If you’re anything like us, our idea of raising kids in L.A. went a little something like this: sunny afternoons exploring the local beaches and gardens, hiking in Malibu, and the occasional trip to Disneyland. In reality, our kids may be more familiar with the inside of our cars and the passing freeway signs than all of the sweet local outdoor destinations. While you may not be able to reverse the permanent indent in your kids’ car seat, it’s not too late to head out to one of these alluring family-friendly gardens. With cool waterfalls, lakes, ponds, and secret tunnels, your vision of raising kids in L.A. will be realized — at least for an afternoon.

Descanso Gardens
Even though it doesn’t have a designated children’s garden, there are plenty of kid-friendly attractions at Descanso Gardens. Highlights include the Oak Forest (with its magnificent camellia collection), the Rose Garden, the Boddy House, the Japanese Garden, bird watching at the lake, talking to the fish at the pond and the Children’s Maze. Descanso Gardens is also home to the Enchanted Railroad, which runs on weekends.

1418 Descanso Dr.
La Cañada Flintridge, Ca
818-949-4200
Cost: Admission is $8 for adults, $3 for kids 5 through 12; kids 4 and under are free

South Coast Botanic Garden
The 87-acre South Coast Botanic Garden is filled with plants representing more than 2,000 different species from places as far away as Australia and southern Africa. Families will like it because it’s a big enough place that kids will have plenty to see, smell and touch without getting exhausted from too much walking. Don’t miss the children’s garden, where fairies, gnomes, dragons, secret tunnels and more await eager explorers.

26300 Crenshaw Blvd.
Palos Verdes Peninsula, Ca
310-544-6815
Cost: Admission is cash only – $8 for adults, $3 for kids 5 to 12, kids 4 & under are free

The Arboretum
Sure, The Arboretum boasts plenty of beautiful plants and flowers that parents will love. But there’s also a waterfall, a lake, a pond, several grassy lawns begging to run (or roll) on – even a very enormous willow sculpture that you can actually play in. Plus, the kids are almost guaranteed to see some wildlife – including the resident peacocks, ducks, turtles, fish and more. This place is large (127-acres large), so if you have a little one, you might want to bring a stroller.

301 N. Baldwin Ave.
Arcadia, Ca
626-821-3222
Cost: Admission is $8 for adults, $3 for kids 5 through 12, kids 4 & under are free

The Rose Garden at Exposition Park
Like roses? The Rose Garden has some 15,000 bushes featuring 145 varieties. Yeah. Wowza! Its location at Exposition Park between the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County and the California Science Center make it a great spot for a picnic lunch and some outdoor exploring if you’re visiting either.

701 State Dr.
Los Angeles, Ca
213-765-5397
Cost: Admission is free

Worth the Drive:

Conejo Valley Botanic Garden
The pint-sized, 33-acre Conejo Valley Botanic Garden is home to several unique, hillside specialty gardens, a hiking trail and more. Although there are plenty of things to see here, the real gem for families is the Kid’s Adventure Garden – which is only open 11:00 am to 3:00 pm on Sundays.

It’s a magical space dedicated to helping kids learn about nature and gardening. The garden features a tree house, zoo garden, pirate cave and more. Plan to explore the ¾-mile kid friendly Nature Trail, too, which can be found at the far edge of the kid’s garden.

350 W. Gainsborough Road
Thousand Oaks, Ca
805-494-7630
Cost: Admission is free

Debi Huang is a Los Angeles-based wife, mom and adventure guide for two young boys. Her blog at Go Explore Nature is all about getting kids and families outdoors and connected to nature. In her spare time, she’s compiling the ever-growing Big List of Outdoor Adventures for Los Angeles Kids.