Art Activities for Family Fun in the Park

By Anu Vaalas, Hannah Freeman, and Jennie Smith

August 5, 2021

labeled, illustrated map of Golden Gate Park

Visiting the museum this summer with kids? Here are some helpful tips from our teaching artists for making your visit to Golden Gate Park creative beyond the museum’s walls. All of these activities were tested and approved by kids who participated in our summer programming. To help you plan a short walk or longer adventure, the list is organized by the destination’s distance from the museum. We’ve suggested some materials, but all you really need is a sketchbook and pencil. Links to digital resources are provided so that you can build on the discovery and fun at home.

labeled, illustrated map of Golden Gate Park

Illustration by Jennie Smith @jenniesmithdrawing


In and around the de Young

1. Andy Goldsworthy and inside the museum 

2. Pool of Enchantment 

3. Mist 

4. Barbro Osher Sculpture Garden 

5-minute walk from the de Young

5. Music Concourse 

6. Fairy Door 

7. Monumental Reckoning 

8. Bandshell Stage 

9. Japanese Tea Garden 

10. Blue Playground 

11. Heroes Redwood Grove 

10- to 15-minute walk from the de Young

12. Stow Lake 

13. Skate Park 

14. Conservatory of Flowers 

15. Lily Pond and Tree Fern Dell 

15- to 20-minute walk from the de Young

16. San Francisco Botanical Garden (Children’s Garden) 

17. Koret Children’s Playground 

Spend all day

18. Bison 

19. Windmills 

20. Ocean Beach 

In and around the de Young

Explore: To warm up your senses, find and follow the crack designed by Andy Goldsworthy that bisects the stones in front of the museum’s main entrance. Discuss what decisions the artist has made and what you are curious about.

girl sitting on a rock with two other kids standing on it and one in the background

Photograph by Gary Sexton.

Inside, check out the wall exhibit celebrating the de Young’s 125th anniversary. (Or use this Google Arts & Culture exhibit.) Look for historic images of the museum’s original buildings, grounds, and the outdoor sculptures. What do you notice? Look outside the museum—see what’s the same and what’s different. Which parts of the building are similar to the original? Which sculptures remain?

Sketch: Head over to the Pool of Enchantment. Count how many steps it takes to walk around it. Sit on the low wall and sketch what you see—plants, flowers, wildlife. What makes this space enchanting? Can you find the big cats hiding in the center?

Explore: Find the big shiny pirate. Look closely—what’s unusual about him? Make a pirate map when you get home.

Play: Head over to the wooden walkway near the sheltered horseshoe seating areas, and time your visit so that you arrive at the top of the hour for the mist performance! This hourly event, using potable water, is a great way to cool off for a few minutes on a hot day. 

Explore: Check out the Barbro Osher Sculpture Garden, including the path that leads to the hidden dome. Remember to look at the sculptures with your eyes and not touch them with your hands! Watch our Fun in the Sculpture Garden art activity when you get home.

5-minute walk from the de Young:

Sketch & water paint: Walk down the steps or along the path to the Music Concourse. Find a bench and sketch the people, the fountains, and the ferris wheel. Dip your brush in some water and create marks on the ground. Try using your brush in different ways to make small and large dots, straight and curvy lines, patterns and swirls, and be sure to take a photograph of your creation.

Ponder the newly installed Monumental Reckoning, by artist Dana King, at the eastern end of the concourse, or take a theatrical break on the bandshell stage. 

Imaginative play: Hunt for the fairy door. Imagine who lives behind the door. What might their story be? Perhaps you’ll create your own fairy tree at home using corrugated cardboard and tissue paper, or write a tale about the magical inhabitants, each taking a turn: “Once upon a time there was a . . . ” 

green door at the base of a tree

Explore & sketch: Visit the Japanese Tea Garden. Climb the Drum Bridge, sketch the koi fish, and find the Buddha. Create an abstract watercolor painting.

Play: Head across to the “Blue” playground at 9th and Fulton. Collect sticks, acorns, and leaves, and create a fairy house in the sand.

Nature scavenger hunt: Take a short hike into the Heroes Redwood Grove and listen to the magnificent trees. Look for the biggest tree, and see if you can link hands around it in a group hug! Pick up five things—twigs, differently shaped leaves, a few small rocks, or some loose bark. Search for a little nook by a tree and carefully arrange your items together on the ground, then take a photo of your natural sculpture. This ephemeral artwork is inspired by artist Andy Goldsworthy (learn more here). 

10- to 15-minute walk from the de Young: 

Paint: Walk to Stow Lake—how many different birds can you see? What other wildlife do you notice? Find a bench and sketch the landscape. Think about the colors you see and what details you want to include using watercolors and a water brush. 

making a small watercolor by a lake

There’s a second fairy door between the Japanese Tea Garden and Stow Lake, nestled in the end of a log.

Photography: On your way to the Conservatory of Flowers, stop by the 6th Avenue Skate Park and jam to the music while you watch the roller skaters practice their dance moves! Inside the conservatory, explore and take close-up photographs of rare flowers to draw and paint at home.

Lie on the grass outside the Conservatory and look at the clouds. Once you’re back home, watch this art-activity video about painting clouds

Find some shade: Head across JFK Avenue to the Lily Pond to sketch in some cool shade on a hot day, or to be protected from the wind on a cold one. Enjoy the ancient jungle-like setting of the adjacent Tree Fern Dell . . . and practice your best dinosaur roars on the way.

15- to 20-minute walk from the de Young

Rubbings: Head to the San Francisco Botanical Garden. Use the flat edge of a crayon to make rubbings on paper over tree bark or fallen leaves in the Children’s Garden, or try the imprints in the Ancient Plant Garden walkway. Make postcards of your favorite plants.

Play: Visit the Koret Children’s Playground. First built in 1888, this park is thought to be the oldest public playground in the country! Climb the wave wall and try the historic concrete slide (bring your own cardboard mat!).

Spend all day

Pack a picnic and make a day of exploring the park: visit the bison (36-minute walk from the museum), walk to the windmill (50-minute walk from the museum), or walk all the way to Ocean Beach (52 minutes from the museum).

After your day trip ends, make a memory book of your park adventures together as a family!

Text by Anu Vaalas, school and family programs coordinator, and Hannah Freeman, senior teaching artist. Map illustration by Jennie Smith, senior teaching artist.

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