Whirlwind Garden Visit of Golden Gate Park

Red mangroves (Rhizophora mangle) root in the Living Reef exhibit.

What does a garden nut do when he has two free days (well, actually 2 half days and one free day) in San Francisco? Well, after using my two half-days to visit Fisherman’s Wharf (near my hotel anyway) and join a city bus tour (one half-day) and go to Annie’s Annuals in Richmond with some friends for the other half-day (nice!), I decided to spend my one full day in Golden Gate Park, certainly the city’s horticulture mecca.

I originally intended to visit all the park’s horticultural highlights (San Francisco Botanical Garden, Japanese Tea Garden, Conservatory of Flowers and the California Academy of Sciences with its “rainforest under glass”), but it turned out I didn’t have time for everything and I cut the Conservatory of Flowers from my program. I’ll save it for next time!

The fantastic Rainforest Exhibit under it’s giant dome.

My first stop was the California Academy of Sciences. I’m not a museum person per se, but this was a very interactive museum, with a huge aquarium (nothing like whirling, colourful fish to stimulate my interest), a planetarium (which I didn’t see), exhibits on evolution and how plants and animals island-hop (of special interest, since I’ve been to the Galapagos, I enjoyed that), a really cool earthquake exhibit (hold onto to the railing!) and of course, it’s crowning glory (to my mind): the Rainforest Exhibit. It’s pricey ($29.95 for adults), but worth the cost.

The Rainforest Exhibit mixes rain forests from around the world under a huge (27-meter) dome dotted with round windows. You work your way up following a spiral walkway until you’re in the canopy. Plants galore (none labeled though: a definite deception!), free-flying butterflies and lots of large terrariums with interesting animals, especially colourful frogs.

And you can also go up onto the green roof with native California vegetation. It’s a rather odd green roof, with the windowed dome plus other domes rising up from an otherwise flat surface, all covered with vegetation, but still very interesting.

And did I mention that there was a very nice green wall?

All in all, a great museum I would definitely go back to. Just a rapid tour while skipping many of the exhibits took me more than 2 hours: all the time I had for it.

More about the garden attractions of Golden Gate Park tomorrow coming up.

Looking down on the Rainforest Exhibit.

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