As pretty as a wedding cake, the Victorian bit of finery that is the San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers has provided a tranquil refuge from the hustle and bustle of the city for generations. Visitors can roam about several rooms filled with exotic plants, take a docent-led tour, or just sit and take in the otherworldly ambience.
Flora inside the warm, humid space can look straight out of a Dr. Seuss storybook, like the lipstick plant, whose crimson flowers emerge from a dark tube, or the Dracula orchid, the flowers of which resemble a dragon’s face. The broad lawns out front, with flowerbeds planted in intricate designs, are a popular place to loll and snap photos, and have also proven to be a favorite location for weddings. From the edge of the Conservatory’s grounds, it’s a pleasant walk through Golden Gate Park to the San Francisco Botanical Garden, with 55 acres of paths and more than 8,000 kinds of plants.
First opened in 1879, the structure is the oldest public wood-and-glass conservatory in North America. Such fanciful buildings were once all the rage, a place where aristocrats could ride up in carriages and enjoy a bit of cultivated nature. San Francisco’s soaring conservatory almost faded like the rest: Wealthy philanthropist James Lick originally ordered it to be part of his private estate south of the city, but died before the building was constructed. The pieces lingered in storage crates for years, until a group of prominent San Franciscans privately purchased them in 1877. The group then donated the materials to the city, which finally built the conservatory in Golden Gate Park.
From June through November, the tropical plant galleries host monthly Botanicals and Brews Beer Garden events, with live music, wine, craft beer, and curated food trucks. And from November through early January, the conservatory hosts its annual Night Bloom event, during which light and sound with transform the setting into a radiant jungle with immersive and interactive experiences around every corner.
The Conservatory is open Tuesdays through Sundays, 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Admission is free for all visitors every first Tuesday of the month.