California is home to many gardens and botanical gardens, all incredibly diverse. Whether you’re looking for a quiet spot to relax or explore and learn more about some of the world’s most popular plants, these gardens are sure to fascinate you.
California is a big state with a variety of climate zones. Each of these gardens below has a unique collection of plants, and all offer beautiful environments to enjoy. No matter your interest in nature, you should not miss the incredible gardens in California!
I lived in California for 30 years and have toured 19 of these 22 gardens. Some were visited before my blogging days so I don’t have original photos to share but I will let you know my thoughts on each of them. I’ll let you know what I love about each garden, if there are any other gardens nearby, as well as any rock star nurseries or garden centers to visit.
Gardens in Northern California
1) Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens
The Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens is located in Fort Bragg, California, famous for its canyons, coastal bluffs, and wetlands. This is an excellent stop for nature lovers who are road tripping along Highway 1!
Why we love it: The woodland garden, fuchsias, tuberous begonias, heritage rose garden, and of course the rugged Northern California coast which can be viewed while in this garden. It’s near the charming New England-style town of Mendocino (a good place to stay), which is a 3-hour drive up the coast from San Francisco. You’ll be in or not too far from 4 famous wine counties – Mendocino, Alexander, Sonoma, and Napa as well as the Mendocino Beer Trail.
Address: 18220 North Highway One, Fort Bragg, CA 95437
2) San Francisco Botanical Garden
The San Francisco Botanical Garden is one of the US’s largest and most diverse botanical gardens. With 55 acres of landscaped gardens and open spaces, you have a lot of opportunities to explore. The garden showcases over 8,500 different kinds of plants from all around the world.
Why we love it: The rhododendron garden in bloom, the magnolias, and the Australian Tree Fern dell in the ancient plant garden. I lived in San Francisco for 20 years and visited this garden (it was then named Strybing Arboretum) many times.
It’s in Golden Gate Park so you may also want to visit the Conservatory Of Flowers, which is modeled after the famous structure in Kew Gardens, as well as the Japanese Tea Garden. You can walk or bike ride for miles in this gorgeous park as well as check out the DeYoung Museum and the Academy Of Sciences.
A fun nursery to visit in San Francisco is Flora Grubb Gardens.
Address: 1199 9th Ave, San Francisco, CA 94122
3) The Berkeley Botanical Garden
The University of California Botanical Garden at Berkeley contains over 10,000 varieties of plants from all over the world, including many rare or endangered species. The garden has undergone a lot of development over the last 125 years, becoming more focused on conservation and education of ecology, evolution, and human uses for plants.
Why we love it: The tropical house, cloud forest, and fascinating carnivorous plant house. This garden is perched on top of the hill above the UC Berkeley campus so the views are quite a bonus. Just be aware that this isn’t a flat garden and many of the paths are quite narrow.
Address: 200 Centennial Dr, Berkeley, CA 94720
Related: For more photos, check out our tour of the Berkeley Botanical Gardens.
4) Ruth Bancroft Garden & Nursery
The garden was initially planted in 1972 by Mrs. Ruth Bancroft as her personal garden. The library is now open six days a week to serve the public. The garden contains more than 2,000 plants from around the world. It’s in the East Bay about a 45-minute drive east of San Francisco.
Why we love it: I’m a succulent and protea nut, so this garden always gave me a thrill every time I went. It’s only 3 acres so you can easily see it in 2 or 3 hours. Many of the other gardens have a gift shop, but none sell this quantity or variety of plants. The nursery here on the property is the one to visit – how convenient!
A nearby nursery to visit: Orchard Nursery.
Address: 1552 Bancroft Rd, Walnut Creek, CA 94598
5) Filoli Estate
Filoli, also known as the Bourn-Roth Estate, is a large estate in California’s Bay Area with formal gardens and acres of land. This historic site is both a California Historical Landmark and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The house is beautiful and so are the grounds.
Why we love it: This isolated garden has a gorgeous woodland setting and is well worth a visit, especially in spring for the bulb and bloom displays. It’s about an hour south of San Francisco and 15 minutes away from Stanford University. If you have some extra time, the campus gardens are a nice stroll.
Address: 86 Cañada Road, Woodside, CA 94062
Gardens Along California’s Central Coast
6) San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden
The San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden is located near the Pacific Ocean on the Central Coast of California. When their master plan is complete, the 150 acre garden will be exclusively devoted to the ecosystems and plants of the five mediterranean climates of the world.
Why we love it: I have only been here once. I loved the display garden and the discovery hike. Mediterranean plants put on a good show of flowers so there was quite a bit in bloom when I went. The town of San Luis Obispo is charming to visit and the beaches of the Central Coast are nearby.
Address: 3450 Dairy Creek Rd, San Luis Obispo, CA 93405
7) Santa Barbara Botanic Garden
This 78-acre garden is a beautiful place to visit for all flower lovers. It contains over 1,000 rare species and plants, making it the home of various native plants and trees. You can see views of the Santa Ynez Mountains. The stunning landscapes are a backdrop to the beautiful Santa Barbara Channel Islands.
This botanical garden is open to both four-legged friends, providing a lovely place to enjoy the gardens together.
Why we love it: This is a “natural” garden with a focus on native plants, unlike the others which are more groomed and curated. It’s set in a canyon and there are trails on both sides of the road to hike on. The main meadow has majestic views and is quite colorful when the wildflowers are in bloom.
I lived in Santa Barbara for 10 years and know the area well. The town is beautiful and it’s worth spending a few days here. Other gardens in the area include Lotusland (right below), Casa de Herrero, the Mission Rose Garden, Alice Keck Park Memorial Gardens, and the Biltmore. If you’re into Balinese-style gardens, check out The Sacred Space in Summerland.
Nearby Carpinteria has lots of growers and nurseries. You may want to check out Westerlay Orchids, Gallup & Stribling Orchids, Island View Nursery, and Seaside Gardens (they have quite a few types of gardens here to stroll through as well as plants to buy).
Address: 1212 Mission Canyon Rd, Santa Barbara, CA 93105
Related: For more photos, check out our tour of California Native Plant Week At The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden.
Lotusland, located in Montecito (the neighboring town to Santa Barbara), is a must-visit for its exotic plant collections and dramatic garden design. When Madame Ganna Walska purchased the property in the early 1940s, it became an exciting and unique site. The park features acres of gardens with an array of plants from all over the world.
Why we love it: Everything! Especially the bromeliad garden, water garden, the crazy big Staghorn Ferns (see pic below on the right), and the Dracena draco circle. Just know you’ll tour with a docent (no wandering on your own) and reservations for this garden are usually needed weeks in advance.
This is 10 minutes away from Santa Barbara, so check out the other gardens and nurseries to visit under Santa Barbara Botanic Garden above.
Address: Cold Spring Rd, Montecito, CA 93108
9) Ventura Botanical Gardens
Ventura Botanical Gardens offers guided tours of its gardens, where you can enjoy over 160 plant species and beautiful views of the ocean. The Chilean Gardens really stand out here, where you can see a one-of-a-kind Chilean Soapbark Tree.
Why we love it: The Chilean garden and the views. This is about a 1/2 hour drive down the coast from Santa Barbara so you can check out the other gardens as well as nurseries to visit in #6 and #7.
Address: 567 Poli St, Ventura, CA 93001
Gardens in Southern California
10) Sunnylands Center and Gardens
The Sunnylands Garden comprises roughly 53,000 individual plants but only 70 unique species. The style of the center reflects this same modern look, so it’s sleek and appealing.
Most succulents flower in the winter or spring. We visited this garden in March, so some plants were blooming. Hummingbirds love succulent blooms, so we spent a bit of time dodging the dive-bombing hummingbirds.
You can also tour the house which requires a ticketed charge. The gardens are free to roam.
Why we love it: This garden full of desert succulents knocked my socks off! The artistry of design and plant repetition is stunning. When we toured this garden, the weather was ideal. We took so many pictures it was hard to narrow it down as to which ones to use in the post.
It’s just a short hop over to the Moorten Gardens so you could do both in 1 day. These gardens are both in or very near Palm Springs, which is always a fun and groovy place to hang out for a few days.
Related: For more photos, check out our tour of the Gardens at Sunnylands.
Address: 37977 Bob Hope Dr, Rancho Mirage, CA 92270
11) Moorten Botanical Garden
The Moorten Botanical Garden is a compact garden in Palm Springs. The garden has more than 8,000 plants and provides a beautiful oasis in the heart of Palm Springs. It is a must-visit when you are in the area. It covers nearby regions like the Mojave Desert and far-flung biomes like South African Karoo.
Why we love it: It’s an easy garden to tour if you only have an hour to spare. Plus, it’s just a mile from downtown Palm Springs so you can be back to your hotel pool or happy hour in no time flat.
Address: 1701 S Palm Canyon Dr, Palm Springs, CA 92264
12) Sherman Library and Gardens
The gardens at Sherman Library include over 100 species of palms and 130 varieties of begonias. The conservatory features lush tropical plants, a koi pond, carnivorous plants, and an extensive orchid collection.
Why we love it: The succulent garden (it’s a work of art), the central garden (it has beautiful seasonal displays), and the tropical conservatory. This little jewel box of a garden is only a square block and one of my favorite gardens in California. It’s very easy to see in a couple of hours.
A nearby nursery is Roger’s Gardens which is a year-round destination for plant and flower lovers. They sell much more than plants and have a learning category on their website with how-to videos, live streams, and helpful blog posts. Plus, they have a full-out restaurant (not just a cafe) on the grounds called Farmhouse.
Related: For more photos, check out our tour of the Succulent Garden at Sherman Gardens and Library.
Address: 2647 East Coast Hwy, Corona Del Mar, CA 92625
13) Los Angeles County Arboretum
Los Angeles County Arboretum is a beautiful botanical garden located in Arcadia, California. The garden was founded in 1922. Today it features more than 12,000 plants, including various trees, shrubs, and flowers from all over the world.
Why we love it: The tropical greenhouse, celebration garden, and aquatic gardens. The peafowl, love them or not, colorfully wander the property and are seemingly everywhere.
The Huntington Gardens (#16) are close by, but it would be hard to visit both in 1 day because there’s so much to see in each of these gardens.
The California Cactus Center is about a 5-minute drive away and was a stop I always made every time I visited the LA Arboretum or the Huntington.
Related: For more photos, check out our tour of the LA Arboretum.
Address: 301 N Baldwin Ave, Arcadia, CA 91007
14) The Huntington Library & Botanical Gardens
The Huntington Library is a great place to visit for people who want books, art, and plants all in one place. The historic estate has 16 themed gardens that feature 15,000 types of plants.
Make sure to check out the Desert Garden, Japanese Garden, Chinese Garden, and Rose Garden. If you visit during the peak season, you will be able to see all of the beautiful roses during their bloom! The scenery is lovely, with a nice mixture of architecture, sculptures, and the galleries in between.
Why we love it: The desert garden (it’s world-renown), Chinese Garden, Japanese Gardens, herb garden, and the jungle garden. This is one of my favorite gardens in California and I would always spend the whole day here every time I visited.
Besides the gardens, there’s also an art museum and a library to visit here.
The Los Angeles Arboretum (#12) is very close by. There are a few public gardens in the area but the only 1 I’ve been to is the Arlington Garden.
The California Cactus Center is about a 5-minute drive away and was a stop I always made every time I visited the LA Arboretum or the Huntington.
Address: 1151 Oxford Rd, San Marino, CA 91108
15) Descanso Gardens
The Descanso Gardens features nine botanical collections, a miniature railroad, a museum, and a modern art gallery.
The urban retreat in California also boasts a redwood forest, streams, a lake, a bird sanctuary, and the largest camellia garden in the United States.
Programmed events include morning yoga, weekend walks, storytime for kids, gardening tutorials, and annual festivals.
Why we love it: The camellia garden when in bloom – it’s quite the sight. And, the oak forest.
This is a garden that doesn’t take long to tour, maybe a couple of hours.
Address: 1418 Descanso Dr, La Cañada Flintridge, CA 91011
16) South Coast Botanic Garden
The South Coast Botanic Garden isn’t near any of the other LA area gardens but is worth a visit. The gardens are well-maintained and have a variety of plants, including succulents, palm trees, and orchids. Visitors love the rose garden as well as cherry blossoms when they bloom in the spring!
Why we love it: The desert and succulent garden, banyan grove, and garden for the senses.
This is on a beautiful peninsula south of LA. You can hike along the Pacific Ocean on the Palos Verdes Preserve afterward if you didn’t get enough walking in while visiting the garden.
Address: 26300 Crenshaw Blvd, Palos Verdes Estates, CA 90274
17) Wrigley Memorial & Botanic Garden
This garden is located on Catalina Island and features plants that are endemic to the Southern California islands. These plants are native to these coastal islands, so you will not find them elsewhere. This is due to the temperate marine climate of the state.
Address: 1402 Avalon Cyn Rd, Avalon, CA 90704
18) Virginia Robinson Gardens
The Virginia Robinson Gardens is located at The Beverly Hills estate. First built in 1911, it is the oldest estate in the Beverly Hills area. The garden spans six acres and has five different gardens, including a rose garden, a tropical palm garden, a formal mall garden, an Italian Renaissance terrace garden, and a kitchen garden with herbs and vegetables.
Address: 1008 Elden Way, Beverly Hills, CA 90210
19) Fullerton Arboretum
The Fullerton Arboretum is a public garden, but donations are encouraged! The beautiful grounds at the park are home to over 4,000 plants and trees on 26 acres. The gardens are incredibly picturesque and provide a fantastic atmosphere to walk around and enjoy your surroundings.
Address: 1900 Associated Rd, Fullerton, CA 92831
20) The Getty Villa
The Getty Villa Museum has educational exhibits on the art and culture of Italy and Greece. The outdoor gardens have all kinds of plants, flowers, and sculptures.
The Outer Peristyle Garden features a reflecting pool, many sculptures, and wall paintings. The Herb Garden contains Mediterranean herbs and fruit trees, so you’ll feel like you’re on a different continent.
Why we love it: The ancient-style gardens. It’s up on a hill right above famed Highway 1 and the Pacific Ocean.
It’s very close to Malibu, the land of beautiful beaches and beautiful people. If you’re into art, the Getty Center is a 30-minute drive away.
Address: 17985 Pacific Coast Hwy, Pacific Palisades, CA 90272
21) Balboa Park Gardens
The 350 species of plants in Balboa Park cover 1,200 acres. The park’s horticulturalist, Kate Sessions, selected and planted many of the trees in the park. She’s been nicknamed “the Mother of Balboa Park” for good reason!
Why we love it: The botanical building, the Japanese Friendship Garden, and the palm canyon. There’s a lot to do in Balboa Park, including visiting the famed San Diego Zoo, so it’s a good place to spend the day.
It’s not far from downtown San Diego where you’ll find lots of things to do. You can also drive or take a ferry over to Coronado Island. The last time I was there, I enjoyed walking around and looking at all the plants.
The majority of nurseries I’ve been to are in north San Diego county. The only 1 I’ve visited near here is Mission Hills Nursery.
Address: 1549 El Prado, San Diego, CA 92101
22) San Diego Botanic Garden
Last but not least on this list of gardens in California! At 37 acres, the garden features a wide variety of plants and landscapes, including rare bamboo groves, desert gardens, a tropical rainforest, California native plants, Mediterranean climate landscapes, and a subtropical fruit garden.
Why we love it: The bamboo grove, tropical rainforest, and the fruit garden (it’s the 1st place I saw a variegated pink lemon tree).
This is located in north San Diego County where there are many growers, nurseries, and a few other gardens. The Flower Fields and Butterfly Farm aren’t far away. The Self-Realization Meditation Garden is close by. It borders the Pacific Ocean and is a peaceful place to spend an hour or 2, especially if you’re into meditating.
Too many nurseries to list here so I’ll just list a few of my favs: Barrels & Branches, Anderson’s La Costa (especially good for houseplants), Cordova Gardens (another good one for houseplants), Waterwise Botanicals, Gardens By The Sea, and Rancho Soledad (more geared towards the wholesale trade as most of the plants aren’t labeled but the public can wander around).
Address: 230 Quail Gardens Drive, Encinitas, CA 92024
Conclusion: California’s Beautiful Gardens
The botanical gardens in California are a must-see for nature lovers of all levels of interest. Whether you’re looking for a quiet escape, a lively day out with family and friends, or a full-out plant hound like me, these California gardens are sure to please.
Nell and Miranda