The Exploratorium, San Francisco

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WE’RE almost at the end of our San Francisco trip! One of our last stops in the city was the Exploratorium, a massive science and discovery centre located at Piers 15 and 17, Embacadero. A modern, blockish-looking building, the centre was first opened in the 1960s and was relocated to its new place in 2013.

We actually got here late and had to rush through a lot of the exhibits. I recommend spending half a day or more here because there are so many things to try and interact with. Great place for families, geeks, and those who like to experiment with stuff.

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The centre is divided into many sections, each dedicated to a certain science, such as Light and Sound, Human Behaviour, Living Systems and Tinkering (electricity and magnetism). Almost every exhibit can be interacted with, so it was a lot of fun!

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The inside is massive. Here we enter the Human Behaviour section. There were things like card games, experiments related to emotion and psychology, etc.

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E and I sat on opposite sides of a counter where you had to ‘match’ genders with specific keywords/items, such as ‘occupation’ and ‘roles’ which tend to be viewed as either masculine or feminine. For example, the word ‘family’ is often associated with females, and ‘career’ tends to be associated with males.

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Apparently watching yourself in the mirror crying will create feelings of sadness..

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Chairs of differing sizes

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I like how spacious the place is, despite housing thousands of exhibits. The ventilation is good and there’s lots of sunlight.

I couldn’t help but compare it with Malaysia’s old Petrosains… which has not seen an upgrade since 1999.

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The machinery section was closed off to the public, but we could view it from behind a barrier.

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The Exploratorium definitely needed more… exploring, but we ran out of time. Would like to come back for a proper walk through the next time I’m in SF. Great place for the kids and the curious. 🙂

EXPLORATORIUM

Pier 15, The Embarcadero, San Francisco, CA 94111, United States

Open 10am – 5pm

Admission: 29$ (pricey, but I think its worth it provided u spend a longer time trying out all the experiments and stuff.)

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For dinner, all you can eat hotpot! Nothing better than that in cold weather.

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Left San Fran with a heavy heart. It was my second last day in America.

Time to pack for the long flight home. The US has been an amazing experience, and I can’t wait to go back and explore the rest of it’s 50 states.

Cruising Down The Bay: San Francisco’s Cable Cars

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SAN Francisco’s cable cars are as iconic as the Golden Gate Bridge itself, so no way was I gonna miss the experience of riding on one!

The city’s steep slopes and hilly terrain meant that going about was a dangerous business for people (and horses) in the 1800s – and deaths occured frequently from horse carriages or streetcars sliding backwards on wet cobblestone paths.

Enter Andrew Hallidie, an industrious British-born engineer  who, together with several partners, came up with a cable car system using wire-rope tech. Thus, these famous cable cars that have been part of San Francisco’s transport system and tourism attractions for decades – was born.

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After our visit to Chinatown, E and I walked through the very busy Downtown area to get to Powell station, the first and last stop for trams on the Powell/Hyde line. Downtown San Francisco is full of tall, corporate-looking buildings, glitzy high-end brands and luxury designer good stores.

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On the way to the station we stopped at Union Square, a public plaza bordered by various shopping malls, posh hotels and restaurants. The place was once used for rallies and showing support for the Union Army during the American Civil War (hence the name). In the middle of the square is a statue of Nike, the goddess of Victory, on a tall pillar. The entire structure is called Dewey Monument.

The big building is The Westin St Francis Hotel, a luxury and historic hotel built in 1904.

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Whenever anyone mentions Saks Fifth Avenue, people often think about their flagship store in New York. Turns out San Fran has a big one as well, just next to Tiffany & Co.

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Walking to Powell Street Station. It was pretty damn cold as evening approached.

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Cable cars!

Price for a one-way ticket to the Fisherman’s Wharf (where we were headed) was 6$ per person, and this is collected by a ticket conductor just like old-school buses. We got good outdoor seats for a better view instead of inside the enclosed carriage. It was quite scary because there were no railings. If the tram gets crowded, you  can even stand on the side and grab on the handles.

I wondered if anyone ever had an accident falling off the vehicle.

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Because Powell St is the last stop, the trams are rotated on a large wooden platform. It was interesting to watch how the train staff pushed the heavy tram car around so that it faced the other way again.

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And onto the tram we go.

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Riding on the tram was a breeze, with the wind whipping our faces as we looked at the beautiful sights and sounds the city had to offer. When passengers wanted to get down they rang a pulley thing, just like in old buses.

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Passing by the famous Lombard Street.

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Some of the hills were very steep and going down was scary! I can’t imagine driving stick around here with my shitty manual skills lol.

It was dark by the time we got off at Fisherman’s Wharf. Had dinner at Chipotle and then shopped for some souvenirs to take home.

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Saw this in a candy shop. I thought they were just worm-shaped candy.. turns out they were real worms. .___.

It was late by the time we got back to Chinatown, and we kind of forgot where our car was parked so we were walking around like a couple of lost souls. As we walked through Chinatown, there were gangs of young Asians smoking cigarette and pot. It was kinda scary lol. You won’t believe how relieved I was when we were finally in the car! I guess safety is a concern these days, even in the US.

More of San Fran to come!

What to Do in Chinatown, San Francisco – The Oldest & Largest Chinatown in the United States

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I find it hard to imagine ever being bored of San Francisco. I fell in love with it from Day 1, when I looked out the window of the rented car and stared up at the Golden Gate Bridge, its tops lost in the bay’s infamous fog. I fell in love with the city’s steep, hilly streets, the small apartments and the hipster hole-in-the-wall cafes, its tourist scene, and its chilly weather which feels so much like the UK.

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With little space, the houses in SF are tall, very close together and narrow. They are more reminiscent of Victorian era buildings, with wooden panels and narrow windows – Very different from Los Angeles’ strong Hispanic influences.

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Real estate in SF is among the highest in the world due to limited space and high demand. I heard rents go upwards of $4000!

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When you look at how it is today, it’s hard to imagine that all of this was once almost 80% destroyed by a quake and a fire at the turn of the century.

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Our stop for the day was San Francisco Chinatown – the largest outside of Asia and the oldest in North America, having started in 1848. Sprawled across a whopping 24 blocks, it houses many restaurants, businesses, schools, hospitals, houses of worship and residential buildings. We parked at Portsmouth Square and emerged at a park, with the Transamerica Pyramid (the tallest, most iconic building in SF) looming in the distance.

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Narrow three to four-storey buildings with dual language signage abound at every corner. Lots of things to see, do and shop for the consummate tourist. In fact, San Francisco’s Chinatown draws more tourists than the Golden Gate Bridge.

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An old man carrying grocery bags standing near a mural of Chinatown depicting old Chinatown, while a tourist snaps a picture.

San Francisco Chinatown’s residents came from Guangdong province to work as coolies and business owners, or to strike rich in the gold rush. Much later on, many Hong Kong immigrants came here as well, so the people here speak mostly Cantonese.

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One of the main streets, which had many souvenir and clothing shops. Some of the T-shirts/sweaters were expensive so we didn’t get any. The magnets were cheap though.

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Everything has a Chinese flavour to it, even the street lamps and the bank building. The Bank of America in Chinatown is painted in red, an auspicious colour for the Chinese, with curved, tiled roofing. We also saw a large church.

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Like many immigrant communities, it has not been an easy journey for the American-Chinese people of SF’s Chinatown. In its early days, there were triad activities, prostitution, gambling, opium dens and all manner of vice lurking underneath honest citizens trying to make a living. There were race riots and gang wars. But all of that has contributed to a rich history, culture and a legacy for the Asian American people in the US today.

Getting There 

  • Buses: 1 California, 12 folsom, 30 Stockton, 45 Union-Stockton
  • Cable car : Powell-Mason line

Exploring Ripley’s Believe it Or Not Museum in San Francisco

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I grew up on a steady diet of bizarre facts narrated by Dean Cain, so it was nice to pop into the Ripley’s Believe it Or Not Museum at Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco.  It is housed in a narrow three-storey building that looks plain on the outside but is quite spacious on the inside. The place looks old though – it has that dusty, musky smell of rotting wood and silverfish infested books that are the signature of old museums.

To those who have never encountered the Ripley’s franchise, Believe it or Not was founded by American entrepreneur Robert Ripley, and deals with bizarre items and events. The concept was so popular it was adapted to radio, TV, books and museums.

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Random facts and exhibits sit at the entrance to entice the curious onlooker, even before we paid for our tickets.

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The place was empty, even though the streets outside were full of people. That’s for the best though – we took our time looking and reading up on the exhibits. When I was a kid, I used to swallow all the ‘Believe It’ stuff hook, line and sinker…but now that I’m older some of the claims seem quite outrageous. As PT Barnum once said… “A sucker is born every minute.”

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An ‘authentic’ headdress from Tibet, apparently used by their priests. I like how the labels always say that the stuff is “real/authentic” and yet they put them in simple glass cases with no protection whatsoever. lol

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The Fiji Mermaid, which had everyone in the early 1800s fooled into believing a monkey torso sewn onto a fish tail was an actual mermaid.

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Oh look, my city gets a special mention

Tbh, I don’t even know if KL has annual spinning tournament. I’ve certainly never seen one nor read it in the news. Or maybe they’ve just discontinued it after this info was put up.

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A funky tunnel made to look like a periscope.

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More exhibits. It was interesting to look at and read up on, but as how odditoriums go, take everything with a pinch of salt.

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Why you should never trust me with a gun.

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Fancy a fortune telling?

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An earthquake simulation room which moved at intervals.

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Our Malaysian university can give the creator of the vampire killing kit a run for their money with our own anti hysteria kit.

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Portrait of Madonna compiled from magazine ads. Creative!

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Spinning psychedelic tunnel had us all dizzy in our tracks.

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Heat sensing camera.

There’s this funny thing when you first step into the museum. A mirror asks you to stick your tongue out at it as part of an experiment. Naturally, the visitor would do so. Andddd the funny part comes much later, when you’re almost at the exit and realise that it was a one-way mirror!

Ripley’s was fun to visit, but I think it needs an upgrade because the exhibits are old and static. There is a laser tag and mirror maze at the exit but you have to pay separately for that.

RIPLEY’S BELIEVE IT OR NOT ODDITORIUM

75 Jefferson St, San Francisco, CA 94133, United States

Phone: 415 202-9850

Ticket: 20.99$ (2$ off if you buy online).

Travel Diaries: Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco

FISHERMAN’S WHARF in San Francisco is a charming tourist enclave located way north of the Bay Area. Founded in the 1800s by Italian fishermen, the place retains many traditional seafood restaurants, along with attractions such as an aquarium and several museums.

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Parking is a bitch and expensive, so I’d recommend taking the public transport. Buses and tram services stop here regularly.

It was early evening when we got to the wharf and there was a crowd milling about watching a street dance-off. They scattered once the performers started handing out collection cups.

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Fishing is still done at Fisherman’s Wharf. You can even pay a boat to take you out fishing, and the catch is all yours. There are also tour cruises and yachting activities.

Visitors can get a closer view of the infamous prison, Alcatraz, from the pier. It looked super foreboding and gloomy in the distance.

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The iconic Fisherman’s Wharf sign is surrounded by seafood restaurants, both the street-kind and bigger, classier establishments.

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The main street along the wharf houses souvenir shops, museums and cafes.

We popped into a Ripley’s Believe it Or Not, which I will detail in the next post because there are too many pictures. After emerging from the attraction, it was already dark. All the boats had already retired to their docks for the night.

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If you’re coming here in spring (or any time for that matter), bring a thick jacket and a beanie because the wind here doesn’t just scream.. it howls. Especially when you’re walking along the pier. While I enjoy being in a cooling place, the freezing gale was a little too much for my tropical blood lol and I quickly looked for a place of refuge…

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Said hiding place was the Boudin Bakery, which specialises in sourdough bread. Downstairs is the cafe and bakery area, while upstairs is the restaurant and mini museum.

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The animal-shaped breads are very popular. You can also join their daily baking classes for a fee.

Travel tip: Come during the night if you want to be a scrooge and not pay their museum entrance fee of 3$ – minus the tour guide and crowd. If you’re lucky, you’ll still be able to see some of the staff + machinery churning out bread.

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View of factory from the museum on the first floor.

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It was packed with people on the inside so we had to huddle under a heater on the patio seats with a bowl of clam chowder in their signature sourdough bowl.

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We also drove down Lombard Street, the place where Bruce Lee used to live with the zig-zaggedy stairs. The photos weren’t good because we were inside the car, but it was a good experience anyway.

Night time in SF is charming, with its tall buildings all lit up with lights. It feels like New York (or how I imagine NY to be). But until I earn enough to  go there, I think San Fran is just as fine a city as any I’ve ever been to.

Getting to Fisherman’s Wharf 

By Tram: Powell-Hyde line on Hyde and Beach Streets (Aquatic Park near Ghirardelli Square), and the Powell-Mason line on Taylor and Bay Streets

By F-Line Street car: between the Castro Neighbourhood and Fisherman’s Wharf. It runs the length of Market Street until it reaches the Ferry Terminal Building on the Embarcadero before turning west to the wharf.

More useful info here: http://www.visitfishermanswharf.com/parking

Why The Legion of Honor Museum In San Francisco Is A Must-Visit For Art Lovers

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Standing on a hill in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, I look down to the foggy grey sea and think about how pretty everything is. It’s easy to forget that this green city sits on a notorious fault line.. and that all the neat museums, well-paved roads, beautiful trees and houses can all be uprooted in mere seconds. Even so, there’s something about San Fran that captures the heart of the weary traveller.

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The Legion of Honor is a popular attraction in the city. It looks like it belongs more to an ancient European town than a park in San Francisco. That’s because it is a full-scale replica of the French Pavilion in Paris.

Built by a wealthy sugar magnate, the building is now a fine-arts museum housing over 6,000 years of art, culture and history by renowned names such as Baroque and Picasso.

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A statue of the Thinking Man sits in the courtyard.

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I’m not an art connoisseur, but it’s hard not to marvel at the beautiful paintings and sculptures, especially those from the medieval era – before the ‘abstract’ or ‘modernist’ concepts came into place. Back then, paintings were done in minute detailing. Not putting down some modern artists, but these days a couple of splotches can qualify as art. Maybe I’m too stupid and low-culture to understand art today.

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Exhibits are not limited to paintings, but also furniture and sculptures. Some are not allowed to be photographed due to copyright and light sensitivity. Check with the curators if its okay to snap pix, unless you want to be told off in a quiet museum and have all the people stare at you lol.

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A grand tapestry which used to hang in a royal court, featuring gory battle scenes with dead bodies, knights on lions, skewered people and disembodied heads. You can look at it for half an hour and still discover new details – it’s like a story book in painted form.

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On the lower floor is a room housing all sorts of pretty and rare collections. Teapots, ceramic bowls, fine china, porcelain jugs and delicate glass ornaments can be found here.

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Persian tablets and carvings.

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Tribal Bead Necklace.

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An extremely life-like and detailed wood carving of a noblewoman.

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Paintings which you will never see in art galleries in Malaysia.

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Spacious and tranquil gallery rooms. The best way to explore the whole place is to divide your visit by systematic room-by-room order from one end to the other.

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The Legion of Honour is a good place to visit for art lovers and tourists, as there are lots of beautiful/interesting pieces and rich history to uncover. 🙂

LEGION OF HONOR 

100 34th Ave, San Francisco, CA 94121, United States

Opening hours: Tues – Sun (930am – 515pm)

Admission: 10$ (Adults), children under 12 (free)

Japanese Garden, Golden Gate Park San Francisco

You don’t have to fly to the Land of the Rising Sun to experience Zen in a Japanese tea garden – you can get that right in the heart of San Francisco! Located within the Golden Gate Park, the Hagiwara Japanese Tea Garden was founded by Makoto Hagiwara, a Japanese immigrant and gardener.

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After the Pearl Harbour bombing, Hagiwara and his family were relocated elsewhere and the park fell into ruin. Today, thankfully, it is a popular tourist attraction and well maintained.

Upon stepping into the compound, one is greeted by a beautiful landscape full of carefully trimmed shrubs, shady trees and aesthetically-pleasing blooms. Some of the plant species and even the pond’s goldfish are native to Japan and were brought in many years ago. It does feel like you’re in a pretty Zen garden somewhere in Japan and not in the middle of a park in San Fran!

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The wooden gazebo overlooking the pond is where visitors can buy souvenirs and enjoy green tea and other Japanese snacks.

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To add to the Japanese feels, there are also statues and shrines scattered all over the area.

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Mushroom trees and cherry blossoms.

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A tranquil pathway lined with tall, shady trees. Some of the small gardens are Zen-style: meaning the rocks, water, trees and shrubs are done in a carefully placed and composed way. It is the same concept of ‘control over nature’ that drives the development of bonsai trees.

We were lucky because during our visit there were not many people around, so it was a peaceful stroll around the park.

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Pagoda atop a hill. Some students were doing graduation photoshoots here.

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A rather naked cherry blossom with sparse blooms.

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A scary bridge.

That is E’s “Don’t be a coward, Eris” face.

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And more blooms!

I think the Japanese Tea Gardens are worth their entry price, because the flowers and plants are beautiful especially in spring time. Also a good place to take your girlfriend on a date.

HAGIWARA TEA GARDEN

Golden Gate Park, 75 Hagiwara Tea Garden Dr,

San Francisco, CA 94118, United States

Open daily: Summer (3/1 through 10/31): 9:00 am to 6:00 ; Winter (11/1 through 2/28): 9:00 am to 4:45 pm

Free admission before 10am on Mon, Wed, Fri.

Adults: 8$ (non-residents), 6$ (SF Residents).

 

 

Conservatory of Flowers, San Francisco

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I never liked getting flowers, because I hate the idea of wasting money for a bunch of blooms that will wilt in a couple of days. I’d much prefer going to a park or garden where you can see them in their natural state. 🙂

Our next stop in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park is the Conservatory of Flowers.The oldest building in the park, it was completed in the 1870s with a large central dome and ‘wings’, reflecting Victorian-era architecture. The surprising thing is that the greenhouse’s frame is made from wood and glass; and it still keeps well even after a century.

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The Conservatory sits on a short hill overlooking a vast green field. In some travel photos online, the field is shown to be filled with flowers. Unfortunately this wasn’t the case while we were visiting. Still pretty though!

Forgive the face.. because it was cold and I looked like hell from the early morning trip.

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Home to about 1,700 plant species, the greenhouse is not very big but is divided into several sections. The main one houses the tropical plants. The air becomes immediately humid and warm upon stepping inside, as one’s lungs fill up with the smell of moist dew, leafy plants and earth. It reminded me of the rainforests of home.

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Moving on to the less jungle-y part of the greenhouse, there are many beautiful orchids and garden-variety flowers. This section exudes a feeling of zen and calm tranquility, with flowing water features and the smell of florals.

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Never been much of a green finger..but I think plants are an essential component of a home. They just breathe life and colour to an otherwise dull and drab front, don’t you think? 🙂

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The Malaysian national flower, Hibiscus or ‘bunga raya’ as we call it in Malay. The ones here were very healthy and the flowers were as big as a man’s palm.

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My mum calls these ‘dancing lady’ orchids.. and the name has stuck ever since. I think they do look like dancing ladies in yellow gowns, don’t you?

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The greenhouse is not very big and we were done in an hour, but I think it was a warm respite from the winds outside, especially in the colder months in San Francisco.

Adult ticket price: 8$ / Children: 2$.

CONSERVATORY OF FLOWERS

100 John F Kennedy Dr, San Francisco,

CA 94118, United States

Tuesday – Sunday: 10am – 4:30pm;closed on Mondays