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Wednesday 31 March 2021

Cherry Blossom Season in Hakone Gardens

If you live somewhere where Spring is in full effect (ie. not Colorado!) it's cherry blossom season!

When we lived in California one of my favorite annual events was Cherry Blossom Festival in San Francisco's Japantown. We'd go along every year to take in all the Japanese culture, the delicious food, the parade, and of course, the beautiful cherry blossoms. You can see some of our visits to Cherry Blossom Festival here, here and here. This year's Cherry Blossom Festival will be virtual (which means you can attend from anywhere!) but if you're in the Bay Area and keen to check out some cherry blossoms and a little Japanese culture in person I highly recommend visiting Hakone Gardens in Saratoga.

We visited Hakone Gardens a few months before we made the move to Colorado and I've been meaning to share our visit here ever since. It's such a beautiful place, especially in Spring when the many trees and shrubs are in bloom. Of course, Spring is the most popular time to visit, so it was rather crowded the day that we went. In fact, the staff told us that it had been their busiest day to date! Normally when we visit somewhere busy I like to take a little extra time with my photos to try and capture less people in them. This was pretty much impossible the day we visited Hakone Gardens, so expect to see lots of people in my pics. This was pre-covid, of course, so the crowds will likely be a little smaller now due to the fact that advance bookings are required to ensure social distancing.  

Let's take a look at our visit...

First a little background...

Hakone Gardens is located in Saratoga just south of San Francisco. The gardens were originally built as a private property for San Francisco philanthropists Isabel and Oliver Stein who purchased the land in 1915. Mrs Stein had been impressed with the Japanese gardens which were part of the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. If you've visited San Francisco you'd likely be familiar with the Palace of Fine Arts which is one of the remaining buildings from the exposition. Once the exposition was over Mrs Stein purchased many of the plants and pieces from the Japanese garden exhibition to be reused in her own gardens. She traveled to Japan for inspiration and hired Japanese artisans to design and build the gardens and buildings using many traditional Japanese methods. 

Over the years Hakone Gardens had many different owners until it was purchased by the City of Saratoga in 1966 to be used as a city park. In 2013 Hakone Gardens was added to the US National Registry of Historic Places. You can learn more about the history here.

Today Hakone Gardens is popular with visitors of all ages, especially in Spring when the cherry blossoms are blooming. Just take a look at these pictures and you'll see why. The blossoms are so beautiful and add such a delicate touch to the green gardens, like clouds of pink cotton candy. Aren't they stunning?  

While the blossoms were definitely the major drawcard during the time we visited, there is so much more to see at Hakone Gardens. I liked looking at the tiniest plant details, while the girls were impressed with the tall bamboo that can be found all around the gardens. It reaches up to the sky as tall as many of the trees and in many places it is grown as a lush forest providing ample shade. The trees themselves are quite stunning here too.

The paths that meander through the gardens were one of my favorite things. There were so many different types of paths, some with stairs, some lined with bamboo, one covered with an arbor, some that felt like walking through a secret forest... The paths that led further up the hill away from the main parts of the garden tended to be less busy so these were a great place to stop and explore the plants around us without the crowds. Due to the landscaping style, most of these paths are not ADA accessible however, the main paths in the lower areas are quite wide and flat. 

Hakone Gardens also features many traditional Japanese style buildings. Some of these were used for entertaining guests while others were used as homes. For quite a few decades while the gardens were private property the main gardener and his family lived onsite. Can you imagine living among such lush gardens? Other architectural features include ornamental gates, pergolas, decks, bridges, bamboo fencing, and small temple sculptures. 

Ok, so I mentioned bridges above, and as I'm sure you probably spotted in the photos, the bridges cross over a large pond. The pond is one of the main focal points of the gardens and definitely draws crowds. It's a popular spot with the littlest visitors thanks to the koi fish that inhabit the pond. When we visited the pond had a sprinkling of blossom petals floating on the surface, as if delicate pink confetti had been thrown in the air. It added a magical touch. The bridges and the pergola that sits on a deck over the water are both popular spots to take in the views of the pond and the surrounding area. 

Ok, so I've posted a gazillion photos here again (as usual) but just look at how stunning Hakone Garden is! If you visit be prepared to take ALL the photos! Everywhere you look there's such beauty and peacefulness. Even with the large crowds that we experienced during our visit there really was such a sense of calm in the gardens. 

Hakone Gardens is located at 21000 Big Basin Way, Saratoga, California.

The gardens are open weekdays 10am to 5pm, and weekends 11am to 5pm. Hours vary seasonally so make sure to check online first.

Entry for adults is $10.00, seniors and children ages 5 - 17 is $8.00, and children 4 and under enter free of charge.

Tickets must be purchased in advance online here.

For more information visit https://www.hakone.com/

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