Our Family Guide: The Foster Botanical Garden in Honolulu

We spend a day at a downtown garden and discover 5 tips to Honolulu’s oldest botanical gardens.


Photo: Cathy Cruz-George


Where: Foster Botanical Garden in downtown Honolulu

Who: A pair of 4-year-old girls and their mothers

When: Two hours on a weekday mid-morning in March


Pssst … want to know something special? The parking lot at Foster Botanical Garden is free of charge, rarely full of vehicles and smack dab in the middle of downtown Honolulu, notorious for no parking and high rates. Claiming a free open stall is thrilling whenever we visit Foster, a charming little garden bordered by Vineyard Boulevard and Nu‘uanu Avenue.


Foster boasts 14 acres of lush greenery, rare tropical flora and magnificent palm trees and is the oldest of five Honolulu Botanical Gardens operated by the City and County of Honolulu. For little kids: Perfect for play dates, picnic lunches and exposure to nature. Older ones: Ideal for for photography, hanging out with peers and switching mobile phones to airplane mode. Of course cell phones are allowed in the garden! But it’s nice when teens are technology-free (and spend it with you) for half a day. Seriously, Foster provides a mental pause for overscheduled, over-stimulated kids of all ages.


When you arrive at the garden, follow the tree-lined walkway toward the main entrance to get tickets, maps and brochures, handy for learning more about the other city-run gardens. There are a few stairs before and after the ticket booth and some wheelchair-and stroller-friendly paths throughout the garden.


Once you’re past the main entrance, your choices are abundant. Should you visit the Orchid Conservatory or Butterfly Garden? Sunny knoll or shady glen? Let us help simplify your planning.


Rare, colorful orchids bloom inside The Conservatory, perfect for a stroll with good friends. Photo: Cathy Cruz-George


Our Tips


1. Bring a picnic lunch or snack. Foster doesn’t have a cafe, not even a snack shack, so pack energy-boosting foods and chilled drinks. There are benches (without tables) throughout the garden and places to spread a picnic blanket. We like to take breaks in the grassy, flat Upper Terrace and in the grassy patch near the Butterfly Garden and Conservatory. Both locations, by the way, are close to the garden’s two bathrooms, which are clean.


The Upper Terrace is a flat grassy area for picnics and finding straY leaves and branches. Photo: Cathy Cruz-George


2. Protect your kids’ feet, skin and eyes. Expect to tread on mud, wet grass, loose rocks, fallen branches, protruding tree roots—you get the idea. It’s a garden, so protect your offspring’s feet. Bug repellant might be a good idea, too. In the past, we’ve swatted at mosquitos and other flying critters near water sources and puddles. And consider sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat for protection.


3. Explain to your kids what you see. You don’t need a botany degree to appreciate Foster, which dates back to 1853 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. View the colorful orchids in The Conservatory, and catch a whiff of plants in the Heliconias and Ginger Garden. Point out the primitive plants from around the world and the “exceptional trees” protected by the government. In other words, view the garden through kid goggles. Our condominium-dwelling girls were enchanted with a baby pineapple perched on a spiky plant in the Economic Garden, where celery, kale, lavender and basil grow out in the open.


Photo: Cathy Cruz-George


4. Bring activities to foster creativity and bonding. If your kids are like our girls and love to draw, bring art supplies to record their experiences. Bring a journal for poetry or songwriting, a “real” camera for macro photography, even a deck of cards for an impromptu game. Our girls unleashed their inner artistry as they sat on benches inside the gazebo, an open-air structure near the main entrance.


5. One last tip. Try to pack light. We’re not camping here. And if you run out of snacks, there is a Zippy’s and Napoleon Bakery across the street on Vineyard Boulevard.


Overall Pros: A family trip to Foster is relaxing and unhurried. There are no timetables to follow; no seats to reserve; no standing in line. Entry fees are reasonable at $1 for kids ages 6-12, and $4 for local residents ages 13 and up.


Overall Cons: Kids who don’t appreciate nature and slow-moving activities might be bored. In that case, visit the garden during the “Midsummer Night’s Gleam” or the “Summer Concert Series” (see below for details).


Foster Botanical Garden

  • 50 N. Vineyard Boulevard, main entrance and 180 N. Vineyard Boulevard, gift shop. Honolulu, Hawai‘i, 96817
  • Honolulu.gov/parks/hbg.html
  • 522-7060/7066
  • Hours: Daily, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. On July 18, the garden will close from noon to 4 p.m.
  • Prices: $1 for children ages 6-12; $3 for local residents ages 13 and older


Special Events

Foster Botanical Garden Midsummer Night’s Gleam

The garden will twinkle with mini lights between 4 and 9 p.m., Saturday, July 15. The theme for 2017 is “A Night of a Thousand Stars” so bring your Star Wars costumes and be ready for some photo ops. Family activities including botanical games, arts and crafts, bubbles and painting will be 4 to 6:30 p.m. Bring a picnic dinner. Park on the street if the lot is full.


Foster Botanical Garden Summer Twilight Series

The garden hosts a free, concert series every in June and July. In the past, free entry has begun at 4 p.m. with the concert from 5:45 to 6:30 p.m. Note that the parking fills up very quickly, so plan to arrive early.