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A bench at a botanical garden in Southern California.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)
Plants

The 16 most beautiful and inviting public gardens in Southern California

Southern California is blessed with brilliant weather year-round, so it’s no surprise we have an abundance of curated and mostly public botanical gardens, catering to just about every interest and plant this Golden State can support.

While these are beautiful and inviting spaces, don’t mistake them for parks. Think of them more as living museums. With this in mind, most public gardens don’t permit dogs or other pets (including emotional support animals) in order to protect wildlife in the gardens and minimize damage to the plants. Service animals trained under Americans With Disabilities Act specifications are the exception.

From a lighthouse in Crescent City, to trees changing colors in the Sierra, to funky art installations near the Salton Sea, these are the best things to do in the Golden State in the fall.

And often these gardens don’t permit outside food inside to minimize litter and problems with wildlife. Check before you decide to bring a picnic because you might have to eat it in the parking lot.

If you’re a frequent visitor to a particular garden, consider becoming a member, which usually gives you perks such as free entry and reduced fees for classes and special events. Think of it as a win-win. We urbanites and suburbanites need public gardens to feed our souls, and these not-to-be-missed gardens need our financial support to maintain and build their spaces. If we’ve missed your favorite, email jeanette.marantos@latimes.com, and let us know.

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A woman and her kids sit under a tree.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Arlington Garden

Pasadena Public garden
Once upon a time, Arlington Garden was the site of a grand 50-room mansion known as Durand House, which was demolished after 1964 so Caltrans could extend the 710 Freeway. When community opposition halted that project, the three-acre lot of compacted dirt stood vacant until 2005. That’s when the garden’s founders, Betty and Charles McKenney, worked with Pasadena officials to create a public, water-wise Mediterranean-style garden. Its designers used organic and regenerative growing techniques such as leaving leaf litter on the ground to help build up the depleted soil. They also packed in nearly as many garden “spaces” as there were rooms in the old mansion, with lots of quiet shady spots for reading, trails and a labyrinth to stroll, a citrus grove, an oak grove, a vegetable patch, a pond, a cactus garden, a pine forest and a French-feeling allée or alley lined with silvery olive trees and furniture you can move about for personalized seating. And, of course, the garden is laced with lots of habitat-creating native plants, as is obvious from the birdsong and pollinators flitting throughout.

This is a garden where you can bring a book or a picnic, let children safely run free or find a sheltered corner for coffee and intense conversation. During a visit late on a fall Friday afternoon, one young woman sat in a corner of the allée with her sketch pad; a slender walker, obviously a regular, gaped at the white barrel-shaped blooms oozing with bees on a tall San Pedro cactus (Echinopsis pachanoi); and a toddler wheeled and shrieked with excitement at finding a pumpkin in the vegetable patch. Use this garden like you would a pair of comfortable shoes — as often as you can, with gratitude and love.

Admission: Free

Hours: Open daily from sunrise to sunset.

Dogs are permitted if leashed.
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California Botanic Garden
(Jeanette Marantos / Los Angeles Times)

California Botanic Garden

Claremont Nonprofit private garden
California Botanic Garden considers itself an 86-acre living museum, the state’s largest collection of native plants. The easy-to-roam area is divided into multiple regions such as a fan palm oasis and clumps of serrated agaves, a wildflower meadow, redwood groves, waves of Matilija poppies (whose fried-egg-looking blooms are the size of a hand) and a dizzying collection of manzanita and wildflower blooms in the spring. Be sure to visit the massive 250-year-old majestic oak, the largest and oldest in the garden’s oak woodlands. There are many sturdy benches that invite reflection and maybe a snack, but food is only permitted in the parking area.

This is a lovely garden to learn how native plants look when they’re mature. The garden’s website lists what’s currently in bloom, and, from October to May, you can purchase many of the plants you admire in the on-site Grow Native Nursery. Note: This is a great place to appreciate the heady fragrances of many California native plants. A slight stroke of a branch can fill the air with scent. Just be gentle when you walk by.

Admission: $10, $6 seniors and students, $4 ages 3-12, and free entry for members and children under 3. Annual memberships start at $50 for individuals and $85 for families.

Hours: Open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday.

Food is not permitted in the gardens. No pets permitted except trained service dogs.
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A plant at the Conejo Valley Botanic Garden
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Conejo Valley Botanic Garden

Thousand Oaks Public garden
East Ventura County gets hot in the summer, but if you’re lucky enough to live near Conejo Valley Botanic Garden in Thousand Oaks, you’ve got a cool, shady — and free! — place to visit every day, filled with ever-changing flowers, shrubs and trees to keep the walk interesting. The garden is on a hill, so the paths are like wide gentle switchbacks with lovely circular views from the top. There are some modestly steep climbs in places. Be sure to wear sturdy walking shoes and bring your own water. There are restrooms in the parking area, next to the adjacent Conejo Community Park. This is a good place to bring children, with a stream running through, bridges here and there, and plenty of diverse botanics, from a rare fruit orchard and oak grove to gardens dedicated to butterflies, a bird habitat, desert cactuses and succulents, herbs, Australian plants, colorful native salvia and a “Trail of Trees” (more than 50 varieties of trees planted in 2005 to replace a slope covered with invasive mustard weed).

There’s also a special garden for children open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sundays only. Another impressive fact: This nonprofit botanic garden was started by three local volunteers in 1973 — Ray Garcia, Fred Wilson and Jackson Granholm — after a housing developer donated the hilly, unbuildable 33 acres to the Conejo Recreation and Park District, said botanic garden president Beverly Brune. Today, the gardens comprise 41 acres and are completely managed by volunteers and funded by money raised by grants and fundraisers such as the garden nursery, which sells plants propagated from the garden from 9 to 11 a.m. Wednesdays and from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sundays in the Kids’ Adventure Garden.

Admission: Free

Hours: Open daily, sunrise to sunset, except during rain, high winds, on July 4 and when trails are muddy. The Kids’ Adventure Garden is only open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sundays.

Food is not permitted in the gardens. Dogs are permitted if leashed.
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Descanso Gardens in La Cañada Flintridge
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

Descanso Gardens

La Canada Flintridge Public garden
Think of Descanso Gardens as part chameleon, part sanctuary. Walking through its towering oak woodlands and ancient forest is kind of a religious experience — silent, awe-inspiring and very intimate. But then there are the flower gardens, starting with 5 acres of roses — more than 1,600 varieties — and a Japanese Garden with a teahouse and delicate blooms from cherry and plum trees and other plantings native to Asia. There are also the California Garden designed by native plant advocate Theodore Payne, masses of blooming tulips in the spring and one of the country’s largest collections of camellias, blooming best in January and February, when most flowers are resting.

Descanso’s Sturt Haaga Gallery has rotating exhibits throughout the year, and the gardens often host original compositions and performances, sometimes with music piped through the trees. The garden, which is owned by L.A. County, also hosts popular seasonal events such as the Halloween-season Carved, featuring hundreds of pumpkins intricately carved by artists, and the annual holiday light show Enchanted. Visit often to check out the changing gardens because there’s always something blooming at Descanso. This is a garden you can visit according to your mood. Whether you’re feeling reflective or joyous, it will always be uplifting.

Admission: $15, $11 for seniors 65 and over and students with ID, $5 for children ages 5-12, members and children under 5 enter free. Annual memberships start at $70 for individuals and $99 for families.

Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily except Dec. 25. Members can enter at 8 a.m.

Food can be purchased on-site daily at the Kitchen at Descanso from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. No pets permitted except trained service dogs.
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The Fullerton Arboretum bamboo forest and stream
(Jeanette Marantos / Los Angeles Times)

Fullerton Arboretum

Fullerton Public garden
What a surprise to find such a lush 26-acre garden on the campus of California State University, Fullerton, bounded by the Titan Stadium and the always busy Yorba Linda Boulevard and 57 Freeway. With all the traffic noise and the sound of cracking bats during practice at the stadium, it’s hard to believe there can be anything tranquil inside the garden gates. However, once inside, past the waterfall and banana trees heavy with fruit, it’s easy to forget all that other stuff and just get swept away by this garden’s “living collection.” Wide lawns near the entrance lead to two ponds full of sunning turtles, connected by a shallow, fast-moving stream that burbles through the west side of the gardens. It might be hot outside, but the temperature drops significantly inside the bamboo forest, redwood grove and a collection of huge and wonderfully twisted fig trees.

Don’t miss the spectacular rock fig with its pale green trunks rising ghostlike from the heavily leaf-littered ground. At the east side of the garden is the thorn forest with truly bizarre plants such as the silk floss tree with its thorn-studded branches and trunk and delicate lilylike blooms. Suddenly, after all the forests, you are smack in the desert, studded with barrel cactuses, towering agave blooms and also some shade from massive Chilean mesquite trees. The rare fruit orchard and citrus groves remind us we live in Southern California, and if you’re lucky, you can purchase some of the bounty at the gate, such as bags of fresh fuyu persimmons, sapotes, star fruit and pomegranates.

Admission: $5 suggested donation. Members enter free (annual memberships start at $59 for individuals and $99 for couples).

Hours: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday-Monday; Tuesdays open only to members and Cal State Fullerton students.

Food: No food permitted inside the garden or available for purchase. However, a variety of fruit from the Arboretum’s orchards is periodically for sale at the main entrance. No pets permitted except trained service dogs.
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Visitors make their way through the Central Garden at the Getty Center.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

The Getty Center Gardens

Brentwood Public garden
The Getty Center is one of L.A.'s most renowned art museums, but the four surrounding gardens are worth a visit all by themselves. Most spectacular is the large Central Garden, a kind of living artwork designed by California artist Robert Irwin that involves paths that follow and cross a fast-moving stream that ends in a waterfall into a pool at the bottom of the hill. Brilliant bougainvillea cascade out of tall iron trellises like colorful giant umbrellas, and the foliage and plantings change with the seasons to live up to Irwin’s statement about the garden: “Always changing, never twice the same,” carved into one of the stepping stones.

The gardens also include a variety of cactuses and succulents and sculptures, all framed by the Getty’s austere, otherworldly architecture. Admission is free, although these days, because of COVID-19, you need to reserve an entry time to keep visitor numbers low.

Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday, closed Mondays and Jan. 1, July 4, Thanksgiving and Dec. 25.

Admission: Free, but parking is $20 per vehicle.

Food is available for purchase. No pets permitted except trained service dogs.
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The Chinese Garden at The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

The Huntington Library, Art Museum & Botanical Gardens

San Marino Public garden
The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens is the grand dame of Southern California botanic gardens. (It’s as large and formidable as its name.) This is a place for extensive research in its libraries or art gazing in the museum, where visitors can see the Huntington’s new commission, “A Portrait of a Young Gentleman” by L.A. native Kehinde Wiley (the artist who painted President Barack Obama’s famous portrait), through Jan. 3, in the same room as its inspiration, Thomas Gainsborough’s iconic 18th century painting, “The Blue Boy.”

If you go, plan a day devoted to just wandering the Huntington’s 130-acre gardens, a sprawling collection of extraordinary roses, authentic Chinese and Japanese gardens, and areas dedicated to Australian plants, Shakespearean plants, herbs, desert plants, jungle and subtropical plants (you can almost hear Tarzan bellowing somewhere in those towering, vine-dripping trees) and, of course, a whimsical garden to enchant children. The food options are varied and very good. The Jade Court Cafe in the Chinese Garden offers a range of cuisine, plus beer and wine. There’s also the 1919 Cafe near the entrance and the Red Car coffee shop for grab-and-go coffees, ice cream cones and sandwiches — and outdoor seating options. (The Rose Garden Tea Room is closed for renovations until winter 2022.)

If you want a free-day ticket (the first Thursday of every month), you’ll need to be strategic, ready to jump on a reservation at 9 a.m. the Thursday before. Due to the huge demand, people are assigned a random number after they enter the online waiting room for free tickets. If your number is selected, you can receive up to five tickets per household (babies also need tickets on free days).

Hours: Open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily except Tuesdays. Closed July 4, Thanksgiving, Dec. 24-25 and Jan. 1.

Admission: Prices start at $25 weekdays and $29 on weekends; slightly lower fees for seniors, students and children. Members and children under 4 enter free. Note that the Huntington’s free days — the first Thursday of every month — require advance reservations made the week prior, and spots fill up quickly. Members are not permitted on free days. Annual memberships start at $159; you can apply up to $50 of your admission fees toward a membership within 24 hours of your visit.

Food is available at several on-site cafes. No pets permitted except trained service dogs.
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A trail at the Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Gardens
(Gabriella Angotti-Jones / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden

Arcadia Public garden
Maybe it’s the Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden’s early history as an Indigenous Tongva settlement named Aleupkigna on Baldwin Lake and then as the Mexican land grant Rancho Santa Anita, where cattle, grains, vineyards and fruit trees were nurtured, that gives this sprawling 127-acre botanic garden a kind of proletariat feel. There are plenty of beautiful places to wander here, such as the aquatic gardens that include the Meyberg Waterfall, the Meadowbrook Garden (filled with deciduous trees whose colorful blooms and leaves change every season as well as evergreens), the tropical greenhouse with thousands of orchids, and the plantings grouped by geography — South American, Mediterranean, South African, Australian and Asiatic-North American. But the Arboretum also has extraordinary demonstration gardens such as the Crescent Farm, a onetime compacted lawn transformed into a lush, drought-resistant garden of California native plants and low-water fruits, vegetables, ground covers and shrubs by using lasagna mulching and hugelkultur beds to rebuild the soil.

Peacocks nonchalantly roam throughout the gardens — they’re descendants of the three birds imported by Rancho Santa Anita’s last owner, Elias Jackson “Lucky” Baldwin. There are historic buildings as well, such as the relocated Santa Anita Depot and the Queen Anne Cottage built by Baldwin. Little-known fact: This L.A. County-owned garden is also a great place for botanic research, thanks to its extensive library that you can search online and to Frank McDonough, a full-time botanical information consultant whose job is to answer the public’s questions about plants. (Call McDonough at (626) 821-3236.) The garden has regular wellness classes such as forest bathing and yoga. It also provides room for many plant-related conventions and clubs and offers a popular wintertime holiday light show called Lightscape. It’s truly a garden for the masses, especially if they have a taste for wonder.

Admission: $15, $11 seniors/students, $5 ages 5-12, members and children 4 and younger are free. Annual memberships are $70 for individuals, $65 for two seniors (age 62+) and $95 for families. Free day the third Tuesday of the month with advance reservations, which are available the first of each month.

Hours: Open 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily except Dec. 25.

Food: Peacock Café open daily except Monday.

No pets permitted except trained service dogs.
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Santa Barbara Botanical Garden visitors with redwoods
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

Santa Barbara Botanic Garden

Santa Barbara Public garden
Santa Barbara Botanic Garden is a day-trip destination, but if you can manage a weekday visit, all the better because it’s a popular garden that is always crowded on weekends. You’ll want good walking shoes and a steady gait to explore this garden; some of the prettiest paths are up and down stairs or across a rocky creek. This 78-acre garden meshes more than 1,000 varieties of California native plants with the history of Santa Barbara’s Mission Dam and Aqueduct, built in 1806-1807 by Indigenous Chumash laborers to provide water to the Santa Barbara Mission. The dam no longer functions, but portions of this remarkable structure can be seen along the Canyon and Easton-Aqueduct trails on Mission Creek.

Be sure to descend to the floor of the redwood grove, just to be inspired by its quiet grandeur. Then follow Mission Creek south to explore the aqueduct. Check out the maze in the children’s garden, and cross the creek to climb up to the manzanita garden, which features 60 varieties of the red-barked plants, ranging from sculptural ground covers to midsize shrubs and small trees — all of which have delicate bell-shaped blooms in the spring. This garden is a good way to see how California native plants can be incorporated into residential spaces. There’s also a water-wise home garden with useful suggestions about how to landscape using drought-tolerant native plants and a nursery where you can purchase at least some of the plants you admired. For die-hard horticultural researchers, the garden’s Blaksley Library, established in 1927, includes more than 15,000 books, journals and digital media about California’s plants and landscape history, as well as an extensive photo collection.

Admission: $16, $12 seniors 60+, $10 students with ID, $8 children ages 3-17, free entry to members and children 2 and younger. Annual memberships are $75 for individuals and $100 for families of two adults and children under 18.

Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily November through February, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. March through October. Members hour from 9 to 10 a.m.

Food not available for purchase. Carry-in food is permitted. Dogs are permitted if leashed.
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Koi fish in a pond
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Sherman Library & Gardens

Corona del Mar Public garden
Sherman Library & Gardens is only 2.2 acres — one of the region’s smallest botanic gardens — but it packs a punch with its many intimate, intensively planted gardens, ranging from 130 varieties of begonias and a tropical conservatory with orchids, carnivorous plants and a koi pond to an almost quiltlike succulent and cactus garden, a perennial garden and a magnificently massive and gnarly pepper tree. The gardens were founded by businessman Arnold D. Haskell in 1966, named after his mentor, Moses H. Sherman, the streetcar and real estate developer who brought Angelenos the Hollywoodland sign. Haskell loved plants and acquired an entire block in Corona del Mar to create a central garden, conservatory, library (his former office), gift shop and cafe.

Sherman Gardens often weaves classes and art among its plants, hosting sculpture installations and performances by a contemporary dance troupe. The library specializes in the history of the Pacific Southwest, including Southern California, Arizona and northern Mexico, with 15,000 books and a collection of California Impressionist art. It’s easy to spend a few hours in this small garden. Maybe that’s because its intimacy and easy access invite you to linger and savor what you see.

Admission: $5; members and children 3 and under enter free. Annual memberships are $60 for individuals, $40 for seniors, $20 for students and $75 for families.

Hours: Open 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily except Thanksgiving, Dec. 25 and Jan. 1.

Food is available for purchase at the cafe from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays. No pets permitted except trained service dogs.
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Walkway through the garden
(Jeanette Marantos / Los Angeles Times)

South Coast Botanic Garden

Rolling Hills Estates Public garden
South Coast Botanic Garden celebrated its 60th birthday this year, marking its transformation from a county landfill covering an old diatomaceous earth mine to 87 acres of lush, diverse collections of extraordinary plants. The plantings include an almost spiritual banyan grove, with its tangle of huge Moreton Bay fig tree roots and massive canopy, along with gardens dedicated to a variety of botanic wonders such as roses, California native plants, dahlias, agaves, ginkgoes
, eucalyptus and grass (yes, grass). The children’s garden has a nursery rhyme theme with a large dollhouse, a charming bridge and plants matched to the stories. You can visit the compost demonstration site to learn how to make your own at home.

All in all, the garden has more than 2,500 different species of plants and 5 miles of trails, but if that feels overwhelming, the garden’s website offers a downloadable map for easy planning, along with suggestions for what to see based on how much time you have to visit. The garden also has two popular seasonal events that require an additional fee: SOAR, its butterfly pavilion and garden that is currently focused on monarch butterflies, and GLOW (Garden Lights & Ocean Waters), its second winter light show that features food, drink, music and thousands of lights designed to transform the garden into a water-themed locale through Jan. 17. If you only have 45 minutes, you can see a lot at this garden, but if you’ve got the time, it’s an easy, fragrant place to while away an entire afternoon. Just remember to bring something to eat.

Hours: Open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily except Dec. 25.

Admission: Reserved tickets required; $15, $11 seniors 62+ and students, $5 children ages 5-12, free for members and children 4 and younger. (Members only need to reserve tickets on weekends.) Free admission with reservations on the third Tuesday of each month. Annual membership is $45 for individuals and $65 for two adults and up to four children under 18.

Food isn’t available for purchase. Carry-in food is permitted. No pets permitted except trained service dogs. Dogs are permitted if leashed only on designated dog walking days about 10 times a year (no more days scheduled until early 2022).
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Storrier Sterns Japanese Garden
(Jeanette Marantos / Los Angeles Times)

Storrier Stearns Japanese Gardens

Pasadena Private garden
This tiny jewel of a garden was once part of a palatial Pasadena estate designed by Japanese landscaper Kinzuchi Fujii for his wealthy patrons, Charles and Ellamae Storrier Stearns. Fujii transformed two flat tennis courts into a mounded space featuring a grand “12-tatami-mat tea house” (a dozen 3-foot-by-6-foot mats signifying a house of great importance) along with a 25-foot waterfall, two ponds, four bridges and numerous plantings shaded by sprawling sycamores and oaks. It’s a restful place to wander by day but it’s even more magical at night, with just enough lighting to help you find your way along the paths.

If you’re looking for a special evening out, grab your favorite takeout and a bottle of wine and watch the day melt into night, with strings of lights reflecting off the koi pond. (Bring your own cups, bottle openers, cutlery and plates to the garden, and take it all with you when you leave.) The teahouse is lighted and open for visitors day or night. Just remember to remove your shoes.

Admission: Tickets are $12 if purchased online and $15 if purchased at the gate (and if space is available), children 12 and under enter for free.

Hours: Open 3 to 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 10 a.m. to 7:45 p.m. Sundays.

Food not available for purchase. Carry-in food is permitted. Dogs are not permitted in the garden.
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People walk through the Taft Gardens & Nature Preserve.
(Madeleine Hordinski / Los Angeles Times)

Taft Gardens & Nature Preserve

Ojai Private garden
Just getting to Taft Gardens & Nature Preserve is an adventure — the entrance isn’t on Google Maps, to discourage drop-in visitors, and the directions you receive once you purchase your tickets are confusing enough to be slightly thrilling. Visitors to this private garden are limited to about 25 a day, and tickets must be purchased at least a day in advance. This garden, which is north of Ojai, is well worth the effort to get there, with 15 acres of beautiful and slightly bizarro native plants from South Africa, Australia and California.

Wear good walking shoes. The paths can be uneven in spots, but there aren’t any serious climbs here — just a good wander through towering bottle trees and succulents and a riot of colorful blooms, especially in the spring. Water and restrooms are available toward the back of the gardens near the event center, but the managers suggest bringing your own pack-in-and-pack-out picnic along with extra water — especially in the heat. There are several worthy places to buy food in nearby Ojai. Order ahead and pick it up on your way to the gardens. So, yes, this trip will take some planning. But once you get there, you’ll feel like you have the place to yourself, and that kind of intimacy in a beautiful SoCal garden is a rare treat.

Admission: $20, tickets must be purchased online at least a day before your visit.

Hours: Vary by season; currently closed Sunday-Monday, Noon-5 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday and Friday and 9-11 a.m. Saturday.

No food is sold on-site, but water is available. Carry-in food is permitted. Dogs are permitted if leashed.
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A set of stairs at the UC Riverside Botanic Gardens
(Stan Lim / UCR)

UC Riverside Botanic Gardens

Riverside Public garden
If you’re looking for a garden experience and a workout, UC Riverside’s Botanic Gardens is a wonderful option. The gardens appear small at the entrance, but the trees get denser and taller as you walk to the interior and follow the paths up the hill. Here the 40-acre garden unfolds with 4 miles of trails through gardens devoted to butterfly habitat, herbs, irises and lilacs (that will bloom during Riverside’s mild winters) and more than 300 species of roses. An online map shows a network of trails, some paved and suitable for wheelchairs and others that are rutted, steep and challenging to negotiate. You’ll find an orchard devoted to subtropical fruit, from citrus and avocados to guavas and sapotes, and a new garden dedicated to plants important to the Indigenous people of inland Southern California.

The garden also has collections from a variety of geographical areas, including Australia and South Africa, as well as the eastern United States, with its temperate deciduous forests and North American deserts. And, of course, it also covers regions of California, from Baja and the California chaparral to North Coast redwood forests, oak woodlands, coastal sage scrub — native to the hills where the gardens are located — and a lovely shady area known as Alder Canyon full of native California riparian trees.

Admission: No charge but suggested $5 donation.

Hours: 9 a.m. to noon Monday-Wednesday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday-Friday, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. first and third Sundays. Closed on major holidays or when the campus is closed for academic and administrative holidays. The campus calendar is here.

Food not available for purchase. Pets are not permitted in the garden.
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A bench and walkway at the Ventura Botanical Garden
(Jeanette Marantos / Los Angeles Times)

Ventura Botanical Garden

Ventura Public/private garden
Ventura Botanical Gardens is one of Southern California’s newest botanic gardens. The first 2,000 plantings began in 2015 after a nonprofit community group partnered with the city to create the public garden, initially on 40 acres of rocky sloping ground, but most of the work was burnt to ash during the Thomas Fire in late 2017. The gardens are devoted to the world’s five Mediterranean climate zones — central Chile, the Cape region of South Africa, Southwest Australia, California (including Baja) and, of course, the Mediterranean basin. These terraced gardens are as much about the heart-soaring vistas of Ventura’s curving coastline and ever-changing sky as they are about the plants beside your feet.

New plantings began in 2018, and today there is a young olive grove on one hill, rare Chilean wine palms that survived the fire despite the charring on their thick trunks and, in the South African Fynbos and Karoo gardens, proteas with blooms like fireworks, Dr. Seuss-like succulents and fragrant mounds of scented geraniums. The walks are uphill, but the incline is so gradual and the view so inspiring that you hardly notice the climb. The gardens also have a small gift store and nursery at the entrance. Note that the garden’s restrooms have been temporarily closed due to COVID-19. Public toilets are available downtown, a couple of blocks from the entrance.

Admission: $7, free to members and ages 18 and under. Admission free on Fridays and select holidays.

Hours: Open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday.

Food is not sold on-site but can be consumed. Dogs are permitted, leashed, on Wednesdays and Fridays.
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Wrigley Memorial and Botanic Garden entrance
(Steve Tabor / Catalina Island Conservancy)

Wrigley Memorial & Botanic Gardens

Avalon Public garden
William M. Wrigley Jr., the man who made his fortune with Juicy Fruit, Spearmint and Doublemint gum, loved Catalina Island so much that he bought most of it in 1919. He developed the area around Avalon with public utilities, a hotel and casino, new steamships and a tile and pottery plant. He also loved riding horses in Avalon Canyon, and after he died in 1932, his wife, Ada, built a tower and mausoleum in the canyon as his final resting place.

Wrigley’s remains were later moved to Forest Lawn cemetery in Glendale, but the memorial tower and 38-acre botanic garden are still there, with succulents, desert plants of the Americas and a large swath devoted to native plants endemic to the island — meaning they are only found natively on Catalina — along with plants endemic to the other Channel Islands. The garden is also the primary gateway to one of the Catalina Island Conservancy’s most popular hikes, the Garden to Sky trail.

Admission: $8, $6 seniors and veterans with ID, $4 children ages 5-12, members, children under 5 and active military (and their families) with ID enter free.

Hours: Open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily except Thanksgiving and Dec. 25.

Carry-in food permitted on-site; water only available at the entrance. No pets permitted except trained service dogs.
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