Explore California—or at least its plants—with a visit to this expansive site. The largest botanic garden focusing solely on the Golden State’s native plants, the California Botanic Garden (formerly the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden) functions not only as a welcome retreat on the northeast side of Los Angeles County, but also as an important research and educational facility—and a terrific place for inspiration if you want to add California natives to your garden. Conservation of critically endangered plants is a big part of the garden’s mission, and it now protects a number of them that barely survive in the wild, such as Catalina mountain-mahogany (less than a dozen individual plants remain in a secluded valley on Santa Catalina Island).
Explore the grounds on your own—don’t miss the Sensory Trail and the Fan Palm Oasis—or take a guided walk or one-hour tram tour. In about one hour, you’ll learn about plant communities from the California coast to the state’s southeastern border in the Mojave Desert. Check the calendar for free walks for beginning birders, and wildflower walks in spring (typically weekends, late March to early May). Summer months include an artist residency program, during which local artists are provided with uninterrupted access to space at the gardens to create art, which is then exhibited or displayed as a series of installations. There are also events for kids, like scavenger hunts and the annual October Things That Go Bump in the Night series, where the curious can learn about nature’s elusive nocturnal creatures.