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Kubota Gardens: A Peaceful Oasis in the City

Explore nature with your kids at this amazing Japanese garden

Published on: September 04, 2019

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Photo:
Crossing one of Kubota Garden's bridges. Credit: Godfrey Guerzon

Every time I enter the bronze gates of Kubota Garden, I sense my heart rate slowing and my breath deepening as a feeling of serenity comes over me. Within minutes, a zen-like state infuses my spirit. 

This hidden jewel of a park offers the perfect — and free — environment in which to take your kids on a fascinating nature walk. Although located in an urban area, this oasis feels miles away from traffic and city life. Grown-ups will enjoy the plants and peace while the kids will love the rocks to climb, “hidden” pathways, a waterfall, koi, ducks, turtles, curved bridges, ponds and streams.

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Image source: Seattle Municipal Archives CC BY 2.0

Fujitaro Kubota, a self-taught professional landscaper, started this Japanese garden in 1927 with just five acres. Over many years, the garden expanded as Kubota added new features. Despite a four-year period in which Kubota and his family suffered internment during World War II, the space was finally completed in 1962, though Kubota's son continued adding other elements over the years. Fujitaro Kubota died in 1973.

The gorgeous gardens, which present a fusion of traditional Japanese garden style and Pacific Northwest plants, are now designated as a historic landmark. The City of Seattle owns and operates the gardens as a city park.

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Credit: Godfrey Guerzon

Enter the garden

Kubota Garden's entry plaza is graced with several huge boulders, perfect for kids to climb. Once you’ve talked the kids off of the stones, enter through the beautiful bronze gate created by local artist Gerald Tsutakawa. The gate symbolizes leaving behind the everyday world and entering a sacred space.

Just inside, check out the huge, hanging bell to your right. It is recommended that you ring the bell with your knuckles to let the spirits know you’ve arrived. Here, you'll also find a drinking fountain and a small restroom sign will point you to the portable toilets.

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Credit: Godfrey Guerzon

Exploring plants, rocks, ducks and bridges

Although there is one large loop path, there are also many tiny, almost hidden offshoots that take you to unexpected surprises, such as a giant, wooden umbrella at one of the highest points of the landscape.

A brochure, available at the kiosk, has a map and describes a self-guided tour. Of course, you can also just wander and make your own discoveries along the way. Challenge your crew to find stacked rocks, stone lanterns, curved bridges as well as ducks, fish and turtles.

While you wander, here are a few of my favorite things that your family shouldn't miss:

The waterfall

In an area called the Mountainside, the land rises 65 feet and features a waterfall built from stones from North Bend. You can view the falls from the main path, or climb up a side path to see the falls and the garden from another perspective.

Bridges

The beautiful Heart Bridge with its bright red rails is a popular site for wedding pictures. Over Mapes Creek, be sure to find the Moon Bridge. Its steep incline is meant to represent the difficulty of living a good life, “Hard to walk up and hard to walk down.” There are other smaller stone and wood bridges over water to be found as well. While checking out the streams, keep your eye out for resident ducks.

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Credit: Godfrey Guerzon

Spring pond

This body of water is fed by underground springs and houses wildlife, including koi and turtles. Hint: Watch the area of the pond with lots of green plants growing in the water, the koi like to feed there!

Stone lantern

Stone lanterns are a common element in Japanese gardens. Originally the lanterns were used as votive lights in temples and shrines and later to provide light during garden tea ceremonies. Look for a large stone lantern near the Spring pond.

Terrace Overlook

Get a different view of the landscape from a pavilion atop of terraced stone. There is also a large grassy area for getting wiggles out or spreading a picnic blanket.

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Credit: Godfrey Guerzon

Fera Fera Forest

This area, full of threadleaf cypress trees, reminds me of a fairy tale forest. It is very quiet and completely different from the rest of the gardens.

Every part of the garden is beautifully maintained and you will see something new with every visit, especially in different seasons. Whether you and your family stop in for a short walk or a longer visit, I'm certain you will come away feeling refreshed.

If you go...

Find it: Kubota Garden is located at 9817 55th Ave. South in Seattle

Open hours: 6 a.m.–10 p.m. daily

Facilities: Drinking fountains and portable toilets are located near the entrance. There are many benches throughout the park as well as a couple of picnic tables. Leashed dogs are welcome.

Getting there: Parking is free in the medium-sized lot. Street parking is often available as well. Note: There are signs posted in the lot to lock cars and not leave valuables. Kubota Garden is about a mile walk from the Rainier Beach light rail station or to get closer, try Metro route 106.

Information: A free brochure with a map of the gardens is available at the kiosk near the entrance. The Kubota Garden Foundation is a volunteer organization dedicated to supporting the garden. Read more about the story of Fujitaro Kubota.

Hungry? Get a snack or lunch at Redwing Cafe, located a half-mile from the gardens at 9272 57th Ave. S.  or try Pizzeria Pulcinella, less than a mile away at 10003 Rainier Ave. S.

More ideas for urban exploration with kids:

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