I’d been hearing about this place for months and finally decided to check it out. About 20 minutes drive north of San Diego (isn’t everything a 20 minute drive in San Diego?) and just off Interstate 5 this lush garden escape beckons. We left our house around 9:00 a.m. mid-week in July and were able to zip up there and find parking without any difficulty. I’m sure it gets more crowded on the weekends and on Free Tuesdays (first Tuesday of every month), but I’m not sure by how much. During our visit we often had the section we were exploring completely to ourselves.
Four miles of trails lead through 37 acres of gardens divided mostly by region. Africa, Central America, South America, the Mediterranean, Mexico, New Zealand, Rain Forests, Old World Desert… all thrive in San Diego’s mild climate.
The paths are wide and paved and mostly accessible.
I had my tandem stroller and was able to avoid stairs and get most places I wanted to go. There are some moderate hills that could be a challenge for wheelchairs or those with bad knees. I’m in pretty good shape but pushing the stroller up one of those hills definitely slowed me down. Plenty of inviting benches are scattered throughout the park for a 10 second sit down to breathe in that luscious, moist floral air (if you have kids as young as mine) or for an actual respite if your kids are a little older.
We spent most of our time in the Hamilton Children’s Garden.
Plenty of entertainment to keep your kids active and busy, and to ensure a fantastic nap when you get back home. I got 3 hours of sleep out of my one and almost three year old after running around here all morning! The Tree House was a favorite, but there’s also an art center where there are often scheduled events (check the website), a “mountain stream” where kids can test the floating properties of all sorts of things, a music center with instruments made of stone and plant materials, and an alphabet garden that invites kids to touch and smell the different plants. Chances are good that your kids will end up filthy (from running around and digging in the dirt) but happy.
Here are some cute animals and plants made from recycled gardening tools:
Bring food; there is a section of the park with eight shaded picnic tables that we had all to ourselves as we sat down for an early lunch. There is a cash only snack bar with chips, candy bars, sodas, and hot dogs near the entrance and far from the Children’s Garden; good for a little extra if needed but probably won’t cut it for a meal. Restroom facilities were few and far between, but there was a clean family restroom right in the children’s area. No pets allowed, no smoking permitted. The garden also hosts classes for green thumbs of all levels and sells plants and garden art.
It’s a great place to visit to get away from the typical throngs of tourists that tend toward the more popular sites like the Zoo, Sea World, and Legoland. We had a serene but active morning and will definitely return.
Hours: Open daily 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 pm, and during the summer until 8:00 pm on Thursdays. Closed Christmas Day.
Admission: $14 Adults; $10 Seniors, students, active military; $8 children 3-12; FREE children under 3.
Parking: $2; Free if your car carries 4 or more people. They also have a charging station for electric cars, just in case you were considering bringing your Tesla.
Events: Check the website. On Thursday nights in the summer the garden hosts all sorts of bands and activities for kids. Throughout the year they celebrate things seasonally, as any good garden should do, with things like Christmas lights, Fairy festivals, Lady Bug Day, and a chocolate festival. Though chocolate is never out of season.