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San Diego Botanic Garden with Kids – An Enchanting Place for Families

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San Diego Botanic Garden is an enchanting place for all ages. This botanical garden is one of San Diego County’s best hidden gems. For families, it offers not one but TWO children’s gardens full of hands-on activities. There are also plenty of walking paths surrounded by plants and flowers from around the world. In total, there are 29 themed gardens. As multi-year members, my family has spent many, many happy hours exploring these beautiful grounds. Highlighting some of our favorite gardens, here’s what you need to know before you visit San Diego Botanic Garden with kids or without.

Teen at the top of Toni's Treehouse in Hamilton Children's Garden
My teen daughter at the top of Toni’s Treehouse in Hamilton Children’s Garden (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

San Diego Botanic Garden Overview

Formerly known as Quail Botanical Gardens, the San Diego Botanic Garden is located in Encinitas — a little over a half-hour drive north from downtown San Diego. Plan to do a lot of walking up and down hills through the garden’s 37 acres. It should take you between 45 minutes to three hours to explore all of the gardens, depending on your pace and interests.

A living sculpture in the Seeds of Wonder Children's Garden
A bunny-shaped topiary in the Seeds of Wonder Children’s Garden at San Diego Botanic Garden (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Seeds of Wonder Children’s Garden

The Seeds of Wonder Children’s Garden is all about simple pleasures for toddlers and young kids. For example, children can pretend to be mommy or daddy in a child-sized wooden house outfitted with a kitchen and utensils.

Model trains in Seeds of Wonder Children's Garden at San Diego Botanic Garden
Model trains in Seeds of Wonder Children’s Garden (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

When my children were little, their favorite part of the Seeds of Wonder Children’s Garden were the miniature trains. We spent hours watching those choo-choos chug through the garden.

Toddler digging for dinosaurs in the Seeds of Wonder Children's Garden
My toddler digging for dinosaurs in the Seeds of Wonder Children’s Garden (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Kids can also get their hands dirty doing a bit of gardening. A sandpit hides small plastic dinosaurs perfect for little hands to dig up. They can also transplant tiny succulents from one container to a take-home plastic pot, filling it up with a wee bit of soil, and then spraying their new treasure with a spritz of water.

Child making bubbles in the Seeds of Wonder Garden
My daughter making bubbles in the Seeds of Wonder Children’s Garden (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Sometimes you will find a bucket of soapy water in the Seeds of Wonder Garden. Use all sorts of wands for wondrous bubble play with your kids.

Toddler climbing Toni's Treehouse net ladder at San Diego Botanic Garden
My son when he was a toddler climbing Toni’s Treehouse net ladder at San Diego Botanic Garden (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Hamilton Children’s Garden

This newer children’s garden is much bigger than the cozy original. It is geared toward a slightly older audience of school-aged kids. The Hamilton Children’s Garden has less greenery and shade, but it is ever-so-fun nonetheless. The centerpiece is Toni’s Tree House, complete with rope bridges, tunnels, and a spiral staircase for exploring.

Young teen at Toni's Treehouse at San Diego Botanic Garden
My now teenage son climbing Toni’s Treehouse rope ladder (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

The Incredible Edibles section of Hamilton’s Children’s Garden teaches kids about the plants and herbs we eat. Meanwhile, the Pencil Arbor and Bonsai Sketching Area is equipped with coloring sheets and a trellis on which children can hang their creations. Garden Rhythms encourages children to make music with instruments made from items found in nature like rocks, sticks, and water. The Spell & Smell Garden is filled with labeled potted plants, each of which starts with a different letter of the alphabet. Additionally, you’ll find a labyrinth, a sundial, and a giant tic-tac-toe board in this sprawling garden.

Spell and Smell Garden in Hamilton Children's Garden
The Spell & Smell Garden (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Tropical Rain Forest

After visiting one or both of the children’s gardens (located at opposite ends of San Diego Botanic Garden), you can meander through the rest of the gardens. All are beautiful, but one of my personal favorites is the Tropical Rain Forest. I love Hawaii and this feels like a wee slice of Polynesia in San Diego. This is a great place to sit on a bench to listen to the sound of the waterfall and breathe in the sweet scent of oversized flowers in a lush landscape.

A waterfall in the San Diego Botanic Garden's Tropical Rainforest
A waterfall in the Tropical Rainforest Garden (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Subtropical Fruit Garden

A visit to the Subtropical Fruit Garden is fun and educational. Children can see with their own eyes how some of their favorite fruits actually grow on trees; they are not manufactured in a factory and delivered to grocery stores just so people can eat them! Look for bananas, apples, oranges and more.

Bananas growing in the San Diego Botanic Garden Subtropical Fruit Garden
Bananas growing in the Subtropical Fruit Garden (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Mexican Garden

The Mexican Garden is a darling spot filled with plants in a fiesta of colors. There is also a fountain decorated with painted Mexican tiles and sculptures of a mariachi band and a flamenco dancer formed from greenery.

Flamenco topiary in San Diego Botanic Garden's Mexican Garden
Flamenco topiary in the Mexican Garden (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Bamboo Garden and Bamboo Pond

A walk through the giant stalks of bamboo in the Bamboo Garden feels otherworldly. Read the signs aloud to the kids so they can learn that Bamboo is actually a grass that can grow up to 30 feet in one season!

Little girl in the Bamboo Garden, San Diego Botanic Garden
My little girl in the Bamboo Garden (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Be sure to stop by the Bamboo Pond, a refreshing little oasis. It is filled with lily pads, turtles, and a hoppy frog or two.

Turtles sunning themselves at the San Diego Botanic Garden Bamboo Pond
Turtles sunning themselves at the Bamboo Pond (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Old World Desert Garden

Those unfamiliar with desert landscape should walk through the Old World Desert Garden to get a peek at cactuses, succulents, and bright desert flowers. Just be sure to keep toddlers in their strollers in case they want to pet the prickly plants!

New World Desert Garden at San Diego Botanic Garden
New World Desert Garden at San Diego Botanic Garden

California Gardenscapes

Of course, you will want to explore California Gardenscapes during your visit. Here, you can view the pretty plants native to San Diego and beyond in California.

California Gardenscapes at San Diego Botanic Garden
California Gardenscapes (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

San Diego Botanic Garden Tips

The San Diego Botanic Garden holds special events throughout the year, like their concert series in summer and a Garden of Lights holiday celebration in December.

The Gift Shop and Nursery sells gardening tools, plants, wind chimes, and gardening books. For families, the bad news (or good news?!) is that there are very few toys or souvenirs for the kids. Plan to bring your own water and snacks since their café has closed.

San Diego is so stuffed with fun things to do that this family-friendly attraction often gets overlooked. If you get tired of the hustle and bustle of a theme-park-packed vacation, then a San Diego Botanic Garden visit gives the whole family a chance to slow down and connect with nature.

Dickinson Family Education Conservatory
The newest addition to San Diego Botanic Garden, the Dickinson Family Education Conservatory (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Explore More of San Diego

For some vacations, your accommodations don’t really matter much. San Diego is NOT one of those destinations! It’s imperative to choose the best hotel for your SoCal vacation style, especially when traveling with kids. Take a look at the best hotels in San Diego for families.

Hungry? Experience the best restaurants in San Diego for families.

Many vacationers forego Birch Aquarium in favor of glitzier SeaWorld San Diego. But there are many reasons to visit this smaller, educational sea life attraction. Explore all the fun things to do at Birch Aquarium.

Explore all sorts of incredible San Diego attractions and guided tours with our partner, Get Your Guide.

 
Pretty pink flowers at San Diego Botanic Garden
Pretty pink flowers at San Diego Botanic Garden (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Save this San Diego Botanic Garden Guide

For future reference, be sure to keep these tips for visiting San Diego Botanic Garden with kids. Just pin the image below to Pinterest. Go ahead and follow Travel Mamas on Pinterest while you’re at it!

San Diego Botanic Garden Tips

Do you have any questions about visiting San Diego Botanic Garden with kids or without? Let us know in the comments below!

About Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama

Colleen Lanin is the founder/editor-in-chief of TravelMamas.com. As the author of her book, "The Travel Mamas' Guide," she teaches parents not only how to survive a trip with children, but also how to love exploring the world with their offspring. Her stories have appeared online and in print for such outlets as the "Today" show, NBCNews.com, Parenting Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, Chicago Tribune, Expedia, San Diego Family Magazine, and more. Colleen gives tips on television, radio, and as a public speaker. She has a master’s degree in business administration with a background in marketing. She lives in Arizona with her husband and two kids.

Comments
  1. Wow! I want to go here! I’m definitely adding it to our family’s to-do list next time we’re in the area.

    I am continually amazed at how much fun my kiddos when we go to gardens & arboretums. I think it’s the freedom to roam & discover that other places don’t offer. Thanks so much for sharing!

  2. Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

    Debi – It’s funny because when I posted this I thought of you because it seems like the kind of place you’d write about on Go Explore Nature! Add meeting up with me to your San Diego to-do list too! 🙂

  3. Indeed a great place to go!! I had the honor of sharing the gardens with the Travel Mama herself. Lucky me! My favorite part was chasing Karissa through the labyrinth and watching the kids play with the musical instruments in the children’s section. And even a wedding was taking place on the day we were there. Definitely an enchanting place to visit!

  4. Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

    It was so fun to visit the San Diego Botanic Garden with you, Jeannie! Thanks for sharing the day with us. Apparently Karissa loved running through the labyrinth with you too; she can’t stop talking about Jeannie Bo Beannie!

  5. Bridget Smith says

    Lovely post Colleen. This is one of my favorite San Diego secrets. We love to visit. The Hamilton garden is much nicer on a not so busy day, and we were enchanted by the frog pond. My ten year old get some great pics!

  6. Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says

    Bridget – We totally have to meet up at the San Diego Botanic Garden with the kiddos sometime! We are members so we go all of the time. Let me know the next time you’re going!

  7. I have never been to this garden. Must check it out!

    • Colleen Lanin says

      It’s really one of our most beloved places in all of San Diego. I hope you can visit someday!

  8. Ivan M. Jose says

    San Diego Botanic Garden does look enchanting. I love taking my kids to places where they can run around and still learn something new.

  9. Elise Ho says

    We have had many wonderful trips to San Diego. That includes the botanic garden. I just love exploring nature.

  10. Alexandra says

    I love botanical gardens! We’ll make sure to visit this one next time we’re in San Diego!!

  11. Wow this place looks a lot of fun and I love the nature view hoping to visit this place soon awesome photos

  12. Keri | Bon Voyage With Kids says

    This looks like a magical place for kids! What a wonderful way for them to explore and learn. This is a great place to visit with kids!

  13. It does look magical for children. My kids STILL love to dig for dino bones and they’re probably far too old to be doing it. 😉

  14. Vasu Devan says

    Truly said. San Diego botanical park looks like a one of the best family outings with kids. and I am sure even adults would enjoy doing some of the activities.

    • Colleen Lanin says

      For sure! There is a lot for adults to enjoy at San Diego Botanic Garden with OR WITHOUT kids!

  15. Emman Damian says

    I really want to see San Diego Botanic Garden! Sounds like a great destination. I hope to see it after the pandemic.

    • Colleen Lanin says

      This botanic garden is really one of my favorite places anywhere — I hope you can visit someday when it’s safe for you to travel!

  16. Archana Singh says

    WOW! Seems you guys had so much fun visiting the San Diego Botanic Garden! I don’t have kids but I love Botanic gardens.

    • Colleen Lanin says

      Archana – San Diego Botanic Garden is definitely not just for kids! It’s a beautiful place to wander, no matter your age.

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