While in San Francisco recently, I decided to check out a couple of attractions at Golden Gate Park. Golden Gate Park is a massive city park, much larger than New York City’s Central Park. It stretches from the Richmond District westward to the cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Besides being a haven for refugees during the 1906 earthquake and its status as a hippie hangout in the 1960s, inside the park there are a myriad of things to do.
In addition to picnic grounds, running track, dog runs, golf course, museum, boat rental and many other things to do, Golden Gate Park also houses some of the most beautiful gardens you will ever have the chance to visit. I love looking at different plants as it gives me ideas on how I should shape my own garden at home.
On this warm January day, I first decided to visit the Japanese Tea Garden. This small five-acre garden is a delight for those who appreciate all things Asian. There is a nominal charge ($4), although on Mondays and Wednesdays between 8:30 a.m. and 9:30 a.m., admission is free. The pathways are for the most part smooth and easy to navigate. However, for those who are handicapped, there are a few short stairs, and one monster half moon bridge, which I could not traverse.
Although it was winter, the gardens were very well maintained, still green, and many plants such as camellias and azaleas were in bloom. Plants are identified for easy reference. Along the path, there are many small gardens in different themes, some decorated with statuary, and plenty of places to sit and meditate.
There is a stunning waterfall and a small brook meanders throughout. A large pagoda and huge Buddha statue are at the center of the park. This beautiful and tranquil park will provide the visitor with many photo opportunities.
On site there is also a gift shop and small teahouse.
The Japanese Tea Garden is located at Tea Garden and Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive. Hours of operation are from 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., 365 days a year.
Right after my visit to the Japanese Tea Garden, I decided to visit to the Strybing Arboretum at the San Francisco Botanical Garden, which is across Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive. The Friend Gate entrance is just across the street from the Japanese Tea Garden.
Bring your walking shoes and make sure you have plenty of time to spend at this massive garden. Most of the elevation is level, although there are some steep grades and stairs. There are places to take a seat and rest. On this trip, I decided to keep to the right on the path. This led me along the entire outside edge of the Arboretum, and the trip took a little more than two hours, which included stops for many photo opportunities.
Going this route, the first garden area you pass is the area devoted to eastern Australia. The many unique plants here amazed me, including a bristle brush tree, which looked like a fuzzy upright caterpillar. Next came the South American area, Zellerbach Garden of Perennials, and Southeast Asian Cloud Forest. As I passed by the enormous succulent garden, workers were putting in new plants. I had never seen so many different types of agaves in one place!
My favorite areas came next, the Redwood Trail, and gardens with California native plants. This area is an entire slice of California in one compact area. Taking the path further, you will reach the Asia gardens, and also the Main Gate to the Arboretum. This area houses the Gallery, classrooms, auditorium, the garden bookstore and demonstration gardens. Completing the circular walk back to Friend Gate, you will reach the fragrance gardens, rhododendrons and primitive plants.
All of the plant life is clearly identified, which is great for a plant enthusiast like myself. I was busy scribbling notes about the plants that interested me. And again, even though my visit was in January, the gardens were full of interesting flora, some of which was stunningly in bloom. If you are visiting from the snowy Midwest like I was, the sight of flowers is heaven to the eyes! When I return to San Francisco this spring, I would like to revisit these gardens to see if they are even better than what I experienced in the “dead of winter.”
The Strybing Arboretum, 9th Avenue at Lincoln Way, is open 365 days a year, weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and weekends from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and is free of charge. Guided tours are given each day at 1:30 p.m. A wealth of information can be found online at www.sfbotanicalgarden.org. This web site includes maps, lists of plants (don’t print it out-it’s over 200 pages!), references and calendar of events.