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16 Gorgeous Los Angeles Botanical Gardens You Definitely Need to Visit Once

June 1, 2016 by Virginia Isaad

One of the great joys of living in Los Angeles is that we have access to an exorbitant amount of diversity and international culture, especially in the context of food and art.

But we are also extremely fortunate in that our city boasts an impressive array of gardens and green spaces for locals and visitors to explore.

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The below list features some of the L.A.’s most famous botanical gardens along with a few other lessor known (but still quite beautiful!) spots that are definitely worth checking out.

Hope you enjoy!

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Huntington Library Bridge

Japanese Garden Bridge at the Huntington Library. Credit: Michael Saechang via flickr cc

1. Huntington Library, Art Collections & Botanical Gardens

Huntington Library spans 207 acres – 120 of which are open to the public – with gardens divided into themes including Children’s Garden, Desert Garden, Herb Garden, Japanese Garden, Lily Ponds, and Subtropical and Jungle Garden. They have more than 15,000 plants from all over the world and a 1.5-lake, a teahouse, and waterfalls in the Garden of Flowering Fragrance while the Desert Garden includes one of the largest collections of cacti and succulents in the world. Their Japanese Garden is probably one of the most photographed featuring a drum bridge, bonsai court, and Japanese house.

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2. Descanso Gardens

Descanso Gardens spans 150 acres and houses the largest camellia collection in North America plus a five-acre rose garden with more than 3,000 roses. There’s also an edible garden and a Japanese garden with a tea house and a koi-filled stream. Last year they added the Ancient Garden highlighting nearly 180 plants including several endangered species and a collection of cycads.

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Descanso Gardens

Descanso Gardens in April. Credit: Gaston Hinostroza via flickr cc

3. Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanical Garden

Yes, it’s an arboretum, but Angelenos affectionately recall it as the place with all the peacocks but the plants are the real stars. They have biogeographical collections including Africa, Australia, Madagascar, and Canary Islands featuring dragon trees. They have 10 botanical gardens including an aquatic garden with water lilies and a waterfall, the tropical greenhouse with thousands of orchids and other tropical plants, and the Meadowbrook garden filled with more than 60 magnolia trees and providing picturesque views of the San Gabriel Mountains.

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L.A. County Arboretum

L.A. County Arboretum. Photo Credit to Chris M. Morris via flickr cc

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4. Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens

Since becoming a certified botanical garden in 2003 the zoo has 15 different collections with more than 800 different plant species meaning you get to see the flora and fauna as it would be in nature.  The plant collections are organized by their native locations and then matched with the various regions within the zoo including North and South America and Africa. Fun fact: it’s also a plant rescue center where illegally imported plants are sent after being confiscated by the government such as the cycad collection at the entrance to the main zoo.

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Los Angeles Zoo Entrance

The Los Angeles Zoo entrance. Credit: Brian Champlin / We Like L.A.

5. James Irvine Japanese Garden

This oasis in Little Tokyo features a 170-foot stream and a waterfall designed in the Zen tradition of gardens in Kyoto. It’s known as Seiryu-en or “Garden of the Clear Stream,” and it’s free year round.

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James Irvine Garden

James Irvine Garden: Credit: vmiramontes via flickr cc

6. The Japanese Garden in Van Nuys

It’s so easy to drive past this nook in the buzz of the busy streets that surround it but it’s truly a hidden gem in The Valley worth seeing. The 6.5-acre garden includes a dry Zen meditation garden, a “wet strolling” garden with waterfalls and stone lanterns and an authentic tea house and a tea garden. It’s fashioned after the basic style of the strolling gardens in Japan and meant to be enjoyed year-round with flowers that flourish in different seasons including azaleas, cherry trees, wisteria, and lotus.

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7. South Coast Botanic Garden

One of the more unique offerings within the 87-acre botanic garden is the Garden of the Senses where guests are encouraged to smell and touch the plants and the greenhouse designed like a color spectrum and featuring orchids, passionflower vines, and even carnivorous plants. There’s also a fuchsia, dahlia, and WaterWise garden with plants that require little water.

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South Coast Botanic Gardens

South Coast Botanic Gardens. Photo credit: Tracie Hall via flickr cc

8. Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden

Located in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains at an 86-acre location Claremont, the Ranch Santa Ana Botanic Garden features 2000 taxa of California plants (making it the largest botanic garden dedicated to California plants) plus three distinct areas to explore. The garden is open daily (except some major holidays) and regular adult admission starts at $8. 

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Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Gardens

Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Gardens. Photo credit: Bri Weldon via flickr cc

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10. Manhattan Beach Botanical Garden

It’s all about water-wise plants at this public garden so all the plants showcased are drought tolerant. They’ve got a poppy hillside, a meditation garden, and a wildflower meadow and features seven educational signs for self-guided tours. It’s also a certified wildlife habitat since practicing Earth-friendly gardening that prohibits the use of chemicals. Their wildflowers beds are known to attract bird and butterflies so keep an eye out.

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11. Getty Villa/ Getty Museum

At the heart of the Getty Center is the Central Garden designed by artist Robert Irwin, a 134,000-square-foot design that has a tree-lined walkway, natural ravine and stunning bougainvillea arbors.  Rocks and boulders of varying size were placed in the stream bed to vary the sounds from the flowing water. Meanwhile the Getty Villa has four different gardens: the Inner Peristyle with several bronze statues, the Herb Garden, the East Garden with sycamore and laurel trees and two sculptural fountains, and the Outer Peristyle, the largest of the four gardens with plants used by the ancient Romans including bay laurel, boxwood, myrtle, and ivy surrounding the 220-foot-long reflecting pool.

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Getty Center Gardens

Gardens at The Getty Center. Photo credit: hikinghillman via flickr cc

12. Robinson Gardens

The gardens are part of the first luxury estate built in Beverly Hills in 1911 that was once the residence of Virginia Robinson (anyone remember Robinson’s department store? That’s her). It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is open to the public by appointment along with the its five gardens: the Italian Renaissance Terrace Garden, the Formal Mall Garden, the Rose Garden, the Kitchen/Herb Garden, and the Tropical Palm Garden, including a grove of King Palms reportedly the largest in the continental U.S.

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13. Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine

Enjoy the flora and fauna and give in to the relaxing vibes at this center that’s just a few blocks from the ocean. It’s got two water falls, flower beds, fountains, fern grottos, and lily ponds. One of the more beautiful features is the golden lotus archway framing the Mahatma Gandhi World Peace Memorial, an outdoor shrine where an authentic 1,000-year-old Chinese stone sarcophagus holds a portion of Gandhi ashes. Also of note: Lake Santa Ynez (pictured below) is the only natural spring-fed lake within the city limits of Los Angeles.

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Lake Shrine Temple

Grounds at the Lake Shrine Temple. Credit: vikramjam

14. L.A. River Center and Gardens

It’s a popular wedding destination because of its beauty with beds of roses, a three-tiered fountain, a reflecting pool, and a ficus tree. There is also a visitor center contained within where you can learn more about the history of the L.A. River.

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15. Earl Burns Miller Japanese Garden

The most modest of the gardens on this list, the 1.3-acre garden is designed in the Japanese style on the Cal State Long Beach campus.

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Earl Burns Japanese Garden

Earl Burns Japanese Garden. Credit: Jayson via flickr

16. Storrier Stearns

This is the last remaining Japanese garden designed by Kinzuchi Fujii who specialized in Japanese Gardens in SoCal before WWII.  The two-acre garden features a 15-foot waterfall and a teahouse. It has four bridges, two large ponds that are interconnected, and sycamores and oaks among other flora. Note: It’s only open Thursdays and the last Sunday of the month.

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Storrier Stearns Japanese Garden

Credit: Storrier Stearns Japanese Garden

Where are your favorite botanical gardens in Los Angeles? Let us know in the comments below!

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