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Southern California: Where to “Stop and Smell the Roses”

Photo by David Laws

Guide to the best publicly accessible gardens from San Diego to San Luis Obispo

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While they don’t always feature roses, this  itinerary describes places to relax and enjoy the some of the finest publicly accessible gardens in Southern California.  It includes gardens from San Diego through Los Angeles to San Luis Obispo County in the north. Be sure to plan your journey to allow for dense traffic conditions throughout the region.

For gardens from Monterey to Mendocino Counties, including San Francisco, see the Northern California Gardens itinerary.

Click on the red POI (point of interest) links for more information on each location.


San Diego and Orange County Gardens

San Diego’s Balboa Park  is home to nearly 20 specialty gardens spanning the alphabet from Alcazar to Zoro. Thirty minutes north of the city, San Diego Botanic Garden, Encinitas comprises diverse plantings arranged by geographic region.

Orange County gardens span styles from the “magically landscaped kingdom” of Disneyland Park to the botanical collections of Fullerton Arboretum covering 26-acres of the California State University, Fullerton campus.


Los Angeles County Gardens

The modern architecture and landscaping of the Getty Center Museum offers a dramatic contrast with the Getty Villa in Malibu This recreation of the Villa de Papiri at Herculaneum before it was destroyed in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius presents typical Roman plantings of nearly 2,000 years ago.

At the bucolic Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Gardens, Arcadia visitors can forget the freeways for a few precious hours.

Huntington Gardens, retreat of an early railroad magnate, in San Marino showcase over 14,000 varieties of plants in a dozen themed areas, including a rare Chinese landscape.

Descanso Gardens, La Cañada Flintridge, is a 150-acre botanical garden and Native American historical site on a hillside with views of the mountains.


Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo

Santa Barbara County boasts some of the finest private gardens in the nation; Lotusland is one of the most exotic and one of the few in Montecito open to the public. Santa Barbara Botanic Garden was the first in the state devoted to the propagation, display, and study of native California plants.

The Leaning Pine Arboretum at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo showcases Mediterranean climate plants. The Cal Poly Tree project publishes a map of interesting trees on campus.


Explore Another Southern California Itinerary

Being There: Surfing the Big One … Book excerpt from Kook: What Surfing Taught Me About Love, Life and Catching the Perfect Wave
Carlsbad Family Weekend Escape … Legoland and beyond in Carlsbad
Huntington Beach Family Fun, Surf and Sun … A perfect family day in Surf City USA
Perfect Surf Day in Huntington Beach … How to savor the best of Surf City, from “Kook” to seasoned surfer
Southern California: Where to “Stop and Smell the Roses” … Guide to the best publicly accessible gardens from San Diego to San Luis Obispo


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