Japanese Tea Garden

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A marvel of landscape architecture, the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park offers tourists and residents of San Francisco alike the chance to travel across the ocean while never leaving the city. With five acres of immaculately manicured gardens, elegant ponds, and a stunning bridge, a walk through the Japanese Tea Garden is a perfect addition to a sunny San Francisco day.


Like many of the attractions in Golden Gate Park, the Japanese Tea Garden was originally designed as part of the California Midwinter International Exposition in 1894. Meant as a way to bridge the cultures of the United States and Japan, the spot was modeled to accurately reflect an authentic Japanese garden including indigenous Japanese plants as well as accurate cultural architectural representations.

When it was originally erected in the 19th century, the garden spanned only about an acre of land and was meant to stay only temporarily. However, the persistence of Japanese landscape architect Makoto Hagiwara led the superintendent of the park, John McLaren, to agree to keep the structure open so long as Hagiwara and his family were solely responsible for its maintenance.

Hagiwara made good on his end of this bargain, dedicating his life and fortune to the expansion and maintenance of the grounds until his death in1925. He, and subsequently his family, even lived at the garden until the outbreak of World War II and Executive Order 9066, which called for the internment of the Japanese by the U.S. government.

Without the Hagiwaras, the park quickly fell into ruin and was renamed the Oriental Tea Garden. Yet a significant contribution from the S & G Gump Company in 1949 began to turn that around. Post-war, the San Francisco Parks Commission took over the care of the Tea Garden and made significant additions including the aforementioned bronze Buddha from Tajima, Japan, which was cast in 1790, a Zen Garden designed by Nagao Sakurai, and a 9,000-pound Lantern of Peace which was paid for by donations from Japanese children and meant as a symbol for future generations. It was officially renamed the Japanese Tea Garden in 1952 and as thrived ever since under that moniker.

Main Attraction

A far cry from many of the “traditional” San Francisco-area attractions, the Japanese Tea Garden is meant as a quiet sanctuary and tells the story of one of this city’s most prominent groups of immigrants. It is located at 7 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, on the same span as the de Young Museum. Visitors to the garden who arrive before 10 am are guaranteed free admission to wonder about the grounds. After that time, admission is charged at different rates for San Francisco residents vs. non-residents and divided among adults, youth/seniors (65+), and children (5-12)—all children under the age of 4 are free.

The garden is relatively small compared to other attractions in the San Francisco area, most notably the nearby Conservatory of Flowers, also located in Golden Gate Park. However, there are significant benefits to the clam, picturesque surroundings. In addition to the pieces mentioned before, the garden consists of traditional-style Koi ponds, a miniature waterfall, and a great, acute-angled bridge that children love to cross. In addition, visitors can enjoy authentic Japanese tea and food choices at the traditional tea house located within the grounds.

Why It’s a Must-See

The atmosphere of the Japanese Tea Garden is really unlike most of the other attractions commonly visited in San Francisco. A favorite of locals and artists and an intimate spot that offers more than meets the eye, a detour to the Japanese Tea Garden is an excellent addition to a day spent in Golden Gate Park.