The conservatory is a symphony of plant life. Through its 16,000 whitewashed panes of glass, the sun shines on hibiscus, bromeliads, ferns, taro plants, water lilies, lotus and more. Catch a tour with a docent at 11 a.m., 12:30 or 2:30 p.m. and learn, as I did, about such weird specimens as the Dracula orchid. "It was not named for Bela Lugosi," docent Judy Fayollat told my group. "The fellow who found it thought it looked like a little dragon." Dracula derives from draco, Latin for dragon, she said. That might give you a little chill, except there are places in the conservatory where it's 85 degrees and hotter -- nice on a chilly day and remember, you're in San Francisco, so when isn't it? The only thing that breaks the harmonious atmosphere are the explosions at one end of the building. A special exhibit celebrating the city's Gold Rush years (through April 14) comes complete with recorded blasts, but its trolleys, trains and ships that move and hoot and "smoke" could keep younger folks engaged. It's included with admission: $7 for adults, $5 for kids 12-17, college students and seniors 65 and older, $2 for kids 5-11 and free for kids 4 and younger. Open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays. 100 John F. Kennedy Drive; (415) 831-2090, http://www.conservatoryofflowers.org.
Catharine Hamm / Los Angeles Times