Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco

The Tea Garden is a main attraction in San Francisco
The Tea Garden is a main attraction in San Francisco

The Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco is home to one of the oldest and most elaborate tea gardens in the nation.

Japanese Tea Garden, in San Francisco Tradition

While this Japanese Tea Garden in the Bay Area is filled with obvious Asian design and influence, it is also rich in San Francisco tradition. It has occupied the space it resides since the late 1800s. Located in Golden Gate Park, the tea garden is arguably one of the most popular features of the park itself, drawing in tourists from different walks of life, from all over the world.

The Japanese Tea Garden was first constructed as part of a World's Fair exhibit. It debuted at the California Midwinter International Exposition of 1894. It is officially the oldest Japanese public garden in the United States. It was built and maintained by a Japanese immigrant named Makoto Hagiwara for its first 30 years of operation.

The tea garden is five acres, and contains ponds, complex pathways, flourishing plant life native to Asia and, of course, a teahouse. If you choose to visit, you will also observe many different bridges and sculptures throughout your walk, some rooted in Japanese tradition, with others there to comfort, soothe and inspire.

For over two decades, guides have been providing free tours to those who belong to the San Francisco Parks trust, further enhancing the experience of visiting a garden that is deep in both history and beauty.

The Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco is also credited as having introduced the fortune cookie to the United States. Those who visited the garden during the early years were given fortune cookies made by a local bakery, which spurred them on into the popular after dinner treat found in virtually any Chinese restaurant in the Bay Area, and undoubtedly the nation.

Life at the Garden

As you walk through the Tea Garden, you will notice many varieties of plant life. In the spring, enjoy the cherry blossoms blooming in pink abundance on the cherry trees past the Garden's west gate. A Monterey pine greets you at the main gate of the garden, and it has been growing in the same spot since the early 1900s, making it one of the oldest veterans of the garden.

Some of the plant life at the tea garden has been added to commemorate other locations, people or events, such as the Mount Fuji hedge located near a beautiful pond. It was made in 1979 in honor of Makoto Hagiwara, who lived near Japan's real life Mount Fuji. Located near "Mount Fuji" is another example of hedge art, this time in the form of a dragon, a very popular symbol in Asian culture.

Man-Made Landmarks

The Drum Bridge, which was designed by master shrine builder Shinshichi Nakatani, has been a part of the garden since the beginning. Standing tall with its dramatic curvature since 1894, visitors admire the Drum Bridge, especially young tourists traveling with their parents.

Near the gift shop, you will find a boat-shaped basin known as a "tsukubai", which is an artistic interpretation of the stone basins used by visitors to wash their hands before going into the Tea Room. Parts of the boat are imported from Tokyo.

Visiting the Tea Garden

Now officially one of the most visited areas of San Francisco, you can find out more information about the garden by visiting the San Francisco Parks website. If you are planning on being in the Bay Area, you can come experience the garden's history and beauty for yourself. The Japanese Tea Garden is open daily, with the opening and closing hours varying depending on the season. There is an admission charge, with tea service charged separately in the tea house.

Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco