While not as famous, San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park (1,017 acres) is actually surprisingly bigger than Central Park (843 acres), which is located in New York City. And within this giant green space, you’ll find a gorgeous oasis that is Stow Lake. The area features a man-made waterfall (Huntington Falls), a beautiful lake with Japanese architecture, and a short hike that leads to a panoramic view of the entire city. Strawberry Hill, which is located at the top, is simply breathtaking and a great spot for your lunch hour. Depending on the time of day, Stow Lake can also be very quiet and is an excellent place for reflection. As one of the most dynamic spaces in the entire city, it is the perfect place for walking, jogging, sitting on a bench, journaling, biking and/or hiking. Plus, Stow Lake is extremely accessible from many different neighborhoods.  For those in the Castro, or in the Sunset District, it may be more realistic to visit this area regularly as opposed to parts of the Presidio, like Marshall’s Beach. It’s just an 11 minute car ride from the Painted Ladies, or a 17 minute bike ride. Stepping foot into Stow Lake, it’s hard to believe a place like this could (literally) be right in the middle of a major city. The contrast is jaw-dropping. For those that have experienced the pressures of living in a city like San Francisco, Stow Lake is exactly the reprieve we need. So let’s break down each aspect of the area, and see what they offer.


As you arrive at Stow Lake, basecamp surrounds the giant landmass that sits in the lake. If you like to be active, it’s an easy stroll. 2.1 miles to be exact, which includes hiking to the top of Strawberry Hill. If you just loop the lake, it’s significantly shorter. All along the lake are benches to sit down and reflect. One of the most picturesque locations is southwest of Strawberry Hill, where basecamp intersects with the Stow Lake Bridge. Sitting there during the early parts of the morning naturally brings about wonder and inspiration for the day. From parts of Inner Sunset, this location is just a 10 minute walk. But really, the whole loop is magnificent. One local says that it is their, “favorite place to walk and see nature. It's stunning 365 days a week. Best one mile walk ever.” The Stow Lake Boathouse sits on the northwest part of the lake, as another option to row the lake.



As you start the ascent up to Strawberry Hill, you’ll walk past the beautiful man-made waterfall that has been dubbed Huntington Falls. There is a built-in enclosure at the base of the falls, if you want to sit and journal, or simply have the falls as your backdrop for your visit. The sounds of the falls are music to the ears. Going upward, the hiking trail runs parallel to Huntington Falls and provides additional vista points for looking out into the city. Sitting on the rocks that make up the falls is a great experience itself.  When you finally make your way to the top of the falls, you’ll find the views of the city start getting more expansive. The contrasting colors of the lake, greenery and city are stunning, especially in the fall season. Looking out, it feels like the world is slowing down, in the best way.



Despite the beauty of basecamp and Huntington Falls, we would argue the crown jewel of Stow Lake is Strawberry Hill. If you’re willing to do a short hike, the views at the top are incredible. You get clear views of the Golden Gate Bridge popping out from the north, and the tallest buildings from downtown to the east. Strawberry Hill is the most quiet and peaceful place in all of Stow Lake. Sometimes there will be other people at the top with you, but other times you’ll be all alone. For reflection time, sitting at the vista points and looking out is our personal favorite.  But the area also has benches and logs to sit on. While Strawberry Hill does not offer the elevation of Twin Peaks or Mount Davidson, it offers seclusion and diversity of terrain, in addition to tons of wildlife.




As one local poetically says of Stow Lake, “The trails here are refreshing and breathtaking, and the constant proximity of water gives the whole area a peaceful ambience. The butterflies at the hilltop as well as the roaring falls are the cherry on top of magnificent experience.” Which goes to say, we’ve chosen to feature Stow Lake amongst our San Francisco getaways because it is a true oasis from city life, in addition to being lightly trafficked. Stow Lake provides the ideal environment to reflect, contemplate and be present with ourselves. As we previously discussed, science has shown that getting at least two hours each week in green spaces is essential to our well-being. Concluding a remarkable report from Yale, we’re left with this telling statement: “the studies point in one direction: Nature is not only nice to have, but it’s a have-to-have for physical health and cognitive function.” Perhaps no one understood these rhythms better than Jesus, who we find often getting away into the wilderness, before returning back to engage the culture around him. He modeled what would later be known as silence and solitude. When we’re out in nature and captivated by its beauty, it often produces a wonder and heightened awareness of the world around us. How could such a beautiful place exist?  That wonder can lead to an awareness of the One who created all the transcendent beauty that surrounds us. And here’s the transformative part — we can allow that awareness to drive us into connection with God. For Jesus, this is what getting away was all about. Being out in nature was about who he connected with whilst he was out there. When we encounter God in these environments of refreshment, we are able to acquire the strength and perspective we need to go back out into the world. We need this to love other people well. To create the change we long to see. To become the truest and best version of ourselves. These rhythms are essential for our well-being. As we see from the science, they are built into the very fabric of our existence. We benefit spiritually, mentally and physically from these environments of refreshment. For much of human history, these were our natural habitats. You could argue that the construction of modern city life is unnatural in this sense, as the constant busyness and distraction prevents us from getting perspective and moments of reflection. So especially living in San Francisco, modeling this “in-and-out lifestyle” will help us thrive amidst the weariness of 24/7 connectedness and hustle culture. We’ll leave you with a few practical tips before you wander into Stow Lake, which include:

1) Pick a time & place

Scheduling time to get away is essential. The busy life of San Francisco increases the need for intentionality. So consider where you will regularly visit Stow Lake and when it's practical to do that. Is it before work in the morning? Is it midday during lunch? These are important questions for planning.

2) Start small & build

When it comes to getting away, success is in merely doing it, nothing more. If you’re making the effort to get away regularly, you’ve already hit the goal. But remember, habits are formed by starting small. Rather than saying we’re going to visit Stow Lake for 90 minutes multiple times a week, try retreating for 30 minutes at least once a week. If you get in a rhythm doing that, maybe increase that to 2-3 times a week. And so forth.

3) Put your phone on silent

Smartphones breed distraction and will pull you away from being present in the moment. So while you might use your smartphone to navigate to some of these locations initially, try putting your phone on silent and resisting the urge to pull it out once you get there. Build up your tolerance over time.

4) Consider your wiring

The diversity of the landscape within Stow Lake makes this accessible for anyone. Whether you want to sit, be active, walk on a bike or through a winding hike, it has it all.

5) Bring a blanket or hammock

Specifically near Huntington Falls or at Strawberry Hill, consider bringing a blanket to sit, relax or lay down.

6) Bring a journal

Fight against the urge to stuff away your thoughts by actively processing them through this form of feeling prayer. How are you feeling? Why are you feeling that way? Name the emotions coming up - envy, greed, sadness, grief, etc. Like Jesus, our emotions are a place to meet with God.

7) Contemplate scripture

This ancient practice, called Lectio Divina, involves picking a small passage to meditate on. Even if you haven’t read scripture in ages, this could be as small as a Psalm, a Proverb or the words of Jesus in the gospels. Let’s say a verse comes up about humility or loving your neighbor, we then pray for a greater understanding of how to model that in our lives. See what comes to mind. You can pick up a copy of the new Passion Translation here.

8) Practice gratitude

Gratitude is hard for us. Sometimes it feels like we suffer from chronic short-term memory loss, only able to see what we don't have or how our circumstances are less than ideal. And while there might be truth in that, this perspective causes us to miss the precious things of life that are sitting right in front of us each and every day. Take some time to write down prayers of gratitude, even for the smallest of things. For example, simply living in a place like this, where you can visit Stow Lake.

9) Be silent

Stow Lake is so beautiful and diverse, that some days you might find yourself just wanting to be silent. Embrace this. Walk up to Strawberry Hill. Listen to the sounds around you. The birds. The breeze. The water, if you’re at basecamp.

Being able to regularly visit a place like this is nothing short of incredible. But depending on where you live in relation to Stow Lake, what time you start work and your family dynamic, it may not be possible to develop these rhythms regularly. So it’s important to highlight that you don't need to be in these spaces to enter a place of contemplation and meet with God. They are simply beautiful conduits that provide distraction-free zones that provide an ideal space to get away from the crowds, as Jesus did. So maybe this means you retreat to Stow Lake  once or twice a week, reaching the two hours needed (or beyond) in green spaces in a more condensed time period. And for the other days, you start developing these rhythms in a quiet space in your apartment. This might look different for each of us, but it’s essential that all of us create space to get away. It’s nourishment for the soul. Whatever you decide to do with your time, consider the opportunity to start today. Retreat from the taxing nature of city life, opting to get away into the beautiful oasis that is Stow Lake.


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