We recently spent 6 days in San Francisco, a January visit that was surprisingly warm and lush and, with an exception here and there, un foggy. We arrived mid-Tuesday and immediately felt overdressed in light sweaters, as the outside temperature felt much hotter than reported online (65 in the sun is not sweater weather in the Bay Area, it's t-shirt weather).
Eager to stretch our legs, and blissfully ignorant of the strenuous nature of our walk from our Castro airbnb to Golden Gate Park, we set off, reminiscing about our Brooklyn days of walking for miles. Our walk to the Botanical Garden was only about a mile and a half away, but it was a mile and a half of seemingly vertical ups and downs: our quads were screaming in pain within the first 10 minutes.
During that walk, and in our subsequent walks all over San Francisco, I felt simultaneously humbled by and in awe of those older or more weighed down than me, each easily surging past me on uphills. And during a run that took us up to Corona Heights and Buena Vista Park, I quickly recognized why so many excellent runners hail from the Bay Area. You can't not be in good shape running or walking around the city (Of course, you can also just Uber everywhere!).
So, when we arrived at the park and walked through the Botanical Garden gates (for free, unexpectedly), we were already in a physically exhausted state, but a state that also felt invigorating in the way a jaunt around a city can sometimes elicit. I'd wanted to visit the Botanical Garden on a sunny day for obvious reasons but also because their wide collection of magnolias were in varying states of bloom. Magnolias are far from ready to bloom in Portland and it seemed like a luxury to view so many delicately-hued blossoms in mid January.
Each botanical garden I've visited presents an interesting glimpse into a city's natural ecosystem: what grows well, what is stylistically common, how the gardens are laid out and arranged: these decisions speak to a city's bigger concepts and constraints. In San Francisco's garden, we wandered through wide open gathering spaces before ducking into side paths and gardens, each section highlighting a different species or style of plant, from the camellia garden to an entire section housing native plants of New Zealand. The magnolias that were blooming were indeed beautiful, but I was equally taken with the succulent garden, including the alien looking spikes and funkily colored flowers of the aloe vera plant.