The San Francisco Marathon Course: Mile 19
Mile 19 takes runners through the final stretch of Golden Gate Park along wide, open John F. Kennedy Drive. This section is relatively flat, and begins just past the de Young Museum. It then passes another favorite cultural institution, the California Academy of Sciences. Runners looking down Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive to their right will spot the colossal building with its eye-catching, two-and-a-half-acre, hilly, green and undulating living roof. Officially designated as the greenest and most sustainable museum building in the world, the academy houses an aquarium with a coral reef, tidepool, and a colony of African penguins; planetarium with the largest digital planetarium dome in the world; a rainforest enclosed in a 90-foot glass dome; and a natural history museum. There’s even an earthquake exhibit with a “Shake House.” Designed by the renowned Renzo Piano and reopened in 2008, the building covers 400,000 square feet and is is among the largest natural history museums in the world, and the newest in the United States.
At this intersection of JFK Jr. Drive and Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, a free, outdoor swing dancing party takes place every Sunday. One of San Francisco’s favorite and quirky traditions, Lindy in the Park features a live DJ, free dance lessons, and an energetic blend of jazz, tap, and the Charleston every week, with no dance partner required. Water stop 9 is located after this intersection.
The course continues along John F. Kennedy Jr. Drive for about a quarter mile until runners will see another stunning park favorite on their left, the Conservatory of Flowers. The large, white, wooden and glass Victorian greenhouse was erected in 1878. It is the oldest building in the park, the oldest remaining municipal wooden conservatory in the United States, and the oldest existing public conservatory in the western hemisphere. The Conservatory is a botanical garden that houses nearly 2,000 species of rare and exotic plants. It features five galleries: lowland tropics, aquatic plants, potted plants, highland tropics and special exhibits. Highly praised in the world of history, architecture, engineering, and nature, it has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places, and is a treasured landmark in San Francisco.
Across the way from the Conservatory of Flowers, down on runner’s right past JFK Jr. Drive, is the National AIDS Memorial Grove The seven-acre plot of trees, flowers, rocks, memorials and meadows is the first AIDS memorial in the nation. It is a dedicated space for those touched by the pandemic to heal, hope, and remember.
Mile 19 passes a handful of impressive points of interest throughout the eastern end of the park, but this mile is perhaps most memorable because runners emerge from the relative tranquility of Golden Gate Park onto Haight Street, which is the first place populated by throngs of cheering spectators. The energy from the crowd is sure to be a great incentive to finish strong in the final seven miles.
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.