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Family-friendlyS.F. Bay Area

Work up a sweat seeing beautiful flowers and plants at San Francisco's Conservatory of Flowers

 (Catharine Hamm / Los Angeles Times)
(Catharine Hamm / Los Angeles Times)

Why: There’s a wonderful cognitive dissonance in feeling as though you’re in the tropics and knowing you’re in San Francisco. That's daily life in Golden Gate Park’s Conservatory of Flowers, where temperatures average 75 to 80 degrees during the day, coupled with a humidity of 70% to 80%. Plus you get a little helping of history with your heat and humidity.

What: Greenhouses once were the playhouses of the rich; this glass-and-wood beauty was supposed to become part of a Santa Clara estate belonging to wealthy businessman James Lick. His death in 1876 ended the idea of a grand greenhouse, and it sat until a group of San Franciscans, including Leland Stanford and Charles Crocker, bought it and donated it to the city. It opened in 1879.

The conservatory has more than 2,000 species of plants, including this anthurium. (Catharine Hamm / Los Angeles Times)
The conservatory has more than 2,000 species of plants, including this anthurium. (Catharine Hamm / Los Angeles Times)

Its life has been no bed of roses. At least one explosion, a fire and a windstorm have damaged it, sometimes closing it for long stretches, although oddly enough, it survived the 1906 earthquake unscathed. Still, in the 1990s, it landed on the World Monuments Fund's list of endangered sites. But it was saved, once again, by a fundraising effort.

Today the conservatory is thought to be the largest such structure in the world, and on days when the sun is out, it seems like a gleaming white symbol of tenacity.

Inside, you’ll find the familiar (anthurium, orchids and hibiscus), the exotic (chenille and lipstick plants) and the odd (the Dracula orchid and the corpse flower, which bloomed in June). You can watch a time lapse of the opening of the odiferous corpse flower. Fortunately, you cannot smell it.

The conservatory also has special exhibits (Butterflies and Blooms through Jan. 8) and special events (an Oct. 19 Dracula Orchid Ball — Gala Under Glass) that keep the experience different for repeat visitors.

Where: Golden Gate Park on John F. Kennedy Drive, about 385 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles

How much: $9 for adults, $6 for seniors 65 and older and youth 12-17, $3 for children 5-11 and free for children 4 and younger. Tickets to the Dracula gala begin at $350. (It’s a fundraiser.)

Info: Conservatory of Flowers 

Dracula orchid (Catharine Hamm / Los Angeles Times)
Dracula orchid (Catharine Hamm / Los Angeles Times)

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