May you live in interesting times. Such is the Chinese blessing and curse. And the times certainly are interesting. Since we are unable or unwilling to travel right now due to COVID-19, we are focusing on our home town of San Francisco and its immediate surrounding area. This week we took a trip to Golden Gate Park.
Golden Gate Park’s History
Golden Gate Park was originally created in 1870 in an area known at Outside Lands. Why Outside Lands? Because it was in an unincorporated area. Not only that, but it was described as an area of shifting sands with little vegetation. It was an area outside of where most people wanted to live. It would take a lot of time and work to make it a park that people would enjoy. European beach grass was brought in to cover over the sand. The first building, the Conservatory, was constructed in 1879. A playground was built. And by 1882, over 100,000 trees were planted, 250 acres were cultivated and road and several bridges were built. San Francisco had its park.
In 1894, it became the site of the first world’s fair in the U.S. that was west of the Mississippi. The fair was to introduce California’s weather to those who were experiencing cold winters. It was also conceived to create jobs and stimulate the local economy, during a time when California and the rest of the country was struggling during a depression. In preparation for the fair (called the California Midwinter International Exposition), the city built several buildings including the Japanese Tea Garden (which still exists today) and the original building for the current de Young Museum.
Then after the famous 1906 San Francisco earthquake and resultant fire that destroyed much of the city, 200,000 homeless residents made this their temporary home.
Today the park has large open meadows where dogs run, children play and people just hang out for a picnic or a bit of sun. You can rent a paddle boat to explore the lake. Or walk, jog or hike along the many trails. Don’t forget the gardens with beautiful flowers blooming at all times of the year. It has plenty of recreational areas like archery, basketball, golf, or racquetball. And the list of activities goes on and on and on. It even has an international cannabis day where hundreds of cannabis smokers congregate on 4/20 each year. The park is a true gem for locals and visitors.
Japanese Tea Garden
Golden Gate Park is especially a welcome site during the COVID-19 pandemic as it provides a lot of space for residents and tourists to get away from the crowds while enjoying fresh air and exercise. We just happened to be in the park on the first day that the the Japanese Tea Garden reopened after being closed since March 17, 2020 due to the shelter in place mandate. It reopened again on July 22, 2020.
This is the oldest Japanese Tea Garden in the United States. As noted above, it was built as part of the California Midwinter International Exposition of 1894. While it has a modest entrance fee, it is well worth the cost to wander through its beautiful Japanese-style gardens. As we walked through the gardens, we traversed ponds by walking on stepping stones. Due to social distancing requirements, the pathways were all set up to be one-way in order to help people stay 6 feet apart. We enjoyed the arched drum bridge, pagodas, koi ponds, zen garden and beautiful scenes of Japanese plants. We we visited in July, but if you go during March and April, you’ll also see gorgeous cherry trees blossoming.
When it is open (it is currently closed), you can enjoy tea and fortune cookies at the Tea House while taking in the serene view.