One of the largest urban parks in the world, Golden Gate Park stretches for three miles on the western edge of San Francisco.

There’s not a single “Keep Off the Grass” sign and its 1,017 acres are a tonic for mind and body. Two major museums, splendid gardens and facilities for more than 20 sports confirm that this is a playground in every sense of the word.

Among the ever-evolving attractions located mainly in the eastern half of the park:

The new California Academy of Sciences combines inventive architecture and eye opening exhibits to inspire visitors to explore and protect the natural world. A museum for the 21st century, the Academy includes an aquarium, planetarium, natural history museum and scientific research facilities under one roof — a living one at that. The 2.5-acre roof has been planted with more than 1.7 million native plants. It will boast the world’s largest all-digital planetarium and the world’s deepest display of living corals. More than 38,000 live animals will fill the Academy’s aquarium and natural history exhibits.

Noted for its collections of American art from the 17th through 21st centuries, textile arts and costumes, contemporary art, and art from the Americas, the Pacific, and Africa, the new de Young Museum debuted in 2005. The entry court, expansive lobby, café, museum store, sculpture gardens, and 144-foot-high observation deck offering panoramic Bay Area views, are open to visitors free of charge.

Completely restored in 2003, the Conservatory of Flowers was erected in 1879 and is the oldest surviving wood and glass greenhouse in the U.S. From Borneo to Bolivia, the 1,750 species of plants at the Conservatory represent tropical flora from more than 50 countries.

One of the most beautiful public gardens in the U.S., San Francisco Botanical Gardens covers 55 acres and features more than 7,000 kinds of plants including outstanding geographical collections and unique specialty gardens as well as the most extensive botanical reference library in the U.S. Docent-led walks of the 17 extraordinary gardens are offered daily.

Constructed in 1893 for the California Midwinter International Exposition, the Japanese Tea Garden is graced with torii (gates), pagodas, a moon bridge, and a 1.5-ton Buddha. Fortune cookies were first created and served here in 1914 and can still be enjoyed in the teahouse.

Other notable gardens include the National AIDS Memorial, Shakespeare Garden and Rose Garden as well as ones dedicated to San Francisco’s official flower, the dahlia.

In 1887 San Francisco opened America’s first public playground. The Koret Children’s Quarter re-opened in July 2007 after a $3.8 million renovation. Still famed for its circa 1912 Herschell-Spillman carrousel, it also has a fabulously fun hillside slide.

Public transit: N-Judah from Powell and Market or the #5-Fulton from McAllister and Polk. For more information, visit www.parks.sfgov.org or call 311.

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