Southern California is a year-round outdoor kind of place, but spring is still a great excuse to visit our beautiful local gardens. Here are seven of the best L.A. gardens for kids.
South Coast Botanic Garden
This Rancho Palos Verdes oasis covers 87 lush acres with more than 2,500 different species of plants, plus rabbits, birds, lizards and even the occasional coyote in early morning or late evening hours. As one of the first gardens in the world developed over a sanitary landfill, South Coast’s commitment to land reclamation and sustainability is evident through its careful layout. This serene spot goes above and beyond to educate and entertain its youngest visitors, making this a great place to spend the day.
Kids will love: The garden’s rotating monthly events are designed to keep kids engaged and informed. They can become a bug with the immersive “Incredible Journey: Bugs” program running through the end of March. With the help of various props, kids will journey through the garden transformed as their bug of choice and stop at different stations along the way to learn more about who they are. Along with the whimsical Children’s Garden, kids should also be on the lookout for the cherry “Blossom Hunt” starting this month and celebrate the “Spring Festival” in April.
Parents will love: The winding trails and open expanses of land are perfect for tiring out the littles while parents appreciate the garden’s nuances. Monthly concert events, including the family friendly “Social Irrigation,” offer up an evening garden hike with the kids, plus live music, food, craft beer and wine.
Know before you go: Garden admission is $15 for adults, $5 for ages 5-12 and free for ages 4 and younger. The garden also offers free admission the third Tuesday of every month.
The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens
Chances are, you’ve heard of this 120-acre expanse of San Gabriel Valley greenery known for its camellia garden and as the home of the painting called “Blue Boy.” Not as well known, however, is the Huntington’s regular slate of programs and activities for children and families.
Kids will love: The Huntington has an enchanting children’s garden, and kids will also enjoy the family drop-in programs offering interactive nature and art experiences. At the “Butterflies and Blooms Gallery Party” March 7, all ages can learn about the history of women in botany and make their own botanical books to take home. Ages 7 and up can practice their flower-power skills at a children’s flower-arranging workshop March 14 and, for those who prefer getting their hands dirty, the “Soil Searchers” event March 21 lets kids handle worms, conduct soil experiments and plant seedlings.
Parents will love: The HuntingTots music program for ages 6 months-3 years is packed with songs, stories and movement. This four-session series running every Wednesday in March requires advance registration and costs $120, which includes one child and two participating grown-ups. Parents with kids ages 7 and up can sign up for the “Bonsai and Books” family curator tour on March 14. For $20, everyone will explore the art of bonsai firsthand with a touchable bonsai tree and a demonstration of how these amazing miniature trees are created.
Know before you go: The Huntington is closed on Tuesdays. Free admission is offered the first Thursday of each month, but these tickets run out up to a month in advance, so plan accordingly.
Nationally recognized by the American Alliance of Museums as a “museum of living collections,” Descanso’s California oak forest and famous camellias are only a couple of reasons to spend the day here.
Kids will love: A ride on the Enchanted Railroad is a great way to start a day at Descanso before setting out to explore the grounds. Seedlings ages 2-5 will love monthly events such as “Little Explorers” and “Garden Sprouts,” where they (and an accompanying grown-up) can discover the natural world through hands-on crafts, gardening, science and nature activities, music and story time. Descanso’s new after-hours evening series, “Cultivate,” invites everyone to enjoy nature through live music, food and crafts. On March 7, hikes this program will “cultivate” nature sounds where participants of all ages can learn about the wildlife that surrounds us with expert nature talks, pollinator crafts, bee-friendly plant displays and a performance of “BEE SONG.”
Parents will love: Descanso’s new outdoor restaurant, The Kitchen at Descanso, offers a menu that aligns with the garden’s focus on being a nature-driven urban retreat and offers lots of kid-friendly items along with seasonal specialties.
Know before you go: Descanso opens its gates for free the third Tuesday of every month. Tickets are required for these free days, so check online for details.
The Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanical Garden
This 127-acre garden getaway east of Pasadena just about has it all. In the past few months, its children’s programs have really blossomed, making it a must-visit for families.
Kids will love: Peacocks have roamed the Arboretum grounds since the late 1800s, offering a beautiful spectacle for families to enjoy – from a distance. In the science-based “Kids Corner” programs, kids can create everything from “Caterpillar Condos” March 7 to “Spring Equinox Flower Crowns” March 21. Ongoing family bird walks, ceramics classes and free story time and craft days round out the opportunities to get creative in a spectacular outdoor setting.
Parents will love: The Arboretum is offering its first parent-and-me program, called “Acorns & Oaks.” This educational series is aimed at ages 5 and under and focuses on play-based learning and outdoor education. The next six-week session will begin March 26. Night owls should check out the themed family adventure night hikes held two Saturdays each month. “Amazing Insects” is the focus March 14 and 28.
Know before you go: In April, the Arboretum will launch new overnight campouts on the grounds. If your family loves to sleep under the stars, keep an eye on the website for details.
UCLA Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden
Located in the center of the UCLA campus, this free, open-to-the-public hidden gem is a lovely place to take a break, picnic or just enjoy a bit of peace. Mathias also serves as a 7.5-acre outdoor classroom for UCLA students, so it offers plenty to explore. While not as expansive or elaborate as some of the other gardens mentioned here, its calming qualities make this a great place for families to unwind.
Kids will love: The stream that runs through the center of the gardens is a huge hit with the younger folk and gives it a jungle-like appearance. Turtles, koi and other wildlife make their home here, so it’s a great spot for kids to take a stroll. Follow the stream to the southern end of the gardens and let the littles loose among the conifer trees, where they just might discover tree cones the size of pineapples.
Parents will love: Free family-friendly drop-in garden tours are open to all on the first Saturday of each month. An experienced garden docent will lead visitors through each of the 16 sections of Mathias, where all ages can enjoy an up-close-and-personal glimpse into what makes this garden so special.
Know before you go: While admission to the garden is free, parking is not. Guests can either park in the lower level visitor parking area in UCLA parking lot 2 and pay $3 per hour, $13 for the day or park at metered spots in Westwood.
Conejo Valley Botanic Garden
Another botanical hot spot that offers free admission is the Conejo Valley Botanic Garden. Perhaps Thousand Oaks’ best kept secret, this 33-acre spread is a scenic reprieve from the day-to-day bustle of valley living.
Kids will love: It’s only open on Sundays, but the Kids Adventure Garden leaves a big impression with its storybook tree house, pirate cave, tea party play area, live music, bird aviary and seasonal craft projects led by enthusiastic volunteers. Take your energetic brood on a walk along the nature trail to see volcanic rock hideaways where coyotes and bobcats once made their homes, along with tons of lizards, rabbits and different varieties of birds.
Parents will love: Pack a picnic lunch and hike to the top of the hill for a view of the Conejo Valley that is certain to put everyone into a nature-induced state of calm.
Know before you go: The garden is closed during rain, high winds or when paths are muddy, so call ahead if conditions are in doubt.
The Japanese Garden
Also called “The Garden of Water and Fragrance,” this Van Nuys garden is the smallest garden on this list (6.5 acres), but is certainly worth a stop. A visit here is a meditative experience where the thoughtfully authentic design might make you feel transported to Japan for a day. It’s ideal for families who could use a little Zen in their lives.
Kids will love: Put some peace and love into the little ones’ hearts with a stroll over picturesque bridges to the gurgling three-level waterfall and winding streams that are home to koi, ducks and geese.
Parents will love: The Japanese Garden hosts public events most months that are great for all ages. Visit March 22 for an interactive bonsai demonstration or learn the art of Japanese flower arranging March 29.
Know before you go: Food and drink (except for water) are not permitted inside the garden. If the kids have had their fill of mindful meditation, take them next door to Lake Balboa Park’s playground, where they can let off some steam.
Jenifer Scott is a freelance writer and mother who transplanted here from New Hampshire 22 years ago, planted roots and now loves helping her and her husband’s two daughters bloom and grow by exploring L.A. in the California sun.