If you enjoy public gardens, you will definitely want to put these beautiful Bay Area gardens on your itinerary when you visit San Francisco or the SF Bay Area. Stretching from Sonoma to Santa Cruz, these gardens will delight and inspire you.
Whether you are a gardener looking for ideas or education, a nature lover seeking tranquility among trees, plants, and flowers, or just a solo visitor, couple, or family seeking an outdoor excursion in beautiful surroundings, the Bay Area gardens in our round-up deliver. As a bonus, many of these gardens feature scenic settings as well.
Ready to explore gardens in the San Francisco Bay Area? Let’s get started!
Conservatory of Flowers, San Francisco
One of the best things to do in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, visiting the Conservatory of Flowers is a must-do for garden lovers. The building is both beautiful and historic, having been completed in 1879.
Home to several distinct galleries, the Conservatory of Flowers allows you to observe many rare and unusual plants up close. Often there are special exhibits to view as well, some of which have miniature trains to delight both kids and adults.
The orchid collection in the Conservatory is spectacular. Also enjoy a lush collection of ferns and large mature tropical plants, lily ponds, carnivorous plants, and potted plants such as the vanilla orchid.
The Conservatory also sometimes hosts Night Bloom, when the outside and inside of the building are lit up to different themes.
The Conservatory of Flowers is open Tuesdays through Sundays from 10.00 a.m. until 4.30 p.m. There is an admission fee: the general adult fee is $10.00 at the time of writing.
Conservatory of Flowers, 100 John F Kennedy Drive, San Francisco, CA 94118
Japanese Tea Garden, San Francisco
Also located in Golden Gate Park, the Japanese Tea Garden is the oldest public Japanese garden in the US. It is a tranquil wander, and its many design elements will captivate you.
Japanese landscape designer Makoto Hagiwara expanded the garden from its original one acre to five acres, and maintained it for many years, living on the property until he and his family were interred in 1942.
The garden contains beautiful pagodas, a drum bridge, koi ponds, and a zen garden. Many of the plants in the garden are Japanese natives. There are many small wooden bridges and stepping stones. The Temple Gate is gorgeous.
If you visit in March or April, when the cherry blossoms bloom, you will be treated to a stunning floral display. At other times, the deeply serene green plantings invite introspective wandering.
There is also a traditional Japanese tea house at the garden, where you can sit and enjoy refreshments. The garden is one of the first places in the world to serve fortune cookies!
The Japanese Tea Garden is open daily, from 9 a.m. until 5.45 p.m. from March 1 through October 31, and from 9 a.m. until 4.45 p.m. from November 1 through February 28. There is an admission fee: the general adult fee is $10.00 at the time of writing.
Japanese Tea Garden, 75 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, San Francisco, CA 94118
San Francisco Botanical Garden
Golden Gate Park is a veritable treasure trove of gardens! In the park, you will also find the San Francisco Botanical Garden at Strybing Arboretum, one of California’s best botanical gardens.
Spread over 55 acres, the garden has both natural spaces and landscaped areas. Officially opened in 1940, the San Francisco Botanical Garden features thousands of types of plants from all over the planet.
You’ll find significant collections of magnolias, rhododendrons, and camellias in the garden, as well as rare South American and Southeast Asian high-elevation palms. The magnolia collection is the largest outside China.
There is a garden dedicated to native California plants, where you can enjoy a stroll through coast redwoods and the vibrant colors of wildflowers in the spring and early summer. Look for birds and insects too!
The Great Meadow is a place to relax and enjoy the sunshine on nice weather days, or to have a picnic. Off the meadow is the beautiful Fountain Plaza.
The San Francisco Botanical Garden is open daily, from 7.30 a.m. until 7.00 p.m. (last entry 6 p.m.) between mid-March and September. During the rest of the year, last entry times vary from 4.00 p.m. to 5 p.m. General adult admission is $10.00.
San Francisco Botanical Garden, 1199 9th Ave, San Francisco, CA 94122
Sonoma Botanical Garden, Glen Ellen
Located just about eight miles north of the city of Sonoma, the Sonoma Botanical Garden celebrates plants native to Asia and to California.
Most of the Asian plants have been grown from seed, gathered on collecting expeditions to China, Japan, India, and other Asian countries.
The garden is located in an abandoned quarry, and used to be called Quarryhill Botanical Garden. It houses one of the largest collections of Asian plants of documented wild origin.
With the addition of Three Springs Ranch in 1998, the garden showcases California botany as well.
Wander the meandering paths around the hillside garden to view numerous mature specimens up close. You will find many types of maples, rhododendrons, dogwoods, magnolias, oaks, wild roses, and lilies, among other varieties.
There are water fountains that draw birds, and ponds with floating lily pads. Some of the upper paths offer views of the surrounding valley.
Just at the entrance to the garden, the Jiang Entian Chinese Heritage Rose Garden features many of the roses that led to the development of modern hybrids. Vineyards line the road up the slight incline to the start of the botanical garden.
Although the garden is beautiful all year, spring and fall are particularly beautiful, with many species in bloom in the spring, and color from maples in the fall.
Sonoma Botanical Garden is open Wednesdays through Mondays, from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. General adult admission, at the time of writing, is $12.00.
Sonoma Botanical Garden, 12841 Highway 12, Glen Ellen, CA 95442
UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley
The University of California Botanical Garden at Berkeley was established as far back as 1890, and has over 10,000 varieties of plants, many of them rare or endangered.
Sprawling over 34 acres, the garden is a must-see if you are a garden lover visiting the San Francisco area.
Outdoor collections in the UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley are mainly organized by region.
About a third of the garden houses California natives. Look for beautiful manzanitas and ceanothus, and a variety of wildflowers that bloom in the spring, from poppies to wild iris.
The Asian section of the garden contains several hundred varieties of Japanese plants of wild origin. Look for azalea blooms in the spring and color from Japanese maples in the fall.
There is an herb garden and also a Chinese Medicinal herb garden, with plants used in traditional Chinese medicine.
We love wandering the Garden of Old Roses here: you will find many antique roses here, with other companion plantings such as hollyhocks and foxgloves. The beds will transport you to England! Plus, the garden offers great views across the bay to San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge!
The UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley is open only by reservation at the time of writing. General adult admission costs $15.00, and tickets can be purchased at the garden website.
UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley, 200 Centennial Dr, Berkeley, CA 94720
The Ruth Bancroft Garden & Nursery
The Ruth Bancroft Garden & Nursery is a small garden, at about 3.5 acres, but you will find beautiful blooms to admire in every season.
The garden houses a good collection of succulents and other drought-tolerant plants from all over the world. Some varieties in the garden are common, but others are rare.
Founder Ruth Bancroft, who had built up a large collection of potted succulents, established the garden in the early 1970s, and built it up into one of the finest examples of water-conserving gardens anywhere. In the 1990s, the garden opened to the public.
Wander the winding paths through the gardens to admire the mature cacti, succulents, and other drought-resistant plants that thrive in the Mediterranean climate of the East Bay. There is a lovely koi pond.
The holidays are an especially fun time to visit, as the garden is lit up. The nursery carries cacti and succulents for purchase.
From aloes and aeoniums to bromeliads, echverias, and yuccas, you will find a large variety of plants in the garden. There are docents generally available to answer questions, and with your admission, you receive a pamphlet highlighting plants in bloom at the time of your visit.
The Ruth Bancroft Garden is open Tuesdays through Sundays from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. (last entry 3.15 p.m.). General adult admission is $10.00 at the time of writing. Dogs on leash are allowed.
Ruth Bancroft Garden & Nursery, 1552 Bancroft Road, Walnut Creek, CA 94598
Hakone Gardens, saratoga
Over 100 years old, Hakone Gardens is one of the oldest Japanese estates in the west. Spread over 18 acres in the Saratoga hills, Hakone is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Originally a private family summer home, today the estate is run by a foundation.
The gardens feature cherry blossoms near the entrance, which look stunning when in bloom in early spring. You will many traditional elements from Japanese gardens here, such as a moon bridge, lanterns, koi ponds, and a zen garden. There are multiple waterfalls.
Plantings include a bamboo garden, with specimens donated from around the world. The wisteria pavilion looks gorgeous when it is in bloom, and you will find camellias, magnolias, hydrangeas, fuyu persimmon, and Japanese garden juniper, among other varieties.
Japanese tea ceremonies are offered Monday through Friday. If you opt to enjoy one, allow for about one hour. The tea ceremony rooms are entered via the serene Tea Garden moss and stepping stones.
Hakone Gardens are open daily, weekdays between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. and weekends from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m between March and October. Winter hours are from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. on weekdays and from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. on weekends. General adult admission in $10.00 at the time of writing.
Hakone Gardens, 21000 Big Basin Way, Saratoga, CA 95070
UC Santa Cruz Arboretum & Botanic Garden
With 135 acres filled with unique and rare species of plants from Mediterranean climates, the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum & Botanic Garden is one of the best Bay Area gardens to put on your must-visit list.
The UC Santa Cruz Botanic Garden is home to large collections of plants from Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, as well as numerous native California species. Specialties include plants that grow from bulbs, and conifers.
Visit in winter to see the magnificent proteas in bloom in the South African Garden. The California Garden contains coast redwoods, coast live oaks, ponderosa pines, Douglas firs, and madrones, along with many native grasses.
You will see some rare Channel Island plants here are well, including the showy bush poppy.
We especially love wandering the Aroma Garden, where salvias of different kinds, lavenders, oreganos, and thymes can be viewed. Gently rubbing a single leaf can release a whiff of the aroma for added delight. Bees and butterflies love the Aroma Garden.
Birdwatchers should bring their binoculars or zoom lens: the garden is an excellent spot for birdwatching. From raptors and mourning doves to swallows and flycatchers, you can see a variety of birds here.
The UC Santa Cruz Arboretum & Garden is open daily between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. General adult admission at the time of writing is $10.00.
UC Santa Cruz Arboretum & Botanic Garden, Arboretum Rd, Santa Cruz, CA 95064
Gamble Garden, Palo Alto
The historic home and gardens at Gamble Garden are set on 2.5 acres in Old Palo Alto. The home was built in 1902, and the formal gardens were laid out in 1908. Elizabeth F. Gamble, one of the Gambles’ four children, returned to live at the home after college. She spent many years developing the garden, and left the home and garden to the city upon her death.
The Gamble Garden is known for its significant collection of camellias. It also includes a beautiful rose garden, a cutting garden, a wisteria garden, and a formal herb garden.
There is also a demonstration garden and an allée that contains flowering crabapple trees. Spring through fall are great times to visit.
The rose garden contains more than four dozen varieties of heritage roses. In the wisteria garden, you will find double lavender Japanese wisteria, which looks stunning when in bloom. Plantings of perennials, annuals, and bulbs mean that there is always something blooming in the garden.
Wander the herb garden to discover herbs used in many different cuisines. The orchard contains espaliered antique varieties of pears and apples, and citrus trees as well. In the Native Garden, Pacific Coast iris hybrids put on a show in late winter.
Gamble Garden is open everyday during daylight hours. It is free to enter, but donations are much appreciated.
Gamble Garden, 1431 Waverley St, Palo Alto, CA 94301
Filoli Historic House & Garden, Woodside
Originally a private residence, Filoli was opened to the public in the late 1970s. Spread over 654 acres, the property includes the historic home, gardens, orchard, and nature preserve. The landscaped gardens and houses cover about 16 acres.
Filoli is beautiful in every season. In the spring, you will find lovely displays of tulips and daffodils. In the summer and fall, roses, salvias, and zinnias offer dazzling color. And magnolias, citrus, camellias, and paperwhites are in bloom during the winter.
The gardens are laid out in formal English Renaissance style, with lots of hedges and yew-lined avenues. The Walled Garden contains crabapple and cherry trees that look spectacular in the spring. The Sunken Garden has a water feature with floating water lilies, surrounded by flower beds. The Pool Pavilion is another great spot for photos.
Beyond the formal gardens, you can hike a trail through the Filoli Nature Preserve. The one-mile trail takes you through some of the ecosystems on the estate, with lots of flora to admire. Keep your eyes open for birds and wildlife as you walk.
Filoli is open everyday from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. General adult admission, at the time of writing, is $25.00, and advance reservations are required.
Filoli, 86 Cañada Road, Woodside, CA 94062
The Gardens at Heather Farms, Walnut Creek
The Gardens at Heather Farms are set on six acres in the rolling hills of Ygnacio Valley in Walnut Creek, just a couple of miles from downtown. The beautiful gardens are a must-visit in the East Bay.
The garden features over a dozen themed areas, with the rose garden its focal point. The Cowden Rose Garden has more than 1,000 plants and is a dazzling display of color when in bloom, generally from spring through fall.
With a covered gazebo and many varieties from David Austin roses to hybrids and floribundas, the garden will delight any rose lover.
The Diablo Ascent Garden offers gorgeous views of Mount Diablo. Here you will find many California natives. Other gardens to explore here include the Sensory Garden, rich with fragrant plants, and the Waterfall Garden, which features eleven cascades.
The Meadow Garden includes a large lawn, perfect for relaxing on a nice weather day. If you visit in the spring, you will be captivated by the display of daffodils on Daffodil Hill.
Birdwatchers should allow for some time in the Riparian Garden, where plantings are massed along creeks.
The Gardens at Heather Farm are open daily during daylight hours. Admission is free. Parts or all of the gardens may be closed for private events, so inquire before you visit.
The Gardens at Heather Farm, 1540 Marchbanks Dr, Walnut Creek, CA 94598
Tilden Regional Parks Botanic Garden, Berkeley
Established in 1940, the Regional Parks Botanic Garden is dedicated to showcasing the native flora of California. The garden is located in scenic Wildcat Canyon, in the North Berkeley hills. It is one of the best botanical gardens in the Bay Area.
The garden features one of the most comprehensive collections of California manzanitas you can see anywhere. They look beautiful in bloom (in January), but their smooth red bark looks stunning a swell.
You will also find oaks and conifers, grasses, bulbs, and aquatic plants. Many of the plants in the garden are rare and endangered.
The Regional Parks Botanic Garden is divided into ten geographical sections, and includes plants native to the Channel Islands, the Shasta-Klamath region, Sierra, and Redwood, for a wide variety from all parts of the Golden State. You will find something in bloom year round.
From November through early March, you can attend the Wayne Roderick Lecture Series and slide shows in the Visitor Center on Saturdays. The garden also conducts a plant sale each spring and fall.
The Tilden Regional Parks Botanic Garden is open Monday through Sunday, from 8.30 a.m. until 5.30 p.m. in the summer and from 8.30 a.m. until 5 p.m. in the winter. Admission is free.
Tilden Regional Parks Botanic Garden, Wildcat Canyon Road, Berkeley, CA 94708
Municipal Rose Garden, San Jose
Once upon a time a prune orchard, the Municipal Rose Garden in San Jose was established in 1927. It is spread over 5.5 acres, and is a beautiful garden to stroll through if you are visiting the South Bay.
With rolling green lawns, a few redwood trees, and close to 200 varieties of roses arranged in beds, the garden looks stunning when in peak bloom. Rose arbors offer added interest, and there is a large fountain in the center. There are several thousand rose plants to admire here!
Bring a picnic to enjoy on the lawn, or a blanket and a book to read on a nice weather day. Flower photographers will love the garden, because you can get great close-up shots of beautiful blooms and buds. Locals love relaxing here as well. Dogs are not permitted in the garden, but you will find folks walking their dogs along its perimeter.
Most of the plants in the garden are hybrid teas, and the bloom season is April through November, although you may find blooms from December through March as well.
The San Jose Municipal Rose Garden is open daily, from 8 a.m. until an hour after sunset. Admission is free, and there is street parking along the perimeter.
San Jose Municipal Rose Garden, 1649 Naglee Ave, San Jose, CA 95126
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2 thoughts on “13 Bay Area Gardens to Visit in and around San Francisco, California”
Dhara, I thoroughly enjoyed this article. Thank you for writing and sharing it! I wasn’t aware of any of the gardens in the East Bay so I’m happy to know about them. I will be taking my mother-in-law to some of these when she comes to visit this month.
I am so glad you enjoyed the article, and I hope you and your mother-in-law enjoy the gardens. April is a beautiful time to visit!