Lush, picturesque and magical, the Los Angeles County Arboretum is a great way to escape the city’s hustle and bustle. Nestled on 127 acres at the base of the majestic San Gabriel Mountains within the historic Rancho Santa Anita, this botanic garden has much more to offer than first meets the eye. Filled with exotic plant collections from around the globe, the Arboretum also features several historic buildings dating back to the 1800’s, a duck pond, a waterfall and some pretty impressive bird watching. Almost continually being used for location films, the location is one of Hollywood’s favorite spots for creating a world of make-believe. Shutterbugs will also find fantastic backdrops for some creativity of their own.
Once part of Mission San Gabriel’s vast acreage, this land was deeded during the Mexican period (1821-1848) to Hugo Reid, a Scot with Mexican citizenship, and his Native American Tongva wife, Victoria. Their sturdy adobe rancho and outdoor kitchen (circa 1840) are still standing, facing a re-created Tongva tent cluster. Following his death in 1852, a series of short-term owners acquired the property.
The site’s modern history began in 1875, when real estate baron “Lucky” Baldwin purchased Rancho Santa Anita and constructed its buildings and grounds. The house and coach barn he had built presently stands across from the Hugo Reid Adobe. Harry Chandler, former owner of the Los Angeles Times, was the land’s final owner, before Los Angeles County and California jointly purchased it in 1947. By 1949, the first greenhouse had been constructed and the site’s plants inventoried. In 1951, the first 1,000 trees were planted, and in 1956 the Arboretum was open to the public. Ongoing construction of gardens and greenhouses took place throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s. In 1976 the Tropical Greenhouse was opened and the Prehistoric and Jungle Gardens were completed. Construction and renovation of both greenhouses and gardens continues to this day.
Upon entering the Arboretum, be sure to pick up a visitor map from the information desk and get acquainted with the grounds. First to greet and welcome you are the resident peacocks. They strut and prance throughout the park, and are so used to the crowds that they barely flap a magnificent feather. It is a great opportunity to get a close up view of these regal birds.
Depending on the season, you might even spot some nesting peahens, or…if you visit in late spring, some little peachicks. There are also a wide variety of ducks, geese, chickens, aquatic creatures and several species of lizards that populate the area. Occasionally you see a hawk or two fly in as well.
The stunning Queen Anne Cottage is a must see, and has been maintained as a part of the Arboretum’s commitment to preservation. The ornate American Queen Anne style architecture was popular in the United States from 1880 to 1910. The Cottage and Coach Barn were constructed in 1885-86 for Elias Jackson (“Lucky”) Baldwin and his fourth wife, Lillie Bennett, daughter of Albert Bennett, the Cottage’s architect.
When Baldwin died in 1909, his daughter Anita closed the Cottage and disposed of its furnishings. Fortunately, Anita removed and stored in the Coach Barn some architectural elements, such as stained glass windows, black walnut doors, marble fireplace mantels, the hearth tiles, and the encaustic tile mosaic entry floor. All of these items, plus original bathroom fixtures and the exterior marble walkway, were returned to the Cottage during the 1951-53 restoration. Refurnishing continues today with appropriate period pieces.
The Cottage has been used for many television shows and films, such as “Fantasy Island, Murder, She Wrote” and “Roots: The Next Generation”. Outside of the Queen Anne Cottage, be sure to visit the Prehistoric Forest and Baldwin Lake (boarded by magnificent weeping willow trees), where the location has played host to several “Tarzan” movies, two “Jurassic Park” movies, “Objective, Burma”, to name a few.
The Arboretum houses a collection of 18,000 plants displayed in five botanical sections: Africa, Australia, The Americas, Asia, and Historic Circle. The grounds are just beautiful, including the Grace Kallam Perennial Garden, where each bed has a different color theme, and the Garden for all Seasons, which contains wildflowers, herbs, and vegetables that are tended by volunteers in the community. Another gorgeous feature is the Meyberg Waterfall. It’s one of the best spots in the Arboretum for amazing photos. You’ll find lots of tropical plants and brilliant flowers, or you can just relax by the water. Take a hike up to the top and see Los Angeles from above…the view is breathtaking.
The Arboretum helps you take a breath, slow down, and marvel at the nature around you. Once inside the gate, you can readily forget that a freeway is zipping past just out side the fence, and that across the street is not only a huge shopping mall, but also the Santa Anita Race Track. The gardens are also an integral education center and community partner, hosting concerts, giving tours to school children, preserving history of the area, offering programs/classes and exhibits, and serving as expert advisors on local fauna. You can walk the paths, ride a tram to get all around the acres, shop in the Garden and Gift Shop, eat at the Peacock Café, tour with a docent or attend a program or lecture. There’s also a delightful area right outside of the gardens if you want to bring a picnic lunch (Food may not be brought into the Arboretum).
Springtime is a wonderful time of the year to visit this paradise in the middle of a metropolis. For more information, please visit: The Arboretum