5 Beautiful Botanical Gardens in Southern California

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A woman in a cactus green house in a botannical garden in California

When you plan a trip to Southern California, most visitors will put San Diego, Los Angeles, and Joshua Tree National Park on their must-see places list. Perhaps you’ll go to a Dodgers baseball game or spend a day shopping in Palm Springs.

Most travelers don’t even consider visiting a botanical garden. However, when traveling to California, gardens in Southern California are worth adding to your must-see places list.

These five botanical gardens in Southern California are stunning collections of plant life native to the area and from around the world. Spend a few hours exploring the grounds, let the kids play in the children’s gardens, and enjoy a picnic lunch.

You might be surprised at how much you enjoy your afternoon. Let’s take a closer look at why you should visit these gardens during your trip to Southern California!

The Benefits of Visiting a Botanical Garden

Even if you don’t know much about plant life and really don’t have a keen interest in learning about the scientific properties of different plant species, visiting a botanical garden is an enjoyable experience. They’re places to relax and enjoy the outdoors.

You don’t visit a botanical garden just to hurry through it. A great way to renew your mind and spirit, especially after the winter blues, is to walk amid blooms and springtime air for a few hours.

Tulips and other spring blooms coloring the foliage of a garden park.

Botanical gardens are also great places to see a large collection of regional native plants. If you’re visiting from another area of the country, you’ll see plant life specific to Southern California at these botanical gardens. There could also be rare or significant plant life. It’s a unique, fun way to learn something new without thumbing through a science book or history book.

Finally, visiting a botanical garden supports conservation. When you buy a ticket, you’re helping promote the important preservation of plant life around the world. Plants play a vital role in supporting the Earth’s ecosystem. If you want to learn more, there are always workshops and educational events happening at botanical gardens.

Two parents walk their young child through pathways of a botanic garden.

Traveler’s Tip: Here’s why you should never swim in the Red Triangle in California.

5 Gardens in Southern California You’ve Got to Visit

Perhaps you’ve never considered visiting a botanical garden. It’s not that you’re against the idea, but you just haven’t had any interest. You don’t wake up on Saturday morning and think about heading to San Diego to visit the garden.

Let’s attempt to encourage you to visit one of these five gardens in Southern California. If one is close enough, maybe you take an extended lunch break during a long work week and walk through a trail to clear your mind. These are stunning examples of plant conservation and beautiful locations to reconnect with nature.

#1. Huntington Library & Gardens

Address: 1151 Oxford Rd, San Marino, CA 91108

About Huntington Library & Gardens: With 130 acres, the Huntington Library & Gardens is home to 27,000 living plant taxa, including 16,000 plant species. The land was once the San Marino Ranch. After purchasing it in 1903, Henry E. Huntington and his superintendent William Hertrich went to work to create the stunning gardens that are now in San Marino, Calif.

A tranquil pond with a bridge and Asian architecture in the Huntington Library & Gardens in San Marino, California.
The Huntington Library & Gardens is 130 acres large.

Unique Features: There are 16 themed gardens that include a Chinese Garden, Desert Garden, Jungle Garden, and Shakespeare Garden. The whimsical Children’s Garden invites children to learn through play and exploration through water features and interactive sculptures.

Also onsite is a library, which includes one of the world’s largest collections of British medieval manuscripts, and an art museum spanning more than 500 years of European and American art.

A brick walking path guides the way to the tea room in Huntington Library & Gardens in southern California.
Path to the Tea Room in the Huntington Library & Gardens

Know Before You Go: Currently, weekend visits require advanced reservations. Adult tickets are $25 during the week and $29 on the weekend. Senior, military, and student discounts are available. Child tickets for kids 4 years old to 11 years old are $13. Children under age 4 are free.

Parking near the entrances on Oxford Road and Allen Ave is also free. You cannot bring your pets.

#2. Santa Barbara Botanic Garden

Address: 1212 Mission Canyon Rd, Santa Barbara, CA 93105

About Santa Barbara Botanic Garden: In 1926, Anna Dorinda Blaksley Bliss purchased 13 acres in Mission Canyon, beginning Blaksley Botanic Garden. It was later renamed in 1939.

Today, the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden has 78 acres with over 1,000 different taxa of plants. The 5.5 miles of paths lead to beautiful views and quiet scenery.

The Jesusita Fire of May 2009 burned portions of the garden. Yet today, along the Campbell Trail and Porter Trail, “native plants respond[ed] with vigor to a fire’s destructive power.” Although there was significant loss, it was amazing to see the renewal of life after the fire.

A view towards the mountains from the walking paths in the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden in California.
Mountain views from the walking paths through the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden.

Unique Features: Unique to this botanical garden are the historic structures within its boundaries: Mission Dam and Aqueduct (1806), Indian Steps, Caretakers Cottage (1927), Information Kiosk (1937), Blaksley Library (1941), Campbell Bridge (1941), and Clara Small Smith Entry Steps (1948).

They can all be found on the property and designated as County Historic Landmarks. Huge boulders are also around the gardens, which gives some insight into the geology of the area and the history of the land.

Know Before You Go: Non-member visits need reservations. Weekdays after 2:00 p.m. are the least crowded. Adults’ tickets are $16, with senior and student discounts available. Child tickets are $8, with kids age 3 and under visiting for free.

You can bring your dogs on a leash. Parking is free, and electric charging stations are available.

#3. San Diego Botanic Garden

Address: Quail Gardens Dr and Ecke Ranch Rd, Encinitas, CA 92024

About San Diego Botanic Garden: In 1957, Ruth Larabee deeded her 22.3 acres of land to the County of San Diego to preserve the habitat of California quails. As the potential for a botanical garden was realized, leaders transformed the land, and Quail Botanic Gardens opened in 1970.

The 37 acres include 4 miles of trails and the West Coast’s largest children’s garden. In 2019, the San Diego Botanic Garden was named one of the top 10 Best Botanical Gardens by USA Today.

Unique Features: The Hamilton Children’s Garden features Toni’s Tree House, a playground for kids. There’s an exhibit where kids can spell their names with plants.

The Bamboo Garden is the largest bamboo collection in a North American public garden that includes plants from Asia, the Himalayas, Mexico, Central and South America, and Africa. The Native Plants and Native People Trail showcases how Native Americans used the plants here for food, medicine, clothing, shelter, and tools.

Macro shot with a short depth of field on an ornate, pink flower in a garden.
Floral blooms in San Diego Botanic Garden

Know Before You Go: Although reservations aren’t required, it’s better to make them. Adult tickets are $18. Senior, military, and student discounts are available. Child tickets are $10, and children under age 3 are free.

The San Diego Botanic Garden participates in the Museums for All program, which allows any bearer of a state-issued SNAP EBT card or Women, Infants, & Children (WIC) card to get admission for $1. You’ll find parking across from the San Dieguito Heritage Museum, just 30 minutes north of downtown San Diego.

#4. Balboa Park Botanical Building

Address: 1549 El Prado, San Diego, CA 92101

About Balboa Park Botanical Building: Located within the greater Balboa Park, the botanical gardens is just part of 1,200 acres of this city park in San Diego. The beautification process began in 1892.

For more than 100 years, different parts of Balboa Park have been added, including various gardens. For example, the Lily Pond was built from 1915 to 1916, the Alcazar Garden in 1935, and the Japanese Friendship Garden came about in 1990.

Balboa Park in San Diego California with palm trees, a pond with lily pads, and beautiful white towers and covered walkways.
Balboa Park in San Diego, California

Unique Features: From the Lily Pond to the Florida Canyon Native Plant Preserve to the Palm Canyon, the Balboa Park Botanical Gardens features 19 different gardens on the property. The Air Garden, Land Garden, and Sea Garden within the Veterans Memorial Garden honor America’s military servicemen and women.

The Moorish gardens of Ronda, Spain, influenced the Casa del Rey Moro Garden. Balboa Park also offers guests access to more than 17 museums, plays, orchestras, the San Diego Zoo, and more.

Know Before You Go: Balboa Park is a public park. Therefore, access to most of its amenities and activities is free. Different cultural attractions independently manage themselves and thus operate on their own schedule with their own admission fees.

Entrance to the gardens is free. The Visitors Center, located in the House of Hospitality building, is a great place to start your day.

Fresh, orange rose bloom in a rose garden.
Rose garden in bloom in Balboa Park Botanical Garden.

#5. Descanso Gardens

Address: 1418 Descanso Dr, La Cañada Flintridge, CA 91011

About Descanso Gardens: In the late 1930s, Elias Manchester Boddy bought 165 acres of undeveloped land in Southern California. In March of 1950, Boddy opened his estate to the public, which was the beginning of Descanso Gardens.

However, when Boddy retired and wanted to sell his property, the County of Los Angeles Board of Supervisors chose to purchase the land. They didn’t take very good care of the property, and by 1957, some neighbors gathered together and formed the Descanso Gardens Guild.

Over the next 20 years, with the leadership and direction of the Guild, the different gardens were designed and installed. Finally, in 1993, the Guild signed a contract with the county to manage Descanso Gardens.

Trees, pond, and rocks accompanied by a bench in Descanso Gardens in California.
Descanso Gardens is about 20 minutes from Los Angeles.

Unique Features: The Enchanted Railroad is a unique experience offered at Descanso Gardens. It travels through a section of the Gardens near the Promenade. This does require a separate $5 ticket.

The Japanese Garden features a teahouse and native plants to Asia. There are 19 species of live oak trees native to California in the Oak Forest. All in all, there are nine different gardens.

Know Before You Go: Parking is free. Adult tickets are $15, and child tickets for kids age 5 and older are $5. Descanso Gardens is about 20 minutes from Los Angeles. Pets are not permitted.

Enjoy the Botanical Gardens of Southern California

These botanical gardens in Southern California are family-friendly, wheelchair accessible, and easy to navigate. So the next time you’re planning an outing with the kids, check out all the exhibits and centers at a Children’s Garden. They won’t even realize they’re learning because they’ll be having so much fun.

If you have to finish a work project and need an escape from the daily grind, a botanical garden is a peaceful location to rejuvenate your soul. The walking trails also provide opportunities to exercise without staring at a television screen in a gym. There are so many reasons to visit one of these gardens in Southern California.

Which botanical garden will you visit first?

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