California’s Botanical Gardens in Full Bloom

I have a confession: If I didn’t have to review botanical gardens for my travel guides, I would never have learned how extraordinary these places are. It was a visit to the spectacular Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park (see below) that tuned me into the world of botany.

If you’re already a fan of gardens, you won’t need encouragement to visit them, but if you’re a too-cool-for-tulips type, a getaway to these five botanical gardens will see a romance with flora going full bloom.

Featured Photo: Courtesy of Cole Keister
California’s Botanical Gardens - UCB Botanical Garden - 800x450 - credit Andy Wang
Photo: Courtesy of Andy Wang

The University of California Botanical Garden at Berkeley

What started as a small garden planted by Berkeley’s dean of agriculture in the 1870s is now one of the most extensive botanical gardens in the state. Today, the dean’s garden is home to one of the most diverse collections of plants in the world, with 12,000 different kinds of plants, many rare, unusual, and endangered. The flora is cultivated by region in naturalistic landscapes covering 34 acres of Strawberry Canyon in the Berkeley Hills. 

For gardeners, the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden is the ideal place to talk with the staff about water-wise plant choices, which plants will grow in your own garden, and what they’ll look like as they mature. The UC Botanical Garden also publishes online an excellent newsletter on its website. While there, check the calendar for ongoing events, including concerts, workshops, and family programs,

The garden is open daily (except for the first and third Tuesday of each month) during the following hours: Members Hour, 9am to 10am ; General Admission, 10am to 5pm. Reservations must be made by the public. Reservations are not required for members or UCB affiliates (bring a membership card and ID). Admission for adults $15, seniors (65+) $12, non-USB students $12, juniors (ages 7 to 17) $7, children 6 and under visit free, Museums for All with EBT card + ID $3, NARM/ROAN/AHS reciprocal members with card + ID visit free. The gardens are located at 200 Centennial Drive in Berkeley. For more information, call 510.643.2755 or log onto botanicalgarden.berkeley.edu.

California’s Botanical Gardens - Cornerstone Gardens - 800x450 - credit Cornerstone Gardens
Photo: Courtesy of Cornerstone Gardens

Cornerstone Gardens, Sonoma Valley

If you love gardens, landscape art, and wine, I’m about to make your day. Situated along Highway 121 in Sonoma Valley are the Cornerstone Gardens, a gallery-style garden exhibit inspired by the International Garden Festival at Chaumont-Sur-Loire. For wandering through — 10 ever-evolving gardens designed by some of the world’s finest landscape architects and designers. Also on tap are five culinary gardens, a bee habitat, an area with cut flowers, and composting. Not to miss on site: the Folktable Restaurant, winner of a 2021 Michelin Bib Gourmand Award, as well as a collection of shops and galleries. 

The gardens, shops, and tasting rooms are open daily from 10am to 5pm. Admission is complimentary. To schedule a docent-led private tour, register online. The Folktable Restaurant is open Wednesday through Friday from 11am to 4pm, Saturday and Sunday from 10am to 4pm at 23570 Arnold Drive, Sonoma. For further information, call 707.933.3010 or log onto cornerstonegardens.com.

California’s Botanical Gardens - Conservatory of Flowers - 800x450 - credit Cole Keister
Photo: Courtesy of Cole Keister

Conservatory of Flowers, San Francisco

I’ve lived in San Francisco for nearly two decades, and I still haven’t explored all the gardens in Golden Gate Park. Within this 1,017-acre natural sanctuary are dozens of exceptional gardens connected by wooded paths and paved roads. If you’ve never been inside the Conservatory of Flowers, you’re in for a beautiful surprise. This magnificent Victorian glass structure — the oldest existing public conservatory in the Western Hemisphere — houses five galleries and copious amounts of plants in bloom. 

The Conservatory of Flowers is located on 100 John F. Kennedy Drive, San Francisco, CA 94118. Hours of admission are Tuesday through Sunday, 10am to 4:30pm with the last entry at 4pm. Ticket cost: Adults $13, Seniors and students with ID, Youth 12 to 17 $7, Children 11 to 5 $3, Ages 4 and under Free. For more information, call 415.831.2090 or visit conservatoryofflowers.org. To learn about other attractions within Golden Gate Park, visit goldengatepark.com.

California’s Botanical Gardens - Generic Cardoon - 800x450 - credit Brittney Strange
Photo: Courtesy of Brittney Strange

Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens (MCBG), Fort Bragg

These public gardens are set atop a cliff and amongst the pines along the coast. A series of manicured formal gardens offer a colorful display of rhododendrons, fuchsias, magnolias, azaleas, camellias, and many flowering shrubs that thrive in the mild maritime climate. Numerous trails pass over bridges and streams and through fern-covered canyons, dense coastal pine forest, verdant dells, and flower-filled coastal bluffs overlooking the ocean. Pack a basket to enjoy an alfresco lunch among the daffodils. 

Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens are located at 18220 North Highway 1, Fort Bragg, CA 95437. Hours: March – October 10am to 5pm (9am to 5pm for MCBG members); November – February: 10am to 4pm (9am to 4pm for MCBG Members) Ticket prices (recommend ordering in advance online): General admission (15 and older) $15, Seniors $12 (65 and older), Children (14 to 6) $8, Kids five and under free. For further information, call 707.964.4352 or visit gardenbythesea.org.

California’s Botanical Gardens - di Rosa - 800x450 - credit di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art
Photo: Courtesy of di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art

di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art, Napa Valley

Anyone who appreciates art and gardens must visit the di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art. Here, exhibitions from San Francisco Bay-based artists are located both in onsite galleries and on 217 acres of sprawling natural habitats replete with native grasses, ferns, herbs, wildflowers, and a 35-acre lake. 

The Rene and Veronica di Rosa Foundation opened this public art park in Napa Valley’s Carneros region in 1997. It is currently protected under the Napa County Land Trust. 

To get the full di Rosa Preserve experience, make a reservation for a guided tour at 1:30pm.

The di Rosa Center for Contemporary Art is located at 5200 Sonoma Highway, Napa. Hours (check before visiting): Friday and Sunday from 11am to 4pm, Saturday 11am to 5pm, and by appointment Tuesday through Thursday. Ticket prices: General admission $20, Seniors, military, students $17, Ages 17 and under free. For more information, call 707.226.5991 or visit dirosaart.org.

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