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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Tourism for Locals: Golden Gate Park is Where the Buffalo Roam

Posted By on Tue, Feb 18, 2014 at 7:40 AM

Bison in the Mist - @AAFFTTOONN/ INSTAGRAM
  • @aaffttoonn/ Instagram
  • Bison in the Mist

If one listens to the opening lyrics of the famous Western tune "Home on the Range," you'd think that to find a place where the buffalo roam would be somewhere along the Great Plains of Kansas or Oklahoma.

Well, the state song of Kansas totally got it wrong when it came to San Francisco because the massive beasts with shaggy, brown heavy course fur, short horns, and can weight anywhere between 700 to 2,200 pounds have a home in our urban jungle -- in Golden Gate Park of all places.

Totally gives a new meaning to the phrase "Welcome to the West."

Also, fun fact: it's bison, not buffalo.

Indigenous to the Western Hemisphere, there were approximately about 30-60 million bison roaming the prairies of North America -- until about 100 years ago, when the expansion of railroads across the West caused the bison to be hunted for food and hides.

The rapid consumption of the bison lead it to near extinction and prompted conservation efforts to be established across the country to preserve the largest (living) native species to the United States. Our bison arrived at San Francisco's Golden Gate Park Feb. 13, 1891 as part of a breeding program.

The herd's first home was in the park's eastern end, near where the Music Concourse stands today, according the San Francisco Parks and Recreation Department.

Tons of Beef. Literally. - JUAN DE ANDA/SF WEEKLY
  • Juan De Anda/SF Weekly
  • Tons of Beef. Literally.

In 1899 they were moved to the meadow where you can see them today, just west of Spreckels Lake along John F. Kennedy Drive at at the intersection of Chain of Lakes Drive.

The bison paddock outdates the San Francisco Zoo (which was built in the 1930s) as a viewing center to observe animal behavior in captivity. In its heyday, there were up to 100 members of this herd but numbers slowly dwindled over time.

The bison you see today at the paddock are actually descendants of a 1984 birthday present given to the then mayor, Dianne Feinstein by her husband, Richard C. Blum. The herd went to all-time low of three back in 2011 but has now grown to 11.

When visiting this paddock for the first time, we're sure that you will be amazed by their sheer size -- almost six feet in height -- and their juxtaposing location within the city.

But besides that, don't expect a grand show of movement or any stampedes (like in The Lion King).

Look at this beauty! - JUAN DE ANDA/SF WEEKLY
  • Juan De Anda/SF Weekly
  • Look at this beauty!

They tend to keep to themselves and really don't engage in any exciting activities. The massive beasts appear in the standing position for most of the day and sometimes sit about. The most common activity to see is the animals grazing like any other form of cattle.

Our advice is to go early in the morning. During the wee morning hours, they tend to be nibbling on grasses near the fence along the viewing benches on John F Kennedy Drive. As the day progresses, they slowly distance themselves further into the meadow and away from those awesome camera-phone shots.

Also, just hum the famous tune that was featured in the film Where the Buffalo Roam. You'll think in you're in mid-West without having to leave the confines of our foggy paradise.

Just please leave the cowboy hat at home and don't be surprised if they don't have wings.

For events in San Francisco this week and beyond, check out our calendar section. Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF, Juan at @JuanPDeAnda, and like us on Facebook

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About The Author

Juan De Anda

Juan De Anda

Juan De Anda is a cultural correspondent with a concentration in tourism, literature, and lifestyle and has been writing for SF Weekly since 2013. As an avid traveler, he enjoys discovering destinations abroad as well as the never-ending hidden gems of San Francisco. #DondeAndaJuanDeAnda?

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