Yerba Buena Gardens

Designers: MGA Partners, Romaldo Giurgola, M. Paul Friedberg | City: San Francisco, CA | Project Type: revitalization, rooftop garden, green roof, cultural center
Date Visited: 11.03.12

Location: 745 Mission St San Francisco, CA
Size: 4.5 acres
Official Opening Date: October 11, 1993

Marking a vibrant, cultural district in the heart of San Francisco, the Yerba Buena Gardens–Spanish for “good herb”–were built as part of a major revitalization effort around Mission Street. Along with the Moscone Convention Center, the largest in San Francisco, these spaces function as an important and lively recreational space for the community.

Built as an elevated rooftop park, the Yerba Buena Gardens features two tiers: the Yerba Buena Esplanade atop the convention center roof and the Rooftop at Yerba Buena Gardens, a second block of green space on an elevated section on top of the Esplanade.

Yerba Buena Gardens Map. Photo Credit:

The Esplanade, which is considered as the “front yard of downtown San Francisco,” is a block of nature in the sky. With naturalistic landscape as varied from meadow to woodlands, MGA Partners in collaboration with architect Romaldo Giurgola also sculpted a number of varied small gardens.

Along the meadow’s edge rises the Sister Cities Garden, a colorful year-round terraced garden that features plants from San Francisco’s 13 sister cities around the world from as far as Taipei, Taiwan and Abidjan, Ivory Coast.

At the top of the terraced gardens is the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial integrated with a majestic, 50-foot tall and 20-foot wide waterfall. The memorial includes back-lit photos from the civil rights movement and Dr. King’s engraved words, over which a cascade of water flows. One of the most popular features on site, the memorial also helps mediate the grade change to conceal the Convention Center Lobby.

Oche Wat Te Ou/Reflections or Ohlone Indian Memorial is a tribute to the native Ohlone Indians. A curved and sloping wooden wall engraved with Ohlone basket designs backs a circular, meditative space.

The Rooftop Garden is the much more active half of the gardens. A beautiful hand-carved playground sits atop as well as a play circle designed by M. Paul Friedberg, a small vegetated labyrinth, outdoor amphitheatre and burbling fountains and streams. A bustling cafe sits atop and benches line the long, overhanging archway.

The Yerba Buena Gardens are a beautiful asset to the downtown region, an area that is often overlooked for great park spaces in cities. There is enough variety in the type of spaces that span the park to draw different crowds, yet these separate parts still come together as a cohesive whole. Clean, bright and well-used, the 4.5-acre park benefits from its close proximity to shops and entertainment and its sun-soaked great lawn.

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