Expand Your Senses in the Japanese Gardens on the West Coast

The garden speaks to all the senses, not just to the mind alone.” ~ Professor Takuma Tono (designer of Portland Japanese Garden)

Japanese Gardens

There is something magical that happens to oneself when you surround yourself with nature, whether it’s the solitude and wildness of a National Park or the joy experienced in your own backyard as birds sing and butterflies dance.  Japanese gardens are also enchanting, in their own controlled and purposeful manner, they incite tranquil thoughts and an ease of peaceful enjoyment.  So when I set out on my West Coast Adventure I knew I had to visit some of the US’s best Japanese gardens.  One thing is for sure, you will surely expand your senses in the Japanese gardens on the West Coast.

There are many Japanese gardens around the world, drawing thousands of visitors every year to taste their beauty and experience their wonder.  Did you know there are three essential elements to create a Japanese garden; stone (which is considered the “bones”), water (the life-giving force) and plants (the tapestry of the four seasons), together they create the magic that goes into every Japanese garden.  A popular attraction at Japanese gardens are bonsai trees, many even try out their luck and patience with these in their own homes.  What makes a tree a ‘bonsai’ tree?  Bonsai is the Japanese art of growing miniature, or ornamental-shaped trees or shrubs in small shallow pots.  To me bonsai trees are their own art form, each artist manipulating the tree’s branches and its roots to create a masterpiece of unique art that their artistic mind’s eye envisioned in a small piece of nature.

Japanese Friendship GardenSan Diego, California

Japanese GardenLocated in the heart of San Diego’s beautiful Balboa Park you’ll find the Japanese Friendship Garden.  The garden opened in 1990 and they are currently working on phase 3 expansion construction of their master plan.  Don’t let the continued construction deter you from visiting this beautiful Japanese garden.  You’ll enter the Japanese Friendship Garden past the Tea Pavilion Restaurant that overlooks the over 10 acres of garden.  Weaving your way along the path, under gorgeous gates, past a relaxing koi pond with its wonderful waterfall and down a terraced hill lead by the tranquil sound of flowing water emptying into a serene pond, where I found a turtle basking in the sun, and alongside cheerful cherry blossom trees, of which are on of my favourites, you’ll be swept away by San Diego’s Japanese Friendship Garden.  It’s very affordable rate of $6 makes it a must see while in San Diego, and if the price and beauty of it doesn’t sway you then their collection of bonsai trees will astound and delight you, some with pretty little flowers, others with unusual shapes and all perfect pieces of art.

The Japanese Tea Garden San Francisco, California

Japanese GardenThe oldest Japanese Garden in the US, San Francisco’s Japanese Tea Garden was created in 1894 and for 120 years has had a home in Golden Gate Park, and is pure detailed mastery at its finest.  Covering 5 acres the Japanese Tea Garden is known the world over for its stunning gates that greet you and draw you into its darling depths.  Around every curve, behind every tree and bridge there is a new brilliant play on design, colour and nature.  At its center is a quaint tea house that’s open to the beauty that surrounds it and all around are a plethora of hidden treasures from koi ponds to a Zen garden, stone lanterns to a beautiful Buddha statue and peaceful paths leading to large pagodas of vibrant colours, fragrant flowers from cherry blossom trees and strong lined stepping-stones over sweetly humming ponds.  Even though this was the busiest one I visited on the West Coast it didn’t detract from the awesome aura of the garden, there were always peaceful spots to stop and take it all in.

Portland Japanese GardenPortland, Oregon

Heavenly Falls

Heavenly Falls

One of the Wonders of Washington Park in Portland is the Portland Japanese Garden, set on just over 5 acres it felt like the largest, most magical and had the best layout with five distinct garden styles that draw you in and pull you through leading you to the next glorious piece of the puzzle.  Some of my favourites included the zigzag bridge that takes you over a pond full of koi and through beautiful beds of iris’ and to the Heavenly Falls, a picturesque waterfall.  Another section I adored was the Natural Garden set along a hillside with hidden treasures of waterfalls and startlingly green moss that hugged stone lanterns, trees and the ground.  It felt like I was lost in a fantastical forest of pure pleasure.  Then at the Pavilion, full of awesome artwork, upon the hillside is a spectacular view of Portland and Mt. Hood, a gorgeous garden with a view – what more could one ask for?

Want to see more of my photos of these Japanese Gardens? Visit my Facebook Page!

Have you visited a Japanese Garden? If so, where and what was your favourite part?


I'm a Canadian gal with a passion for wildlife, the great outdoors and travel and hope to inspire others to feel the same way! Travelling mostly solo I love to explore Ontario Gems in my own backyard as well as exotic cities around the world.

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3 Responses

  1. Milosz Zak says:

    Gardens are a passion of mine. Seeing Japanese gardens in Japan itself is definitely on the list, but I find it interesting that many European cities have some sort of Japanese garden, with pavilions that were actually exported from Japan as a form of intercultural diplomacy, really glad to see someone write about it.

  1. July 19, 2014

    […] the island you’ll head into San Diego’s beautiful Balboa Park, the home to museums, a Japanese Garden and the San Diego Zoo.  Then you’ll head to the last stop, Old Town, the birthplace of […]

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