Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park

A visit to the Japanese Tea House and Garden creates an intense awakening of the senses with the sounds of an azalea-covered waterfall, the sights of regal lanterns and statues, and the intoxicating scent of sweet wisteria and other magical blooms. With a history dotted with devotion and creativity, the Japanese Tea House and Garden has been a favorite stop for guests touring the Golden Gate Park. Although the name of this incredible site suggests you’d stop by for a sip of tea, this is probably the least enticing draw associated with this alluring attraction.

japanese tea garden golden gate park

Exploring the Sights

As you enter the Main Gate of the Japanese Tea Garden, you will encounter the Monterey Pine, which Hagiwara relocated in 1900 from the Golden Gate Park oceanfront to its current home. Venturing through the Main Gate, remnants of the original site are in view, including the columns of the Music Concourse from the 1894 Expo.

Just inside the Main Gate, glance to your left to encounter a clipped hedge in the form of Mt. Fuji. This feature pays tribute to Hagiwara’s Japanese roots, which were located close to this highest mountain in Japan. If you stop by the Japanese Tea House for a cup of tea, you can also catch sight of this attraction when peering beyond the pond.

To the left of the Mt. Fuji Hedge, you will find the Dragon Hedge, decorated with a backdrop of illuminating bamboo. Also located close to the Main Gate, you may relax in the company of delicate irises and dwarf trees. It is here that a pathway filled with character, guides you to the Drum Bridge, where mesmerizing greenery and a noble Chinese pine reside. Reflecting a perfect circle, the Drum Bridge represents part of the 1894 Japanese Village.

When you reach the Gift Shop, you will encounter a peaceful waterfall setting surrounded by wisteria, azaleas, dwarf trees, and the Japanese maple tree. To the far left, the Japanese wisteria originates from the early-1900 specimens planted by Hagiwara. A small lake with island décor is situated in this section of the park, which was also part of the original Japanese Village. This sight is located in front of the Japanese Tea House, which additionally provides a view of the Gift Shop beyond the greenery.

Located close to the Gift Shop, an impressively carved water basin (in the shape of a boat) is positioned. This feature offers the traditional washing of the hands before entering the Tea Room. If you venture between the Gift Shop and the Asian Art Museum, a large keyaki tree, which precedes Hagiwara’s grand landscaping efforts is found. In the vicinity, you may also visit the Sunken Garden, which was designed in the same area where the Hagiwara’s former residence was stood.

Another sight worth a look includes the Pagoda, which measures five stories. This attraction once graced the 1915 Japanese exhibit at the Panama-Pacific Exposition. Pagodas hold a special place in Far East culture, as they serve as Buddhist shrines. The nine rings on this particular example symbolize the different heavens of the gods. Situated behind the Pagoda, the Zen Garden filled with bonsai trees and azaleas presents a mini-mountain setting, complete with stone waterfall and a river made of white gravel.

Upon exiting this wondrous attraction through the Main Gate, you may notice a large stone decorated with a bronze plague. It is here that you will find the words, “To honor Makoto Hagiwara and his family who nurtured and shared this garden from 1895–1942.”

Japanese Tea House and Garden History

The historical roots of the Japanese Tea House were firmly planted in 1894 when the Japanese Tea Garden was established to showcase a Japanese Village for the California Midwinter International Exposition (also referred to as the World’s Fair). Today, the Japanese Tea Garden is heralded as the oldest public Japanese garden in all of the United States.

While the majority of the Golden Gate Park design and growth is credited to a man, who is said to have planted two million trees in his lifetime, John McLaren allowed another to design and groom the Japanese Tea Garden. In an attempt to share a piece of his culture, an affluent Japanese landscape designer named Makoto Hagiwara wished to transform the temporary World’s Fair exhibit into a permanent fixture of the Golden Gate Park.

In the end, Hagiwara was responsible for erecting the Tea House, the garden, and the pavilions. He constructed a large public arena, as well as a small private setting for his family to dwell while he looked after the greenery. The garden was eventually expanded to reach close to five acres, exceeding the original space by four acres of land. Hagiwara not only perfected the landscaping, but also imported a wealth of authentic tributes to his homeland, including rare Japanese birds, goldfish, bronze items, and plants.

The new garden was also decorated with an assortment of appealing statues, such as a wooden Buddha, a Shinto Shrine, stately eagles with spread wings, and a porcelain lantern.

Between 1895 and 1942, Hagiwara and his family resided, cared for, and furthered the development of the Japanese Tea Garden, until an unfortunate event occurred. World War II struck and the family was forced from their home and ushered off to concentration camps with other Japanese Americans. The garden was then given the name “The Oriental Tea Garden.” During wartime, many of the beautiful arrangements were destroyed or removed, sculptures vanished, and many plants succumbed from lack of care.

Today, there are flashes of the original Japanese Tea Garden, such as the Monterey pine located by the Main Gate, but overall, much of the original tea garden has been erased. In 1952, the garden was officially renamed the Japanese Tea Garden once more, and in 1953, a 9,000 pound Japanese offering called the Lantern of Peace was placed on the premises in an effort to ease the tensions associated with the past.

Things to Do

a) Meditate and Relax: The scenery of and surrounding the Japanese Tea House is one that encourages, promotes, and fosters meditation and relaxation. Finding a quiet corner filled with indulgent scents and creative energy is an easy task to accomplish when it comes to reading a book or finding peace within.

b) Sip Tea: While tea drinking takes a far backseat to the visual excitement of the Japanese Tea House, you may nonetheless purchase a cup to sip while roaming about the captivating grounds.

c) Capture Creative Greenery: When visiting the Japanese Tea House, it is a must to carry along a camera so you may capture this gentle moment forever. The enchanting landscape to the colorful blooms to the striking architecture, you are never at a loss when it comes to creating a special memory.

d) Take Wedding Photos: While the Hagiwara Gate is a terrific place to execute and grab hold of the perfect wedding snapshot; there are plenty of locations beyond the entrance that set a memorable scene. The brick terrace, the Sunken Garden, the Temple Gate, as well as the Crane Sculptures are all worthy options.

e) Purchase a Souvenir: Explore a handful of Japanese-inspired souvenirs as you visit the Gift Shop. Don’t forget to bring cash on hand when visiting this attraction because both the Gift Shop and the Japanese Tea House do not accept credit cards.

Contact Details

Location: The Japanese Tea Garden and House is located on the corner of Tea Garden at Martin Luther King, Jr. within the Golden Gate Park.

Phone Number: 415-752-4227, 415-752-1171, or 415-750-5105


Summer Hours (3/1 through 10/31): 9:00 am to 6:00 pm
Winter Hours (11/1 through 2/28): 9:00 am to 4:45 pm

Free admission when entering the gardens before 10:00am on Mon, Wed, Fri.

Interesting Fact: The designer of the Japanese Tea House and Garden, Makoto Hagiwara, is often credited with the invention and introduction of the popular fortune cookie concept to the American public.

17 Responses to “Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park”

  1. Chuck Kellar
    March 11, 2011 at 10:24 pm #

    I visited the garden some years ago and hope to return. Wonderful moments were had in this beautiful location. The garden is a must see and experience!

  2. Mackenzie Kelly
    March 11, 2011 at 10:25 pm #

    I’ve never gone to the Japanese Te Garden, but my Girl Scout troop is going to bridge to Cadettes and we might stop by the Tea Garden. I’ve read about and seen pictures and it sounds and looks just gorgeous!!!!!!!

  3. May Chow
    March 11, 2011 at 10:26 pm #

    I was (read was becausei will never join again) member of the conservatory of flowers which allows members to visit the tea garden for free. Unfortunatelyh the Indian woman and the Chinese man at the ticket entrance would not accept my membership. I Vow never again to return to the garden or be a paid member again.

  4. Kats Nakatani
    June 8, 2011 at 11:57 am #

    Correction: The Tea House, Drum Bridge, Pavilion, Bell Gate, Water Fall, Torii and etc was already built by Shinshichi Nakatani for the Japanese Village in 1894 (California Midwinter International Exposition) Makoto Hagiwara had nothing to do with original 1894 CMIE. He came in three months after the 1894 Expo. Why did they changed the name of Japanese Village into Japanese Tea Garden is strange move. Don’t forget, the true history of the original builders has been unknown for over one hundred years! Hagiwara plaque in the Tea Garden says they came in “1895”!! There is a plaque for Nakatani placed behind the Drum Bridge where only .05% of the visitors can see and read it……..another strange SF Park’s move !!!

    • seigaiha
      August 10, 2013 at 4:24 pm #

      Very helpful comments, Kats. I would be interested to learn more. –cn.

      • Kats Nakatani
        December 10, 2013 at 7:34 pm #

        Hello Saigiaha, Learn more: Please click into website: familynakatani.com. There you will see my website and how I have challenged the SF Parks and Rec. Dept. with my documents. I am still trying to get their side of it’s history corrected. Their “City Guide” says “the garden was created by Makoto Hagiwara.” Impossible: his plaque in the Tea garden says, he came in 1895……… the Exposition was held in 1894 !!!! all the structures were all ready built in time for the California Midwinter International Exposition,1894!!! I am set to meet the SF Park Commissioners on Jan 9th. (at the Tea garden) Kats

    • Lori Baker
      September 30, 2013 at 8:01 pm #

      Sadly also, as I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area In the 1970’s We were told by our teachers the the tea gardens were Chinese. Why was this? I visited the tea gardens many times as a school outing, and never was this corrected. Sadly, due to the cost of living 1998 I was forced to move out of the area, and to never return. Growing up in an area with so many cultures was a wonderful experience to me and I am so glad that we live in a society that wants to be socially correct. I just found out today that the tea gardens are Japanese and I am 50+. I am back in college getting a higher degree, and for world history doing a report on the city I so love.

      • Kats Nakatani
        December 10, 2013 at 8:15 pm #

        Dear Baker,

        Tea Garden Please click into familynakatani: I am a Nakatani. Shinshichi Nakatani is my Great Grand Uncle. He was the Master Shrine Builder from Jigozen mura-Saike Gun, Hiroshima ken, Japan…….where both of my parents migrated to USA. Any questions you may have concerning my Great Grand Uncle and his contribution to the San Francisco’s; California Midwinter International Exposition,1894, please email me. and I shall do my best. Warning: I am not a College Graduate. During my time in High school was to get up at 3:00 AM, start up an old Federal truck, go to LA City Wholesale Produce Market, unload his truck, deliver what he sold before 7:00 AM, catch a bus back to Norwalk, catch a taxi to Excelsior Hi (if the taxi is not there I would run two miles to school and try not to be tardy. My dad had money to retire, for my father’s bank account was seized because he was an Issei; ‘A Enemy Alien”. He had saved enough money to retire in those two banks……………..he never saw it………he died at young age at 53. He lived a clean life, never been arrested nor gambled. When I visited Hiroshima seeking any information concerning Shinshichi’s contribution for 1894 Expo, his grand son’s bride said to me, are all the Nakatanis in America being honest and living a clean life? Yes, we must. Shinshichi left us a great legacy. In Japan, he is called a Jinkakusha a statesman. Or better? Kats

  5. carol
    July 15, 2011 at 7:16 pm #

    I visited the tea gardens several times in the past. We have a trip planned to sf this month, and thought about going to the gardens again. I go to feel what it was meant to be, what I have felt in the past is a commerical enterprise. I don’t think I will make another visit.

  6. Melissa
    September 4, 2011 at 6:18 am #

    What is the cost for the Tea Gardens? I was there years ago and I remember a fee but do not recall how much.

  7. Mike Martinez
    September 6, 2011 at 9:04 pm #

    This is a must for anyone who visits the park!

  8. Name
    November 27, 2011 at 5:52 pm #

    Wanted to visit the tea garden but changed our minds after encountering the unfriendly clerk at the entrance. Apparently he wasn’t in the thanksgiving spirit.

  9. Kristie
    January 5, 2012 at 7:18 pm #

    I went earlier this year & I believe it was $6 to get in. Well worth it for all of the photo opportunities. This place is beautiful.

  10. djmania
    January 10, 2012 at 1:14 pm #

    I love it

  11. Mai
    January 29, 2012 at 12:02 am #

    When are the dogwoods in bloom? I’d like to go take some pictures during that time.

  12. Ellyn
    December 6, 2012 at 5:08 pm #

    This Golden Gate Park website does not provide enough information.

    Here’s a link to the Japanese Tea Garden: http://japaneseteagardensf.com/visit.php

    This has admission prices as well as parking info.

  13. Melinda Torres
    April 13, 2013 at 2:50 am #

    My favorite place in the park! Used to go almost every week with my mom as a kid to drink tea or just explore the garden. So tranquil and beautiful!

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