Located 25 miles north of downtown San Diego in the hip coastal community of Encinitas, a patchwork of more than two dozen locally and internationally inspired theme gardens make the San Diego Botanic Garden an artful ode to Mother Nature and a delightful escape for all ages. Four miles of trails traverse 37 acres and a remarkable range of microclimates, essentially spanning desert to tropical rainforest—plus, children’s interactive gardens, an 8,000-square-foot conservatory, the nation’s largest bamboo garden, a sparkling Pacific overlook, and much more.
Touted as one of the “Top 10 Gardens Worth Traveling for” by American Public Gardens Association and glittering among USA Today’s 10 Best Readers’ Choice, San Diego Botanic Garden contains 5,000 exotic and native species—from Chile’s Sapphire Flower and The Canary Island’s dragon tree grove to the cheery California poppy and a plethora of drought-tolerant succulents. Little visitors tend to gravitate toward the acclaimed Hamilton Children's Garden, which includes such favorite spots as Toni’s Tree House, the mountain stream, and the Spell and Smell Garden. All ages can soak up the scents, from lavender to plumeria, and sounds—from rustling bamboo to doves cooing—on a stroll through the property. A stunning 29 distinct landscapes, such as the South Africa Garden or the Mediterranean-inspired Olive Tree Garden (anchored by its 100-year-old namesake), deliver inspiration and respite for people and creatures.
Winged friends, in particular, have long called this vibrant space home. The public garden was originally named Quail Gardens, thanks to prior owner and avid gardener Ruth Larabee’s love for the native birds, which inhabited her property until she donated her home and acreage to the county in 1957. Today, dragonflies, hummingbirds, butterflies, and doves are just a few of the area’s frequent fliers. In 2009, the garden changed its name while continuing to grow its roots and shoots with a 2019 unveiling of a massive greenhouse-like conservatory as well as a new Pacific Promenade and Visitor Center on the horizon. Aside from weddings (often held in the lovely Walled and Lawn gardens), the San Diego Botanic Garden hosts all manner of events, from classes and tours to al fresco yoga and galas. Family-friendly tip: Be sure to enlist children in the gardens’ scavenger hunt.