Taking a Break from Reality at The Unreal Garden (Ticket Giveaway)

    This post is in partnership with the Unreal Garden.

    One of the latest entrants in San Francisco’s experiential art space is the Unreal Garden, which opened to the public on October 19th. The creation of immersive media company, Onedome, the Unreal Garden is described as “an immersive mixed reality experience.” Last weekend, I had the opportunity to find out what that actually means on a visit to the Unreal Garden with my twelve-year-old daughter and her friend (kids must be eleven or older to experience the Unreal Garden).  

    What to Expect

    Immediately upon entering the building in which the Unreal Garden is housed, a short walk down Market Street from the Civic Center MUNI stop, we found ourselves in a colorful fantasy world where enormous, indigo owls stared out at us from the walls and a cozy hobbit house snuggled along the banks of a turquoise stream. We continued on through a lounge and cafe space (both of which are open to the public admission free) and checked in for our visit with the woman at the front desk. “It’s kind of like being in Alice in Wonderland,” she told us when I asked what to expect.   

    After a brief orientation, we were fitted with Microsoft Hololens headsets allowing us to “see into” the Unreal Garden and embarked on our maiden journey into immersive mixed reality. Unlike virtual reality glasses, which fill your entire field of vision with images from an alternate world, the Hololens headsets used at the Unreal Garden layer the imaginary on top of reality. As a result, we could still see what was actually there—a whimsical garden of boulders, plants, trees, more hobbit homes, and the same stream we had encountered earlier (my daughter nevertheless managed to accidentally step into the stream at one point, and, yes, it contained real water!)—while the Hololens brought to life another visual dimension in addition to providing sound.      

    Spoiler Alert: Here’s What You’ll See

    So, what exactly did we experience in the Unreal Garden? Spoiler alert, if you’d like to find out for yourself.

    First and foremost, the space is intended to serve as a sort of virtual art exhibit, where seven “spirit animals”—six frogs and a rabbit—guide you to the artworks of seven real life artists. To make the art appear, visitors must find each animal and then diffuse a blue ball of light that floats over them, by pointing their finger in front of the Halolens and at the ball of light. For me, this was a little tricky—admittedly, I’m not the most tech savvy mother on the block—but the girls did not seem to have any problems. Ball of light diffused, the artwork then magically appears along with a panel of text describing the piece and the artist who created it. My favorites were a large, many-petaled pink flower that morphed into geometric shapes as I leaned into it and a quartet of glowing jellyfish that pulsated slowly in mid-air.

    In addition to the artwork, the Halolens allowed us to see virtual plants, flowers, birds and other creatures growing and moving about in and around the physical garden. We were encouraged by staff to interact with these images as much as we liked; to try and touch them, walk through them, and even lie down on the ground to experience everything from a different perspective.      

    After about twenty minutes or so exploring the real and unreal in the Unreal Garden (visitors can stay for a maximum of 25 minutes), we wrapped up our visit at a photo station where our pictures were taken with the real and virtual garden as a backdrop. This, by the way, is the only way to get the ever important selfie of yourself in the Unreal Garden, as photography is not allowed and would not work with a normal camera, even if you tried. 

    Before leaving, we sat down and recuperated for a few minutes in the cafe (we were all feeling a little bit nauseous—a common side effect of wearing the Halolens for extended periods) and then emailed the best of the photos to ourselves from a device at the front desk. Saying goodbye to the owls on our way out, we left the virtual beauty of the Unreal Garden behind and headed back out into the gritty reality of Market Street.  

    Ticket Giveaway!

    Would you like to experience the Unreal Garden for yourself? San Francisco Moms Blog is giving away two packs of four tickets to the Unreal Garden to two lucky winners! To enter to win, like our original Facebook post containing the link to this story and tag a friend in the comments by Sunday, November 18, at 9:00 AM. We will notify the winners soon thereafter. 


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    Born and raised in the Philadelphia-area and holding both a U.S. and Swedish passport, Inger, a former environmental attorney who is in the process of reinventing herself, has lived in San Francisco with her husband and two daughters (born in 2006 and 2007) since 2008. Inger’s “son,” Charlie (a Ragdoll cat) joined the family in 2015, followed by two rabbits. Inger finds spiritual inspiration in yoga and the great outdoors and counts Swedish summers, Italian reds, and impromptu 80’s dance-parties among her favorite things. In addition to writing about all things mom, Inger especially loves to write narrative style pieces about her travels, which can be found at ingerhultgrenmeyer.com.


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