We love taking our three kids on outings, and since we’re lucky enough to live in Southern California, we have lots of options. We’ve got passes to the San Diego Zoo and Wild Animal Park, the Aquarium of the Pacific and the Discovery Science Center in Santa Ana.
Disneyland and SeaWorld are on our to-do list (my husband is not a huge fan of crowds, but now that the kids are on to the idea that there are amusement parks out there, I think he’s fighting a losing battle).
So we were really excited to find out about a place that’s a little more off the beaten path: the Quail Botanical Gardens in Encinitas, just 20 minutes north of San Diego.
It’s beautiful, with numerous paths winding through the lush 35-acre landscape. We followed one of them to the new Hamilton Children’s Garden, which just opened in June. They have a fun tree house for kids to climb, a shallow stream to pretend panning for gold, and these cool faux wood beams to build a house.
They also have a music area with huge chimes and a xylophone.
My kids played happily for well over an hour, exploring all the stuff.
On our way back to the parking lot – parking is free if you have at least four passengers – the kids wanted to explore some of the paths. We came upon a lily pad pond, and, as we went over a bridge, we spotted a large waterfall.
There is also another children’s area, closer to the parking lot, an interactive garden called Seeds of Knowledge. They have fun events throughout the year. We recently went to their Insect Festival and were very impressed. There was tons of stuff for our kids to do. My son was handed a cup of dirt containing earthworms at the first station. What’s better than that?
There were arts and crafts, where my daughter made a fine ladybug out of clay, and a show where a woman showed different animals, from a monitor lizard to a fox. A pavilion held all kinds of exhibits: you could try eating bugs (I steered the kids away from that one!), watch honey bees, meet reptiles – my son held two different snakes. You could look at plenty of mounted bugs behind glass and, for a 10 on the Icky scale, my son held a huge Madagascar hissing cockroach. Where’s the hand sanitizer?!?!
Some quick facts and tips:
- The garden is officially a non-profit, so your membership is tax-deductible. It’s $12 for adults and $6 for kids 3-12. For a year pass, it’s which includes two adults and children in the household under 18.
- It’s open 9-5 every day except Christmas and New Year’s Day.
- Wear comfortable shoes. The Children’s Garden is a bit of a hike from the parking lot, and the way back has a decent incline. There is also little shade, so make sure your kids wear sunscreen. It is surprisingly hot, despite its proximity to the beach.