While they don’t always feature roses, this itinerary describes places to relax and enjoy the some of the finest publicly accessible gardens around Monterey Bay. It includes gardens in Santa Cruz and Monterey counties bordering Monterey Bay on the Central Coast of California.
From Santa Cruz in the north to Esalen on the Big Sur coast in the south, the road distance is about 90 miles. An itinerary covering all the gardens in this guide is best spread over several days and incorporating visits to other regional sites including Steinbeck-related locations near Monterey and Salinas.
Click on the red POI (point of interest) links for more information on each location.
Temperate coastal conditions allow the Arboretum at U.C. Santa Cruz to cultivate plants from the Mediterranean-climate regions of Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. Also on campus, the Alan Chadwick Garden employs biodynamic techniques developed by the pioneering organic gardener.
Cabrillo College Environmental Horticulture Center, Aptos maintains a high-tech teaching nursery and a botanic garden with an extensive salvia collection. Old, rare, and unusual modern roses thrive in a clearing in the redwood forest at Roses of Yesterday Nursery, Corralitos.
Sierra Azul Nursery near Watsonville shows practical landscaping solutions with drought-tolerant plants from the world’s Mediterranean climates. With 3 acres of demonstration gardens, Succulent Gardens, Castroville sells and displays over 400 varieties of succulents, including cacti, and supplies.
In 1880, Monterey’s fabled Hotel del Monte supported one of the finest gardens of the period. A restored section of the famous Arizona Garden can be viewed on occasional public open days at the Naval Post-Graduate School.
The “Secret Gardens of Old Monterey” are clustered around historic adobe buildings of the old Spanish capital in Monterey State Historic Park. High stucco walls at the Pacific House insure solitude in the Memory Garden. A modern garden surrounds the Casa del Oro. Other intimate gardens are found at the Cooper-Molera Adobe, Casa Soberanes, the Whaling Station, and the Larkin and Stevenson Houses.
Tall pines shade roses and mature rhododendrons at Monterey Museum of Art’s La Mirada Gallery.
Western species thrive in the native plant garden at Pacific Grove’s Museum of Natural History. In late spring, fluorescent pink Drosanthemum floribundum “ice plant” from South Africa carpets the coastal bluffs at Perkins Park.
High above the ocean on the Big Sur cliffs, 5-acres of kitchen gardens produce flowers and organic vegetables for attendees of the Esalen Institute “human potential” educational center. Note that entry is permitted only to workshop attendees.