California Gardens and Flowers

Huntington Botanical Gardens, Los Angeles, CA
John Warden / Getty Images

These are a few of the best places in California to stop and smell the roses, as they say. California's mild climate makes things grow and it has enough variety in geography that you can find a little bit of anything growing somewhere.

Don't be misled by those silly stereotypes that suggest that it's warm and sunny every day, in California though. California has seasons, and most of these gardens will be more beautiful from spring through fall than they are in the winter.

Los Angeles

  • Gardens at the Getty Center: The Getty is technically an art museum, but their gardens are also a work of art. Small and easy to walk through, they surround a lovely water feature. Designed by an artist, they feature color and texture that changes as you walk through it.
  • Huntington Gardens: In Pasadena, these extensive gardens have an eye-popping camellia collection and a Japanese section. There's even a garden just for kids.
  • Rose Parade: OK, it's not a garden, but every float is covered with natural material. That makes it kind of like a garden on wheels, doesn't it?

San Francisco

  • San Francisco Flower & Garden Show: Held in March, this show is one of the largest of its kind in the United States. It features spectacular display gardens, educational displays, lectures, and vendors. You can also get plenty of ideas for sprucing up your home garden.
  • Gardens in Golden Gate Park
    • Japanese Tea Garden: Located in Golden Gate Park, this is a lovely garden to stroll through any time of year. They also have a small tea house where you can refresh yourself.
    • San Francisco Botanical Garden: San Francisco's city garden has some truly odd plants - and some stunning ones, too.
    • Conservatory of Flowers: Located in Golden Gate Park, the Conservatory is an indoor garden, small but enchanting. It's housed in a Victorian-style jewel box of a glass house originally intended for a rich man's garden and features a 100-year old giant Imperial Philodendron plant along with orchids and other tropical plants.
People walking down paths in the Rose Garden
TripSavvy / Melissa Zink

San Francisco Bay Area

  • UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley: It's more than a century old and filled with more than 13,000 plant species spread over 34 acres.
  • Filoli: In Woodside near Palo Alto, this public garden was once a private estate. The grand house here was used as the Carrington Mansion on the television series Dynasty.
  • San Jose Rose Garden: This 5.5-acre garden is packed with more than 3,500 plantings and 180 varieties. The roses are planted in masses for maximum impact and pruned to produce showy blooms.
  • Hakone Gardens: Located in Saratoga near San Jose, this little-known place is more than 100 years old. That makes it one of the oldest Japanese gardens in the Western Hemisphere. Besides their gardens, they offer traditional tea ceremonies.

San Diego

  • Balboa Park: You'll find several outdoor gardens in San Diego's biggest city park, including an extensive rose garden.
  • Japanese Friendship Garden: Designed to present an atmosphere of elegant simplicity that the Japanese call shibui. It's also in Balboa Park
  • Carlsbad Flower Fields: These commercial gardens are full of lively, bright-colored Giant Ranunculus flowers in the spring. 

Other Locations

  • Fresno Blossom Trail: They're working orchards rather than "gardens," but from late February to mid-March, they're bloomin' beautiful.
  • Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens: If you love rhododendrons, you have to visit these gardens for some of the most beautiful specimens I've seen in California.
  • Forestiere Underground Gardens: This garden is also an oddity where everything grows underground. It's the creation of Baldassare Forestiere who came to Fresno in 1901. To cope with the central valley's hot summers, he dug a network of underground passageways that were both his home and his orchard.
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