AN URBAN JUNGLE
One of the best things about living in or visiting San Francisco is your access to nature. While San Francisco is a colorful, sophisticated, cultural hub, its urban jungles abound. An area that was once comprised of sand dunes, now boasts one of the largest city parks in the U.S.
Golden Gate National Park consists of 1,017 lush acres of parkland, and within that acreage are a multitude of destinations you don’t want to miss. These include: the beautiful de Young Museum with views of the entire city from its rooftop observation deck, the California Academy of Sciences’ Steinhart Aquarium, Strawberry Hill, an island on the very charming Stowe Lake, an antique 1914 Merry-Go-Round, and a gorgeous botanical garden. But two of my personal must-see favorites are the Japanese Tea Garden and the The Conservatory of Flowers.
Originally built as part of the World's Fair in 1894, The Japanese Tea Garden is a peaceful retreat in the middle of a bustling city. The landscaping pays tribute to traditional Japanese gardens with meandering pathways, intricate carved wooden gates and a series of koi ponds. Bamboo, bonsai plants, flowering camellias, magnolias and cherry trees (which are not to be missed when in bloom in March and April) paint the landscape. The garden also features a large bronze Buddha and a five-story pagoda built in 1915 for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition. Be sure to stop in to the tea house as well for a soothing cup of hot tea and a traditional fortune cookie before heading on to your next stop in the park, the Conservatory of Flowers.
The Conservatory of Flowers is breathtaking. Rare botanicals and exotic plants from all over the world are housed in this romantic, Victorian-era glass and wood greenhouse. Large orchids hang from every nook and cranny and lily ponds and praying mantis abound. My favorite time to visit is when the weather is ideally “San Franciscan” -- a foggy day adds a bit of mystery to the Conservatory with plants shrouded in a decidedly eerie and fine mist. And if you’re looking for the perfect picnic spot, the sprawling lawn in front of the conservatory is lovely. Listen for the impromptu jazz trio that often plays under the bridge facing the garden. The acoustics are a perfect pairing to your picnic. Make note – entrance is free on every first Tuesday of the month!
While you’re out visiting Golden Gate Park you might like to stop into the nearby General Store, located in San Francisco's Outer Sunset neighborhood, which houses a tiny, very charming greenhouse. General Store founders and creative couple, Serena Mitnik-Miller and Mason St. Oeter, invited local visual artist Jesse Schlesinger to design and erect this quaint structure in the back of the shop. Follow the ‘Welcome’ sign on the shop’s back door down to the mossy green stone path and out to the sweet little greenhouse where you’ll find a plethora of succulents and cacti. Be sure to bring your camera -- it’s absolutely photo-worthy!
On the other side of the city is San Francisco’s lively North Beach. Plan to enjoy the neighborhood’s famed Italian fare while taking in its stunning views. You can work off all that gelato, bread and pasta by climbing the Filbert and Greenwich Street Steps for one of the best views the city has to offer – atop Telegraph Hill and Coit Tower.
But my favorite part of the steps would be its enchanting overgrown gardens. There are quaint little homes along the old wooden Filbert Steps which are only accessible on foot. It’s these neighbors that tend to the pretty gardens and to the
The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill -- the subject of the 2003 documentary, which are often seen along the steps. If you haven’t had your fill of food down in North Beach, I recommend bringing it along for a picnic on one of the many benches among the lush, serene gardens and take in the panoramic views.
Finally, I highly recommend a trip out to Flora Grubb Nursery in the newly reinvented Bay View/Hunter’s Point area of San Francisco. The namesake of this massive urban garden stems from its owners’ well-apt moniker: Flora Grubb. Here, eclectic meets industrial vibes, specializing in eco-friendly plants that don’t require mass quantities of precious water, as well as bohemian furniture and home garden accessories. I love the colorful folding chairs hung sky high from the nursery’s barn siding – almost too pretty to take down. There’s also a tiny cafe serving Ritual Coffee and an outdoor dining patio where customers can take a break from plant shopping and bask in a little San Francisco sunshine.