Dotted with Buddha statues, dwarf trees, and koi ponds, the Japanese Tea Garden (or Hagiwara Tea Garden) is a tranquil place amidst the urbanity of San Francisco. Experience the beauty and harmony of a traditional, Japanese-style garden, enjoy a cup of tea at the teahouse, and experience other aspects of Japanese culture in the heart of Golden Gate Park.
San Francisco’s Japanese Tea Garden is the oldest public Japanese garden in the US. Many visitors walk its five acres (two hectares) quickly while others pace more slowly, using the meticulously designed landscape features—such as Japanese maples, Buddha statues, and stepping stones—as tools for reflection and contemplation. The property’s teahouse pavilion, which serves light snacks and an assortment of traditional and modern-style teas, and adjacent gift shop are a hub of activity.
Many San Francisco tours cruise through Golden Gate Park, and some popular tour packages include entrance to the garden. But most Segway, self-guided surrey, and hop-on hop-off bus tours take you to the garden but do not include the entrance fee.
Things to Know Before You Go
- The Japanese Tea Garden is a must-see for Japanophiles and lovers of the outdoors.
- Families with small children will enjoy watching fish swim around in the koi ponds and walking around the sunken garden.
- Wear sturdy walking shoes—the garden has many uneven and slippery surfaces—and layers to ensure that you keep warm in San Francisco’s unpredictable climate.
- Admission is free before 10am on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
- Due to its uneven surfaces and rocky paths, the garden is not accessible to wheelchairs or strollers.
How to Get There
The Japanese Tea Garden is located in Golden Gate Park, right near the DeYoung Museum, California Academy of Sciences, and San Francisco Botanic Garden. MUNI’s 44-O’Shaughnessy, 5-Fulton, 21-Hayes, and N-Judah streetcar all stop within walking distance of the garden’s entrance. If driving, there is a parking lot at the Music Concourse and free on-street parking throughout the park.
When to Get There
The garden opens at 9am every day of the year, and closes at 4:45pm November through February and 6pm March through October. Arrive before 10am to experience the garden’s pre-crowd tranquility, especially on summer weekends and holidays. Seeing the cherry blossoms in bloom (March and April) is worth braving the flocks of visitors.
The Establishment of the Garden
Today’s Japanese Tea Garden was originally created as a Japanese Village exhibit for the 1894 California Midwinter International Exposition. Japanese landscape architect Makoto Hagiwara and Golden Gate Park superintendent and horticulturalist John McLaren reached an agreement for Mr. Hagiwara to create and maintain a permanent Japanese-style garden as a gift to the citizens of San Francisco. Many of the bonsai trees maintained by Mr. Hagiwara now tower over the teahouse, main gate, and gardens.