What’s the Best Japanese Garden in the U.S.?

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Anderson Japanese Gardens in the Fall
photo credit ©RACVB, gorockford.com

What’s the most beautiful Japanese garden outside of Japan? Would you, like me, think that maybe there’s a gorgeous Japanese garden in Central Park? After all, they have a zoo! Or maybe in the Golden Gate Park in San Francisco?

It turns out that Central Park does not have a Japanese garden at all. And the Golden Gate Park is home to the oldest Japanese tea garden in the United States, but it is not considered the most beautiful. Don’t get me wrong, it is beautiful… it’s just not the MOST beautiful.


The most beautiful Japanese garden outside of Japan is Anderson Gardens located in the unassuming city of Rockford in northern Illinois.

Anderson Japanese Gardens
Photo credit ©RACVB, gorockford.com

John R. Anderson, a Rockford industrialist, began this backyard project gone awry in 1977. Over 35 years, Anderson and Japanese garden designer, Hoichi Kurisu, expanded the garden by purchasing neighboring homes and converting the lots to garden areas. The Gardens now offer 12 acres of winding paths, koi-filled ponds, tranquil waterfalls and peaceful benches for rest, renewal and reflection. Every year, the emporer of Japan presents the garden with a Japanese antiquity to add to the stunning yet understated display.

Anderson Gardens is open daily May 1 through October 31, welcoming 40,000 guests annually. Additionally, the Visitor Center hosts meetings and events year-round, including education lectures, photography events and wellness classes. During my visit, a watercolor painting class was in session. In summer, Anderson Gardens hosts “Tuesday Evening in the Gardens,” a music series held after-hours on the main lawn. Of course, the best garden outside of Japan also hosts weddings every year.

Visiting Anderson Gardens


318 Spring Creek Road
Rockford, IL 61107


May 1 – October 31

Monday-Friday, 9:00-6:00
Saturday, 9:00-4:00
Sunday, 10:00-4:00


Adults, $8.00
Seniors (62+), $7.00
Students, $6.00

Free/Donation Day on Third Thursdays! The third Thursday of each month, the Gardens are open to the public, free of charge, though donations are always welcome!

Tips for Visiting Anderson Gardens

Anderson Gardens is meant to be savored. Before taking young children, prepare them. This is not a run and climb garden. The koi pond offers a wooden patio with benches and food pellets for the koi, definitely worth a visit. The waterfalls, bridges and meandering paths create a perfect environment to ignite any child’s — or adult’s — sense of wonder. Remember your camera! Personal photos are allowed, but not tripods.

Guidelines from the Garden:

  • Help preserve the Gardens serene atmosphere and maintain its unique and beautiful collections. Please refrain from climbing on trees and shrubs, picking fruits, walking in gardening beds, collecting plants, flowers, and feeding wildlife (except for the koi in the outdoor pond).
  • Service animals are permitted on Garden grounds. No pets, please.
  • Eating and drinking is strictly prohibited outside of the Visitors Center, except for special events.
  • Bikes and skateboards are prohibited from the Garden proper.
  • Smoking is prohibited on all grounds including the parking lots.
  • Active sports and games (rollerblading, Frisbee, ball playing, swimming, fishing) are not permitted.
  • Kindly refrain from playing in fountains, waterfalls and on sculptures.
  • Please feel free to use Garden benches or chairs for resting.

Anderson Gardens offers Children’s Classes and Activities

Visit the Anderson Gardens site for information on art classes for kids. Also, on Mondays during the regular season, the gardens offer kids’ scavenger hunts. Registration is recommended. Children 5 and under must be accompanied by an adult. Kids 6 and older can enjoy the scavenger hunt with or without an accompanying adult.

Is it really that good?

I haven’t been to Japan (except to race through the airport in Tokyo), so I can’t say how this garden compares. However, when our group went to Anderson Gardens, I had a splitting headache and wasn’t looking forward to being there for a couple hours. But, the gardens got me. The waterfalls create a soft background melody. The winding paths invite guests to slow down and enjoy the wonder around each turn. The koi move gracefully through the ponds. Benches are tucked away in quiet, shaded corners offering peaceful rest. My headache melted away as we enjoyed our visit.

Big cities have lots of bells and whistles, but they don’t have Anderson Gardens. To see the best Japanese garden outside of Japan, head to Rockford, Illinois. TripAdvisor ranks it the #1 attraction in Rockford. Yeah, it’s that good!