You don't have to know a zinnia from zoysia to be wowed by the these dazzling gardens
Top 12 Public Gardens
Janet Lougrey
Portland Japanese Garden

Portland Japanese Garden, Portland, OR. Japanese maples are at their most vivid in autumn at the Portland Japanese Garden, set on a hilly 5.5 acres among tall cedars, Douglas firs, and hemlocks. Enjoy the views of downtown and Mt. Hood from the Pavilion’s lookout, then meander the trails through five garden areas. In the Natural Garden, 12 varieties of Japanese maples are showing their true late-fall tree colors. Scattered throughout the grounds are crimson burning bushes and yellow, orange, and red deciduous azaleas. Don’t miss: The star of the show, a 100-year-old specimen known as That Maple, in the Flat Garden, just inside the entrance. Its leaves turn brilliant orange in autumn. $10; 611 S.W. Kingston Ave.;

Rancho Los Alamitos, Long Beach, CA. This former estate of the pioneering Bixby family has new features, including a restored barn, farm animals, and, occasionally, a visiting working blacksmith. Paths lead through the oak- and pine-shaded Native Garden, the Cactus Garden, and the Cutting Garden. Don’t miss: The Oleander Walk, which is lined with crape myrtle trees whose leaves are turning bright orange. Free; 6400 E. Bixby Hill Rd.;

Courtesy of Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens
Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens’ Dahlia Garden

Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, Fort Bragg, CA. Canyons, wetlands, a pine forest, and more make up this 47-acre site overlooking the Pacific. See native species in their natural plant communities, and formal gardens filled with heaths and heathers. Stroll the trails along coastal bluffs for breathtaking ocean views, at their best on clearer autumn days. Don’t miss: Dahlias in full bloom in the Dahlia Garden in summer and fall. $14 ($7/Mendocino Coast Recreation & Park District residents); 18220 N. State 1;

Adam Rodriguez
Organpipe, senita, and totem pole cactus at Desert Botanical Garden

Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix, AZ. Rambling among red rock formations with vistas in nearly every direction, the Desert Botanical Garden will make you feel like you’ve left the city for the country. Show-offs are bristly headed barrel cactus and ornamental grasses. Don’t miss: The Desert Discovery Loop Trail (about 0.3 mile) along a yucca forest, and the Sonoran Desert Nature Loop Trail (0.25 mile) through stands of organpipe cactus. $18; 1201 N. Galvin Pkwy.;

The Water Conservation Garden, El Cajon, CA. Go for the exhibits and classes on how to keep your water bill from breaking the bank. Bring the kids along as you learn how to grow veggies in a raised bed or check out dollhouse-size models of fire-safe landscaping. Have a lawn you love to neglect? Find smart solutions at the meadow of drought-tolerant ornamental grasses. Don’t miss: Fleshy succulents in pink, yellow, green, burgundy, and blue, plus cactus blooming with magenta flowers. Free; 12122 Cuyamaca College Dr. W.; 619/660-0614 ext. 10;

A visit to the almost-in-bloom Denver Botanical Gardens, a plate of greens straight from the farm, and an abundance of plants and flowers available to buy are a great kickoff to spring. And don’t miss the breathtaking views from City Park of the Rocky Mountains framing Denver.

More: One perfect day at Denver Gardens

Denver Botanic Gardens, Denver, CO. With the Rocky Mountains as backdrop, the 24 acres here include idea-filled theme landscapes such as Plains Garden and Rock Garden. The kids will go nuts for a 19th-century working farm that has chickens and sheep, plus the rough-hewn wooden treehouse in the new Deer Creek Discovery Children’s Area. The Japanese Garden is awash in fiery color come fall. If the air turns chilly, duck into the Boettcher Memorial Tropical Conservatory, kept at a balmy 70°, to see banana palms and coffee plants. Don’t miss: Autumn crocus blooming along Shady Lane. $13; 1007 York St.;

Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, CA. At this garden-gallery combo, you’ll see  Rembrandt portraits, Degas dancers, and Matisse prints. Don’t miss: The  sculpture garden outside, where the Maillol nudes nestled in reeds at the lily pond’s edge look as inviting as mermaids. Beyond the daylilies, lavender, and bamboo, Gwynn Murrill’s Sitting Cheetah seems so at home under the trees, you expect its tail to twitch. A cafe tucked into one corner is a pleasant spot for a break before you head back to the galleries. Closed Tue; $8; 411 W. Colorado Blvd.; 626/449-6840;

J. Paul Getty Trust
The Getty’s bougainvillea “trees”

The Getty Center, Los Angeles, CA. Fall is an ideal time to wander the Getty Center’s newly refreshed Central Garden amid the maze of clipped azaleas, blooming dahlias, and a stream. Don’t miss: Mod and marvelous bougainvillea “trees” trained up rebar arbors—they’re absolutely awe-inspiring. $15/vehicle; 1200 Getty Center Dr.;  

Market by Jean-Georges, Vancouver, B.C. Indulge in a meal at the buzzy restaurant set in the Shangri-La, a luxe hotel in British Columbia’s tallest (61-story) building. Don’t miss: The view from Market’s terrace. Peer down at a Mondrian-inspired pattern of red, blue, and black plants carpeting a nearby rooftop. The terrace’s bamboo grove is a peaceful place to soak in the scene. $$$; 1128 W. Georgia St.; 604/689-1120;

Creative Commons photo by SeeMonterey is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Wander the labyrinth, snip your own herbs, and buy organic flowers and veggies direct from the source. Cooking demos, bug walks, and other activities too.


More about Earthbound Farm

Earthbound Farm, Carmel Valley, CA. Enjoy a hands-on experience at Earthbound’s 30-acre research garden. Get dirt under your fingernails with a harvest-your-own-flowers walk or a pick-your-own-vegetables chef demo, or visit the snip-your-own-herbs garden. For a full-on sensory experience, wander barefoot through a low-growing chamomile labyrinth. Involve your kids in farm life at the children’s garden, which has a tipi, tunnels, and peanut butter–scented plants that could be straight out of Dr. Seuss. Don’t miss: The loaded salad bar (and excellent veggie lasagna) at the farmstand run by Earthbound, the organic farm that pioneered pre-washed lettuce. $20; 7250 Carmel Valley Rd.; 831/625-6219;

Kahanu Garden, Hana, Maui, HI. This tropical temple set on Maui’s famous road to Hana offers  black lava rock landscapes and awesome views of the jagged coastline. Don’t miss: Pi‘ilanihale heiau, built out of lava rock in the late 13th century. One of the largest Hawaiian temples, it’s as big as two football fields. Near its base, get a quick history lesson at the Canoe Garden, where you can see plants the first Hawaiians brought to the islands by canoe, including Niu (coconut), Ko (sugarcane), Kalo (taro), and Ki (ti leaves). Closed Sun; $10; 650 ‘Ula‘ino Rd.; 808/248-8912;

Red Butte Garden and Arboretum, Salt Lake City, UT. Hiking trails, walking paths, and primo picnic sites abound in Red Butte Canyon, which in summer swirls with butterflies and hummingbirds. Don’t miss: Classes on herbs and native plants. Talk about an education; these workshops are offered by the University of Utah. And take in the carpets of 96 types of daffodils, blooming through late April. $6; at the University of Utah, 300 Wakara Way; 801/581-4747;

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