San Diego is a bona fide bastion of botanical beauty. Thanks to the warm climate, plant life flourish here. You can witness this bounty of biodiversity at the city’s many gardens. Here are our nods for the must-see gardens of San Diego.
San Diego Botanic Garden
Take a short jaunt to Encinitas to explore 37 acres of garden paradise. The San Diego Botanic Garden features 29 different gardens, four miles of trails, and spectacular ocean views. Thanks to the 5,000 or so plant species, you can trek through a tropical rainforest or hike in a remote desert. The California Gardenscapes section gives you a glimpse of SoCal’s native plants. Hours are Wednesday-Sunday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (closed Monday and Tuesday). Plan ahead because you need to reserve timed-entry tickets online. The cost is $18 for adults/$12 for students with ID.
Japanese Friendship Garden (Balboa Park)
Travel to Japan without leaving the city at the Japanese Friendship Garden. This garden symbolizes friendship between San Diego and sister city of Yokohama. It uses traditional Japanese gardening techniques to emphasize simplicity and serenity. Get your cup of Japanese tea and nosh on noodles or miso soup while enjoying the Tea Pavilion’s outdoor deck. The garden is open daily from 10 a.m.- 7 p.m. except for the third Thursday of the month. Admission is $12 for adults/$10 for students (student ID required).
After your stroll through a bit of Japanese beauty, check out the other offerings of Balboa Park. This cultural gem is home to museums, performing arts venues, historic architecture, hiking trails, the San Diego Zoo, and so much more. The Timken Museum of Art and the San Diego Mineral and Gem Society are free. So are strolls through the gardens in the park.
Add some zen at the Meditation Gardens at the Self-Realization Fellowship Center. The gardens overlook Swami’s Beach in Encinitas. You’ll find peace among the koi ponds, waterfalls, and stunning ocean views. The gardens are set to reopen at the end of August 2021 after a temporary closure.
The May S. Marcy Sculpture Court and Garden is a recently renovated confluence of nature and art. It’s next to the San Diego Museum of Art in Balboa Park. Explore the twentieth-century works of art scattered among the verdant landscaping. Stay for the sunset on Fridays and Saturdays when the garden is open until 9 p.m.
The Zoro Garden in Balboa Park has a somewhat scandalous history. It was a nudist colony with naked exhibitionists for the 1935 Pacific International Exposition. The sunken stone grotto still stands, but it’s now home to beautiful butterflies instead of naked naturalists. The cracks and crevices in the rock hold water, attracting many butterfly species. Best of all, you can enjoy this beauty for free, and the garden is open 24/7.
For the true garden aficionado, include a San Diego garden tour in your itinerary. The San Diego Botanic Garden gives free tours every Saturday at 10:30 a.m. Spring in San Diego is blooming with garden tours, including the annual California Native Plant Society annual tour each April. If you’re in town for the San Diego Home and Garden Show in the spring or fall, it’s well worth a visit.
It’s easy to get your flora fix while visiting San Diego. After you’ve had your fill of sand and sun, find a garden path for a peaceful stroll. It’s a great way to cool off and enjoy nature’s beauty in the midst of your epic urban adventures.
Written By: Emilio Rodriguez began photographing his native Southwest with his parents’ Polaroid OneStep in the 1980s. He’s gone digital and roams far and wide now, but still stops for every good garden and every good sunset. He and his wife bought an RV in 2003, and have been circling the country ever since.