The Best Japanese Gardens In The Bay Area

It’s no secret that Japanese culture and food has a special place in my heart. But I especially love a nice Japanese garden! I have been to all the Japanese gardens in the San Francisco Bay Area so here is my list, in order, of the best ones!

I have considered a few criteria when considering a Japanese garden the best. The first is the overall feel and zen of the garden. Next is the price and if there is value in the amount you pay for. With these things in mind, let’s jump into the list.

Hakone Estate, Saratoga, California

best Japanese garden in the bay area
Picture via Hakone Estate

Hakone Estate is number one on my list because it felt the most like Japan to me. It is located in a quiet and serene neighborhood and it truly a place for relaxation. The entry fee is only $10 and the property is so large that you can easily spend an hour here. 

There is plenty of Koi fish in the pond, a tea room, and tatami mat rooms that you can enter. There is even a bamboo forest! This garden is very reminiscent of Japan and is the best Japanese garden in the Bay Area.

To read more about Hakone Estate, check here

Japanese Tea Garden, San Francisco, California

best Japanese garden in the bay area

Next on my list in the Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco. Located inside the Golden Gate Park, you’ll have to pay to enter this garden too but it is worth it! And if you’re an early riser, there is free entry every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 9 am to 10 am. 

The garden is absolutely beautiful and even has a tea house for you to purchase tea and snacks. This garden features a huge lantern in the center of the garden and giant buddha. This garden wasn’t number one because it is smaller than Hakone Estate and right in the middle of the city so it is not as serene. 

To read more about the Japanese Tea Garden, check here!

San Mateo Japanese Garden, San Mateo, California

This garden is very small but it doesn’t disappoint. It also is open for many hours a day and they close at 3 pm. However, if you do make it inside, it is worth it and it’s free! This garden is located inside San Mateo Central Park. 

There is a decent-sized pond with dozens of koi fish. You can even watch the koi fish being fed by the staff during certain hours. The peace pagoda and the tea house were my favorite features!

To read more about the Japanese Garden, check here!

Hayward Japanese Garden, Hayward, California

best Japanese garden in the bay area

This garden is similar to San Mateo’s in that it is smaller and also free! This garden features plenty of koi fish and even turtles in the pond and is a popular place to take photos. It is tucked away in a neighborhood making it a little more difficult to find. 

This garden is worth visiting if you’re in the area but I wouldn’t consider it my favorite. And since it is so small, it can get pretty crowded, taking away from the serenity. 

To read more about the Hayward Japanese Garden, check here!

Japanese Friendship Garden, San Jose, California

This garden would be much higher on the list if the pond wasn’t drained. There was an issue with the water system that caused them to drain the pond and put all the koi fish into a smaller pond. 

The garden is still beautiful regardless and free to enter. It’s very large and features a few grassy fields to enjoy your lunch on. 

To read more about the Japanese Friendship Garden, check here!

Japanese Garden Inside The Gardens At Lake Merritt, Oakland, California 

This garden is a collection of 11 different gardens, a Japanese garden being one of them. The garden is complete with a tori gate and a small pond. Entry is free and you can enter at 666 Bellevue Avenue. They close at 3:30 pm so be sure to plan accordingly.

Although still beautiful, this one is last on the list because of the size.

To read more about The Gardens At Lake Merritt, check here! 


And the list is complete! In my opinion, each Japanese garden has its own characteristics and are all worth visiting. However, if you are short on time and only visiting the Bay Area, Hakone Estate is the best option. If you are staying in San Francisco, the Japanese Tea Garden is your best option!

Happy Adventures! 

10 thoughts on “The Best Japanese Gardens In The Bay Area”

  1. I live about 20 minutes away from the San Mateo Japanese Garden and I don’t think I’ve ever been, which is ridiculous. Especially since I’ve been to the ones in San Francisco and San Jose. I’ll have to get to the San Mateo one soon, thanks for putting it back on my radar.

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