The San Francisco Marathon Course: Mile 18

Ever wondered what running the The San Francisco Marathon course is like? We asked local writer and runner, Erin Mara, to take us through the experience of running the The San Francisco Marathon from a mile-by-mile perspective. What better way to join in the experience of the course than being able to get a sneak peek?


Mile 18 continues on the paved path around the second half of Stow Lake, past some of the lake’s most scenic spots: a Chinese pavilion and cascading waterfall.

The Chinese Pavilion was a gift from San Francisco’s sister city, Taipei, and was dedicated in 1981. It features a bright red and green pagoda, where visitors can explore inside and take a seat, and often hosts small, picturesque wedding ceremonies.

Next to the pavilion is a 110-foot artificial waterfall that cascades from a reservoir at the top of Strawberry Hill. Huntington Falls was the first artificial waterfall installed in Golden Gate Park. It was former park superintendent John McLaren’s idea to incorporate artificial lakes and waterways into Golden Gate Park’s once-sandy landscape, and he was inspired to include waterfalls, too, while on a hike in the Sierras with naturalist John Muir. Despite the critics, Huntington Falls was McLaren’s first project, and it was named after Collis P. Huntington, one of the Big Four railroad barons who donated $25,000 to the cause. A rocky stairway climbs up next to the falls, granting impressive views at the top.

The course continues around the rest of the lake, then takes runners back onto John F. Kennedy Drive. There is a nice, open downhill here, as runners pass the expansive Pioneer East Meadow on their right. Just past the meadow nestled further in the park is the Japanese Tea Garden, the oldest public Japanese garden in the United States. Originally built as the Japanese Village for the 1894 California Midwinter International Exposition, the Japanese Tea Garden boasts traditional monuments, native Japanese plants and trees including bonsai, serene ponds, bowed bridges and koi fish. The teahouse serves traditional tea and snacks.



Runners continue up JFK Drive and are greeted with one of the park’s most popular and visually striking attractions at the top — the de Young Museum. The fine arts museum, designed by the famed Swiss firm Herzog and de Meuron, is clad in perforated and dimpled copper, which oxidizes and takes on a greenish tone and a distinct texture to echo the nearby eucalyptus trees. It features a twisting 144-foot tall observation tower which rises above the park’s treetops and provides panoramic views of the city, Golden Gate Bridge, the open ocean and Marin Headlands. Inside, the  museum showcases American art from the 17th through the 21st centuries, international contemporary art, textiles, costumes, and art from the Americas, the Pacific and Africa.

In between the de Young Museum and the upcoming California Academy of Sciences at  Mile 19, is the Music Concourse, an open-air plaza for music performances. The Spreckels Temple of Music, or Bandshell, has seen the likes of Luciano Pavarotti and the Grateful Dead perform on its stage. The Golden Gate Park Band has been playing free, public concerts continuously here since 1882. Today, the band performs classical, marches, opera, broadway shows, swing, and ethnic programs on Sundays from April to October.


About the author

Erin Mara is a writer and runner living in San Francisco. Her favorite city runs, along with her trusted training buddy, Izzy, include the Bay Trail from Fort Mason to the Golden Gate Bridge; Golden Gate Park out to Ocean Beach; and the Bay Area Ridge Trail, through the Presidio and out to the California Coastal Trail and Baker Beach – where she recently got engaged mid-run at the Pacific Overlook.


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