Japanese Friendship Garden

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2215 Pan American Rd. E, San Diego, CA 92101
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Open:
Daily 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. (Daily)
Last Entry at 6:00 p.m.
In the Japanese Friendship Garden, you can experience the beautiful native plants, architecture, and gardening styles of Japan without leaving San Diego!
Todd Sarouhan
Some of the links in this article are affiliate links. This means if you make purchases through them, I may be compensated at no extra cost to you. All opinions remain my own.
Japanese Friendship Garden
Japanese Culture
During Your Visit
Go City Pass & Save
Attractions at JFG
Parking
Guidelines & Tips
Stay Nearby

Highlights

Exhibits / Attractions
Tickets
Parking
Tips
Exhibits / Attractions
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Explore the winding pathways and gorgeous landscapes as you tour Balboa Park's Japanese Friendship Garden. With Todd as your guide, see what this scenic and relaxing Go City San Diego pass attraction has to offer.

Visit the Japanese Friendship Garden

Experience Authentic Japanese Culture at the Japanese Friendship Garden

Walking into Japanese Friendship GardenPath at the Japanese Friendship Garden

The Japanese Friendship Garden, often shortened to simply “JFG”, is in Balboa Park in San Diego, California.

The garden sprawls across a full 12 acres of land, offering an authentic traditional Japanese garden experience right in the heart of San Diego.

Simply walking through the garden is a breathtaking experience, as you’ll get to see many species of trees and flowers that can’t be found anywhere else in the city.

For me, alongside its flowers and array of traditional Japanese flora and fauna, the JFG is also a resource for learning about Japanese culture, especially during seasonal festivities. I also find it very peaceful and I think that is the idea, to be calm, in the moment and just relaxed.

Main Doors into Japanese Friendship Garden
Main Doors into Japanese Friendship Garden

A Brief History of the JFG

The history of the Japanese Friendship Garden in San Diego begins with a partnership between San Diego and its sister city Yokohama. Both cities are cultural hubs, and both have created the Japanese Friendship Garden as a way to not only bridge the gap between them but also to educate visitors about the value of nature.

The garden originally opened in 1991 as a much smaller version of its current self. In 1999, the garden received a renovation designed by the Japanese landscape artist Takeo Uesugi. At this time, notable attractions like the Activity Center, the Exhibit Hall, and the Koi Pond were added.

The most recent renovation occurred in 2015, which expanded the then three-acre garden by a full nine acres. This expansion allowed for the addition of the Inamori Pavilion, a large camellia and azalea garden, and a grove filled with 200 cherry trees. Now, the garden hosts over 240,000 annual visitors, many of whom come from across the nation and all over the world.

Enjoying the Beautiful Pond at the Japanese Friendship Garden
Enjoying the Beautiful Pond at the Japanese Friendship Garden

Yokohama, Japan is San Diego's Sister City!

The flowers, trees, and shrubs in the garden are all native to Yokohama, but they have been adapted to survive in the San Diego climate in harmony with the rest of nature.

This is symbolic of the relationship between the sister cities, with the garden inspiring a love and appreciation for Japanese culture in San Diego residents.

San Diego Zoo Map Sign
San Diego Zoo Map Sign

Discounted Admission

The Japanese Friendship Garden is included as part of the Go City San Diego pass, which provides great savings to not only the gardens but also over 55 San Diego attractions and activities.

A couple of my family's favorites are the San Diego Zoo also in Balboa Park and SeaWorld San Diego, not far away in Mission Bay Park. We also love the more than a dozen museums in Balboa Park as well.

Have a look for yourself and if you think the pass is a good fit for your family, use the discount code GVSD5OFF for an added savings!

Purchasing a Go City San Diego pass ahead of your trip lets you save up to 50% off the cost of regular admission on over 55 San Diego attractions and activities. Additionally, if you purchase the Go City San Diego pass through our website you can get an additional discount, use code GVSD5OFF.

Local Tips
Japanese Friendship Garden Festivals & Activities
The Japanese Friendship Garden hosts many educational programs, activities, festivals, and horticultural classes that focus on the relationship between nature and Japanese culture.

During Your Visit

Bridge Over Creek at the Japanese Friendship Garden
Bridge Over Creek at the Japanese Friendship Garden

At the Japanese Friendship Garden, you can walk the grounds at your own pace. You are free to enjoy a leisurely stroll through the paths while taking in all of the gorgeous scenery around you.

As you explore, you’ll make your way through the Upper Garden and the Canyon, which feature different types of flowers and different architectural installments. Along the path, you’ll spot the dry stone garden, Dragon Bridge, the stone waterfall, the Bosatsu statue, and many other interesting set pieces.

Beautiful Plants and Flowers at the Japanese Friendship Garden
Beautiful Plants and Flowers at the Japanese Friendship Garden

My Favorite Times to Visit

I love visiting the garden during the spring and summer, when the most colorful plants are in full bloom.

During the springtime, irises, Japanese wisteria, Chinese fringe, flowering peach trees, and pink trumpet trees paint the pathways in bright pinks, whites, and purples. Standouts during the summer season include yellow daylilies, crape myrtle, camellias, star jasmines, hydrangeas, and gardenias.

Many of the plants in the garden only bloom during certain parts of the year. For information about which blooms are in season when you make your trip to JFG, check out the official website.

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What attractions are included with a Go City San Diego pass?

Attractions that you can visit with a Go City San Diego pass include:

The San Diego Zoo, Birch Aquarium, SeaWorld, Safari Park, LEGOLAND, Harbor Cruise, USS Midway Museum, the NAT Museum, Whaley House, PETCO Park Tour, iFLY San Diego and many, many more!

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Japanese Friendship Garden Installments and Attractions

Touring the garden grounds is only half the fun.

Inside the Japanese Friendship Garden are many different attractions that serve to captivate and education visitors of all ages. These exhibits bring Japanese culture to the forefront of the JFG experience.

There are also some rotating exhibits at the Japanese Friendship Garden which vary based on the season. Here are some of my favorite highlights for 2024.

Beautiful Plants and Flowers at the Japanese Friendship Garden
Beautiful Plants and Flowers at the Japanese Friendship Garden

Japanese Artifacts

The Japanese Friendship Garden houses many different artifacts from Japanese history in its museum. Their collection is full of woodblock print artwork, authentic Japanese antique furniture, intricate doll houses, and beautifully designed kimonos.

Examining the artifacts in the collection provides insight into Japanese culture and life. Each artifact represents a different part of art and creative expression central to traditional customs.

Master Series

Looking to learn more about Japan’s culture and art? The JFG offers classes for hobbyists and beginners on a number of traditional art forms through their Master Series Program.

These classes rotate throughout the year. Some of the lessons that have been offered in the past include workshops on Kyoto cuisine, the Kintsugi style of lacquer work, Yuzen cloth dyeing, and a stone lantern tour.

Large Bonsai Tree at the Japanese Friendship Garden
Large Bonsai Tree at the Japanese Friendship Garden

Bonsai Collection

The Japanese art of bonsai actually started as a Chinese invention, but it has since exploded in Japanese culture. The art involves guiding the growth of small, ornamental shrubs and trees, as well as carefully tending to them as they mature.

Many people believe bonsai to be naturally small trees. However, bonsai trees are actually kept small through pruning and by using small pots, not by their genetics. Therefore, the art of maintaining bonsai is central to growing them.

The bonsai collection in the Japanese Friendship Garden contains dozens of bonsai trees. Many of them are over a hundred years old, as bonsai trees have a long lifespan and it’s not uncommon for them to be passed down through generations in a family. While bonsai is most popular in Japan, the bonsai collection in the JFG reflects the growing bonsai community in California.

Japanese Statue at the Japanese Friendship Garden
Japanese Statue at the Japanese Friendship Garden

Kannon Bosatsu

The bronze kannon bosatsu statue is an art piece of a Buddhist bodhisattva. It was originally created during the Tokugawa period, which lasted from the early 1600s to the mid-1800s, by the renowned Japanese ironsmith Takumi Obata. In the 1900s, the statue was brought to America and displayed in the Middlegate Japanese Garden in Mississippi.

After damage in 2005 due to Hurricane Katrina, the statue was purchased and donated to the Japanese Friendship Garden in 2017. At the time, it had significant structural damage and physical wear and tear. Since then, the state has been restored to its former glory.

The kannon statue is on display in the Japanese Friendship Garden’s lower garden, set next to a babbling stream and gorgeous flowers to make a peaceful corner of the garden.

Kongo Rikisihi / Nio

The Kongo Rikishi is a cast bronze statue that dates back to the late 19th-early 20th century. It depicts a Guardian king from Buddhist mythology, and similar statues can often be found outside Buddhist temples.

Standing at over 7 feet tall, the statue of Kongo Rikishi, also called the Agyo Guardian, sports an intimidating expression. Though the guardian is associated with expressions of anger, the craftsmanship of the statue will leave viewers anything but angry.

Like the Kannon Bosatsu statue, the statue of Kongo Rishi was damaged in Hurricane Katrina, but made its way to the JFG in 2017. It has since been restored, and now stands as a proud guardian of the property.

Koi Pond with a Waterfall at the Japanese Friendship Garden
Koi Pond with a Waterfall at the Japanese Friendship Garden

Koi Ponds

The koi in the garden are renowned for their beauty, and for good reason. All of the koi are show quality, and they have won various awards and received widespread recognition. They were all born in Japan and carefully selected by the Koi Club of San Diego.

The JFG Koi Ponds are filled with 20 different species of koi fish, including white and orange Kohaku or “Fire Engine” koi, the black and orange spotted Kin Hi Utsuri koi, and the bright yellow Yamabuki Ogon. The variety of colors and scale patterns make the koi ponds an amazing sight.

A flood in the Coyote Creek area of the garden caused damage to the koi ponds and the nearby tea house. While the ponds haven’t yet been fully restored, you can still see the koi fish, and reconstruction efforts are underway that aim to bring the ponds back to their former beauty as soon as possible.

Inamori Pavilion

The Inamori Pavilion is located in the lower garden section of the garden. It is an indoor space primarily used for ceremonies and receptions. It often houses rotating exhibits and events held by JFG.

The outdoor deck of the pavilion provides a beautiful view fully immersed in nature. It is a popular photography spot for many guests.

Cherry Blossom Trees Lining the Path at the Japanese Friendship Garden
Cherry Blossom Trees Lining the Path at the Japanese Friendship Garden

Cherry Blossom Grove

Cherry blossoms are very special trees in Japanese culture. The trees bloom for only about two weeks before the petals begin to fall. Because of this, they are often used to represent the brief nature of life.

During the annual Cherry Blossom Festival, this section of the garden completely transforms for a short time. Alongside admiring the cherry blossom trees, the festival also includes food stalls, performances, and themed arts and crafts for kids.

Every spring, the Japanese Friendship Garden invited guests to come see the cherry blossoms while they bloom. This week-long festival ties back to the Japanese custom of hanami, which translates literally to “watching blossoms.” It is a tradition that has been practiced in Japan for thousands of years, which makes it all the more special to enjoy right in San Diego.

With over 200 cherry blossom trees, springtime is really a sight to see in the garden.

Education Opportunities for Kids

Japanese Art at the Japanese Friendship Garden
Japanese Art at the Japanese Friendship Garden

JFG offers many educational activity sheets for kids to fill out while they visit the different attractions.

Children are encouraged to write their own story about friendship, complete a crossword puzzle, write a haiku, color and identify different koi, complete a garden lantern scavenger hunt, and draw their own dry stone garden.

The garden also has educational programs available for different age groups. The first is suitable for children from Grades 3 to 8, while the second is better suited for older kids at Grades 9 and above.

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Important Guidelines and Tips for Your Trip

The Pond Flows into the Creek at the Japanese Friendship Garden
The Pond Flows into the Creek at the Japanese Friendship Garden

In order to make the most of your trip, make sure you know the rules of the garden before you go, as well as other relevant information that will make your visit as low-stress as it can be.

Parking at Balboa Park
Parking at Balboa Park

Where Can You Park?

Parking is available throughout Balboa Park. Some of the closest lots are The Prado Valet Parking Lot and Alcazar Garden Parking Lot, both of which are within a five minute walk to the garden.

Carte Hotel San Diego Downtown
Carte Hotel San Diego Downtown

Where to Stay Near the JFG?

Balboa Park has many excellent hotels nearby. Here are a few of my favorites.

Carte Hotel San Diego Downtown, Curio Collection By Hilton

Split your time between Balboa Park and Downtown at the Carte Hotel San Diego Downtown, Curio Collection By Hilton. This hotel is great for families and includes conveniences like on-site dining and Wi-Fi.

Hampton Inn San Diego Mission Valley

Part of the Hotel Circle neighborhood, the Hampton Inn San Diego Mission Valley is a convenient hotel for long-distance travelers. Not only is it close to the San Diego International Airport (SAN), but it’s also right by the museums of Balboa Park and plenty of Downtown attractions.

Red Leaves on a Tree at the Japanese Friendship Garden
Red Leaves on a Tree at the Japanese Friendship Garden

What Are the Garden Rules?

When walking through the garden, visitors are asked to stay on the paths and refrain from harming the wildlife. This includes picking flowers, climbing trees, and feeding the koi.

No smoking is allowed in the garden.

Tea Pavilion at the Japanese Friendship Garden
Tea Pavilion at the Japanese Friendship Garden

Where Can You Eat?

Light fare is offered in the Tea Pavilion. Like the rest of the garden, the Tea Pavilion helps visitors experience an authentic Japanese experience by serving dishes such as rice bowls, sushi, and Japanese teas.

Outside the garden, Balboa Park contains many different restaurants and food stands. No outside food is allowed on the grounds, so all meals must be completed before or after entering the garden.

What Attractions Are Nearby?

Balboa Park and the surrounding area are full of fun attractions. If you walk through the garden early in the day, or if you’re planning a multi-day trip to San Diego, keep the fun going by checking out the famous beaches of San Diego.

If you’re planning on checking out multiple attractions, the Go City San Diego pass is a great way to go. You can save more money and reduce the hassle by making arrangements ahead of time.

What Is the Pet Policy?

JFG does not allow pets on the premises outside of special events. However, service animals are allowed, provided they are kept on leash at all times.

Japanese Friendship Garden San Diego
Japanese Friendship Garden San Diego

Are There Special Event Reservations?

You can reserve sections of JFG for private events like wedding ceremonies and parties. The garden venue offers plenty of amazing photo opportunities with lots of space for guests.

For more information on how to reserve space at the Japanese Friendship Garden for private events, check the official website for special event availability and current rates.

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