Gardens, Groves, Lakes and Meadows
Whether you're looking for a nice quiet spot to read a book or in search of some awe-inspiring nature, Golden Gate Park features a wide array of gardens, groves, lakes and meadows for you to enjoy, each with its own distinct character and charm.
A Victorian confection of wood and glass, the Conservatory of Flowers, which opened in 1879, is the oldest building in Golden Gate Park and one of San Francisco’s most beloved landmarks. It houses some 1,700 species of aquatic and tropical plants, many of them rare, including a 100-year-old giant Imperial philodendron, a world-renowned collection of orchids, giant water lilies, and carnivorous plants. Special exhibits have included such popular favorites as the Butterfly Zone and the miniature garden railroad.
The Rhododendron Dell is a 20-acre site, located in the heart of Golden Gate Park along Kennedy Drive near the Music Concourse. It was designed to honor John McLaren, the father of Golden Gate Park, with over 850 varieties of his favorite flower. The area includes a pathway system by which a visitor can view the collection. The Dell dates back to the early 1950s. Rhododendrons in Golden Gate Park are truly a labor of love because growing conditions have made it difficult to sustain healthy, long-lasting plants in the past. However, recent renovations and advanced gardening techniques have ensured the existence of the blooms – which provide a visual delight in the springtime.
The San Francisco Botanical Garden at Strybing Arboretum grows and conserves plants from around the world — more than 8,000 varieties in 55 acres of landscaped gardens and open spaces. Stroll through a grove of coast redwoods and a Mediterranean garden, explore cloud forests from meso-America and southeast Asia, and wander gardens of flora from Chile, Australia, Japan, California, and more. The garden’s special collections include rhododendrons, camellias, magnolias, and succulents.
The National AIDS Memorial Grove is a living tribute to all whose lives have been touched by AIDS, and a dedicated space where people can gather to heal, hope, and remember. Its purpose is to ensure that those who have suffered from the AIDS epidemic — both those who have died and those who have shared their struggle — are not forgotten.
While most of Golden Gate Park has been landscaped with lawns, flowerbeds and other ornamental features, a few remnants of San Francisco’s oak woodlands still exist in this world-renowned park. The northeast corner of Golden Gate Park is home to some of the oldest coast live oak trees in San Francisco.
Golden Gate Park never stops blooming, and its gardeners never stop working. The entire park is a garden created out of sand dunes by gardeners’ hands in the 1870s, and generations of gardeners since then have planted many rare and exotic plants throughout the park. And because San Francisco has very little frost and ample winter rain, there is always something growing, flowering, going to seed, or changing color here.
Although Golden Gate Park has beautiful destination gardens, it was designed for folks to “get lost.” Wander any trail and you will find interesting features, surprising plants, magnificent tree groves, and sunny glades. And did you know that there are ten lakes in the park?
Below are just a few hints on the park’s blooming seasons.
Conservatory Valley’s legendary floral displays, installed in October, begin to bloom with annual flowers planted in intricately patterned carpet beds. Across John F. Kennedy Drive from the Conservatory, don’t miss the Tree Fern Dell and hidden Lily Pond. Look for pink-hued magnolias blooming here and there throughout the park, and some rhododendron surprises. The park is a feast of green as plants thrive in winter’s growing season.
In the tree groves, the grass is emerald green. Long walks are fun in Golden Gate Park, with its gentle topography. You can still “feel” the rhythm of the graceful sand dunes underneath the planted park. The carpet beds in Conservatory Valley will be brilliant all spring until late April, possibly early May.
The Queen Wilhelmina Tulip Garden, under the windmill at the park’s west end, is a popular destination now. Tulips are expected to be in fine glory from March 15 through April 15. Spring flowering shrubs are blooming in the park throughout the spring season. One favorite is the fragrant blue or white ceanothus (California lilac), a California native.
If you didn’t make it to the Tulip Garden in March, be sure not to miss it now. While you’re there, check the lovely perennial gardens near the Beach Chalet/Park Chalet restaurants at Ocean Beach for birds and butterflies. The Shakespeare Garden’s crabapple trees are in flower. Wander around the Rhododendron Dell to see what’s blooming and listen to the birds singing. Golden pollen from cypress trees can be seen shimmering in the dappled light and on the surface of lakes.
The Rose Garden will be dazzling from mid-May through July. Bring the whole family and a picnic; a picnic area is just west of the garden. A mysterious redwood grove lies to the east. Conservatory Valley’s display flowerbeds are being changed this month, so there will be no carpet beds in bloom until late June. The nearby Fuchsia Garden will be in flower until November. Lots of trees and shrubs continue to bloom.
The Dahlia Garden, a favorite of photographers and families, will be in radiant color until October. Enjoy the long days of summer with a picnic after work in one of the meadows.
Conservatory Valley delights the eye with its full summer splendor. Climb the de Young Museum’s tower to look down on the park spread out below you, and the city beyond. The tower is always free.
Conservatory Valley’s intricately patterned flowerbeds are at their most spectacular.
This is the last month of the year to enjoy the flowerbeds in Conservatory Valley, although the floral clock and plaque on the slope may last a bit longer. Look for crinum lilies in the Tree Fern Dell across JFK Drive. The Rose Garden shows a flush of fresh blooms this month.
Fall transforms the Japanese Tea Garden’s maples to shades of orange, while sycamores throughout the park turn a translucent gold. In Conservatory Valley, the gardening crew will be removing the annual plants from the flowerbeds and preparing to plant the young starts in new designs.
The Japanese Tea Garden’s magnificent gingko turn butter-yellow mid-month and cover the ground with their startling color.
Winter rains replenish the earth, and the golden grass of summer is renewed in vibrant green.