Nature Centers, Gardens, & Arboretums in SoCal

Bolsa Chica Wetlands, Huntington Beach
At 1,449 acres, the Bolsa Chica Wetlands is the largest saltwater marsh between Monterey Bay and the Tijuana River Estuary. Approximately five miles of trails can be explored from sunrise to sunset. Visit animals at their interpretive center. Free public tours and private tours are available. Education programs available for students (grades K-12). Summer day programs also offered.

 

Descanso Gardens, La Cañada Flintridge
A 150-acre urban retreat of botanical collections and seasonal horticultural displays. Collections include California native plants, 5-acre Rose Garden, Japanese Garden with a koi-filled stream and teahouse, camellia collection, Oak Forest, an Ancient Forest with plants from the days of dinosaurs and so much more. Also, ride the Enchanted Railroad, a 1/8th-scale replica of a diesel train. Family events and workshops throughout the year. Admission, $4-9.

 

Earl Burns Miller Japanese Garden, Long Beach
A Japanese garden encompassing 1.3 acres on the campus of California State University, Long Beach. Feed koi fish from the moon-viewing platform or moon bridge. Visit the teahouse, the stone water basin, and a raked gravel garden. Closed Monday and Saturday. Admission, $2-5.

 

El Dorado Nature Center, Long Beach
Covering 105 acres with two miles of dirt trails and a 1/4 mile paved trail wind around two lakes, a stream and forested areas. At the entrance, cross over the wooden bridge that spans the lake and you’ll find yourself on a small island that houses the Visitor Center, containing educational displays, art gallery and a small gift shop offering environmentally-themed books and gifts. Special events, workshops, and educational programs offered throughout the year. Trails: Tuesday – Sunday, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. Museum: Tuesday – Sunday, 8:30 a.m. – 4 p.m. Vehicle entry fee (cash only), $5-8.

 

Environmental Nature Center, Newport Beach
A 5-acre landscape for learning and a place of preservation and instruction. The ENC has 15 California native plant communities, fresh water marsh, wildlife habitats, walking trails and a sustainably-designed learning center. Visit their Butterfly House re-opening on May 19 at their Spring Faire.

School-break camps available as well as Little Naturalists Camp (ages 3-5), Summer Adventure Nature Camp (K – 3rd grades), and Science Explorers Camp (4th – 8th grades). Traveling Naturalist Program, Scout Programs and birthday parties also offered.

ENC Nature Preschool, a nature-based early learning center where students will spend the majority of the day outdoors is set to open in September.

 

Fullerton Arboretum, Fullerton
A 26-acre botanical garden with a collection of plants from around the world, located on the northeast corner of California State University, Fullerton. See the Victorian-style architecture of the Heritage House on site and visit the Heritage Museum. Special events and classes offered throughout the year. Open daily, 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Admission, $5 suggested donation.

 

The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens, San Marino
This 120-acre botanical collection contains more than a dozen garden areas including the Japanese Garden, Chinese Garden, Dinosaur Plants, Rose Garden, Conservatory and more. Their unique Children’s Garden features interactive sculptural elements. Kids are encouraged to splash in water, make music with pebbles, dance under rainbows, discover fairy doors, and more. Youth and family programs include workshops, preschool series, weekend festivals, drop-in activities, and even week-long day camps. Admission, $13-29. Free admission on the first Thursday of every month with advance tickets.

 

Los Angeles County Arboretum, Arcadia
A 127-acre botanical garden and historical site that includes Native American, Rancho Period, and late 19th century treasures. Tours, concerts, activities and special events are offered throughout the year. Spring and summer camps also available.

Kids programs include Agents of Discovery, a new augmented reality educational app designed to encourage outdoor exploration and learning. Also, check out their Non-Fired Ceramics Classes for Kids, Storytelling Programs, Family Adventure Classes and more. School groups and scout programs also available.

 

Madrona Marsh Preserve and Nature Center, Torrance
A 43-acre seasonal wetland thought to be one of the last remaining vernal freshwater marshes in LA County. The Preserve is a mix of several micro-habitats including back dune, coastal prairie, alkali margin, and vernal pools. Docent-led tours and school group programs available. Join their Tyke Hike for kids (ages 3 mos. – 6 years) to hike the marsh and listen for birds, look for frogs and learn about nature. Family-friendly events offered throughout the year. Open Tuesday – Sunday, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.

 

Nix Nature Center, Laguna Beach
Located in the Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, the Nix Nature Center offers a location to explore the meaning of parkland through exhibits and wildlife viewing area portals. Here you can enjoy scavenger hunts with the family, and learn from free, fun quarterly wildlife programs featuring live animals, American Indian customs, craft projects, and more. Park hours, 7 a.m. – sunset. Parking fee, $3.

 

Oak Canyon Nature Center, Anaheim
A 58-acre natural park consisting of three adjoining canyons and four miles of hiking trails. Also located on site is the John J. Collier Interpretive Center, a small museum with live animal and regional natural history exhibits.

Nature Nights available in the summer include a twilight walk and presentations from experts. Tiny Tots Academy also offered to prepare students for kindergarten. Check out their Discover Nature Family Program for a hour-long, naturalist-led hike and live animal demonstration. O.A.K.S. Day Camp and Zombie Survival Camp also available. The Nature Center also hosts birthday parties.

Park open daily, sunrise – sunset. Interpretive Center, weekends, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Free admission, $2 donation appreciated.

 

San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary, Irvine
Wetlands cover 300 acres at this tranquil preserve that has 12 miles of trails & 200+ bird species. Open daily, dawn – dusk.

 

Sherman Library & Gardens, Corona Del Mar
A place to explore horticulture, art and history. The 2-acre botanical garden features a Tropical Observatory with koi fish, Rose Garden, Fern Grotto, Japanese Garden, and Herb Garden. Classes, festivals and family-friendly events offered throughout the year. Open daily, 10:30 a.m. – 4 p.m. Admission, $3-5. Free admission on the first Monday of every month.

 

Shipley Nature Center, Huntington Beach
This 18-acre nature preserve features native plants and animals, plus trails. Visit the Interpretive Center to see a diorama of animals and exhibit panels. Parent and Me programs available and special events offered throughout the year. Monday – Saturday, 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. Closed Sundays. Free admission, $1 donation suggested.

 

South Coast Botanic Garden, Palos Verdes Peninsula
This 87-acre Botanic Garden has more than 2,500 different species of plants. Popular features include a small lake, Rose Garden, Cactus Garden, Japanese Garden and more.

Visit their Children’s Garden and Children’s Discovery Garden, developed around nursery rhymes with plants to match the stories. An enchanted dollhouse and bridge enhance the setting. The Discovery Garden has a secret tunnel, worm bin, alphabet garden, butterfly garden, and whimsical characters. Docent-led and tram tours available.

Kids Club is offered once a month, where adults and kids alike can navigate their way through the gardens to the find secret mission stations. Open daily, 9 a.m. -5 p.m. Admission, $4-9. Free admission every third Tuesday of the month.

 

Turtle Rock Nature Center, Irvine
The five-acre nature preserve is both a home for wildlife and an outdoor classroom where visitors and program participants learn to protect our natural environment. Visitors can explore the nature center at their leisure, taking a self-guided trail walk during regular operating hours. Closed Sundays.

 

Upper Newport Bay Preserve, Newport Beach
Home to many bird species, this 135-acre park offers an interpretive center and hiking/biking trails. Family-friendly special events offered throughout the year. Open daily, 7 a.m. – sunset.

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This post was written by Liz Davis

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