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Stow Lake has been a mainstay in San Francisco tourism for generations, offering bike rides, natural beauty, and boating. Its snack bar is something of legend and looks about the same as it did when it first opened. However, the city seems to envision an upgrade of sorts, saying that by expanding and changing things, more revenues can be obtained through tourism. As you can imagine, controversy has ensued.

The Chron’s kept an eye on this story as it’s developed, tracking the boathouse as it gained local support from a variety of places. Most recently, they’ve reported that the city’s top choice to manage the beloved boathouse is one based far outside the 7×7.


Ortega Family Enterprises of New Mexico, which also operates out of Muir Woods, is being eyed as a possible replacement for Bruce McClellan, whose family has run the boathouse for three generations.

A campaign, the Save Stow Lake Boathouse Coalition has been gathering signatures in support of preserving the boathouse in its current state, and with MCClellan as operator. The group has also advocated community involvement and has been quite vocal at recent Rec and Park Commission meetings.

The city’s plans, aside from hiring a new vendor, include renovating the boathouse and expanding the current snack bar into an indoor cafe. Through Ortega Family Enterprises, the cafe would offer locally and organically grown food options ranging in price from $4.95 to $8.95, says Rec and Park.

The Recreation and Parks Commission is set to issue a decision on whether or not to start working out a deal with the Ortegas on August 19. If an agreement is reached and the Commission approves it, it’ll be up to the Board of Supervisors to make the final decision to allow the boathouse to change hands.

In a past commentary from the Chron, the question of modernity and necessary upgrades versus nostalgic tradition was brought up, which poses the question: which takes precedent?

Photo of Stow Lake snack stand by Yelp user Laura S.

the author

Always in motion. April Siese writes about music, takes photos at shows, and even helps put them on behind the scenes as a stagehand. She's written everything from hard news to beauty features, as well as fiction and poetry. She most definitely likes pie.

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  • Matt Baume

    Good grief I’m all for preserving pleasant traditions, but that dilapidated shed isn’t worth saving. Let’s have something nice.

  • Matt Baume

    Good grief I’m all for preserving pleasant traditions, but that dilapidated shed isn’t worth saving. Let’s have something nice.

  • besmittie

    Good grief! I am all for preserving pleasant traditions, even the dilapidated shed that is worth saving. Just because it is dilapidated does not mean it is not nice. Wait until you become dilapitated, dude! Let’s see how you think about things, at that stage of the game! Or maybe, you will just be replaced by something nice!

  • besmittie

    Good grief! I am all for preserving pleasant traditions, even the dilapidated shed that is worth saving. Just because it is dilapidated does not mean it is not nice. Wait until you become dilapitated, dude! Let’s see how you think about things, at that stage of the game! Or maybe, you will just be replaced by something nice!

  • areallyniceguy

    I like organic, locally-sourced food. I also have an appreciation of the retro frozen treats that they sell there and will go out of my way if I am anywhere near Stow Lake. They conjure happy memories of my childhood. Don’t take my dreamcicles away…

  • areallyniceguy

    I like organic, locally-sourced food. I also have an appreciation of the retro frozen treats that they sell there and will go out of my way if I am anywhere near Stow Lake. They conjure happy memories of my childhood. Don’t take my dreamcicles away…

  • bloomsm

    So tired of replacing things we love with things that are good for us. I am really starting to hate the Disney-fication of San Francisco…

  • bloomsm

    So tired of replacing things we love with things that are good for us. I am really starting to hate the Disney-fication of San Francisco…

  • Marinite1

    They can do whatever thay want so long as they continue to sell pink popcorn.

  • Marinite1

    They can do whatever thay want so long as they continue to sell pink popcorn.

  • sf for families

    The Parks and Rec Dept is responsible for upkeep to the building, and they don’t keep it up because they could get more rent money renting to a new tenant. This is a charming, fun place to take children and out of town visitors, and it is a hang out for retirees to sit and talk and have coffee and look at the lake. Why doesn’t the city fix it up and keep their loyal wonderful current tenant? The boat house is run down, but could be a major tourist destination if fixed up and publicized – like the swan boats in Boston Common or the boats on the lake in Central Park. We don’t need another chain restaurant. We can support local color and charm and save one of the few remaining fun things for families in the city in a city that is increasingly family unfriendly.

  • sf for families

    The Parks and Rec Dept is responsible for upkeep to the building, and they don’t keep it up because they could get more rent money renting to a new tenant. This is a charming, fun place to take children and out of town visitors, and it is a hang out for retirees to sit and talk and have coffee and look at the lake. Why doesn’t the city fix it up and keep their loyal wonderful current tenant? The boat house is run down, but could be a major tourist destination if fixed up and publicized – like the swan boats in Boston Common or the boats on the lake in Central Park. We don’t need another chain restaurant. We can support local color and charm and save one of the few remaining fun things for families in the city in a city that is increasingly family unfriendly.