San Francisco Botanical Garden

San Francisco, California (CA)

San Francisco Botanical Garden is one of three gardens that make up the Golden Gate Park.

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- Ali Eminov

Discover the San Francisco Botanical Garden

The Golden Gate Park in the Bay Area of San Francisco has three important features: The Japanese Tea Garden; The Conservatory of Flowers; and our favourite—the San Francisco Botanical Garden. Spanning 55 acres, larger than 40 football fields, the garden is home to over 8,000 different plant species, making it one of the most diverse botanical collections in the world. The garden's climate, cool, dry summers, mild, wet winters, and a frequent covering of fog, allows for the cultivation of species that might otherwise be difficult to grow outside their native habitats.

Since its opening in the mid-20th century, the garden has become a treasured point of interest for many visitors, far and wide. Especially because there is always something in bloom at the San Francisco Botanical Garden, so it doesn’t matter what time of year you go! The Garden of Fragrance was designed for the visually impaired with its selection of aromatic plants. In winter, rare Asian magnolias burst into bloom, while the California native plant section dazzles with wildflowers in early spring. The redwood trail offers a peaceful walk through towering trees, providing a taste of the state's iconic redwood forests.

One of the garden's more popular traditions, occurring each July, is the placement of a dozen grand pianos amongst the flowers. Professional musicians often perform around sunset on weekends but visitors don’t have to be professional to get involved—anyone can have a go, fostering a sense of pride in community involvement, which is typical of San Francisco! Read our other San Fran articles for more instances of the city’s community efforts.

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- phoca2004

History of the San Francisco Botanical Garden

The San Francisco Botanical Garden was a concept initially raised in the 1880s by park supervisor John McLaren. However, its construction was delayed due to insufficient funding. It wasn't until 1927, when Helene Strybing left a substantial bequest, that the plans began to take shape. The planting commenced in 1937, supported by funds from the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and local donations, and the Arboretum officially opened in May 1940.

As part of Golden Gate Park, the garden is managed by a public-private partnership between the San Francisco Recreation & Park Department and the San Francisco Botanical Garden Society, established in 1955. This Society, formerly known as the Strybing Arboretum Society, is instrumental in providing educational programs, managing volunteers and staff, and operating the Helen Crocker Russell Library of Horticulture and the Garden Bookstore. The Society also organises monthly plant sales and raises funds for new projects and garden renovations.

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- David Prasad

Expanding the San Francisco Botanical Garden

Over the decades, the garden continually evolved, introducing new flora and themed sections. The 1970s saw the introduction of the Moon Viewing Garden and the horticultural library, providing visitors with a place for reflection and learning. In the following decades, the Mediterranean Forest was added, increasing the diversity of garden’s specimens. The 2000s marked a period of significant renovations and expansions, including the creation of the Southeast Asian Cloud Forest—the first of its kind in the world.

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- Sharon Mollerus

Key Features in the San Francisco Botanical Garden

Top Attractions

  • Mesoamerican Cloud Forest: Established in 1984, this garden has matured into a landscape filled with tropical oak and pine trees interspersed with fuchsias, tree daisies, and other tropical and subtropical plants.
  • Southeast Asian Cloud Forest: Added in the 2000s, this forest is the first of its kind globally. It features plant species from the cloud forests of Southeast Asia, providing a unique and lush environment that mimics the cool, moist conditions of high-altitude tropical forests.
  • California Native Garden: Home to more than 6,000 different species of plant, why not celebrate Californian flora?! Walk through the Redwood Grove with towering ancient trees and colourful wildflowers.
  • Ancient Plant Garden: Plants in this garden date back to the early Devonian period, as well as some from the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods.
  • Andean Cloud Forest: San Francisco’s cool, foggy climate provides the perfect environment for the plants in the Andean Cloud Forest, mirroring the conditions of a cloud forest in the Andes Mountains. Don’t miss the towering Andean wax palms—the tallest species of palm trees in the world.
  • Moon Viewing Garden: Filled with lush Japanese plants and stone pagodas lit by moonlight, this space insights contemplation and connection with nature.
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Palm Trees in the San Francisco Botanical Garden - Sharon Mollerus

Specialty Collections

  • South African Garden: In this garden there is always something blooming. Look for the stunning South African proteas and the Nerines.
  • Succulent Garden: Visit in winter to see the brilliant red flowers of the Aloe arborescens, commonly known as the Candelabra Aloe. The garden’s striking collection of water-wise plants thrive in San Francisco's mild climate.
  • Children’s Garden: A space for families, the Children’s Garden offers educational opportunities for kids to learn about local flora.

Thematic Gardens

  • Garden of Fragrance: Playing on the power of the senses, this garden features a variety of aromatic plants.
  • Zellerbach Garden of Perennials: A display of perennial plants, offering year-round colour and beauty. It's a favourite spot for visitors.
  • Great Meadow and Celebration Garden: These open spaces are perfect for relaxation and gatherings. The Great Meadow offers a beautiful green expanse, while the Celebration Garden is ideal for special events and celebrations.
  • Mediterranean Forest: Added in recent years, this section showcases plant species from Mediterranean climates around the world, including parts of California, South Africa, and Australia.

Collection Highlights

  • Magnolia Collection: No matter the time of year, the Magnolia Collection, recognised as the most important collection of Magnolia outside of China, is a must-see.
  • Redwood Grove: Another highlight is the Redwood Grove, home to several century-old redwoods that tower high above the gardens.
  • Fountain Plaza: Take a moment to relax at Fountain Plaza, a beautiful, open area with plenty of seating. It’s a perfect spot to pause and enjoy the surroundings.
San Francisco Botanical Garden
The Mediterranean Garden at the San Francisco Botanical Garden - K M

Programmes held at the San Francisco Botanical Garden

The San Francisco Botanical Garden is not just a place of beauty; it runs a variety of programmes and events to promote education, research, and conservation.

Guided Tours and Workshops

Knowledgeable docents run 90-minute guided tours of the San Francisco Botanical Garden each day, and are actually a recommended way to experience the gardens. These tours start from the main gate and cover the best sights. Tours are free for patrons, and private tours for groups of eight or more can be arranged for a small fee with advance notice. There are also workshops on topics such as gardening techniques, plant identification, and ecological conservation.

Education for Children

Through interactive activities, school field trips, and summer camps, children learn about plant biology, ecology, and the importance of conservation in a fun and engaging way. There is also access to the Helen Crocker Russell Library of Horticulture and the Garden bookstore for further reading and study.

Special Events

Throughout the year, the garden hosts a variety of special events, including botanical art exhibits, and seasonal festivals, allowing visitors to connect with the garden and its community. Open daily, the Plant Store offers visitors the chance to buy plants and start their own gardens. The selection varies by season, so check the store’s website before you go.

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Plant Sales at the San Francisco Botanical Garden - Frank Farm

Seasonal Highlights at the Botanical Garden

Throughout the year, the San Francisco Botanical Garden offers an ever-changing display of seasonal highlights that draw visitors back time and again. Here's a detailed look at what you can expect to see during your visit, organised by season.

Winter (January–March)

The star of the Winter season is the Magnificent Magnolias, which blanket the garden in a sea of pink and white hues. These stunning blooms can be found throughout the Moon Viewing Garden and Southeast Asian areas.


Magnolias: Some of the Magnolia blossoms sprout as many as 36 petals. These showy blossoms are a herald of spring and a favourite among visitors.

South African Garden: Full bloom during winter months.

Rhododendron Garden: Another winter highlight, showcasing their pretty pastel colours.

Spring (April–May)

During Spring the California Native Garden begins to bloom and scents start to emanate from the Garden of Fragrance.


California Poppies, Irises, and Wildflowers: These native plants burst into bloom, creating a spectacular display.

Rhododendrons: Continue to bloom from winter into spring.

South African Garden: Still showcasing some of its beautiful flora.

Dove Tree: In May, the dove tree, with its tiny flowers surrounded by large, white bracts resembling doves, is a highlight.

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The Succulent Garden at the San Francisco Botanical Garden - Duff Axsom

Summer (June–September)

Summer is an ideal time to visit the Redwood Groves. The towering trees provide a cool, shaded respite from the summer heat. The Garden of Fragrance also reaches its peak during this season.


Redwood Groves: Perfect for a cool escape during hot summer days.

Garden of Fragrance: Lavender, Salvias, and Pelargoniums are in full bloom.

Andean Cloud Forest: Exhibits vibrant colours.

Angel's Trumpet: In September the Angel's Trumpet in full bloom. Its dramatic, pendulous flowers come in various colours and emit a fragrant scent.

Fall (October–December)

Fall in the garden brings the exotic beauty of the Mesoamerican, Andean, and Southeast Cloud Forests. These collections flourish in the cooling San Francisco fog.


Ancient Plant Garden: Displaying the primaeval-looking Gunnera tinctoria, also known as Chilean rhubarb or Dinosaur food. These impressive plants grow rapidly after being trimmed to the ground in winter, reaching up to four feet in a few months and producing exotic flowers.

Fuchsias: Continue to bloom in the Andean and Mesoamerican Cloud Forests.

Tree Daisies: Found in the Mesoamerican Cloud Forest, they add a splash of fall colour.

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- Nimmi Solomon

Visiting the San Francisco Botanical Garden

Located on the east end of Golden Gate Park, the main entrance is at 9th Avenue and Lincoln Way, with another gate on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. With large, flat pathways the San Francisco Botanical Garden is mostly wheelchair accessible and complimentary wheelchairs are available at both entrances. Strollers are allowed, but other wheeled vehicles are not permitted.

Given the expansive nature of the San Francisco Botanical Garden, it’s recommended to pick up a map at the entrance. The map highlights the seasonal attractions, ensuring you don’t miss the most beautiful and interesting parts of the garden during your visit.

Nearby Attractions in the Golden Gate Park

Combine your visit to the Botanical Garden with other nearby attractions in Golden Gate Park. Explore the California Academy of Sciences, the de Young Museum, the Japanese Tea Garden, the Conservatory of Flowers, and the park's outdoor flower gardens, including the dahlia, tulip, and rose gardens. It's also not far from other staple San Francisco landmarks such as 16th Avenue Tiled Steps and the Hidden Garden Steps.

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- Julien Chatelain

Interested in finding more places like this? Try one of our US Scavenger Hunts- untangle cryptic clues as a team, as you are taken on a journey to the most unique, unusual and bizarre corners of San Francisco and beyond!

San Francisco Botanical Garden Questions


What you need to know

San Francisco Botanical Garden
1199 9th Ave, San Francisco, CA 94122
37.766640, -122.467178
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