The 16 Best Botanical Gardens That Are "Must Visits" in California - A-Z Animals
Did you know that California has well over thirty botanical gardens and arboretums? This can make it challenging to choose just a few to explore. Still, although challenging, we’ve been able to decide on about 16 special gardens you won’t want to miss. Follow along to discover the 16 best botanical gardens that are “must-visits” in California.
1. Descanso Gardens
Starting our list of the 16 best botanical gardens that are “must-visits” in California, is the Descanso Gardens. The Descanso Gardens is a 15-acre botanical garden with multiple sections. While visiting, you can see incredible collections of roses, lilacs, and camellias. You can also explore themed gardens. Some of the gardens include the Oak Forest, Oak Woodland, Center Circle, and the Japanese Garden. Did you know you can also experience wildlife at the Descanso Gardens? Animals you may find within this botanical garden are California gray squirrels, green herons, desert cottontails, and monarch butterflies. Descanso Gardens is also a bird lovers paradise. Bring your binoculars and use the garden’s bird checklist to spot birds. Members can also attend bird walks on the fourth Sunday of every month.
2. San Francisco Botanical Garden
Continuing our list is the San Francisco Botanical Garden. This gorgeous botanical garden is in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. It contains an impressive 9,000 species of plants from all over the world. It also has a long and rich history. Interestingly, plans for the garden first started in the 1880s, although construction began in the late 1920s. The San Francisco Botanical Garden opened in May of 1940. Now, this popular garden receives about half a million visitors every year. The stunning plants within this botanical garden come from places like California, South Africa, New Zealand, Chile, the Mediterranean, the Southeast Asia Cloud Forest, and the Mesoamerican Cloud Forest. While here, guests can stroll through sites like the Ancient Plants, Moon Viewing Garden, Great Meadow, Celebration Garden, Succulent Garden, and the Garden of Fragrance.
3. Los Angeles County Arboretum
Also on our list of the 16 best botanical gardens that are “must visits” in California is the Los Angeles County Arboretum. This unique garden is an arboretum, botanical garden, and historical site on 127 acres of land. It’s a favorite for many locals and hosts seasonal events including a holiday show called Lightscape. One day isn’t enough to see everything the Los Angeles County Arboretum has to offer. Some gardens and landscapes you can see within the site are the Aquatic Gardens, the Crescent Garden, the Celebration Garden, the Garden for All Seasons, the Herb Garden, and the Rainbow Serpent Garden. The Los Angeles County Arboretum also features old historic buildings like the breathtaking Queen Anne Cottage, the gorgeous Coach Barn, and the abandoned Santa Anita Depot.
4. San Diego Botanic Garden
The San Diego Botanic Garden is gorgeous. Formerly, the garden was called the Quail Botanical Gardens. There is so much to do, see, and learn while visiting the San Diego Botanic Garden. This lovely site sits on about 37 acres acres of land and features 29 gardens and over 5,300 plant species.
Not only can you stroll through the gardens and admire all the colors, but also attend seasonal events. During the winter, the San Diego Botanic Garden hosts Lightscape, which transforms the garden into a gorgeous light show. Fun fact, this garden contains the nation’s largest public bamboo collection. One of the newest parts of this garden is the Dickinson Family Education Conservatory, which opened in 2019. It’s a glass-enclosed facility with floating plant islands. Some rooms are available for rent.
5. South Coast Botanic Garden
Fifth on our list is the South Coast Botanic Garden in Los Angeles County about 10 miles south of Los Angeles International Airport. Long before the site was a garden, it was an operating open pit mine until 1956. A year later, it was used as a sanitary landfill until 1965.
Now though, you can’t imagine it being anything other than a stunning botanic garden. The South Coast Botanic Garden is an 87-acre botanic garden with more than 2500 different species of plants. Not only do you admire the many gorgeous plants in the park, but also attend seasonal events and exhibits. A popular exhibit is the Astra Lumina Los Angeles.
6. University of California Botanical Garden
Also on our list of the 16 best botanical gardens in California is the University of California Botanical Garden. Originally, the garden was located near Haviland Hall on the north side of campus. However, it was moved in 1925 to its current position in Strawberry Canyon above the main campus.
This lovely 34-acre garden is a treat to visit. Reservations are recommended to enter and it does cost a fee. So, what plants can you see while visiting the University of California Botanical Garden? You can find thousands of plant species from all over the world, separated into sections. The different collections are Australasia, Deserts of the Americas, Herb Garden, Eastern North America, Mediterranean, South America, and South Africa. If you can’t make your way to the garden, you can take virtual tours.
7. UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden
Another place on our list of the 16 best botanical gardens that are “must-visits” in California is the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden. Generally, it’s just shortened to the Davis Arboretum.
This gorgeous arboretum and public garden has a lot to see including the Acacia Grove, Animal Science GATEway Garden, Arboretum Teaching Nursery, Australian Collection, California Native Plant Meadow, and Hummingbird GATEway Garden. Another thing you can do while visiting the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden is to enjoy time on the water. Large parts of the UC Davis Putah Creek Riparian Reserve are open to the public. Visitors at the reserve can fish, hike, bike, swim, and view wildlife.
8. Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens
Also in California is the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens. The Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens sits on 47 acres of land. They are located in Fort Bragg. This lovely botanical garden is unique. The land the garden is on includes canyons, wetlands, coastal bluffs, and a closed-cone pine forest.
There are many collections of plants like camellias, conifers, succulents, dahlias, and roses. A popular part of the gardens is the Vegetable Garden and Orchard. It was started by staff and volunteers in the early 2000s. This garden isn’t just beautiful and delicious, it’s also very beneficial! Two times a week, volunteers and Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens staff members harvest and donate organic food to the Fort Bragg Food Bank. In just nine years, this garden provided more than 60,000 pounds of fresh produce.
9. UC Riverside Botanic Gardens
The UC Riverside Botanic Gardens are other stunning gardens in California. They are well worth a visit, especially during spring and fall when the weather is nice and cool. These lovely gardens sit on about 40 acres of land and first opened in 1963. Currently, the garden houses over 3,500 plant species.
The UC Riverside Botanic Gardens aren’t just home to many plant species, but also animals. Walking through the gardens, you may spot dozens of bird species. Some bird species that call the gardens home are woodpeckers, falcons, and swallows. Reptiles and amphibians also live in the UC Riverside Botanic Gardens, like the California king snake, gopher snake, western skink, red diamond rattlesnake, western toad, and Pacific tree frog.
10. Fullerton Arboretum
There was no way the Fullerton Arboretum wasn’t making our list. This wonderful botanical garden isn’t as large as others on this list, but it’s just as impressive. The Fullerton Arboretum is on the northeast corner of the California State University, Fullerton campus. It’s a 26-acre garden with a lot to see and do. This charming garden features two live cameras, one of the 1894 Eastlake-style Heritage House and the other of the Arboretum’s lake.
Many animals live in and around Fullerton Arboretum, like hummingbirds. These lovely birds consume nectar from African tulip trees, red sages, skyflowers, red trumpet flowers, desert willows, and red yucca flowers. To visit, a donation of $5 per person is recommended.
11. Conejo Valley Botanic Garden
The Conejo Valley Botanic Garden is a wonderful botanical garden in Thousand Oaks, California. This unique garden has a surface area of around 33 acres. There are many specialty gardens within the Conejo Valley Botanic Garden, like the Native Plant Garden and Native Meadow. In this garden are native plants to California such as Santa Cruz Island Ironwood and California holly.
This hidden gem also features the Bird Habitat. While here, visitors have a chance to see mourning doves, house finches, and northern mockingbirds. With so many plants, you can only begin to imagine how many butterflies and moths are spotted every day in the gardens. Also in the Conejo Valley Botanic Garden is the Butterfly Garden, which hosts western tiger swallowtails, monarch butterflies, and fiery skippers. The best part about this vibrant botanical garden is that it’s free!
12. Huntington Library, Art Collections & Botanical Gardens
The next garden on our list of the best botanical gardens that are “must-visits” in California is a unique entry. The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens combine three wonderful things, plants, books, and art! You’ll likely need more than a day to explore what the Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens have to offer.
This incredible site is in San Marino and is often shortened to the Huntington. The gardens are massive and a lot to explore. The surface area of the Huntington Botanical Gardens is 130 acres and includes more than 83,000 plants. Some of the collections and gardens are the Australian Garden, Camellia Garden, Children’s Garden, Jungle Garden, Lily Ponds, and the Subtropical Garden.
13. Sherman Library & Gardens
Also on our list is the Sherman Library and Gardens in Corona del Mar, California. It’s small but worth a visit. This beautiful botanical garden sits on about 2.2 acres of land. It first opened in 1955, although the garden was previously a nursery. The founder, Arnold D. Haskell, combined his two loves, education and gardening to build the Sherman Library and Gardens named after his mentor, Moses H. Sherman.
So, what can you see while visiting this unique combination? Seasonally, there are different exhibits. A previous popular one was the Inspired by Nature exhibit featuring over 30 original mosaic works by Irina Charny. Some of the specific themed gardens include the Sun Garden, Tea Garden, Island Ecology Garden, Tropical Conservatory, and the Queens Corner.
14. Clovis Botanical Garden
Nearing the end of our list is the Clovis Botanical Garden in Clovis, California. This charming botanical garden is open Wednesday through Sunday from 9 am to 4 pm. The garden is run by passionate volunteers. Entering the gardens is free, although donations are welcomed and appreciated.
The Clovis Botanical Garden is a must-visit site. It opened its doors in 2004 and has a surface area of about one acre. Visitors can start at the Information Center before exploring the themed gardens. The themed gardens include the Desert Oasis, California Native Garden, and Australian Garden.
15. Moorten Botanical Garden
Another great botanical garden in California is the Moorten Botanical Garden in Palm Springs, California. This local favorite is colorful, unique, and a great way to spend a day. It’s also called the Moorten Botanical Garden and Cactarium. This private, family-owned garden specializes in succulents. Here you can find over 3,000 varieties of plants.
The Moorten Botanical Garden is open daily, except for Wednesdays. During the summer, they run a reduced schedule due to the extreme heat. The history of this gorgeous garden is charming. It first started with Chester “Cactus Slim” Moorten and his wife, Patricia. Now it’s run by Clark Moorten, the incredible second-generation host. This lovely garden is also available for weddings.
16. Alta Vista Botanical Gardens
Last but not least is the Alta Vista Botanical Gardens in Vista, California. This stunning botanical garden is a beautiful place to view plants and attend local seasonal events like Kids in the Garden and Novemberfest. Throughout the year are also monthly events like Volunteer Days and GrowGetters.
Alta Vista Botanical Gardens features at least 16 themed gardens, each one unique. In front of the Garden House, is the Welcome Garden, which has a variety of plants and trees. Another themed garden is the Medicinal Herb Garden, next to the Ceremonial lawn. The Children’s Garden and Discovery Trail is short, sweet, and a great way to teach kids about plants. Like others on our list, the Alta Vista Gardens is open to rent. There are multiple outdoor spaces and facilities for special events like weddings, anniversaries, family reunions, and more.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/Matthew Starling