Cost-Adults $8, Students $6, Kids $4
Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden is hidden away above the Claremont Colleges and devoted entirely to native California plants. Southern California is naturally an arid place. Drought is usual, and native plants to us Californians is synonymous with water-wise, a subject on the minds and in the wallets of many of us these days. Putting all those terms together you might think that these Botanic Gardens would be a dull brown place, or full of cacti and succulents, but it is not. I found it verdant, full of trees, shade, and wildflowers, and very informative. Mostly, it was just fun
Indian Hill Mesa is where most begin their exploration. To reach the Mesa requires only a small uphill trail, which I would rate as very easy. On the Mesa are the majority of the "learning opportunities" (for those homeschoolers or people looking to upgrade their water-sucking lawns), I simply found it delightful. There is a gift shop, educational center, and restrooms. The Butterfly Pavilion is also found here. It is seasonal and costs 3$ extra but a great experience for kids. I found many butterflies just walking outside, especially in the Cultivar Garden, located nearby. Also a cool bird guide for identifying the many, many birds among the trees.
The Container Garden was of particular interest with the stories and gorgeous palo verde tree just humming with bees. These trees are currently in abundant bloom so if allergic to bees steer clear, although I walked under several and the bees found it much more attractive than myself. Also on the Mesa are two ponds, in one I found turtles sunning and in the other an unusual scarecrow(?). For those interested in sculpture there were some interesting pieces in the gardens.
Below the Mesa and taking up the majority of the 55 acres are the California Plant Communities centered around trees: California Fan Palms, Joshua Trees, Torrey Pines, Boojum Trees, Junipers, Bays, and The Majestic Oak. It's a bit of a hike, getting through all of the communities, but if you grab a map and follow the Community Loop Trail you can cut it down to 1 mile. Personally I never looked at the map and just followed every path I came across, thereby increasing the length of the hike excessively. I would still characterize it as an easy hike, whichever way you choose to go. The paths are clear and flat and mostly paved-great for strollers and wheelchairs.
Be sure to pick up a Calendar of Events while there, or check online. They have many community events, classes and workshops. On Wednesday evenings in June will be Butterflies & Brews, an adult only event featuring live music and evening access to the butterfly pavilion, and yes, beer. Sounds like date night. On June 4 is a class of particular interest to many of us SoCal residents; How to Replace Your Lawn. Check online for more info.
The Gardens are open daily from 8-5, except holidays. Bring water and comfy walking shoes. It seemed to me that whoever placed the benches walks through the place often. Every great shade tree had a bench perfectly placed to stop and contemplate the awesomeness of our great planet.
Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden