Spread across 78 acres in Santa Barbara, California, the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden (SBBG) is an expansive natural tapestry. As one of only 30 gardens in the country accredited as a living museum by the American Alliance of Museums, the SBBG is not only beautiful, but a vital resource, as well. The Garden works to accomplish its mission to preserve California’s native plant species through research, education, and the gardens themselves, demonstrating sustainable horticultural practices.

One of the few botanic gardens that is also a Center for Plant Conservation, a designation bestowed by a national coalition, the SBBG is a highly regarded establishment for scientific research. The vision of the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden is a society that understands the interdependency between plants and people, where communities act to preserve nature.

More ideas: Best Beaches, Best Weekend Getaways, Best Day Trips


© Courtesy of maxandrew - Fotolia.com

The origins of the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden date back nearly a century, to 1925, when the Carnegie Institute suggested a cooperation between the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History and a yet-to-be-created botanic garden. This vision came to fruition when patron Anna Dorinda Blaksley Bliss bought and subsequently donated 13 acres of land, located in the Mission Canyon area, expressly for the purposes of the botanic museum. This initial gift grew, first with an endowment in 1927, and then again with more land in 1932.

By 1939, the institution was incorporated and the officially named the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden. During this time, the identity of the organization was taking shape, establishing itself as an institution both scientific and aesthetic, with a focus on native plants of California. The garden flourished throughout the twentieth century, becoming more established, first with the historical designation of the Garden’s Mission Dam in 1983. This trend continued, and in 2003, 23 of the Garden’s 78 acres were granted County Historic Landmark status.

Fun day trip ideas: Weekend Getaways in California, Best East Coast beaches, SC, TX, NC, Romantic weekend getaways

2.Garden Sections and Displays

Garden Sections and Displays
© Courtesy of Konstiantyn - Fotolia.com

The sections of the Garden are grouped by various plant communities, such as canyon, meadow, prairie, etc. With ten different sections spread across the acreage, there is a variety of landscapes to explore. Visitors can discover miles of trails while taking in magnificent mountain to ocean views.

Arroyo Section

Plants in the Arroyo section showcase species found throughout watercourses in the state. In the SBBG, this translates to a garden located along a seasonal stream, shaded by native oak trees. A noteworthy site in this garden is the ‘dripping rock’ that displays plants that require a continuously moist environment. Also in the Arroyo section is the Discovery Garden, a special area targeted to children. Here, kids learn about biodiversity and the interactions of California’s ecosystems with a special eye on the movement of water.

Campbell Trail

The Campbell Trail is home to the Chaparral Section, highlighting plants that grow in this type of habitat. These areas are characterized by dry, rocky slopes near California’s coastal or interior mountains. Plants in this zone necessarily have deep roots, as well as having adapted to the State’s periodic wildfires. This takes the form of rejuvenation following a fire, the absorption of nutrients, and the appearance of new bulbs in the increased sunlight available post fire.

Canyon Section

The Canyon section, home to the Pritchett Trail and the Easton-Aqueduct Trail, follows Mission Creek and its adjacent canyon slopes. This area is characterized by western sycamores, coast live oaks, among other native trees. Parts of this section were burned in 2009, during the Jesusita Fire. As fire is part of the normal evolution of habitats in this part of the world, the Canyon Section has rebounded, and what was once an ash-laden, barren landscape is now full of growth.

Water Wise Home Garden

Once the demonstration garden, the Water Wise Home Garden now has a more specialized purpose: to demonstrate beautiful applications of drought tolerant landscape. Using California native plants, this garden inspires visitors to incorporate the ethos of the SBBG in their own homes, providing ideas and tools to help them do so. Many of the plants showcased in this garden are available for purchase at the SBBG’s Garden Growers Nursery.

Manzanita Section

Manzanita, with their beautiful and distinctive red bark, are a fixture of many California landscapes. This highly diverse plant has dozens of varietals, many of which are on display in the Manzanita Section. These include low growing ground cover, bushes and even small trees. Mixing with other California natives, the garden demonstrates how different plants work together to create visual interest.

Things to do near me: Weekend Getaways from Seattle, NC day trips, FL, From Phoenix, WV, IN, Near Atlanta, AL

3.More Garden Displays

More Garden Displays
© Courtesy of JFBRUNEAU - Fotolia.com


One of the best-known features of the Santa Barbara Botanic Gardens, the Meadow tumbles across an acre and a half in the center of the park. Changing with the seasons, this area is always a magnificent landscape of some of the best that California natives have to offer. Spring is a particularly spectacular time to visit, as brilliant orange California poppies, deep blued lupines and bright yellow meadow-foam create a living impressionist painting of breathtaking color and life.

Porter Trail

Still recovering from the Jesuita fire of 2009, the Porter Trail is a natural work in progress. The fire, which decimated the garden, also opened up incredible ocean views, all the way out to the islands off the coast. Many plants in the California lilac collection which once defined the garden, however, were lost. Despite this, the recovery over the past several years has been a fascinating transformation, with an abundance of brightly colored flowering shrubs on display.

Redwood Section

With carpets of green undergrowth and towering trees above, the Redwood Section is unlike any other in the Santa Barbara Botanic Gardens. Growing along the Mission Creek flood plain, the oldest trees in this garden date back to 1926. In the spring, bright patches of native azalea and rhododendron provide spots of color among the sea of green, creating a beautiful and tranquil space.

Teahouse Garden

The Santa Barbara Botanic Gardens is home to an incredibly unique Japanese style teahouse garden, planted entirely with California native plants. The house itself was built in Japan in 1949 for a local Santa Barbara businessman, and in 1998 was donated to the Gardens by the John H. Esbenshade family, with assistance from the Santa Barbara Toba Sister City Organization. Traditional tea ceremonies are performed here periodically, as well as classes and events. Visitors are invited to lose themselves wandering through this incredibly original garden, with its moss, ferns, manzanita, evergreens, and bright spots of flowers.

Woodland Trail

The final trail offered by the SBBG is the Woodland Trail. With minimal cultivation, this forested area meanders along the canyon slope just north of the Meadow and connects to the Redwood Section. This trail takes visitors through a grove of coastal live oaks, for a beautifully shady and serene experience.

What to do in: CO, From San Diego, VA, San Diego, OH, WI, MI, IL, WA, Family weekend getaways, NJ, NC, VA, TX


© Santa Barbara Botanic Garden

Education goes hand in hand with conservation, and the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden is no exception. The SBBG works to understand, protect, restore and advocate for the native landscape of California. This includes an extensive herbarium for the preservation of plant specimens for future study. This work includes plants in the Chanel Islands National Park. The Organization also works to protect endangered plants, such as the Lompoc yerba santa, with only a handful of occurrences in the area, or the Vandenberg monkeyflower which is threatened by invasive species.

The restoration efforts of the Garden include combating many of these invasive plant species, as well as planting natural buffers, or hedgerows, between wild and agricultural lands. These efforts underscore the message that the environment needs an advocate, that it cannot speak for itself. The SBBG strives to be a voice for the native plants of California, and undertakes significant advocacy efforts on their behalf.

More romantic getaways: NJ beaches, NC beaches, Ft Lauderdale, Day trips from NYC, From Chicago, PA, CT, Hilton Head


© Courtesy of pr2is - Fotolia.com

Events at the garden are frequent and varied, with everything from book signings to tea ceremonies. Visitors can partake in a geology walk, learning about the natural forces at play with the impact of humans on the natural landscapes. Craft classes and holiday markets make for fun days with a memento to take home. Other events include lectures, conservation talks, day trips and much more. The full calendar of events, including the operating days of the teahouse, is available on the Garden’s website.

More fun things to do near me: Places to Visit in Florida, WI, Day trips from NYC, From San Francisco, Things to Do in Tampa, CA, Myrtle Beach, OR, Montauk, FL, From Atlanta, GA, Girls Getaways, PA


© Santa Barbara Botanic Garden

As a living museum, the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden is so much more than a beautiful day in nature. The SBBG offers classes and educational programs to further its mission, including citizen science, school programs, gardening with natives classes, as well as youth and family activities. These include Saturday morning family walks, citizen science club meetings, STEMS (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, & Sustainability) Summer programs and more.

This is in addition to the numerous schools that visit and participate in the Garden’s academic programs: Nature Walk, Chumash Uses of Native Plants, Seasonal Focus Lab, and Habitat Hike. The educational efforts of the SBBG also extend to the Blaksley Library, with 15,000 books and journals available for research. These include rare books, photos, and manuscripts, as well as horticultural catalogues.

Top-rated things to see near me: Denver, Sanibel Island, Boca Raton, Louisville, CA, Virginia Beach, San Antonio, MD beaches, Key West, Nashville, New Orleans, Philadelphia, UT, AZ, CT, IL, CA, MD

7.Plan Your Visit

Plan Your Visit
© Santa Barbara Botanic Garden

The Santa Barbara Botanic Gardens is just a short drive from downtown Santa Barbara, with free parking available onsite. Visitors are advised to review the Garden’s website prior to arrival, not only to explore the abundant events on offer, but also to review garden etiquette and rules to ensure a safe and pleasant visit.

This also includes advisements on how to best protect the gardens from the human impacts of its visitors and canine friends (which are allowed on leash). Spring is a particularly beautiful time to visit, with many California wildflowers in bloom. Guests will also want to check out the Garden Growers Nursery to take a bit of the Santa Barbara Botanic Gardens home with them.

Back to: Best Things to Do in Santa Barbara

1212 Mission Canyon Rd, Santa Barbara, CA 93105, USA, Phone: 805-682-4726

Top things to see near me: Catskills, Pink Sand beaches, Best Places to Visit, CO, Seattle, MN, Scottsdale, Dallas, SC, Monterey, Brooklyn, Tucson

Santa Barbara Botanic Garden