I had heard many recommendations from fellow military families to check out the San Diego Botanic Gardens before I finally went to discover it for myself. Once I went I wished I had gone sooner. It is a local gem for families, especially military families with young children. Their military family membership is generously discounted and the garden is a perfect place to bring your family, little ones, or friends throughout the entire year.
The garden is located in Encinitas and is a short but windy drive off the 5. There is a dedicated parking lot for the gardens that almost always has open spots. Parking is $2 for the day or included free with a membership. There is ample room to unpack and pack a stroller and it is never a crowded or stressful parking experience. There is a lot of walking involved in visiting the parks so a stroller or carrier is a must if you are visiting with little ones who will tire or are not confident walkers.
The garden itself is a 30-acre sprawl with an impressive collection of plants native to California as well as beautiful and outlandish exotic plants and tress from Australia, Africa, and Central America. Older children will have the opportunity to learn about geography, biology, and botany. Younger children will love running through the shaded walkways and enjoy the many interactive features in the Children’s Garden and the Fairy Garden.
The Children’s Garden is a little bit of a walk inside of the gardens. It has a musical section with large instruments for children to play, a large tree house, a sandpit with toys, and an artificial creek to splash in. The Fairy Garden is just off the parking lot and has shade covered picnic tables, a miniature landscape with trains that run through it, water tables, playhouses, and various thoughtfully designed spaces for younger children to play and interact.
There is a small gift shop and coffee kiosk near the parking lot. I recommend packing a lunch –you will have to drive out of the gardens for food purchases. The garden hosts a few special events every month which can make a visit extra special.
Fees and Memberships
The best deal for the military family is to buy an annual membership for the family. They offer a very generous military rate for the family membership which is roughly a third of the advertised membership dues and pays for itself after only 2-3 visits. You must be present at the gardens with your military ID to purchase this deal. If you are unsure if you want to purchase a membership a day visit will set you back $10 for adults with military IDs and $8 for children under the age of 12. Children 2 and under enter free. The Garden often participates in Blue Star Museums and provides free admission through the summer months. If you want to go outside the summer and are looking to save money they offer free admission to local residents the first Tuesday of every month.
The Gardens are close to Moonlight Beach and the downtown of the cute beach town of Encinitas. If you want to grab a bite to eat look at the original location of the local favorite, Swami’s Cafe; try their Acai bowl. If you want a quick pick me up the gardens are near the locally famous VG Donuts and bakery to the south and adorable vintage railway station turned coffee shop Pannikin to the north. If you want to get in some shopping before the Carlsbad Forum is nearby and has a few restaurants you can stop at for lunch while also doing a little shopping.
So tell us, have you been yet? What is your favorite part? Leave a comment, email, or send us a message on our Instagram.