Family Fun at the San Diego Botanical Gardens

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Feast your eyes on awe-inspiring botanical wonders at the San Diego Botanical Gardens. With over four miles of garden trails to explore at this city landmark, your family is in for a full day (or more!) of fun! Popular points of interest include the nation’s largest bamboo collection, the waterfall, the tropical rainforest exhibit, and the natural bird refuge. The kid-friendly highlight, however, is the gardens designed especially for youngsters. With all of the interactive play options and features geared especially to kids in this special garden, you might not even make it to the rest of the this awesome landmark. Oh well—what better reason to come back?

Go: Year-round, but there are extended admission hours in summer.

Approximate travel time: The Botanical Gardens are located about 30 minutes north of San Diego in Encinitas, CA.

What to see and do: The Seeds of Wonder Children’s Garden is geared toward preschool aged kids, though kids a little older will enjoy it, too. It has a dinosaur garden, playhouse, water pump, and a miniature railroad that will mesmerize any miniature train fans in your family. The Seeds of Wonder Garden also hosts regular craft, story time, and musical programs in addition to other special events. Just be sure to check their calendar for more information on these special programs prior to your visit.

Another kid-friendly zone is the Hamilton Children’s Garden, which is the largest interactive children’s garden on the West coast. Here, the kiddos can climb Toni’s Tree House, splash in a “mountain stream,” see live quail, explore an elephant foot forest, and play around with the musical instruments. The Hamilton Garden hosts Thursday Family Nights, Saturday activities, and lots of other special events.

If you ever manage to make it beyond these kiddie attractions, you’ll want to wander through the Gardens and see the various plants from all over the world. There’s a South American Garden, a Canary Islands Garden, a Mexican Garden, and many more. Next to the Tropical Rainforest Garden there is a waterfall and pond—perfect spots for picnicking.

Possible lunch options: The Botanical Gardens Coffee Cart (open daily, 10:00 am – 2:00 pm) offers refreshments that usually include soda, lemonade, coffee, soft pretzels, ice cream, hot dogs, fruit, and muffins. It’s a great idea to bring your own picnic lunch and try to snag a picnic table in the Eucalyptus Grove.

How to dress and what to bring: Comfy shoes are a must! Any visit to The Botanical Gardens involves a lot of walking, and the terrain includes some pretty serious hills. If the little legs in your family get tired out quickly, you may want to opt for a stroller—the paths at the Gardens are very stroller friendly!

If you think your little on is going to be doing a lot of splashing—either at the water pump in the Seeds of Wonder Garden or the stream in the Hamilton Garden—you might want to bring an extra set of clothes for later.

Need to know: Admission to the Botanical Gardens is $12 for adults, $8 for seniors/students/active military, $6 for kids ages 3-12, and free for members or kids 2 and under. Non-member parking is $2, but cars with 4 or more people park free!

Bonus: Tours are available for preschool aged kids and school aged kids. Take advantage! We also suggest taking advantage of the Botanical Garden’s What’s in Bloom webpage to find out what you’ll see before you go.


– Abigail Matsumoto