If it weren’t for your kids, would you still take time to literally stop and smell the roses? Treat your little nature lovers (and yourself) to an idyllic escape via a visit to the gorgeous Descanso Gardens, where in addition to the blooming flowers, buzzing bees, and chirping birds there are an abundance of activities geared especially for little outdoor explorers. This locale should be dubbed Los Angeles’ ‘secret garden,’ because it rarely makes headlines, but it’s a true hidden gem and local treasure that gives visitors sweet refuge from the hustle and bustle of city life.
Explore the Flowers and Gardens: Of course, the main reason to visit the Descanso Gardens is to behold the breathtaking array of flowers. Varieties in bloom during April are azaleas, camellias, irises, lilacs, native plants and wildflowers, tulips, clivia, and wisteria. And the gardens will be ripe with azaleas, camellias, roses, irises, wildflowers and California natives come May. You can meander through several different themed gardens including the Rose Garden, Japanese Garden, Nature’s Table edible garden, California Garden, Iris Garden, Lilac Garden, the Camellia Collection and the Oak Forest, which is full of stunning, centuries old towering oak trees.
Take in a Story: There’s a storytelling program called Little Owls Reading Nest, which takes place on Tuesdays and Saturdays at 10:30 am at Nature’s Table. Kiddos can cuddle up in a giant nest and listen to inspiring stories in a serene natural setting. After storytime, kids can explore the Descanso Gardens armed with hints from Garden staff on how to bring the story to life in their surroundings — finding critters and plants they’ve just heard a story about. Free with admission, recommended for ages 2 and older.
Ride an Enchanting Train: Full Steam Ahead! Families can board an iconic, 1/8th replica of a diesel train for a delightful journey into nature via the seven minute train ride on the Enchanted Railroad at Descanso Gardens. Parents and tykes alike will appreciate the birds-eye view into the scenic garden surroundings. The Enchanted Railroad is open for train rides six days a week: Tuesdays from 10 am to noon and Wednesday through Sunday 10 am to 4 pm. Cost: $3 per rider, or $25 for a book of 10 tickets.
Toddler Treks with Acorn Bear: This interactive weekly workshop started on Friday April 13th, and will continue to take place for five more Fridays at 9:30 and 10:30am at the Rose Pavilion. Designed to introduce youngsters ages 2-4 about the wonders of nature, each workshop includes crafts, stories and walks throughout the Gardens. Advance registration is required and cost is $56 (for all six sessions, so inquire about a prorated fee) for the first child and $20 for siblings. A class T-shirt is included.
Head Into the Enchanted Forest: Every Saturday in May at 11:30am, Descanso Gardens hosts a magical journey, ‘Into the Enchanted Forest.’ Adventures start Under the Oaks, and then families will make their way into the woods to hear stories told live from the Gardens’ stage by the inhabitants of the enchanted forest. They dub their family-friendly fairytales, “anything but ordinary.” Free with admission.
Dining Options: All of these activities are sure to workup everybody’s appetite. Stop by the Descanso Café by Patina to enjoy an array of yummy options off their seasonally changing menu. The Café is open daily from 9am to 4:30pm and offers outdoor seating. Kid faves include the all-beef hotdogs, turkey and provolone sliders and peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Thinking of packing a picnic? Be advised that there’s no food or drinks permitted within the Garden’s gates, but there are picnic tables near the parking lot where you can enjoy the food you brought from home.
Admission/Hours: Open daily (closed on Christmas) from 9 am to 5 pm. (Last entry is 4:30 pm). There is ample free parking. Adults cost $8, seniors and students: $6, children ages 5-12: $3.
1418 Descanso Drive
La Cañada Flintridge, Ca
— Beth Shea