Visit California: 11 Magnificent Botanical Gardens From San Diego To Los Angeles

When friends plan to visit California, and ask me for tips on things to do and places to visit, I tell them about these magnificent botanical gardens and museums they have to see.

Why? Because so many of the things California is famous for- the blue ocean, the natural beauty, the romantic history, the Spanish style architecture, and the abundance of flowers and fruits enough to make you feel like you are in paradise, you get to experience them all in these California gardens, many of them are also amazing museums. ( Yes, you will get to see a real Roman Egyptian Mummy for free.)

11 magnificent botanical gardens you must see from San Diego to Los Angeles. Visitor info & insider tips - great resources when you visit California!

Finally I decided to save myself some future emails and write an article about these botanical gardens and museums so everyone can use this to help plan their trips to California. There is a map of all the gardens at the end for you to print and take with you!

We will focus on Southern California from San Diego to Los Angeles in this first part. Going from south to north, I will share highlights, visitor info and insider tips about each of the 11 gardens.

1 . Balboa Park, San Diego, California

If  you come to San Diego, you just have to visit Balboa park, that’s it!

History, Highlights, and Why I Love It:

Started as a city park in mid 1800s, the gorgeous Balboa Park is a 1200-acre public park in San Diego, California. The park contains 16 museums, many unique gift shops and theaters, a historic Spanish Village Art Center, and the really famous San Diego Zoo.

The flamboyant architectural style is a mixture of Spanish Colonial Revival, Mission Revival, Pueblo Revival architecture.

Photo: San Diego Magazine

As you stroll through the arcades of the old stone buildings, you will be enchanted by bubbling fountains, colorful flowers and majestic trees in countless gardens.

Don’t forget to look for the largest tree in the park: a Moreton Bay Fig tree tree, named one of the champion trees of California, its canopy is over 120 feet wide!

Helpful Tips Before You Go:

The park is open 24 hours daily, admission is free to the public.

Throughout the year, especially in the summer, there are many festivals and concerts at the park. Check https://www.balboapark.org/events

Park museums also offer free general admission on a rotating basis every Tuesday throughout the month to residents of the City and County of San Diego.

2 . San Diego Botanical Garden, Encinitas, California

History, Highlights, and Why I Love It:

About 30 minutes north of Balboa park, the San Diego Botanical Garden was once a private estate donated to the county in 1957.

Here are my 3 favorite parts of this garden:

The Subtropical Fruit Garden: besides many common fruits such as bananas, figs, citrus and avocados, this gardens has many exotic fruits growing- cherimoya, star fruit, Surinam cherry, many types of sapotes and guavas, and more. Yum!

The Hamilton Children’s Garden: indulge in your childhood fantasy by visiting this jungle tree house!

Tropical Rainforest Garden: one of the few places on mainland USA to experience the deep tropical rainforest. Let’s pretend we are in Hawaii!

Visiting information and Insider Tips:

The garden is open 9:00 am – 5:00 pm Daily, general admission is $14.

When you are in Encinitas, don’t miss a hidden gem nearby:  a garden and temple where a sage wrote his world famous book. Up next.

You may also love: Bali to Brazil- Naples Botanical garden in Tropical Florida

3 . Self-Realization Fellowship Meditation Gardens, Encinitas, California

History, Highlights, and Why I Love It:

Have you read (affiliate link) The Autobiography of a Yogi? It is one of my favorite books!

This is where Paramahansa Yogananda, a world renowned spiritual teacher who brought the spiritual wisdom of India to the west in early 1900s, wrote his book.

When you visit this pristine and lush garden, you will be wowed by the giant tropical foliage plants, the ever blooming flowers, the koi ponds filled with some of the biggest koi fish ever, and the majestic ocean views.

Visiting information and Insider Tips:

The garden is open Tuesday – Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Sunday 11:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Closed on Mondays. Admission is free.

This meditation garden is a place where many come to spend time in silence in order to deepen their awareness. The security guards will often give a friendly reminder to visitors who are talking on their phone or chatting loudly with their friends. 😉

4 . Mission San Juan Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano, California

History, Highlights, and Why I Love It:

The California Missions are places of incredible beauty and poetry.

Between year 1769 and 1833, 21 missions, or religious outposts, were built along California’s El Camino Real, which parallels the Pacific Ocean. Each mission was designed to be about a day’s journey from the next.

The surviving mission buildings are California’s oldest structures. They have inspired the architecture, culture and many movies of California.

Mission San Juan Capistrano was founded in 1775 on 10 acres. You can see those beautiful elements that are so…California: old adobe walls, arched corridors, bell towers, fountains, sun drenched courtyard gardens filled with roses and orange trees.

The Mission is also famous for its swallows, see tips below.

Visiting information and Insider Tips:

The mission is open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.  General admission is $9.

The Cliff Swallows come back every year in March from their winter home in Argentina. Between March and October you will see them busy building nests in the eaves of the Mission.

Every year in March there is a fun Annual Swallows Day Parade and Mercado Street Fair.

5 . Sherman Library and Gardens, Corona del Mar, California

History, Highlights, and Why I Love It:

Founded in 1955, the 2.2 acre Sherman Library and Gardens is a lush oasis in a vibrant coastal town.

Don’t be fooled by its small size. This garden is quite impressive!

The Cactus and Succulent Garden is designed with such imagination:  specific types of stones are used artfully with certain kinds of succulents to create distinct patterns and formations that look like geologic wonders.

Another of my favorite part is the tropical conservatory, a huge greenhouse with a beautiful waterfall and a koi pond surrounded by gorgeous orchids, heliconias, and gingers.

Visiting information and Insider Tips:

The garden is open daily from 10:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.  Admission is $5.

Sherman Library and Gardens is part of the American Horticultural Society reciprocal admissions program, which means if you become a member of the AHS or one of the 300+ botanical gardens, you can visit all the gardens for free or at very little cost.

Four other botanical gardens feature here are also participating gardens: San Diego Botanical Garden ( #2), Los Angeles County Arboretum (#9)  , Descanso Gardens (#8) , Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden (#11)

6 . Getty Villa, Los Angeles, CA

Forget about Universal Studios, you must, have to, must visit the Getty Villa!

History, Highlights, and Why I Love It:

The magnificent Getty Villa contains a number of museums and gardens on 64 acres overlooking the Pacific Ocean. This Roman style villa / museum hosts an amazing collection of 44,000 Greek and Roman artifacts dating from 6,500 BC to 400 AD, including a Roman-Egyptian Mummy which is not to be missed!

The formal gardens are beautifully designed with fountains, reflecting pools and sculptures.  There are roses, herbs, and fruit trees which are classical elements of a Mediterranean garden.

I just love the pavilions with painted details. It is almost like a romantic fantasy palace, isn’t it?

Visiting information and Insider Tips:

The Getty Villa is open Wednesday–Monday 10:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m. Closed Tuesdays

Admission is free. Parking is $15 which also covers the Getty Center ( also an incredible place, up next) on the same day. Visitors must reserve a free ticket.  If you are thinking “ Oh that sounds complicated. Forget it!” keep reading- because you really don’t want to miss the Getty Villa and Getty Center!

Here’s what we usually do: reserve a 10:00 visit at the Getty Villa, then a 1:00 arrival time at the Getty Center. This way we have plenty of time at both places and they are not far from each other. Just remember the Getty Villa is closed on Tuesdays, and the Getty Center is closed on Mondays.

7 . Getty Center, Los Angeles, CA

One of the most extraordinary gardens I have ever been to.

History, Highlights, and Why I Love It:

The Getty Center’s contemporary style gardens and fountains are truly works of art.

I can’t even decide which part is my favorite: the whimsical bougainvillea arbors, the bridges that cross the stream, the floating maze of azaleas, or the South Promontory with breathtaking views of the Santa Monica Mountains, the Pacific Ocean to the west, and the skyline of Los Angeles.

We always spend most of our time in the gardens, but we do make sure to visit some of my favorite art pieces in the museums, including paintings by Monet, Cézanne and Van Gogh.

Visiting information and Insider Tips:

The Getty Center is open Tuesday–Thursday and Sunday 10:00 a.m.–5:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday 10:00 a.m.–9:00 p.m. (Extended hours until September) Closed Mondays

Admission and parking is the same as Getty Villa ( featured #6).

We usually visit the Getty Villa and Getty Center on the same day. Check out tips under Getty Villa above for more details.

8 . Descanso Gardens, La Cañada Flintridge, California

60,000 and 100,000 camellias

History, Highlights, and Why I Love It:

On a hot summer day, Descanso Gardens is the perfect place to enjoy nature in the shades of big oak trees.

If you happen to be visiting from late fall through spring, especially from January through February, you will get to see the North America’s largest Camellia collection blooming, a dazzling display of over 10,000 camellias!

Visiting information and Insider Tips:

Descanso Gardens is open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.  General admission is $9.

Become a member of the American Horticultural Society or one of the 300+ gardens, you can visit all the botanical gardens for free or at very little cost. Five botanical gardens feature here are participating gardens!

9 . Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens

History, Highlights, and Why I Love It:

Established in early 1900s, the 120 acre Huntington Botanical Gardens are divided into more than a dozen themes and feature plants from around the world.

It is an awe-inspiring place like the Getty Gardens, filled with art, history and natural beauty.

Image Credit: toocb.com

In the Japanese Garden, components of the authentic ceremonial teahouse were created in Japan and shipped to Pasadena. It is considered one of the best examples of early twentieth-century Japanese architecture in the United States.

The Desert Garden, with more than 5,000 species of cacti and other succulents, is considered one of the world’s best and oldest outdoor collections.

Visiting information and Insider Tips:

Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens is open Wednesday through Monday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.  Closed Tuesdays. General admission is $25 on weekdays and $29 on weekends.

Tickets are free to the Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens on “Free Day” – the first Thursday of the month,and can be requested online one month ahead. They sell out within minutes, so if that’s what you plan to do, I would have everything ready right at 9 a.m. to book online.

It is a place where you can spend a whole day and it’s so worth it!

10 . Los Angeles County Arboretum, Arcadia, California

Paradise is a place where peacocks roam around…

History, Highlights, and Why I Love It:

The 100+ acre arboretum is a magical place where roaming Peacocks only add to its already stunning beauty.

The plants are from all around the world and grouped by geography. There is also a grand formal fountain, a Jungle Garden with waterfall to hike up to, an incredible Edible Garden and Herb Garden, a Palm and Bamboo collection and a tropical greenhouse. I visit this garden almost every time we are in LA and it always inspires me.

Visiting information and Insider Tips:

The Los Angeles County Arboretum is open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.  General admission is $9. On the third Tuesday of the month, admission is free

As mentioned earlier, members of the American Horticultural Society or one of the 300+ participating gardens can visit all the gardens for free or at very little cost. The LA County Arboretum  is also a participating garden.

LA County Arboretum is not far from the Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens ( #9 ), which is also a must-see.

11 . Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, Claremont, California

History, Highlights, and Why I Love It:

Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden is the largest botanic garden dedicated to California native plants.

The 86 acre garden is created in a naturalistic style, such as meadows and woodlands.  It is a very peaceful place to be in nature.

I especially love visiting this garden in March when all the California wildflowers are at its peak after the winter rain.

Visiting information and Insider Tips:

Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden is open daily from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.  General admission is $9.

It is also a participating garden of the American Horticultural Society program which allows members to visit 300+ botanical gardens for free.

Below is the map of all the gardens you can save and print!

11 magnificent botanical gardens you must see from San Diego to Los Angeles. Visitor info & insider tips - great resources when you visit California!

Next week, we will get back to more home and garden DIY projects!

If you feel like planting, right now it is a great time to propagate and grow Fiddle Leaf Fig! Tutorial here.

How to root Fiddle Leaf Fig from stem or leaf cuttings! Now you can have the one of the most gorgeous indoor plants and propagate it for every room! - A Piece Of Rainbow Blog

Or to grow flowers, here are 24 colorful container gardens with plant list for each!

24 stunning container garden designs with plant list for each and lots of inspirations! Learn the designer secrets to these beautiful planting recipes. - A Piece Of Rainbow

Hope to see you someday in a California garden! 🙂

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