Even the happiest of urbanists need to escape the hustle and bustle of the big city to walk among natural beauty from time to time. A visit to a botanical garden is a great way to get outdoors and indulge the senses—especially if you live in the Golden State. We’re highlighting 15 of the best public gardens in California, so you can start planning your next visit.
The criteria used for this list included having a high volume of reviews on Yelp and Google, with a majority of those reviews being overwhelmingly positive. The locations must also provide educational programs, unique collections of plants and great care shown for their visitors. All 15 featured here certainly qualify. We hope you enjoy perusing our list, and don’t forget to vote for which one you think is best!
San Francisco Botanical Garden
With more than 8,000 different kinds of plants from around the world, the San Francisco Botanical Garden is a wonder of diversity when it comes to plant life. They have 55 acres of walking paths, beautiful flowers and streams by which to relax and escape city life. The SFBG Society has been supporting its continued development and educational programs since 1954, and the garden itself is internationally renowned.
“The Botanical Garden is beautifully relaxing. I could spend all day here finding new trails that lead to different plants and flowers.” —Jen K. on Yelp.
Balboa Park Botanical Building
The koi pond in front of the Balboa Park Botanical Building is quite possibly one of the most photographed sceneries in all of Southern California. Adjacent to the world famous San Diego Zoo lies a building with 100 years of history and 2,100 permanent plants, along with vibrant seasonal displays. With numerous gardens, plenty of space for a picnic and a lot of things to learn, there is certainly plenty to see and do here. Did we mention that it is also free to all?
“It’s beautiful! It’s free! It’s peaceful! It’s shaded!” —Emily T. on Yelp.
Located in San Diego, CA More information: https://www.balboapark.org/gardens/botanical-building Photo by Luis Edgardo Argote Bolio
Wrigley Memorial & Botanic Garden
Just a short boat ride from the Los Angeles coastline, the Wrigley Memorial & Botanic Garden has almost 38 acres of space in which to wander. Located on the famous Catalina Island, you can take a bus, trolley, golf cart or simply hike to the gardens that sit atop the island’s gorgeous hills. The Wrigley Memorial serves as the centerpiece of the surrounding landscape, and their protection and conservancy is of top priority to Wrigley Memorial Garden Foundation.
“Don’t miss an opportunity to mosey around and chillax at this gorgeous place. It showcases an expansive variety of California plants and wildlife.” —Jen B. on Yelp.
Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens
Located along the beautiful Northern California coastline, Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens is a fresh and serene stop, should you be road tripping along Highway 1. It is best known for the species of Rhododendrons (which bloom in March and April) that thrive here, because aside from Southeast Asia and the Himalayas, this is the only place you’ll be able to see them. There is a library, volunteering opportunities and you can even host your wedding here.
“There is something for everyone. Vegetable garden, blooming flowers, foliage, long paths, and scenic lookouts. Beautiful collections of heathers, succulents, camellias, rhodies and more.” —Christopher H. on Yelp.
Santa Barbara Botanic Garden
If there is one garden in California that takes its title very seriously, it’s the Santa Barbara Botanical Garden. They regard it as a living museum; in fact, they are a member of the American Alliance of Museums, which is dedicated to research, education and conservation of California native plants. They are one of only 30 gardens accredited as such. There are more than 78 acres of land to explore here, and they strive to educate visitors on the environment and preservation of the land.
“The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden is a gem in a beautiful city. The garden contains only native plants, and it is remarkable to see how these work so beautifully to provide color, form, and drought tolerance.” —Vin S. on Yelp.
Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden
It makes sense that the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden is located very near the Rose Bowl, as this gorgeous 127-acre garden is inhabited by many lovely flowers and plants. The land upon which it was built has a rich history that dates as far back as 500 B.C., when its earliest inhabitants dubbed it the “place of many waters.” There are 10 unique gardens to explore, each seemingly with its own unique climate and aesthetic. Also, there are peacocks.
“There’s so much to see and you could easily spend 3-4 hours just walking around so it’s a nice place to spend an afternoon.” —Elleen P. on Yelp.
UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley
Established in 1890, the UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley has more than 13,000 different kinds of plants from around the world spread out over 34 acres. In the last 125 years, the garden has evolved into a wondrous place that focuses large amounts of its energy towards conservation and education of the ecology, evolution and human uses for plants. With such a vast space and so many plants, one can easily spend an entire day here.
“If you’re in the Berkeley area you must make a visit to the UC Botanical Garden! This is such a lovely oasis and filled with flora and fauna from all over the world.” —Evelina W. on Yelp.
Moorten Botanical Garden Showplace
In this popular Southern California resort town lies Moorten Botanical Garden Showplace, which features an excellent collection of diverse desert plant life. That which makes it different is also what makes it special; grouped by region, such as Baja California or South Africa, 3,000 unique plants are featured along a natural trail. It has been in existence since 1938 and is a beautiful setting for a wedding or any other social event.
“The Moorten Botanical Garden Showplace is a one-of-a-kind tour spot that must not be missed. Its comfortable, serene, and local-feel will help you appreciate this hidden gem in Palm Springs.” —Julie L. on Yelp.
Sherman Library & Gardens
Providing a museum of living plants, the Sherman Library & Gardens is a modest yet aesthetically pleasing reprieve from the big city life of Los Angeles. With collections ranging from desert vegetation through tropical plants, there is much to be seen despite being on only 2.2 acres of land. With so much lush scenery on display in these gardens, there is something here for everyone to enjoy.
“This is a lovely place to visit with your family, friends, significant other, and little ones. A great place to take beautiful photos too!” —Jenny Y. on Yelp.
South Coast Botanic Garden
If you’re looking for a garden you can get lost in for an entire day, then South Coast Botanic Garden is your answer. What was once an open pit mine and then a sanitary landfill is now a vast 87-acre conservatory with 2,000 species of plant life. A mere 10 miles from LA International Airport, its convenient location and beautiful scenery is a model of what citizens who care about their environment can accomplish.
“What a gorgeous site — green and lush, scented with flowers, overflowing with tender care and a great view too.” —Deb S. on Yelp.
On the campus of Cal State University lies Fullerton Arboretum; it contains 4,000 plants and is the largest botanical garden in Orange County. The creation of the arboretum was led by university students, from whom a large part of the original funding was generated. The ponds, streams and local wildlife mix seamlessly with the garden itself, and its devotion to being a resource for ecological, horticultural and historical education is excellent.
“It’s truly spectacular with the amount of plants it is home to and its assortment of such plants. It’s so charming.” —Widad D. on Yelp.
Huntington Library, Art Collections & Botanical Gardens
What started in 1903 with simple orange groves and fruit orchards is now a stunning 120-acre botanical garden that features 15,000 plant varieties. No matter your taste, there are nearly limitless options to explore; 12 different gardens featuring plants and flowers from all over the world. The Chinese garden is the largest of its kind outside of China. Classes are even held on the grounds, which focus on sustainable urban agriculture.
“An adventurer’s mecca. You can literally get lost in here for hours on end. Rotating exhibits, a tasty Tea Garden and breathtaking, sprawling gardens of every variety.” —Kristofer D. on Yelp.
San Diego Botanic Garden
While San Diego Botanic Garden is actually north of downtown by about 30 minutes, it is well worth the drive. It sits on 37 acres of land and includes everything from bamboo groves to fruit gardens, even a tropical rainforest. There are classes for creating your own garden, bird-watching and even a 60-foot waterfall. There is so much to be explored inside these gardens you’ll want to keep coming back so that you can experience everything.
“Loved it. The deeper you went, the more interesting everything became.” —Damien M. on Yelp.
Few gardens are able to showcase their true beauty year round—sometimes you have to wait until the flowers bloom—but Descanso Gardens is one of those special gardens that looks beautiful no matter the time of year. It has 150 acres of many different types of gardens featuring the most stunning and colorful plants and flowers. The enchanted railroad that takes riders through the Promenade will delight those young and old who climb aboard.
“A great date spot, or even somewhere to go just to walk in peace and collect your thoughts.” —Ray M. on Yelp.
Conservatory of Flowers
In the heart of Golden Gate Park lies the Conservatory of Flowers, and it has been operating for more than 100 years. It went through a period of reconstruction, but since reopening in 2003, has won numerous awards, and has become a place where horticultural societies, botany students and plant enthusiasts alike can come to enjoy nature’s beauty. It has 1,700 plant species, and is committed to ensuring the environment continues to thrive for a long time.
“It truly is a unique and fun place to at least experience once — especially if you love plants and flowers!” —Sam L. on Yelp.
Hero image credit Ranjan Gupta
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