The Best Botanical Gardens in Southern California

The Best Botanical Gardens in Southern California

May 9, 2022

Spring is in full swing, with colorful blooms bursting to life, making it the best time to visit one of our many Los Angeles botanical gardens. From South Bay to Santa Barbara, there are so many beautiful gardens to explore that offer a tranquil oasis from the city bustle. We’ve put together a list of the best family-friendly gardens to spot blooms and enjoy the peace.

South Bay Botanical Gardens 

Botanical Gardens in Southern California
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South Coast Botanic Garden

Known as the Jewel of the Peninsula, this 87-acre garden offers over 2,500 varieties of plant species to explore. It’s so beautiful it’s hard to believe the garden was once the site of a sanitary landfill! One of the highlights for families is the Children’s Garden and Children’s Discovery Garden, which features plants that complement classic nursery rhyme stories. The South Coast Botanic Garden also offers educational programs and themed events. Be sure to check in at the visitor center for activity sheets that help keep kids engaged as they explore. Advance reservations are currently required to visit.

Manhattan Beach Botanical Garden

Located in Polliwog Park, the Manhattan Beach Botanical Garden, also known as MBBG by the locals, is a ⅔ acre demonstration garden. MBBG highlights native plant life and habitats in Southern California, such as Coastal Sage Scrub, Riparian Woodland, Wetlands, and more. MBBG is open from sunrise to sunset and free to visit. It has multiple picnic tables on the grounds, perfect for lunch or just a quick snack.

Pine Wind Japanese Garden

Pine Wind Japanese Garden was designed by National Landscape Award winner Takeo Uesugi to be a tranquil intermission from daily activities. This garden is home to authentic Japanese landscaping and architecture. There are stone pathways, a two-tiered amphitheater, and a koi pond. The ascetic background is perfect for a family photo session.

Los Angeles Botanical Gardens 

Botanical Gardens Los Angeles
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Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden

The Los Angeles Botanic Garden boasts 127 acres with 11 different landscapes to explore. The arboretum is also an official wildlife sanctuary, so you’ll be able to see the famous peacocks, as well as various birds, small reptiles, and aquatic animals. You could spend all day here and still have more to see on your next visit, making it the perfect spot for a family membership

You can catch a guided tour or explore the grounds yourself and even stop at the cafe for lunch. The arboretum also hosts special events, like Members Bike Nights and Lightscape. 

Descanso Gardens

Descanso Gardens is a unique Southern California landscape distinguished by its specialized botanic collections, historical significance, and rare natural beauty. The 160-acre botanical garden features a massive rose garden, a camellia garden, a Japanese garden, an oak forest, a lakeside hiking trail, an art museum, a miniature train, and more. 

Descanso also hosts various special events throughout the year, including outdoor art installations, live concerts, spring bloom tours, Carved and Enchanted.

The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens

The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens, also known as The Huntington, are 120 acres of landscaped gardens showcasing plants from around the world. There are 12 themed gardens, including the Desert Garden, Australian Garden, Herb Garden, Lilly Pond, and Rose Garden. The Children’s Garden is beloved by all young visitors, but be sure to bring a chance of clothes because the fountains in the play area are just too tempting on hot days. If your little ones love to throw tea parties, book a time in the Rose Garden Tea Room, where kids get their own special tea set. 

The first Thursday of every month is Free Day, where admission to the garden is free, but you have to reserve tickets a month in advance, and they sell out fast.

Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens

The Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens is home to more than 1,400 animals representing 270 species, many rare or endangered. So whatever your favorite – meerkats or mandrills, komodo dragons or kangaroos – chances are you’ll get to see them here. Zoo grounds also feature special gardens that highlight groups of plants. The native gardens present many of this region’s spectacular indigenous plants. The cactus and succulent gardens contain representatives of arid climates around the world. The cycad garden is a living time capsule full of plant species that have existed since the age of dinosaurs.

UCLA Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden

This is a 7.5-acre public garden, outdoor classroom, and research facility on the UCLA campus. The mission of the botanical garden is to act as a community gathering place that promotes plant conservation and botanical research. The grounds feature a diverse collection of plants from around the world like the Ancient Forest, Desert Garden, Cycads, and more. 

The botanical garden has guided tours and a free self-guided audio tour voiced by the Herbarium Collections Manager that allows you to go at your own pace. 

Exposition Park Rose Garden

If you’ve ever visited the California Science Center, you might already be familiar with the sprawling rose garden surrounding a central fountain on the lawn. Summer time is the best time to visit and wind your way through the over 200 varieties of roses, taking time to stop and smell each one. Pack a picnic and spend the afternoon among the roses.

Wrigley Memorial and Botanical Garden 

Located on Catalina Island, this nearly 38-acre garden highlights the California island endemic plants. Many of these plants are extremely rare, and some are on the Endangered Species list. The garden also features multiple botanical collections from around the world and acts as the entry point for access to one of the Island’s most popular hikes, the Garden to Sky Trail.

Orange County Botanical Gardens 

Sherman Library and Gardens 

The Garden, located in Orange County, has impressive collections that include a lush tropical conservatory with a koi pond, a rose and tea garden, more than 100 species of palms, and more. Visitors are encouraged to explore the gardens, and there are both guided tours and self-guided audio tour options. The Garden also has a café that boasts coastal cuisine made with California produce and a Tea Garden. 

Fullerton Arboretum 

The Fullerton Arboretum is 26 acres of collections of plants from across the globe. It is the largest botanical garden in Orange Country, featuring a collection of over 4,000 plants. There are four major collections for visitors to explore: Cultivated, Woodlands, Mediterranean, and Desert. Some highlights include an 11,000 sq ft organic vegetable garden, historic citrus and avocados, a children’s garden, and an extensive cycad collection.

Inland Empire Botanical Gardens 

California Botanic Garden

California Botanic Garden is the largest botanic garden dedicated to California native plants, promoting botany, conservation, and horticulture to inspire, inform and educate the public and scientific community about California’s native flora. The Garden is a living museum with curated collections of more than 22,000 California native plants, some of which are rare or endangered. Spread across 86 acres in Claremont, California, the Garden is located approximately 35 miles east of Los Angeles. The Garden displays about 2000 taxa of California plants and includes those native to the California Floristic Province.

San Diego Botanical Gardens 

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photo: Flickr

San Diego Botanic Garden

This 37-acre botanical garden is designated one of the “Top 10 North American Gardens Worth Traveling For” by the American Gardens Association. There are 29 themed gardens, including a bamboo garden, regional desert landscapes, and a tropical rainforest. There are also two children’s gardens and a Family Education Conservatory that teaches visitors about horticulture and conservation. 

Balboa Park 

Located in downtown San Diego, Balboa Park has over a dozen gardens, including the Japanese Friendship Garden with koi ponds and sand and stone artworks and the Spanish-style Alcazar Garden with colorful tile and 7,000 annuals. There is also a 3-acre Inez Grant Parker Memorial Rose Garden with over 1,500 roses blooming from March through December. 

Santa Barbara Botanical Gardens 

Santa Barbara Botanic Garden

The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden fosters the conservation of California’s native plants through gardens, research, and education and serves as a role model for sustainable practices. There’s plenty to explore with 78 acres and 5.5 miles of trails, including a Redwood grove and an authentic Japanese tea house, originally built in Kyoto, Japan.

Opening in summer 2022, the new Backcountry section will offer kids of all ages the perfect way to experience and connect with nature up close and hands-on. Located on the west side of the Garden, just over Campbell Bridge, The Backcountry will be a garden where visitors young and old can climb, jump, run, and fully immerse themselves in the natural surroundings. 

Looking for more things to do in and around Los Angeles and the South Bay? Check out these articles:

Best Places for Snow Near Los Angeles
All things Planes, Trains, Boats & Automobiles
Best Children’s Museums in Los Angeles & Orange County

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