outer banks of the lake, as well as walking and hiking trails across the way on the island for leisurely strolls and easy hikes.

Visitors to Stow Lake can admire the views and check out the wildlife, like turtles, fish, birds, and squirrels, which all seem a little too comfortable with humans and being fed.

The water, especially during this drought, is very green and not all that clean, but those interested in a little adventure and a new activity can go out onto the water in a boat.

Stow Lake Boathouse

Stow Lake Boathouse

Things to do in Boathouse

The boathouse, open daily from 10 am to 5 pm, is a cute Chalet-style building located on the north shore of Stow Lake. The boathouse has its own parking lot, which actually had available spaces when parking was tough to find elsewhere in Golden Gate Park on a weekend afternoon. The lake has had a boathouse since 1893, but the current one was built in 1949 and though it was recently renovated, it retains its character and vibrant colors.

The boathouse has a café that serves quite a range of food to bring along on your boat ride or just enjoy in the dining space provided. The café offers burgers and hot dogs, panini, and salads, with prices ranging from $7-12. There’s a kids menu with typical kid food, like chicken fingers, burgers, and grilled cheese all under $7, as well as a drink menu, snacks, and ice cream (It’s-It!).

An engagement photo shoot on Stow Lake

An engagement photo shoot on Stow Lake

The boathouse offers pedal boats and row boats for rent, so you can channel Ryan Gosling and bring your date out on the lake for a romantic afternoon or take your family. You can even bring your dog along for the ride!

(Confession: Until visiting Stow Lake, I had always called these “paddle” boats and still don’t want to believe that they’re really “pedal” boats, even though that’s what the boathouse calls them and now that I think about it, they do have pedals rather than paddles. Wikipedia tells me that pedals turn the paddle wheel, so maybe they’re both right.)

Paddle boats or pedal boats?

Paddle boats or pedal boats?

Renting a boat is pricy, but they charge hourly and it should take less than an hour to make a loop around the lake. Plus, boats can fit 4-6 people on them, so averaged out it’s not too bad for fun outdoor activity. It costs $20 per hour to rent the rowboats, $25 per hour for the pedal boats or $34 hour for the electric boat (so you can switch between relaxing and pedaling). They also take a $5 deposit that you get back when you return the boat.

Pedal boats doesn’t seem to move very fast, but many find it easier power the boat with our legs than use our upper body strength. On the other hand, row boats move a lot quicker if you’re strong and coordinated, and they certainly look a lot cooler. They seem like they’d be easy to accidentally overturn, but I watched some people standing and moving around pretty recklessly without issue so I think it’d be tough to flip it.

The boathouse does offers life jackets to boaters, which is a good safety measure, but don’t worry – the lake is quite shallow.

Whatever type of boat you choose (besides the electric boats, lazy bums), it’s a good workout in the great outdoors, and feels like you’re far away from the busy streets of San Francisco. Float beneath the bridges, find some turtles basking in the sun, and don’t miss seeing the Chinese pagoda and the waterfall from a different perspective. Take some snacks or even a picnic lunch and eat out on the lake or finish your active afternoon with hike up Strawberry Hill after you head back to the boathouse to return the boat.

Address: 50 stow lake Dr E San Francisco , CA 94118, USA

Cafe hours- 11:00 am – 05:00 pm daily
Boat rental hours– 09:00 am – 5:00 pm daily

Phone: (415) 702-1390


Nearby Restaurants– Cliff House Bistro Restaurant, Brenda’s French Soul Food Restaurant

Nearby Tourist Attractions– Strawberry Hill, Conservatory of Flowers, golden gate park, Alamo Square Park

Also view : San Francisco Map for more details about city.

Published On: Wednesday, January 4th, 2017