The Bay Area’s 7 best sculpture gardens and outdoor art


Have you ever visited Golden Gate Park to see a […]

Have you ever visited Golden Gate Park to see a woman with a living beehive on her head? Or toured a Sonoma winery with 200-plus acres of museum-quality artwork? These are options in the Bay Area, where gorgeous sculpture gardens abound. Here are seven great ones to explore:

Point San Pablo Harbor, Richmond

Michael Christian’s “Asterpod” is one of several large-scale artworks from Burning Man that have been moved to a sculpture park at Point San Pablo Harbor. (@Gino)

Where do Burning Man sculptures go after the party’s over? Many have a second home on a remote spit of Richmond’s coast.

Candace Locklear in Oakland helped create We Are From Dust to get Burning Man art off the desert and into public areas. “A lot of artists we know have work stuck in old warehouses, and it’s just a shame,” she says.

At Point San Pablo Harbor, there’s an “Asterpod” womb you climb into and a tree sculpture by Kate Raudenbush transported all the way from New York. “It’s so immense, and there was nowhere to put it,” Locklear says. “So she was like, ‘I’ll give it to you!’”

Sculptures that light up at night include a glass crocodile, a huge bee and a pair of interactive cats. Everything’s meant to be physically explored.

“The cats actually purr when you touch a certain place on them,” Locklear says.”They will vibrate.”

The allure of the space is enhanced by the presence of wildly popular Black Star Pirate BBQ, plus a waterside bar with a deck and music, dancing and movies. “People come knowing they can meet like-minded people and feel comfortable,” says Locklear. “It’s become a miniature Burning Man experience.”

de Young Museum, San Francisco

For a sensorial experience, nothing much beats the Barbro Osher Sculpture Garden at San Francisco’s de Young Museum. You’re among the butterflies and vegetation of Golden Gate Park, but the art itself also seems to breathe nature.

Artwork dots the grounds of the Barbro Osher Sculpture Garden at San Francisco's de Young Museum.
Artwork dots the grounds of the Barbro Osher Sculpture Garden at San Francisco’s de Young Museum. Here is Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen’s monumental “Corridor Pin, Blue.” (Henrik Kam)

Visitors enter James Turrell’s “Three Gems” through a tunnel that opens up into a chamber carved out of a hill. The attraction is simple but sublime: You look up at the sky through a hole in the ceiling. Sit a while, and you’ll grow to appreciate the effects weather and time have on natural light, which is subtly enhanced by hidden LEDs.

“Exomind (Deep Water)” by Pierre Huyghe is a crouching female figure whose head is turbaned with honeycomb and swarming bees. It speaks to the brain’s neural network and also climate change: If we don’t have honeybees on our minds, we could destroy the pollination apparatus sustaining our food system. The piece’s growing wax ball needs to be “trimmed” occasionally – how often can you say that about modern art?

Then there’s Zhan Wang’s “Artificial Rock.” “This sculpture alludes to the jiashanshi (artificial mountain rocks) commonly placed in Chinese gardens,” says Emma Acker, associate curator of American art at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. “Wang’s shiny stainless-steel rock, which mirrors the viewer but is hollow, alludes to the emptiness of manmade simulations of nature in Beijing’s modern urban landscape.”

Other artworks include a giant safety pin by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen and a self-portrait/war statement by Bay Area Funk Art’s Robert Arneson. For folks who want to keep the naturalistic vibes going, there’s the Japanese Tea Garden next door with its animal sculptures, lovingly manicured gardens and grassy matcha drinks.

Stanford University, Stanford

You can’t navigate Stanford’s campus without bumping into prolific public art. Perhaps most intriguing is the Papua New Guinea Sculpture Garden, with dozens of pieces reflecting traditional culture and creation myths. Anthropology grad student Jim Mason built it with artists from the Pacific country’s Sepik River region in the 1990s; the carved-wood and pumice sculptures remain a popular hangout spot for college students today.

Here's one of the many artworks at the Papua New Guinea Sculpture Garden on the Stanford University campus.
Here’s one of the many artworks at the Papua New Guinea Sculpture Garden on the Stanford University campus. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)

There’s a garden full of Auguste Rodin sculptures open around the clock with free tours. It celebrates, according to the university, the artist’s “relentless pursuit to convey complex emotions, diverse psychological states and pure sensuality through the nude.”

Contemporary works are always popping up, too. “Pars pro Toto” presents stone spheres, sourced from eight nations, that range from watermelon-sized to something that could flatten Indiana Jones. Artist Alicja Kwade chose their location by tossing marbles onto a model of the campus. Xu Zhen’s “Hello,” meanwhile, must have one of the most disingenuously disarming titles in the art world – the 15-foot sculpture looks like a coiled bloodworm poised to sink into the flesh of a passing student.

The Donum Estate, Sonoma

“Circle of Animals / Zodiac Heads” by Ai Weiwei lurks in the fog at the Donum Estate in Sonoma. (Anthony Laurino via the Donum Estate)

If a world-class museum exploded, and its contents landed on the grounds of a Sonoma winery, you would have the Donum Estate. Owners Mei and Allan Warburg seeded their private collection – one of the largest in the world – with tons of terrific outdoor art, including many site-specific installations. Visitors who plop down $95 to $175 can spend a leisurely couple of hours exploring roughly 50 large-scale artworks while enjoying a tasting of wines from Carneros and the Russian River Valley.

The collection showcases pieces from artists on six continents, including a convocation of Zodiac animal heads by Ai Weiwei and a life-sized lead airplane by Anselm Kiefer. There are joyfully rotund figures by Columbia’s Fernando Botero and a “Black Palm” sculpture from Douglas White made from burned car tires, a commentary on the exploitation of rubber forests. This fall, the estate is debuting an outdoor tasting pavilion designed by the firm of artist Olafur Eliasson and architect Sebastian Behmann – a dome of colored light with panoramic views of surrounding wine country.

The Presidio, San Francisco

A lone hiker rests on a log in Andy Goldsworthy's "Wood Line" in the Presidio of San Francisco
A lone hiker rests on a log in Andy Goldsworthy’s “Wood Line” in the Presidio of San Francisco (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

San Francisco’s Presidio isn’t just a dazzling national park with its hushed groves, slicing beams of sunlight and whale-dotted Bay views; it’s also home to one of the densest public concentrations of sculptures by famed land artist Andy Goldsworthy.

“Spire” is a 100-foot-tall monolith of cypress trunks jutting from the forest floor like a dragon’s tooth. “Wood Line” invites people to walk a path of felled trees snaking more than a thousand feet into the woods. Now that the historic Presidio Officers’ Club is open again, visitors can inspect “Earth Wall,” a sphere of twisted eucalyptus boughs buried in clay that evokes nearby archaeological research.

“Each time I go to the Presidio to check on the current condition of the works, I’m typically met with something quite surprising,” says Cheryl Haines, executive director of the FOR-SITE Foundation that worked with the park on Goldsworthy’s sculptures.

“Often, I would go to ‘Wood Line’ and see groups of small children having a picnic or witness local adolescents building their own spires in homage to Goldsworthy,” she says. “I was even asked by a friend and colleague to perform a marriage ceremony at ‘Spire,’ which we did quite quickly and privately – it was really magical.”

di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art, Napa

Mark di Suvero’s large-scale “For Veronica” sculpture sits on the grounds of Napa’s di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art. (Grace Henricks via di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art)

The world’s tallest filing cabinet is right here at di Rosa, rising seven stories high thanks to artist Samuel Yates. (The drawers are full of shredded car parts – don’t ask, it’s art.)

The di Rosa center has more than a thousand similarly thought-provoking pieces scattered over 217 acres in Napa Valley. The focus is modern Northern California art with works from the 1960s onward and space devoted to up-and-coming artists, often from the Bay Area.

“Driving up to di Rosa, it is impossible to miss Mark di Suvero’s monumental sculpture ‘For Veronica,’ which was named in tribute to (art patron) Veronica di Rosa,” says Andrea Saenz, the center’s deputy director. “And I always like to point out Robert Arneson’s large ceramic bust of Viola Frey. These two sculptures speak to the friendships formed at the art park and to the collaborative spirit that remains integral to the organization today.”

There’s a herd of hands rising from the earth and a motorized angel helicoptering in the air. William Wiley’s “Gong” is a massive metal instrument that visitors pound with a wooden caber (surprisingly, the geese in the nearby lake don’t seem to mind the soul-shaking sound). There’s even more artwork on distant Milliken Peak, which can be accessed during 3-mile tours held monthly.

Appreciating the sculpture is just one thing to do at di Rosa. “There is fantastic birding, picnic areas and wonderful, rugged walking paths to enjoy,” Saenz says. “Not to mention guided hikes with sweeping vistas and a gorgeous courtyard lawn on which to lounge. The di Rosa is a terrific spot for a romantic picnic, a family get-together or a play date.”

Montalvo Arts Center, Saratoga

In the foothills above Saratoga lies historic Montalvo with gardens designed by John McLaren of Golden Gate Park fame. A lot of the classical statuary you’ll encounter comes from the collection of James Phelan, the U.S. senator and San Francisco mayor who once lived here. (Check out the three busts he commissioned from famed sculptor Gertrude Boyle Kanno that line the center’s Poet’s Walk.)

A 2021 piece by Hank Willis Thomas, “Strike,” sits in the historic grounds of the Montalvo Arts Center in Saratoga. (Flying Studio Los Angeles)

Moltalvo is also home to the Sally and Don Lucas Artists Program, which commissions an annual lineup of new artwork to show off at a summer festival. This year’s fest, “Claiming Space: Refiguring the Body in Landscape,” just opened , and it explores what it means to have our bodies feel safe and represented in public. (It’s especially relevant at this location, given that Phelan campaigned in 1920 on the startling slogan, “Keep California White.”)

With 175 acres of manicured grounds and hiking trails, there’s always something new and surprising to uncover. Visitors might accidentally see themselves in Ali Naschke-Messing’s “From Within, So Without,” a bunya pine tree with crevices filled with mirrors. And sometimes, a hike becomes the art. Susan O’Malley’s “A Healing Walk” is a 20-minute jaunt that the artist has augmented with directional and affirmational signs like “You look up,” say, or “You are here awake and alive.”

If You Go

Point San Pablo Harbor: Open daily at 1900 Stenmark Drive, Richmond; Black Star Pirate BBQ opens at 11 a.m. Friday-Sunday.

de Young museum: Opens at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday-Sunday at 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, San Francisco; find ticket information at

Papua New Guinea Sculpture Garden: Open daily at 476 Lomita Drive on Stanford’s campus;

The Donum Estate: Open by reservation only with a tasting; 24500 Ramal Road, Sonoma;

The Presidio: Open daily at 1750 Lincoln Blvd., San Francisco;

di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art: Opens at 11 a.m. Friday-Sunday (or by appointment Tuesday-Thursday) at 5200 Highway 12, Napa;

Montalvo Arts Center: Open daily with free admission at 15400 Montalvo Road, Saratoga;

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