Hakone Gardens

Set in the Saratoga Hills, this tranquil replica of a Japanese samurai estate is the perfect place to reconnect with your inner zen. 

Established in 1915, the Hakone Japanese Gardens are the oldest of their kind in the Western Hemisphere. Commissioned by art patrons Oliver and Isabel Stine, the gardens were originally designed as part of a summer retreat. The gardens have changed hands many times over the years, but are now owned by the City of Saratoga and are open to the public year round.

Wander through the 18-acre (seven-hectare) estate of harmoniously arranged trees, manicured hedges, flower gardens, rock formations and water features. Stretch your legs at the Pond Garden, a koi pond encircled by paths and picturesque viewing spots. Pick up a bag of koi food from the gift shop and throw some in to see the fish and turtles compete for a meal.

Around the pond and throughout the gardens you’ll come to buildings inspired by traditional Japanese architecture. Visit the Upper House atop Moon Viewing Hill, as well as the Cultural Center inspired by a 19th-century tea merchant’s house.

Be sure to collect a map, as the gardens are made up of many smaller areas dedicated to particular species. Stroll under the wisteria arbor, take a seat on a bench in the camellia garden and listen to the waterfall near the azaleas.,

Learn the finer points of flower arrangement and origami, or relax in a yoga and meditation class. Check the website for class times. There are also tea ceremonies and kimono-wearing demonstrations, but these must be booked in advance. The Hakone Gardens also host a number of festivals and events, most notably the Lunar New Year celebration and Matsuri, a spring festival.

The gardens are open every day and are at their most tranquil during the week. Weekends can get busy as the estate is a popular venue for weddings and special gatherings. The Hakone Gardens are in Saratoga, a 20-minute drive southwest of San Jose.