Hola Friends!

If you are planning a wedding at the San Diego Japanese Friendship Garden in Balboa Park, this is the review to read! Team Ninja has put together the definitive article on planning a wedding reception at the Garden! Almost all the images in this article are from one of our recently married couples: Catherine and Matt’s Japanese Friendship Garden Wedding.

We intend to write more planning guides and venue reviews in the future. We hope you find it useful and feel free to link to this review!


The Japanese Friendship Garden in Balboa Park is one of our favorite venues to shoot at and is easily one of the top Bang for the Buck venues around town. The entrance of the Japanese Friendship Garden is nestled between the Sprekels Organ Pavillion and the Prado.

The entrance to the Garden.

First built in 1915, the garden houses a zen meditation garden, which can be viewed from the exhibit house (the garden outside the exhibit house on the right in the photo below).

If you are planning to have your ceremony at the Garden, the venue features a traditional Japanese Ceremonial gate that can be used as a backdrop for your wedding ceremony. Alternatively, it can be used for something creative like a Candy Bar! This Candy Bar was decked out with all sorts for goodies.

Cocktail Hour

The cocktail hour location usually works best towards the front of the Garden near the pond, where your guests can appreciate the Garden’s stock of ginormous Koi fish. The patio area adjacent to the Koi pond includes some shade relief for your guests during the hot summers, when the sun is still after 7pm. For day events, the shade is even more welcome!

Patio area next to the Koi pond. The Zen Meditation garden is in the background off to the right.

The Ceremonial Plaza at Night
The Ceremonial Plaza can comfortably accommodate up to 200 guests. The Ceremonial Plaza reaches its full potential at night where it provides a very intimate setting under the stars.

As this is an open air venue with minimal lighting, we highly recommend working with a rental company that does lighting (Concepts Event Design) or event planner familiar with venue lighting. A Lighting Truss like the one shown here allows you to stream across light bulbs, lanterns etc.

Up lights, down lights, candles, and mini light bulbs all add to the ambiance. Japanese lanterns streamed across the Ceremonial Plaza always look phenomenal and we believe that is just scratching the surface. Talented event designers, like Concepts Event Designs and Melissa Barrad, can present other options to blow away your guests upon first seeing the reception area.

Pathway Luminaries

Pathway Luminaries when used for late summer and fall evening weddings are a great way to help guide your guests from the cocktail area to the reception. These luminaries were made using very thin brown paper bags containing “flameless” LED candles. Tons of these candles can be cheaply had on eBay.

LED candles:
– can last up to 48 hours continuously,
– do not blow out with wind,
– and are reusable.

Use 2 or 3 LED candles per Luminary so they are sufficiently bright during the twilight hours. Use the following link to check on sunset times for your wedding:
San Diego Sunset Time Calculator

We definitely recommend incorporating plenty of candles to give your reception a very intimate feel.

Photo Ops at Balboa Park

One of the great advantages of the Garden is the numerous photo opportunities afforded by Balboa Park. Having so many great photo backdrops within walking distance of your reception saves an enormous amount of time, which can be better spent catching up with old friends and family. (Tip: Ladies, it’s helpful to bring along a pair of flip flops so you don’t have to walk everywhere in your heels.) Here are just a few of our favorite spots around Balboa Park that we shot for Catherine and Matt’s wedding.


If you are wondering about wedding colors, a bright green fits in perfectly as it compliments the colors of the garden, but still pops out and doesn’t blend in. We love the details that Melissa designed for the Catherine and Matt’s wedding, and think they go perfectly with the venue and theme of the wedding. It’s important your event designer choose elements that go well with both the theme, decor and overall ambiance of the venue. Something overly garish would probably not work best with the zen feeling to the Garden.

The groom, Matt, has great taste! He picked out black chairs for the reception.

Band / DJ Location

There is a deck overlooking the Ceremonial Plaza (facing the Patio and Parking lot behind the Organ Pavilion) which is an optimal placement for bands and DJ location.

Wedding Dates

The Garden is beautiful year round. However, the last week of March / First week of April is “sakura.” Translation from Japanese: the Cherry Blossoms are in full bloom! So, if you haven’t yet picked a date, try to shoot for that time of the year for an awesome backdrop of pink Cherry Blossoms.

Here’s Nicole and Aaron next to one of the many cherry trees around the park.

Japanese / Asian inspired cuisine fit perfectly with the Garden! Tasty appetizers such as butterflied fried shrimp with a sweet and sour dipping sauce are a sure hit guests. The flames from the noodle station provides a bit of fun for your guests to watch as they wait for their noodles. The chefs will also allow your guests to customize the ingredients in their noodle dish. The folks at Indulge Catering produced these delightfully delicious dishes and appetizers below.

Lastly, it’s nice to make sure your guests arrive safely and aren’t waiting endlessly to park. One of the least appreciated aspects of holding your wedding reception at the Garden is the abundant abundant parking right behind the Organ Pavilion during evenings and late afternoons. A definite plus over the parking fiascos of having a wedding in downtown at night. Fugget about it!

Again, we hope you find it useful and feel free to link to this review! Please contact the following persons if you have any questions on the services presented above!

Contact Information
Japanese Friendship Garden, Wedding Coordinator
Lovelynn Hansen

Event Design and Coordination
Melissa Barrad

Concepts Event Design
Party Rentals, Lighting, Furnishings, Linens and more
Haydee Aldrete

Tonya, Indulge Catering
858-270-5700 (office)
619-726-2630 (cell)

Atrero Photography

We are an award winning San Diego Wedding Photographer duo specializing in artistic documentary wedding photography.
San Diego, CA
Phone: (760)-481-7632