The garden is free, and in combination with a hike up nearby Vollmer Peak, offers a spectacular wildflower-filled, full-day outing. No dogs are allowed in the garden.
The botanic garden
Start your tour outside the Visitor Center where you can pick up a brochure. The brochure’s map shows the part of California from which each plant in the garden originates. Colored labels near each plant further help you identify each plant’s habitat.
As you stroll, you will see a magnificent re-creation of California’s native plant communities, transporting you from redwood forests and dry coastal dunes to alpine terrain and grassy meadows. Wander the paths, enjoying the stunning habitats. Scenic bridges crisscross Wildcat Creek, whose riparian environment is home to many birds. Flowers bloom every month of the year. If you visit in June, look for azaleas, poppies, fireweed, ocean spray, sweetshrub, mariposas, Donner buckwheat, clarkia and columbine.
Want to buy a native plant? On Thursday mornings from May through December, volunteers sell native plants from 9 to 11 a.m.
The seaview trail
If the garden’s 10 acres don’t provide enough exercise, take a brisk hike to Vollmer Peak along the nearby Seaview Trail. This trail offers ridgetop views ranging west to San Francisco and Marin and east to Mount Diablo and the San Pablo and Briones reservoirs. To get to the trail, continue northeast on Wildcat Canyon Road for .8 of a mile and turn right into the Quarry Trail area. Here you will find picnic tables, a restroom and parking for a few cars. Start up the trail and you will shortly see a posted sign “to Seaview Trail.” This short, steep connector brings you to the Seaview Trail, which is a broad fire road and part of the Bay Area Ridge Trail.
Vista at trail’s end
Look for the colorful lazuli bunting with its bright blue head. The trail is lined with poppies, cow parsnip, blue-eyed grass, forget-me-nots, lupine and buttercups. Although the trail is exposed, you will find an occasional welcome shady grove. A few benches offer rest and views. One bench is dedicated to Brian Maxwell, the Berkeley marathon runner and inventor of the PowerBar.
Continue to the paved turnoff to Vollmer Peak. At the peak (1,905 feet), there are several communications towers, but no nice place to rest. Walk around to look out at sweeping views that encompass the Golden Gate Bridge, the Lafayette Reservoir and Suisun Bay.
From the trailhead to Vollmer Peak and back it’s about 4 1/2 miles.
Good to know
The garden is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. from June 1 to Sept. 30 and from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Oct. 1 to May 31. It is closed New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Free tours are offered at 2 p.m. Saturdays and 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Sundays and begin at the Visitor Center. For more information call (510) 544-3169 or go to www.nativeplants.org.
The Botanic Garden is on Wildcat Canyon Road at South Park Drive. The AC Transit bus No. 67 or No. 65 stops at the Brazilian Room on Wildcat Canyon Drive about .1 of a mile from the garden. During the week, the No. 65 bus stops about a half mile away at Grizzly Peak Boulevard and Shasta Road.
By car from San Francisco, cross the Bay Bridge and take Interstate 80 to the Albany/Buchanan exit. Turn right onto Buchanan Street until it merges with Marin Avenue. Continue on Marin until you reach a traffic circle. Go around the circle and go up Marin, which is very steep, to Grizzly Peak Boulevard. Turn right on Grizzly Peak, Continue for 0.7 of a mile. Then turn left on Shasta Road. Make a slight right onto Wildcat Canyon Road. You will shortly come to parking for the Botanic Garden on your right. Cross Wildcat Canyon Road carefully at the crosswalk to enter the garden.
Cover photo: Daniel Parks via Flickr
Insert photo: Scott Clark via Flickr