San Francisco Botanical Gardens – 55 Acres Of Plant Diversity

The San Francisco Botanical Garden (originally called, somewhat unattractively, the Strybing Arboretum) is a living museum in Golden Gate Park, with plants from around the globe, including some that no longer grow in their natural habitat. Meander through 55 acres of pathways to see more than 8,000 species of plants in landscaped gardens, meadows and open spaces.

Highlights here are the magnificent Magnolia Collection, the best outside of China; the Mesoamerican, Andean, and Southeast Asian Cloud Forest collections; the California Native Garden and Redwood Grove; the Ancient Plant Garden; the Conifer Collection… the list goes on. But let's not forget the Fragrance Garden.

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The Magnolia Collection

The Magnolia Collection

Magnolias are the signature flower of the San Francisco Botanical Gardens due to the city's ideal climate for cultivating the magnificent prehistoric flower. The Garden is home to one of the most significant magnolia collections outside China, where the species originated. The current collection includes fifty-four species and forty-nine cultivars (a plant variety that has been produced by selective breeding), with many important specimens from Asia.

The start of the New Year in San Francisco is a special time — it's when nearly 100 magnolias burst into bloom. You'll be tickled pink (so to speak) by the breathtaking natural marvel as silver buds on the often-bare branches of these elegant, rare historic trees, open into bold pink, magenta, and white flowers. The wintery garden is punctuated with dramatic sweeps of color and fragrant aromas.

If you're visiting San Francisco sometime from January to March, consider heading to the Botanical Gardens for free Magnolia Walk maps, a magnolia mobile app, workshops and a special Magnolias by Moonlight tour.

The Magnolia Collection started in 1939 when the first Garden Director, Eric Walther planted the garden's very first magnolia. He continued to introduce new species and cultivars throughout his tenure. Famous species that he planted include the cup-and-saucer magnolia, the first of its kind to bloom in the USA. It attracted huge crowds, who stood in long lines to see the large pink blossoms of this special magnolia.

Did You Know?

The magnolia family — Magnoliaceae — was named for French botanist Pierre Magnol. Many paleo-botanists consider it to be one of the earliest flowering plant families in history. Magnolia fossils date 100 million years to when dinosaurs roamed the earth. Magnolia flowers are pollinated by beetles, since bees didn't yet exist. Magnolias are a hearty bunch and have survived several Ice Ages.

The Ancient Plant Garden

Ancient Plant Garden

At the San Francisco Botanical Gardens you can also see ancient palms, fanning out from stout trunks, that grew alongside dinosaurs during the Jurassic Period. They're officially called cycads and they're the first cone-bearing seed plants to come from subtropical and tropical regions of Africa, Australia and Mexico. These are some of the discoveries you'll make in the Ancient Plant Garden, which takes you on a journey through time. Follow pathways that take you to areas dedicated to the Early Devonian, Pennsylvanian, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods.

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The Mesoamerican Cloud Forest

In the Mesoamerican Cloud Forest you'll discover plants and epiphytes that grow in the cool, moist, foggy climate of the high-elevation tropical forests of Central and South America. On the southern side of the meadow, look for the pink blossoms of the fuchsia plant. A native plant of Mexico and Panama, there are more than 100 native fuchsia species found in Central and South America, Tahiti, New Zealand and the West Indies.

The Mesoamerican Cloud Forest was first planted in 1984 and, over the years, this garden has matured to represent a complex cloud forest's plant ecosystem

Cloud Forest Collections

Cloud Forest

The cool climate and fog make San Francisco a lousy place to grow tomatoes, but its unique conditions makes it possible to grow plants found in high altitudes of Mexico's highlands. The plants can thrive here at sea level because of the moist air and mild temperatures.

Head to the southwest corner of the San Francisco Botanical Gardens to find native species of the tropical mountains in Mexico, Central, and South America. The feeling is of an actual cloud forest — trees, shrubs, ground cover, ferns, and vines create a mass of dense vegetation not often found in this neck of the woods.

In the 1960s, Dennis Breedlove, a botanist and curator at the California Academy of Sciences, began work on the flora of Mexico's southernmost state, Chiapas. Dr. Breedlove collected herb specimens, and brought back seeds that he thought had the possibility of surviving in cultivation. Decades later, his experiment matured into a dazzling collection of exotic botanicals.

Did You Know?

Cloud Forests are found at high elevations (between 6,000 to 10,000 feet) and are characterized by low temperatures, high clouds and a low evaporation rate. Walking through the misty, damp and foggy cloud forest is like drifting through the clouds.

Redwood Grove and California Natives

Redwood Grove

Among the many beautiful gardens, the Redwood Grove is a favorite. Visitors are surprised to find that they don't have to leave San Francisco to see these magnificent trees. This century-old grove is full of towering giants known as Coast Redwoods or Sequoias. Their dazzling height creates a sanctuary for shade-loving plants that live beneath the giants, like ferns, currants, and huckleberry. Redwoods are the tallest living things on the planet and are well-adapted to their growing conditions.

Old-growth coast redwoods once flourished on more than two million acres but have been reduced by extensive logging. The redwoods at San Francisco Botanical Garden were planted at the turn of the 20th century and are the oldest trees in the Garden.

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High Elevation Palms

It sounds like an old Clint Eastwood movie, but high elevation palm species include some that grow at 11,000 feet in their native habitats. San Francisco's year-round moderate temperatures and high humidity allows for the successful cultivation of extremely rare heat-intolerant palm species. No other botanical garden in the USA can successfully cultivate these palms, many of which are endangered. One of them is Ceroxylon quindiuense, the tallest of all palms that grows to 200 feet in height.

Mediterranean Climate Habitats

Mediterranean Climate Habitats

In this part of the garden you'll find rare plants that flourish in the Bay Area, including collections from other Mediterranean climates in Australia, California, Chile and South Africa. Winter is the best time of year to see the Australian Garden; many plants are in bloom including species of Grevillea, Correa, and Banksia. This garden showcases a colorful tapestry of leaves and flowers representing one of the most fascinating in the plant kingdom.

April and May are the best times to see California natives at their peak, as the garden buzzes with pollinators. See wild lilacs in a carpet of iris and poppies in the Arthur L. Menzies Garden of California Native Plants. Popular plants are the California buckeye, western wild ginger, wild lilac and red elderberry.

The four-acre Menzies Garden features ponds, woodlands, and a wildflower meadow. Many believe that it is the most beautifully planned and maintained public garden in the country.

Learning and Community

At the San Francisco Botanical Gardens there's plenty of opportunity to learn, discover, and delight in the world of plants. There are a plethora of hands-on program for children, families, and adults. The Learning and Community Engagement programs build community and nurture the bond between people and plants. Find out more here at their website.

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San Francisco Botanical Gardens Resources

Located in Golden Gate Park, near Ninth Avenue and Lincoln Way. There are two entrances — the Main Gate on Ninth Avenue, and the North Gate on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.

  • Open daily, starting at 7:30 AM
  • The last entry time changes with the seasons: 4:00 PM in winter and 6:00 PM in spring and summer.
  • The garden closes one hour after the last entry.
  • Website

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