Shinzen Friendship Garden in Woodward Park
Several times over the last few years, my wife and I have found ourselves in Fresno with time on our hands. Each of these times we have found interesting and enjoyable things to do – and most of them seem surprisingly little-known, even to people who live in Fresno.
Our most recent discovery was the Shinzen Friendship Garden in Woodward Park. Since we hadn’t heard much about it, we didn’t expect a whole lot. To our surprise, we found a stunning, meticulously manicured paradise with mature trees, plenty of shade, flowers, ponds, creeks, peacocks, and koi fish.
It’s the most beautiful and peaceful spot I’ve seen in any Central Valley city.
The day of our visit also happened to be the annual Bonsai Festival. There were hundreds of bonsai trees – some of the more than half a century old – to enjoy. Several vendors had unique Japanese and garden-themed art and other items for sale.
Food was available at lunch time and live traditional Japanese music was being performed in the tea garden. The festival is held every April.
Information about the garden
For more information about the garden, the Bonsai Festival, and other annual events,
go to: http://www.shinzenjapanesegarden.org/index.html or call (559) 840-1264.
Guided tours can be scheduled and the garden can also be a great location to take family portraits. A special permit is required for this kind of use, but easy to obtain through the website.
The garden can be rented for weddings, meetings, and other social events.
Check the website to find out what current conditions are before you plan your visit. Although the spring bloom is probably the most popular season to visit, the garden is also an excellent fall destination with Japanese maples and other tree species putting on a vibrant leaf show.
Until the end of September, the garden is open on weekdays from 5PM until dusk and on weekends from 10AM until dusk. Starting October 1st and continuing through March 31st, the garden is only open on weekends from 10AM until 5PM.
Summer hours resume on April 1st. In addition to the $5/car fee to enter Woodward Park, a separate per person charge of $3 for ages 15-61 or $0.50 for ages 4-14 and seniors 62 and older is collected.
Children under 4 years old are free and the max charge for a family (up to 5 people) is $5.
Not far from Merced
If you live in Merced, the drive takes just over an hour. Located at 114 W. Audubon Drive in Fresno’s Woodward Park, take the Friant Road exit from Highway 41 and turn east on Friant Road.
Follow the signs for Woodward Park. It is located adjacent to the highway. The fee to enter the park is $5 per car. If a senior citizen is a driver or passenger in the vehicle it is reduced to $3 and it is free with a disabled parking permit.
The garden began in 1981 and was planted to honor Fresno’s sister city of Kochi, Japan. In the 33 years since that time, its plantings have matured into one of the most beautiful gardens within a day’s drive from home.
With the closing of Hanford’s Clark Center for Japanese Art and Culture in the summer of 2015, the Center’s remarkable collection of bonsai will be permanently transferred to Shinzen.
The grand opening of this collection is expected to take place sometime after July 2015 and it will make Shinzen even more exceptional.
If you make the trip you can also enjoy Woodward Park’s picnic areas, trails, and playgrounds. During the summer months, the park’s amphitheater that is frequently the site of concerts.
Designed to be both a public park and a bird sanctuary, large tree-ringed ponds are the centerpiece of the landscape. The park can be a great place to see wildlife.
Other locations to visit while in Fresno
While in Fresno, there are plenty of other things to enjoy. Some of the best include: