The Natural World of San Francisco

June 13 – August 10, 2018

“San Francisco is poetry. Even the hills rhyme.”
– Pat Montandon, American author

The San Francisco park system is one of the crown jewels of this city’s civic pride. It is undeniably one of the most unique municipal park systems in the world. From the soaring heights of Mount Davidson to the lush green floor of Glen Canyon, the system takes full advantage of the diverse natural resources the City has to offer.

My very first encounter with the park system was a cursory exploration of Union Square as a visitor to the city in the early 1980s. My first true experience, however, came many years later when my wife and I moved from Chicago to the Bay Area in 2012 and strolled through Golden Gate Park. As much as I truly love Chicago’s green spaces, I was always keenly aware of the city around me. In Golden Gate Park, away from the fringes, I felt completely immersed in a natural world far away from any urban context. The pungent scent of moistened understory, the wildly strange and colorful flowers, trees whose twisted trunks seemed to be reaching out from another time, all gave me the incredible sense of being an intrepid explorer. Hike the blue gum eucalyptus forest of the Interior Greenbelt, walk along the Islais Creek path in Glen Canyon; you’ll get that same feeling.

San Francisco’s park system began in 1871 with the development of Golden Gate Park, flourishing from the sand dunes in what was a largely inaccessible and uninhabitable area known as the “outside lands” (tierras exteriores). As San Francisco grew over the ensuing years, the Parks Commission acquired and developed more land throughout the city for public use. Now, the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department (“SFRPD”) administers more than 220 parks, playgrounds, and open spaces across nearly 6,000 acres of land. These include two outside the city limits — Sharp Park in Pacifica and Camp Mather in the High Sierras outside of Yosemite National Park.

This exhibition previews some of the content that will be included in the SFRPD’s public website upgrade and redesign scheduled to roll out over the 2018-2020 fiscal years. These images seek to underscore the breadth of natural diversity that can be discovered in San Francisco’s system of parks.

Get out and play in the Outside Lands!

Show Dates: June 13, 2018 – Aug 10, 2018

Venue: McLaren Lodge  501 Stanyan St, San Francisco, CA 94117


  • Jim Watkins
  • Dave Christensen, Director of Harvey Milk Photo Center

Special thanks for this exhibition goes out to several people. To David Christensen, the director of the Harvey Milk Photo Center, who brought me onto the team; to Elena Norberg-Brown and Elton Pon, both of whom got me involved in this important website redesign project; and to Phil Ginsberg, General Manager of the SFRPD, whose tireless support of the arts at the park district has inspired us all.

Page Photo Credits: James Watkins