Ever wonder what running the The San Francisco Marathon course is like? Let writer and runner Erin Mara, along with the SFM staff, take you through the experience of running the The San Francisco Marathon mile-by-mile. Get a sneak peak, then get registered and get training!


Mile 18 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 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 18 passes a handful of impressive points of interest throughout the eastern end of the park, providing a memorable end to runners’ time in Golden Gate Park with the excitement of Haight Ashbury straight ahead.