The kids are very close to their grandma and great-aunt, and now that we are starting to see them again at closer than a garage-length, we decided to look for somewhere outside to explore together. The trails that we’d been hiking proved a little difficult for my mom, so we decided to visit Hakone Estate & Gardens, with its 18-acres of traditional Japanese gardens in Saratoga. A lovely blend of gardens and redwood trees with a large central koi pond, Hakone Gardens creates a unique and serene outdoor environment that offered something for each of us to enjoy and appreciate.
- Main Entrance: 21000 Big Basin Way, Saratoga, CA 95070
- Admission: $10 Adults, $8 Seniors 65+, $8 Students 5-17, Children 4 and under Free, Saratoga Residents $2 discount
- Hours: 10am – 5pm Monday – Friday, 11am – 5pm Saturday and Sunday
- Dog Friendly: Leashed service dogs only
- Stroller Friendly: There are wheelchair accessible pathways around the koi pond and cultural exchange center.
- Garden Features: Koi Pond, Waterfall, Gardens, Picnic Area
- Our Time: Approximately 2 hours.
There was plenty of parking when we arrived at 10am on a Friday morning, with just a couple of parties in front of us in line to pay admissions outside of the gift shop. I noticed other families with young children, including the family in front of us that also seemed to be enjoying a morning outdoors with grandma.
After walking through The Mon, or Main Gate, the Garden Area opens up to display a gorgeous view of the koi pond, with its surrounding waterfalls and lush greenery. We took a few moments to appreciate the view, and then followed the footpath that had been created to keep visitors moving in one direction in a large loop around the property.
Helpful staff noticed the kids and asked if we would like a short cut to the koi pond. Grandma had already purchased food to feed the fish and told the kids, so they were anxious to run over to the pond from the start of our visit. Mean mommy that I am, I reassured them that they would have plenty of time to feed the fish later, but we’d do so at the end of our walk. There may have been some complaining and a bit of guilt on my part, but I’m glad I held firm in retrospect. There was so much beauty to explore, and we would have never been able to pull them from the fish once they visited the koi pond!
Cultural Exchange Center
The first stop in the loop past the main entrance is the Cultural Exchange Center. One of the newer buildings on the property, the Center was built in 1991 and houses events and educational programs which were still on hold at the time of our visit. The building was designed in the traditional style of a tea merchant’s house and shop. It was constructed in Japan, disassembled, shipped to Saratoga, and reassembled on site.
Make sure to circle around to the viewing deck behind the Center, which has wonderful views of the Valley. You’ll also find a picnic area near the Center with six tables available on a first come, first served basis. This is the only place that food or beverages are allowed in the garden.
After the Center, we crossed over to the Dry Garden, often called a zen garden, and Lower House, which was built in 1922 to serve as the Stine family’s summer retreat. Origami cranes were on display in the house, created by volunteers, staff, members, and patrons as a promise of love and hope. Despite my history of origami struggles, it made me want to create our own origami creatures at home. This can be a fun project for multiple generations to do together and a good way to channel your kids creative energy without a big mess to clean up at the end!
From the Lower House we enjoyed the trails leading to the Tea Waiting Pavilion and Upper Wisteria Pavilion, passing the Tea Garden along the way.
Past the Upper Wisteria Pavilion, you can either turn onto the hiking trails or continue through the Wisteria Arbor to the Moon Viewing House. As one of the Estate’s earliest buildings, the Moon Viewing House was built in 1917 to overlook the gardens below. The building now houses display panels which explain how the Japan Pavilion of the Panama-Pacific Exposition, held in San Francisco in 1915, inspired the Stine family to build the estate.
From the Moon Viewing House, we passed through the Camellia Garden to the Bamboo Garden. Kizuna-En was designed to show friendship with Saratoga’s Sister City, Muko-shi, Japan. This was a big highlight of our visit for the kids, as JJ is slightly obsessed with the Golden Bamboo Lemur this week thanks to the Wild Kratts.
By the time that we went through the Bamboo Garden, the excitement of feeding fish was driving the kiddos nutty. We made our way back to the koi pond, hoping over some stones by the waterfall on the way. Then, at last, we crossed Moon Bridge to meet some fish.
For the kids, this was a highlight of the day for sure. Bug fell in love with a large, grey, aggressive fish, and JJ found a favorite he named “Goldfishy” that he tried to follow around the pond. Being there with my mom and aunt, I was reminded of being a kid at the Japanese Friendship Garden off Senter Road. Memories I’d all but forgotten. We were here in our little corner of the pond for quite some time, our kids remaining fascinated with the pond even as other families arrived and left.
Finally, the lure of lunch and a nap won over, and it was time to head home. As we headed back to the car, I was feeling grateful for this lovely morning at Hakone and the new memories made, as the boys went on and on about their favorite fish. Suddenly Bug paused his excited chatter about “grey fish” to tell us he felt like eating salmon for lunch. I worry sometimes.
Thanks for checking out our Hakone Gardens and Estate adventure! Please share your thoughts, ideas, or Hakone photos in the comments. We hope you’ll join us on the next trail as we continue our outdoor explorations!