Japanese Tea Garden: Tranquility, beauty and harmony in the heart of San Francisco
Japanese Tea Garden at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, California
Anytime I find myself in San Francisco, California, I always make time to visit the Japanese Tea Garden. This serene garden boasts natural beauty, tranquility, and harmony. It was originally created in 1894 as a Japanese exhibit for the California Midwinter International Exposition. Once the fair closed, it was decided that the Japanese garden would remain permanently as a gift of posterity. I was in San Francisco for a wedding recently and purposely scheduled a late flight home the next day so I could spend the morning in the peaceful, soothing garden.
Situated in the middle of the beautiful Golden Gate park, the garden is enveloped in surrounding beauty. As you approach the majestic entrance gate, you feel as though you are actually in Japan. The quiet music playing, the rustle of the trees, and the vision of bonsai trees capture your senses. Once inside, there are five acres of beautifully landscaped grounds to explore. As you wander the paths, you will see such things as pagodas, native Japanese plants, stone lanterns, a beautiful arched drum bridge, stepping stone paths, and an incredible koi pond filled with dozens of large, colorful koi fish. There is also a bronze Buddha that was cast in Japan in 1790 and donated to the garden in 1949 on display. If you’re lucky enough to visit during March and April, you’ll get the added bonus of the trees filled with cherry blossoms. Although it is a very popular place with both tourists and locals, it remains a calm, quiet place to visit.
This garden is the oldest tea garden open to the public in the United States. As mentioned, it was built in 1894 and after switching hands of management for many years, it was returned to management by Japanese hands in 2009. Apparently, the Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco is the first place in the world to serve fortune cookies, although the idea itself came from Japan. It is said that original fortune cookies weren’t as sweet as we know them to be. The recipe was altered, including some vanilla, to make them more appealing to westerners.
While you’re there, be sure to stop at the beautiful open-air, newly refurbished tea house that overlooks the pond and the breathtaking scenery. The tea house serves Japanese teas, Japanese snacks and sweet treats. There is a large Tea Ceremony Table in the center where they used to perform traditional tea ceremonies. I’m hoping that tradition returns soon! In the meantime, you can enjoy your tea at the rustic farmhouse family style table or at the custom designed irori, the traditional sunken hearth. The garden also has an amazing gift shop with items indigenous to Japan, such as tea and saki sets, glazed ceramic bowls and vases, and maneki neko figurines.
The Japanese Tea Garden is open daily and FREE entrance is available between 9am and 10am on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays! Prices are very reasonable. Entry for adults is $8, ages 12-17 are $6, ages 5-11 are $2, and kids under 5 are free. Prices are a little less for San Francisco residents. Parking can be a little tricky, especially during peak times, so be sure to check out their website for suggestions on garage and street parking, as well as the best way to get there via public transportation. And above all else, don’t forget your camera!
If you’ve ever been to the Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco, please leave a comment below and share your tips and/or experience.
Contact Information for the Japanese Tea Garden
Address: 75 Hagiwara Tea Garden Dr, San Francisco, CA 94102
Hours: Open Daily, no holiday closures.
- Summer (3/1 through 10/31): 9:00 am to 6:00 pm
- Winter (11/1 through 2/28): 9:00 am to 4:45 pm
- Mon, Wed, Fri: FREE admission if entered by 10:00 am
- Adult: $6.00 (Residents), $8.00 (Non-Residents)
- Discounts for seniors and children