Location: 2215 Pan American Road East, San Diego, CA 92101 (Balboa Park)
Free Hours: 3rd Tuesday each month, from 10 AM – 4 PM (free admission for San Diego County residents only)
Best For: Contemplation, relaxation, plant admiration, walking, breathing deeply
Just south of the Plaza of the Neverending Debate (aka Plaza de Panama) in Balboa Park you can find the Japanese Friendship Garden (JFG).
From street level the entrance to the garden can be found by looking for the tea pavilion, just north of and next to the Spreckels Organ Pavilion. The garden is currently undergoing a large expansion (adding 9 acres to the existing 2.5 acres of walking paths and botanical beauty). It is also the start of cherry blossom season and a great time for a visit. I would guess that the weather will ideal regardless of when you may visit. This is San Diego after all.
The JFG is a symbol of friendship between San Diego and Japanese sister city Yokohama and was established in 1990.
There was previously a Japanese garden in Balboa Park which operated from 1914 until 1941. The tea house building was given to the city at the conclusion of the Panama-California International Exposition. The city leased the building to Asakawa Hachisaku who managed a concession there with his wife and cousin until the U.S. entry into World War II at which time they were moved to an internment camp. The building and grounds subsequently fell into disrepair and in April 1955, workers razed the tea house and garden and no Japanese Garden could be found in Balboa Park until the 1990 (re)establishment. The San Diego History Center has an excellent history of the garden here.
There was a subsequent renovation that opened in 1999 and added an Exhibit Hall, Activity Center, and Koi Pond. The newest expansion will see the JFG covering 11 acres and will open in time for the centennial celebration of Balboa Park in 2015. The expansion will utilize the canyon slope behind the tea pavilion entrance and will include an Herb and Tea Garden with walking trails, a waterfall and lily pond, a traditional Tea House and a contemporary Tea House, each with its own garden, a cherry tree grove and an outdoor amphitheater.
If you can’t visit the JFG for a Free Tuesday (next date is next Tuesday, 2/19), the daily admission rate is $4 for adults and children 6 and under are free. Also coming up soon, on March 9, is the 8th annual Cherry Blossom Festival during which visitors will be able to visit the expansion area and enjoy a beer garden, both of which are new for this year’s festival. Of course, beautiful cherry blossom displays are expected to be in attendance as well.