Number 52 - April 2016
Welcome to "Rick's Tips," Blue Heron Custom Tours and Travel's quarterly newsletter of fun and interesting things to do in San Francisco, the Bay Area, and Northern California. Whether you are visiting San Francisco or hosting visitors, Blue Heron can provide an unforgettable experience. Visit our website,, to learn more about our private, custom tours.

Spring Flowers

When growing up in Baltimore, April meant that Spring was upon us and that the flowers in my parents' gardens would begin blossoming. Spring comes earlier in Northern California's Mediterranean climate. The first flowers blossomed in my garden back in February. Nevertheless, April is a good time to go see both cultivated and wild flowers. Here are some of my favorite spots.

Golden Gate Park

Golden Gate Park's 1,017 acres (4 square kilometers) are home to over one million trees and countless flowers. There are many options for viewing beautiful gardens.

Japanese Tea Garden

One of the best places to visit in April is the Japanese Tea Garden. If your timing is right, you may get to see the cherry trees in bloom. Seeing thousands of pink blossoms among the sculpted garden is a must-see sight. The Tea Garden is open from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. from March 1 through October 31 and to 4:45 p.m. during the balance of the year. Regular admission is $6 for San Francisco residents and $8 for others. Discounts are available for seniors and children. Admission is free if you enter the Japanese Tea Garden before 10:00 a.m. on Monday, Wednesday, or Friday.

Botanical Garden

The San Francisco Botanical Garden has flowers blooming nearly year round. The garden's 55 acres (22 hectares) are home to over 8,000 different types of plants from around the world. The Botanical Garden is popular with families as young children enjoy playing on the garden's many meadows and looking at the ducks as they swim in the garden's ponds. The Botanical Garden opens daily at 7:30 a.m. Last entry is between 4:00 and 6:00 p.m. depending on the time of year. Admission is free for all before 9:00 a.m. and at all times for San Francisco residents. After 9:00 a.m., nonresident adults pay $8. Discounts are available for children and families.

Conservatory of Flowers

The Conservatory of Flowers is a Victorian greenhouse near the eastern end of Golden Gate Park. The Conservatory has permanent exhibits of highland and lowland tropical plants as well as aquatic plants. Special exhibits change about every six months. The Conservatory of Flowers is open Tuesday to Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Admission is $8 per adult with discounts available for children, seniors, and San Francisco residents.

Golden Gate Park is home to other gardens including the Queen Wilhelmina Garden at the base of the Dutch Windmill, Rose Garden, Shakespeare Garden, Dahlia Dell, Fuchsia Dell, and Rhododendron Dell. These are all small gardens that can be visited without charge.

As you can see, a garden lover can easily spend a day enjoying Golden Gate Park's wide variety of flowers, plants, and trees.

Wine Country

If you enjoy wild flowers, a visit to wine country in January or February is likely to reward you with fields of yellow mustard. The yellow flowers among the dormant vines with the green hills create a beautiful wine country panorama.

Many wineries have pretty gardens. Three of my favorites are Matanzas Creek in Bennett Valley, Kendall-Jackson Visitors Center in Russian River Valley, and Ferrari-Carano in Dry Creek Valley. All are in Sonoma County.

Matanzas Creek is located in a remote part of Sonoma County east of Santa Rosa. The tasting room is surrounded by beautiful lavender gardens. When the flowers are in bloom, bring a picnic lunch and enjoy good wine with beautiful views.

Kendall-Jackson's Visitors Center is surrounded by beautiful gardens including Sensory and Culinary Gardens. The Sensory Gardens feature plants that have tastes or aromas that are frequently found in wine. As you would imagine, the Culinary Garden has plants used in cooking. Tours of the gardens are offered by appointment.

The five sculpted acres surrounding Ferrari-Carano's tasting room are full of flowers, trees, shrubs, and ponds. You'll find something in bloom nearly year round. It's well worth the drive to the far end of Dry Creek Valley to enjoy Ferrari-Carano's beautiful gardens.


Filoli has the most beautiful gardens in the Bay Area. This old country estate is located about 40 minutes south of San Francisco in Woodside. Try to visit in April and May when the gardens are full of blooming flowers. You are welcome to explore the grounds on your own or go with a guided hike or tour. Filoli is open from early February through late October from Tuesday to Sunday. The estate welcomes visitors starting at 10:00 a.m., except on Sunday when it opens at 11:00. Visitors must enter by 2:30 p.m. Admission varies by time of year. Discounts are available for seniors, children, and K-12 educators with ID from adjoining counties.

Chimney Rock

When we have a wet winter, beautiful wildflowers blossom in the spring. Unfortunately, the last five years have been dry in California, so the wildflowers have not been at their fullest. There are many spots to see gorgeous flowers. My favorite is Chimney Rock in Point Reyes National Seashore. A 2.5 mile/4 km.-trail will guide you from the parking lot along the bluff overlooking Drake's Bay and the Pacific Ocean. In April and May, thousands of wild flowers are in bloom. Point Reyes juts into the Pacific making it a cold, windy, and foggy spot. If you can visit on a sunny day, you won't be disappointed.

Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens

Located about three hours north of San Francisco on CA-1 between Mendocino and Fort Bragg, the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens are home to a dazzling display of Rhododendrons, native plants and flowers, and a wide variety of other flowers. The gardens open daily at 9:00 a.m. and close at 5:00 p.m. from March through October and at 4:00 during the remainder of the year. Admission is $14 per adult with discounts available for seniors, children, active military personnel, and residents of the Mendocino coast.

Daffodil Hill

About 2.5 hours east of San Francisco is the small Gold Rush town of Volcano in Amador County. Just outside of town you'll find Daffodil Hill. If you visit at the right time of year, usually mid-March until mid-April, you'll find tens of thousands of blooming daffodils. This garden is a must-see if you are visiting Gold Country in the spring. Before you go, call (209) 296-7048 to check on road conditions and to see if the flowers are blooming. Admission is free.

Northern California has seen a bit more rainfall this winter than during the previous four years so, hopefully, there will be more flowers for you to enjoy during your Spring visit to Northern California.

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See you on the road,

Rick Spear
Blue Heron Custom Tours and Travel
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San Francisco, CA 94112
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