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San Diego Botanic Garden in Encinitas

San Diego Botanic Garden in Encinitas

San Diego Botanic Garden in Encinitas feels like home to our family. We go at least once a year, if not more.

The gardens used to be named Quail Botanic Gardens until the name change to San Diego Botanic Gardens in 2009 — the same year the Hamilton Children’s Garden opened.

rays of sunshine on a tree branch with pink blossoms at San Diego Botanic Garden

The Hamilton Children’s Garden is the largest children’s garden on the West Coast.

So it was a joy to visit once again after our almost year of “lockdown.”

small waterfall flowing over rocks with palms and ferns

How to Get to the San Diego Botanic Garden

The garden is in Encinitas on the inland side of Interstate 5 as it runs through San Diego county.

It is on the hill between the Leucadia Blvd exit and the Encinitas Blvd exit (if you’re traveling from north to south).

Leucadia Blvd and Encinitas Blvd are connected by Quail Gardens Drive which basically parallels the freeway.

The Leucadia exit is mostly residential. The Encinitas exit is a main connector for the beach town and the road we usually use to get to restaurants and one of our favorite San Diego beaches.

Whichever road you choose, turn onto Quail Gardens Drive. Follow the signs. We’ve always parked in the Main Parking Lot, but the parking at this time is off Ecke Ranch Road.

Don’t panic if you miss it! You can always circle back around. Check the San Diego Botanic Garden website for directions to 300 Quail Gardens Drive, Encinitas.

tree branches against blue sky with bunches of pink flowers hanging down toward ground

Garden Highlights:

One of my very favorite parts of visiting gardens is the feeling of wonder and exploration. So I don’t want to give too much away!

I want you to take your time and let your kids gravitate towards what interests them.

Notes for 2021: At this time, there are directional signs to encourage distancing. We just kept in mind to follow the red signs on the way in and the blue arrows to lead us to the exit. (We were a little puzzled with the yellow and blue and green arrows! Which way should we go?)

Normally, you can wander as freely as you like.

The Children’s Garden is definitely a highlight — so many opportunities to touch and experience all the amazing exhibits! Be on the lookout for the treehouse and animals.

My husband and son love the area where there are fruit trees. The experience brings the visuals of fruit that you might not know what it looks like when it’s growing on trees or bushes along with the fragrances.

These are figs:

at least 100 figs bunched against a fig tree trunk at San Diego Botanic Garden in Encinitas

You can also see different varieties of banana trees.

Tell me if the papaya surprises you! Or if you happen to find the star fruit trees.

Nearby the fruit trees you’ll find dancers with dresses decorated by succulents and a bamboo garden with pond.

banana trees with bunches of green bananas on a single stalk

Waterfalls are my favorite! And you will pass large and small ones as you navigate the paths.

The Overlook Succulent Garden is a corner of the garden that is super peaceful and I spent a bit of time on the bench just contemplating this past year. If you go without kids, I hope you can find this spot for a little rest.

The top of the big waterfall on the way to the Overlook has these amazing trumpet flowers.

golden flower on a vine with blue sky and leaves in the background

The other side of the garden on the way out is full of desert plants. It’s always fun to see what is blooming.

There are peekaboo views of the ocean from many of the trails so don’t forget to look up!

San Diego Botanic Garden paved path lined with trees and a peekaboo view of the ocean

The gazebo area and lawn are popular with toddlers and as a photo spot.

Be Aware:

  • Garden is closed Mondays and Tuesdays
  • PLAN AHEAD! As of the time of writing (February 2021), guests must reserve tickets online ahead-of-time. There are no walk-up visitors allowed.
  • We skipped the Children’s Garden this time because it was the busiest part of the garden, but it may not be so when you go.
  • Read all of their Visitor guidelines for the latest info.
exotic looking plant with mint green razored edges and a rusty bloom - sun shining on a few of the leaves


  • There are 3 sets of restrooms. One near the Hamilton Children’s Garden, one in the center of the gardens near the Gift Shop, and one very far off in what is normally the Main Parking Lot.
  • It is a HILLY garden. Some people had strollers, but you’ll have maximum maneuverability to go down all the trails and up stairs if you go without.
  • Trails are paved, dirt, stairs, and wooden decking out to the Overlook. Some are skinny and one on the way back to the entrance is very steep. (We did have a staff member in a cart approach us to see if we needed a ride or any assistance.)
  • Definitely recommend bringing water and wearing sunscreen or a hat.
  • You will need to reserve a spot. We chose the first window at 10am.
  • For official information visit
  • If you are looking for more garden outings, visit my Kid-Friendly Farms & Gardens post
San Diego Botanic Garden overlook through winter trees

Nearby parks, beaches and restaurants:

  • The Crack Shack is a very popular restaurant (you may have been to the one in Costa Mesa?) near the gardens along with an In ‘N Out on Encinitas Blvd
  • If you want to venture in to Encinitas along Coast Highway, there are a bunch of breweries, coffee shops, and cool stores as you travel south from Encinitas Blvd. We are kinda partial to The Potato Shack for their manhole sized pancakes and yummy breakfast potatoes.
  • Las Verdes Park (1390 Paseo De Las Verdes, Leucadia) is across the street from the garden on a rolling green hill with a small playground
  • Another nearby and worthwhile park for a visit is Cottonwood Creek Park (95 N. Vulcan, Encinitas)