The Best Botanical Gardens in San Diego County and Orange County

There are dozens of California botanical gardens worth visiting, many of which are located close to home in San Diego County and Orange County. This guide covers the main gardens in these two counties, as well as some that are just a short drive away or that have such unique offerings they are worth a road trip.

Botanical Gardens in San Diego County

Alta Vista Gardens

Location: 1270 Vale Terrace Drive, Vista

Admission Fee: $5 for non-members, free for members

What to See: There is plenty to see at Alta Vista Gardens, including an antique rose collection, culinary herb garden, medicinal herb garden, jungle garden, Australasian garden, African garden, Pan Asian garden, and a labyrinth.

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Botanical Gardens in San Diego County

Balboa Park Gardens

Location: 1549 El Prado, San Diego

Admission Fee: Free (some attractions within the park have an admission fee)

What to See: Balboa Park is home to several museums and gardens where you could spend several days exploring and still not see everything this picturesque park has to offer. The main botanical garden is the Botanical Building and Lily Pond. In the Botanical Building, you will find more than 2,100 permanent plants, as well as seasonal displays. You also will not want to miss the fountains in Alcazar Garden, butterfly garden in the sunken, stone grotto known as Zoro Garden, the formal Marston House Garden, the more than 450 palm trees in Palm Canyon, the historic Cactus Garden, the Moors-inspired Casa del Rey Moro Garden, the Inez Grant Parker Memorial Rose Garden, and the koi ponds and water features in the Japanese Friendship Garden.

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Edwin and Frances Hunter Arboretum at Palomar College (formerly Palomar College Arboretum)

Location: 1140 West Mission Road, San Marcos (on the Palomar College campus)

Admission Fee: Free

What to See: There are more than two dozen themed gardens on the Palomar College campuses, including about 5,000 plant species with representation from each of the major continents. Garden maintenance is kept as natural as possible with few or no pesticides and chemical fertilizers used. The gardens are used as study sites for students and are open to the public.

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San Diego Botanic Garden

Location: 230 Quail Gardens Drive, Encinitas

Admission Fee: $18 for adults, $10 for children three to 17, free for children under two, $12 for seniors and active-duty military

What to See: The San Diego Botanic Garden may have the most themed installations of any of the California botanical gardens. If not, it is definitely in the running with four miles of trails meandering through 37 acres with 29 themed gardens and 5,000 plant species. Just a few examples include the Old World Desert Garden, Seeds of Wonder Children’s Garden, Olive Tree Garden, Subtropical Fruit Garden, Walled Garden, Hamilton Children’s Garden, and Bird and Butterfly Garden.

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Self-Realization Fellowship Meditation Gardens

Location: 215 West K Street, Encinitas

Admission Fee: Free

What to See: The gardens at the Self-Realization Fellowship differ from most on this list. While you might visit most botanical gardens to see native plants or learn about varieties of trees and plants, you come to the Meditation Garden simply to enjoy the beauty of the garden or find a peaceful respite in this serene setting with fantastic ocean views. Meditate by the koi ponds or in one of the meditation nooks before heading to the gift shop for handcrafted wares, books or spiritual gifts.

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Botanical Gardens in Orange County

Botanical Gardens in Orange County

Fullerton Arboretum

Location: 1900 Associated Road, Fullerton (on the California State University, Fullerton campus)

Admission Fee: Free

What to See: There is a lot to see on the 26 acres that make up the Fullerton Arboretum at CSU Fullerton. The main gardens include the Mediterranean Collection, Desert Collection, Cultivated Collection, and Woodland Collection. There is also a community garden, children’s garden, greenhouse, nature center, pond, waterfall, streams, and a museum.

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Gardens at Casa Romantica Cultural Center

Location: 415 Avenida Granada, San Clemente

Admission Fee: $5 for general admission, free for children under 12, active-duty military and members (Admission is free for everyone on the first Sunday of each month.)

What to See: Casa Romantica is home to a collection of more than 30 gardens, including a Children’s Garden, Butterfly Garden, Native American Garden, Woodland Garden, Cactus & Succulent Garden, Courtyard Garden, and Herb Garden. There are also some great views to enjoy from Story Circle and Serenity Point.

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Niguel Botanical Preserve

Location: 29751 Crown Valley Parkway, Laguna Niguel

Admission Fee: Free

What to See: Niguel Botanical Preserve began as a community vegetable garden and has a grown to an 18.2-acre preserve with four miles of trails and 2,000 plant species. Self-guided tours are free and dogs are welcome, just be sure to bring a leash and waste bags to clean up after them.

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Sherman Library and Gardens

Location: 2647 East Coast Highway, Corona Del Mar

Admission Fee: $5 for adults, $3 for children 12-18, free for children under 11 (Admission is free for everyone on the first Monday of each month.)

What to See: Take advantage of a docent-led tour or enjoy a self-guided tour to meander through the wheelchair accessible, brick paths to see 130 varieties of begonias, more than 100 species of palms, a rose garden, a tea garden, and a conservatory with a koi pond and orchid collection. If you prefer well-manicured gardens over less-structured installations, this is the one for you. You can also stop for lunch at Café Jardin overlooking the flower gardens, or have afternoon tea in the garden.

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University of California Irvine Arboretum

Location: Campus Drive and Jamboree Drive, Irvine

Admission Fee: Free

What to See: The UCI School of Biological Sciences may be moving the arboretum to the main campus, but, at least for now, guided tours are still available at the current location. This 12.5-acre garden is home to plants from California and South Africa with several special collections, including Mojave Desert, Maritime Succulent Scrub, Otay Mesa, Aloe Gardens, and Baja California.

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botanical gardens in california

California Botanical Gardens Worth a Road Trip

There are dozens of botanical gardens in California, and many are worth a trip to see what they have to offer.

Some of the gardens listed below are so close to San Diego County and Orange County that you can easily visit them on your day off. Others are a bit more of a drive but have unique offerings and are definitely worth a stop if you are planning a road trip to the area.

University of California Riverside Botanic Gardens

Location: 1 Botanic Gardens Drive, Riverside

Admission Fee: Free ($5 suggested donation)

What to See: The UCR Botanic Gardens is a certified wildlife habitat offering 40 acres of beautiful gardens with four miles of trails for visitors to enjoy. The garden hosts many events, such as twilight tours, morning bird walks and breakfast, Art in the Gardens, rose pruning demonstrations, and gardening classes.

Why it is worth the trip: It is just a short drive from San Diego and Orange County and is a great place to meander through trails and view wildlife.

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San Bernardino Valley Water Conservation Demonstration Garden

Location: 5500 University Parkway, San Bernardino (on the California State University San Bernardino campus)

Admission Fee: Free

What to See: This small teaching and research garden is just over an acre, but is an important installation providing public access to a water conservation demonstration garden where you can learn more about drought-tolerant plants and water-saving gardening practices.

Why it is worth the trip: If you are taking a day trip to the San Bernardino area, it is worth stopping by to learn more about water conservation and drought-friendly plants.

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Ruth Bancroft Garden

Location: 1552 Bancroft Road, Walnut Creek

Admission Fee: $10 for non-members, free for members, discounted admission for seniors and military

What to See: This 3.5-acre botanical garden offers group tours, docent-led tours and self-guided tours through meandering paths bordered by succulents and other drought-tolerant plants. The garden is accessible, but the paths are not paved. Dogs are welcome as long as they are kept on a leash and you remember to bring your bags for picking up after them.

Why it is worth the trip: If you are in the area, this is a great opportunity to visit a California botanical garden that is wheelchair accessible.

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Blake Garden

Location: 70 Rincon Road, Kensington

Admission Fee: Free

What to See: Blake Garden was designed and built by professors and students in the Environmental Design program at University of California, Berkeley. Primarily focused on research and teaching, the 10.6-acre garden is open to the public and offers gorgeous views of San Francisco Bay, historic and modern garden designs, and plants native to or adapted to a Mediterranean climate.

Why it is worth the trip: If you love gardens and great views, Blake Garden should definitely be on the list next time you are in the Bay Area.

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Luther Burbank Home and Gardens

Location: 204 Santa Rosa Avenue, Santa Rosa

Admission Fee: Free (tours of the house and gardens require admission fees)

What to See: This is among the smallest botanic gardens California has to offer, but it is well worth a visit. This historic landmark was the home of horticulturist Luther Burbank who spent much of his time experimenting in this very greenhouse. The free audio tour will guide you through the gardens where you will find ornamental grasses, roses, wildlife habitats, and medicinal herbs.

Why it is worth the trip: Historic landmarks are always worth visiting, particularly when they offer free admission.

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California State University Northridge Botanic Garden

Location: Between the Student Union and Chaparral Hall on the CSUN campus, Northridge

Admission Fee: Free

What to See: While students use this garden for research projects and assignments, it is also open to the public for community members to enjoy the succulents, cacti, California natives, herbs, and tropical plants. Garden staff also offer free gardening and horticulture classes.

Why it is worth the trip: It is a small garden, which makes it easy to check out this teaching and research installation with a quick visit next time you are in Northridge.

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Clovis Botanical Garden

Location: 945 North Clovis Avenue, Clovis

Admission Fee: Free

What to See: Clovis Botanical Garden is a three-acre, non-profit demonstration garden where visitors can learn about water conservation and plants native to the California Central Valley by touring the water-wise gardens or participating in programs.

Why it is worth the trip: Too many Southern Californians drive right through the Central Valley on our way to Northern California without stopping to appreciate all it has to offer. This is your chance to stretch your legs and learn more about the Central Valley’s native plants on your way up north.

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Chavez Ravine Arboretum

Location: 929 Academy Road, Los Angeles

Admission Fee: Free

What to See: Founded in 1893 and located in Elysian Park near Dodger Stadium, Chavez Ravine Arboretum is home to more than 130 varieties of trees. Be sure to print the tree diagram and map before you head to the arboretum so that you can use this handy resource during your self-guided tour.

Why it is worth the trip: You have to go to LA for something anyway, so why not stop by and see 130 varieties of trees?

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Conejo Valley Botanical Garden

Location: 400 West Gainsborough Road, Thousand Oaks

Admission Fee: Free

What to See: The Main Garden at Conejo Valley Botanical Garden is open daily from sunrise to sunset, but if you have little ones, you may want to visit on a Sunday when the Kids’ Adventure Garden is also open. Sunday is also the only day you can visit the Garden Shop where you can purchase plants. Overall, the gardens offer 33 acres with trails, views, and 18 specialized sections, including California natives, a rare fruit garden, a tranquility garden, an orchard, a desert garden, an herb garden, the Australian garden, and bird and butterfly habitats.

Why it is worth the trip: This one has a wide variety of exhibits, so wandering the trails here is a bit like combining visits to several other botanical gardens.

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Conservatory of Flowers

Location: 100 John F Kennedy Drive, San Francisco

Admission Fee: Admission fees range from $3 to $11 depending on place of residence, age and whether you visit during peak hours or off-peak hours. (Admission is free to the public the first Tuesday of each month.)

What to See: The conservatory hosts a variety of events and exhibits, but any day you visit you can experience rare and endangered plants that you have never seen and may never see again outside of the conservatory. The entire conservatory is wheelchair accessible but folks visiting with small children should note that strollers are prohibited.

Why it is worth the trip: There are plants here that you will never see anywhere else during your lifetime.

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Eddy Arboretum

Location: 800 Buchanan Street, Albany

Admission Fee: Free

What to See: If you love conifers, you need to visit the Eddy Arboretum. Part of the Institute of Forest Genetics, the arboretum is home to one of the best-documented collections of pine trees in the world. There are 78 species of pine trees, 24 varieties of fir trees, and other conifers (both native and exotic) in the arboretum, which you can enjoy on a self-guided trail or with a pre-arranged tour.

Why it is worth the trip: Eddy Arboretum offers a unique experience with one of the best collections of its kind in the world.

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Filoli Historic House and Garden

Location: 86 Cañada Road, Woodside

Admission Fee: $22 for adults, $18 for seniors, $15 for military/students/teachers, $11 for children between 5 and 17, free for children under 5

What to See: Filoli is home to 16 acres of formal gardens, which are part of a 654-acre estate. The restored orchard features more than 650 fruit trees – including 275 varieties of apples – but the most common reason to visit the gardens is to view the formal, walled and hedged gardens designed in the English Renaissance style and featuring expansive lawns, meticulously groomed landscaping and reflecting pools. There are also working gardens, including a cutting garden and a kitchen garden.

Why it is worth the trip: Most botanical gardens in California focus on native plants and nature without much structure. Visiting Filoli is a vastly different experience with formal gardens.

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Forestiere Underground Gardens

Location: 5021 West Shaw Avenue, Fresno

Admission Fee: $19 for adults, $17 for seniors/students/military, $9 for children between 5 and 17, free for children under 5

What to See: This may be the most unique garden in all of California. Built over four decades with a design inspired by the catacombs of Filari, Sicily, Forestiere Underground Gardens is exactly what the name implies. This is probably the only place you can see fruit trees planted 20 feet underground, but there are also grapes, dates, a wide variety of edible trees and plants in the gardens throughout this 10-acre, underground estate. This is a historic landmark that is only viewable by guided tours, which are offered on a first-come, first-served basis.

Why it is worth the trip: Forestiere offers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to tour an underground estate and garden.

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Arlington Garden

Location: 275 Arlington Drive, Pasadena

Admission Fee: Free

What to See: Arlington Garden is a water-wise Mediterranean garden featuring a vernal pool, citrus grove, labyrinth, pine forest, olive grove, meadow, formal terrace, and amphitheater. This California botanical garden is dog-friendly, just be sure to keep your furry friend on a leash and bring waste bags to clean up after them.

Why it is worth the trip: Fans of labyrinths and vernal pools will not want to miss this one.

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Moorten Botanical Garden and Cactarium

Location: 1701 South Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs

Admission Fee: $5 for adults, $2 for children between five and 15, free for children under five

What to See: There are more than 3,000 varieties of plants to see here, including rare plants you will likely never see outside of this garden. Aside from the cacti, palms and other desert plants, you will also find fossils, mining equipment, pioneer relics, crystals, and other pieces of desert life in this living museum.

Why it is worth the trip: You know you are going to Palm Springs anyways, so, if you can tear yourself away from the pool or golf course, stop by and enjoy a unique experience at the Moorten residence.

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Wrigley Memorial & Botanical Garden

Location: 1400 Avalon Canyon Road, Avalon

Admission Fee: $8 for adult non-members, $4 for children, discounts for seniors, students and military

What to See: Stop by to see the memorial dedicated to the founder of the largest chewing gum company in the world before exploring the garden first envisioned by his wife. There are nearly 38 acres of gardens primarily including plants found only on the islands of California and the main trailhead for the popular Garden to Sky Trail.

Why it is worth the trip: It’s a great excuse to plan a trip to Catalina Island.

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