Conservatory of Flowers

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One doesn’t often associate the city of San Francisco with a tropical rain forest. However, spending a few hours at the Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park may change that supposition. Offering visitors one of the richest botanical collections in the country and doing so alongside one of the oldest and most treasured buildings in the city, this is a truly unique and special landmark to include on a San Francisco visit.

History

Many admirers of the Conservatory of Flowers fail to realize that the kit used to build the massive, 240 foot-long greenhouse was originally intended for a private estate in San Jose. Eccentric millionaire James Lick actually purchased the kit to house exotic South American plants at his home. However he died unexpectedly in 1876 and was never able to see it erected.

Following Lick’s death, his estate sought to unload the greenhouse kit which lead a group of prominent San Franciscans, led by Leland Stanford and Charles Crocker, to purchase it for use in the city’s Golden Gate Park. The Parks Commission gladly accepted this gift as a means to increase public green space during the peak of American urbanization. The city then hired New York greenhouse company Lord & Burnham to supervise the building of the structure and sought to populate the completed building with a variety of tropical plants. The conservatory officially opened to the public in 1879 and has been a much-loved feature of its physical and scientific landscape ever since.

The Conservatory of Flowers is a prominent structure which truly defines the landscape of Golden Gate Park. Its central dome, a Tudor-style arch, is the most notable of its features and rises to an impressive 60 feet in height. The structure is made of wood with a raised masonry foundation, and majestically overlooks Conservatory Valley.

Though its structure is quite basic, the Conservatory was one of the few San Francisco buildings to withstand the 1906 earthquake with little damage. The years, however, were not so kind and over its lifespan several efforts to restore the structure and improve on its appearance have been sponsored by lovers of the greenhouse and its beautiful plants and flowers. The most recent renovation, undertaken between 1999 and 2003 has completely modernized the building, adding several features designed to help it last for decades to come. During this period, the Conservatory was completely restored to its Victorian roots with the benefit of modern engineering materials, which reinforced it to withstand the winds and weather patterns of San Francisco.

Since reopening on 20 September 2003, the Conservatory of Flowers has seen an exponential increase in its appeal, welcoming its 500,000th visitor in May 2005 and its 1 millionth visitor only two years later. It has also expanded its reach as a scientific and cultural institution by adding an award-winning guided school field trip program aimed at children in grades 3-5 as well as self-guided tour programs for students of all ages.

Main Attraction

The Conservatory is located in Golden Gate Park at 100 John F. Kennedy Drive in the city of San Francisco. There are over 1,700 different species of plants to view along with an extensive collection of high-altitude orchids, the largest public collection in the world which boasts 700 of the 1,000 known species. These, along with other plant life are displayed in one of five separate galleries—the Lowland Tropics, the Plotted Plants, the Aquatic Plants, and the Highland Tropics galleries along with a rotating special exhibit gallery.

Admission to the Conservatory of Flowers is divided into three groups: Adults, Youth/Seniors (65+)/Students, and Children (5-11)—children under 4 are admitted free of charge. The Conservatory is open Tuesdays-Sundays though it is open on Memorial Day and Labor Day. Docent-led public tours are offered on most days, but groups are encouraged to book tours in advance to ensure docent availability. The Conservatory is also one of the most photographed areas in the city, making it a popular location for weddings and other large events.

Why It’s a Must-See

For those who love natural beauty and horticulture, the Conservatory of Flowers is hard to pass by during a trip to San Francisco. With one of the largest and most extensive collections of orchids in the world along with over 1,000 additional species and stunning architectural grandeur. It is a truly unique and beautiful place to spend a day, especially mixed in with a trip to the de Young Museum and California Academy of Sciences.

Where to Buy It

There are a number of ways you can enjoy admission to this attraction.
1. Purchase a ticket from the Conservatory of Flowers when you get there.
2. Purchase a Tourist pass. The Conservatory of Flowers is available on the Go SF Card