Thanks to its calming beaches, serene waterfront and 1000-acre park, there’s no shortage of places to escape to in San Francisco when you’re after a little bit of peace and quiet. While many may opt for the California Academy of Sciences, or quiet patches surrounding Fisherman’s Wharf, there’s one place that I had my heart set on visiting: the Japanese Tea Garden.
Found in the very centre of the city’s Golden Gate Park, the Japanese Tea Garden is near the Botanical Gardens, California Academy of Sciences, Stow Lake and de Young Museum. You’d really need at LEAST a day (and a good map) to get round all the main parts of the Park, but this central area is a good a place as any to get started and tick off a number of the sights.
It took us a bit longer than we’d like to admit to find the entrance to the Japanese Tea Garden (at five acres big you would think, ordinarily, that it would be relatively easy to find…) It was immediately a bit of a shock to the system; having been in America for two weeks by this point, the sight of traditional Japanese architecture paired with twisted Japanese maple trees in autumnal colours was slightly surreal.
Once we had paid our entrance fee ($8 for non San Francisco residents, but there are discounts available), we entered the magical world, where time seemed to slow down and our senses were overloaded with colours, unusual sights and an air of solitude.
Built in around the five acres of the Japanese Tea Garden is everything you could possibly associate with Japan. Not only does the garden incorporate traditional trees, flowers and plants, but it also includes a pagoda, a moon bridge and a rock garden – not to mention sculptures influenced by Buddhist and Shinto religious beliefs.
The whole idea of the garden is to create a world in which people can slow down. And the presence of water and rocks does wonders for this calming landscape.
There’s so much to see as you wander round, that it’s almost impossible to take it all in. For someone who’s not had the pleasure of visiting Japan yet, I was so eager to explore the gardens – and it’s so ridiculously photogenic that you can’t help but whip your camera out every 5 seconds.
The Japanese Tea Garden actually has a long history, and one that’s tinged with sadness. It was built in the late 19th century as part of the 1894 California Midwinter International Exposition. Measuring one acre at the time, the garden was taken on by Japanese landscape architect Makoto Hagiwara when the fair closed. Over the forthcoming years, Makoto expanded the garden, lovingly furnishing it with even more features. He lived on the site with his family, until they were forced to evacuate their homes and move into internment camps in 1942. After the war, the Hagiwara family were refused the right to return to their tea garden home. Many of the original features implemented by Makoto have been removed, with more modern pieces taken their place.
One of the main things I enjoyed about the garden was all the traditional Japanese architecture, from the tiered, colourful pagoda to the moon bridge (a high arch named after the fact that when it’s reflected in water it resembles a full ‘moon’ shape). With the moon bridge, it’s possible to climb up if you’re feeling brave. One word of advice though – the climbing up is the easy bit. I have no idea how I managed to get down in one piece!
If you’ve got some time to kill, I would 100% recommend stopping by the garden’s tea house for some refreshments. Their menu features a selection of snacks. My friend and I opted for a Jasmine tea, and the tea sandwiches to share – all completely scrumptious, and almost as enjoyable as the gorgeous views from where we sat!
- The garden is open 365 days a year. 366 if it’s a leap year.
- Visit before 10am on Monday, Wednesday or Friday to get free entry!
- Otherwise, entry is $8 for non San Francisco residents, $6 for 12-17 year olds, $2 for children aged 5-11 years, and free for children aged 4 years and under
- The garden opens at 9am every day. Closing times vary depending on the time of year you visit – click here to check!