Continuing on with our travels in San Francisco, this time I wanted to introduce you to Golden Gate Park. An urban oasis consisting of 1,017 acres, it is 20% larger than New York’s Central Park and the fifth most visited city park in the U.S., drawing 13 million visitors annually! But covering 1,017 acres on one blog post is madness! Instead, I am going to break down the park into smaller, more digestible pieces starting with the Japanese Tea Garden, the oldest public Japanese garden in the U.S.
This 5-acre complex consisting of several paths, ponds, a teahouse, a five-story pagoda and various native Japanese plants was originally constructed as part of the 1894 World’s Fair (the California Midwinter International Exposition). After the conclusion of the 1894 World’s Fair, a Japanese immigrant and gardener named Makoto Hagiwara, approached Dr. John Hays McLaren (the superintendent of the Golden Gate Park for 53 years) with the idea to convert the temporary exhibit into a permanent park. Hagiwara personally oversaw the building of the Japanese Tea Garden and was its official caretaker from 1895 to 1925. It is said that he specifically requested that one thousand flowering cherry trees be imported from Japan, as well as other native plants, birds, and the now famous koi. After San Francisco’s 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition closed, he obtained the two large ornamental wooden gates and the prominent five-story pagoda, from that fair’s Japanese enclave.
The Hagiwara family lived in and maintained the Japanese Tea Garden until 1942, when Executive Order 9066 forced them to leave San Francisco and relocate to an internment camp with thousands of other Japanese-American families. The garden was renamed the Oriental Tea Garden and fell into disarray. It wasn’t until 1952 that the name Japanese Tea Garden was officially reinstated.
In 1953 the Zen Garden, designed by Nagao Sakurai, was dedicated. At the same time, a 9,000-pound Lantern of Peace, which was purchased by contributions from Japanese children was presented on their behalf as a symbol of friendship for future generations.
Today, visitors can participate in tours of the garden offered every day by the San Francisco City Guides at 1 PM. Additionally, tours are offered at 9:30 AM on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays when admission to the garden is free before 10:00 AM.
As you approach the Main Gate of the Japanese Tea Garden, you will encounter the Monterey pine, which Hagiwara relocated in 1900 from the Golden Gate Park oceanfront to its current home. Remnants of the original 1894 World’s Fair site are still visible, including the columns of the Music Concourse.
Beyond the Main Gate a pathway guides you to the Drum Bridge, which was a component of the 1894 Japanese Village. The Drum Bridge forms a perfect circle when you glance upon its refection in the water.
A little further you will encounter the Pagoda, from the 1915 Japanese exhibit at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition. Situated behind the Pagoda, the Zen Garden filled with bonsai trees and azaleas presents a miniature mountain setting, complete with stone waterfall and a river made of white gravel.
In the middle of the Japanese Tea Garden, the Tea House serves hot tea and cookies. The tea and snacks are mediocre at best and the experience decidedly “touristy,” but it doesn’t deter visitors.
The garden offers an excellent atmosphere to simply relax and enjoy the scenery. Some people choose this as a setting for their wedding photos and rightfully so. The enchanting landscape, colorful blooms and the striking architecture all add to your ability to create a special memory.
Location: Tea Garden Dr. off John F. Kennedy Dr.
Golden Gate Park
Phone Number: 415-752-4227
Hours: Summer Hours (3/1 through 10/31): 9:00 am to 6:00 pm
Winter Hours (11/1 through 2/28): 9:00 am to 4:45 pm