In a city where real estate is synonymous with sticker shock, it's heartwarming to find a 55-acre parcel available to everyone. Income bracket has no relevance to the views one gets at the Strybing Arboretum & Botanical Gardens in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. The refuge offers its horticultural riches to one and all, free of charge, 365 days a year.
Strybing is a microcosm of the diversity of its host city. You can stroll around the world by way of a century-old redwood grove, a Mexican cloud forest, Cape Province aloes, Peruvian lilies, or a Japanese moon-viewing garden. Sniff aromatics mentioned in the good book at the Biblical Garden, marvel at the butterfly area in the Children's Garden, or, in the California natives section, see the grasses that greeted early settlers as they came West.
Benches along paths provide convenient places to sit and contemplate nature. There's even an indoor haven with churchlike calm—the 20,000-volume Helen Crocker Russell Library of Horticulture, a wellspring of information for professional and home gardeners, nature lovers, curious readers, and children. Kids come for story time, 10:30 a.m. the first and third Sundays of the month.
The arboretum's McBean Pond is a wintering ground for waterfowl, including buffleheads, coots, wood ducks, and a female hooded merganser. Species from hummingbirds to hawks have been spotted in this prime habitat. "It has plants in fruit or bloom year-round, water, and sheltered nesting," says field guide Allan Ridley. Catch his free tour the first Sunday of each month, starting from the arboretum entrance at 8 a.m.
Price Check: Admission to the nearby Japanese Tea Garden—$3.50, plus $2.95 for tea and cookies. Admission to the seldom-crowded arboretum where no dogs, bicycles, in-line skates, skateboards, or cars may roam—free.
Tip: Take a free daily docent-led tour. Information: (415) 661-1316, www.strybing.org.
This article was first published in March 2002. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.