Waterfall behind tropical foliage in the San Diego Botanic Garden.
  • Waterfall behind tropical foliage in the San Diego Botanic Garden.
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When most people think of Encinitas, the beach is probably the first thing to come to mind. Moonlight and Swami’s are two of the best in the county. But the seaside community is also home to two of the most resplendent gardens in the county (heck, maybe the country): The San Diego Botanic Garden and the Self Realization Fellowship Meditation Gardens.

These are two spots you can easily visit in a day to escape the pressure and stress of 21st-century life. Relax, enjoy, and don’t forget to bring your camera!

SDBG's Mexican Garden.

San Diego Botanic Garden

The San Diego Botanic Garden, formerly the Quail Gardens, is a North County oasis for children and adults alike. Those with even a mild affinity for the plant world will find this to be one of San Diego's special places. The Botanic Garden features an amazing abundance and diversity of plant life – over 4,000 varieties of plant life are spread out over 35 acres. Four miles of trails wind through the gardens, allowing you to meander through agaves, succulents, ferns, bamboo and bromeliads.

In the Bamboo Garden, said to be the largest bamboo collection in the country.

What's unique about the gardens is the variety of plant life from around the world displayed here. There are sections of the gardens devoted to several of the world’s ecosystems, including Africa, South America, Mexico, New Zealand, Hawaii, the Mediterranean, South Africa, Australia and the Canary Islands, among others. There's a subtropical fruit garden, a tropical rainforest, a bamboo garden, a desert garden, an herb garden, a walled garden, a whimsical Mexican garden, several waterfalls, even a garden where you can pick your own tea. Several benches are scattered about the gardens where you can pause and soak in the setting. I particularly enjoyed the African waterfall and the pond in the Bamboo Garden. I saved my favorite section of the park for last – the Bamboo Garden contains the largest collection of bamboo in the country.

Toni's Treehouse in Hamilton Children's Garden.

SDBG has placed an emphasis on introducing children to plants and nature in a fun way. Two gardens provide great opportunities for fun and exploration. Younger children will enjoy the Seeds of Wonder Children’s Garden, with its dinosaur garden, playhouse, arts and crafts, and pint sized railroad. This was the West Coast’s first interactive children’s garden. The highlight of the Hamilton’s Children Garden, for the slightly older set, is an awesome treehouse in a jungle canopy. The house is modeled after an African Strangler Fig.

The Botanic Garden has also placed an emphasis on educating young people about water conservation and climate change – issues of obvious importance to the lives of future generations.

There are festivals and special events held here throughout the year, particularly around the Christmas holidays, and special art exhibits are often on display. During both of my visits, various sculpture exhibitions were scattered throughout the gardens, blending in harmoniously with the surroundings.

One disappointment, considering the price of admission, is the lack of specific and contextual information in the brochures or Visitor’s Center about the various plants and sections. This was no fault of the helpful clerk, who tracked me down with a booklet she thought might be informative. But this is a minor quibble.

Admission is $14, along with $2 for parking. Visit sdbgarden.org for more info.

Self-Realization Fellowship Meditation Gardens

The Self-Realization Fellowship Meditation Gardens are open to the public six days a week (closed Mondays) at no charge. The SRF Gardens provide a sanctuary for locals or visitors to find a moment of quiet and solitude. Numerous benches are tucked throughout the gardens to meditate, simply relax and appreciate the foliage, or gaze out over the ocean.

The gardens are well-maintained, and the small pond at the center of the garden has impressively sized koi (left). This is not a place to chatter on your cell phone or let the kids run wild; it’s designed for visitors to enjoy moments of peace and serenity. An early-morning visit is recommended to avoid the crowds.

The Self Realization Fellowship was originally founded by Paramahansa Yogananda, author of Autobiography of a Yogi, which introduced yoga and Eastern philosophy to the west. The surrounding area, including the beach below the cliffs, is called Swami’s in affectionate honor of Yogananda. On Sundays between 2 and 5 you can visit the hermitage where Yogananda wrote his classic work. Then, step outside to enjoy one of the finest views in San Diego County.

The SRF Gardens are just off the 101 on K St. in Encinitas. Visiting the SRF Gardens is the #1 ranked activity in Encinitas on TripAdvisor and has a five-star average on Yelp.

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