Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden
At the right moment—like, say, after a chocolate chip cookie from nearby Diddy Riese—the embrace of UCLA’s Mathias is like no other. It packs a lot into seven acres. You can shade yourself under enormous gum trees, gawk at the Hawaiian greenery, plant yourself in a stamp-size meadow, and walk from the desert into a fern-filled jungle in minutes. All the more soothing for being under-utilized, the thrumming refuge clings to the campus edge like an orchid on a mangrove. » 777 Tiverton Dr., Westwood, 310-825-1260.
A mini waterfall burbles while a stand of trees plays chorus, their leaves riffling in the breeze. The name of this verdant patch at the DoubleTree by Hilton may be aspirational, but three stories above the downtown streets of Little Tokyo, Kyoto Gardens is pure urban fantasy. Especially when you’re strolling the path with a mojito in hand (as the sign says, the space is intended for guests and patrons only). » 120 S. Los Angeles St., downtown, 213-629-1200.
Gardens of the World
The mind wanders as you’re driving up the 101 toward Thousand Oaks. A quick jog off the freeway, and your body can, too. The compact collection of landscape styles trots the globe, from a lush English rose garden to a placid Japanese garden to a truly grand French garden with tumbling fountains. The family behind Pleasant Hawaiian Holidays commissioned the green space, an unexpected (and free) side trip on your way to thither and yon. » 2001 Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks, 805-557-1135.
Rancho Los Alamitos
Sure, the site is saturated with history, from Tongva settlements to a Spanish land grant to the arrival of the Bixbys, whose dealings helped spawn Long Beach. But first impressions are everything, and yours will be of passing a guard shack and traveling through a thicket of beige condos to arrive at a sprawling 7.5-acre park that’s green with ancient cacti, native botanicals, historic roses, and formal gardens conceived by the Olmsted brothers and set designer Florence Yoch. The adobe mansion recently underwent a multimillion-dollar renovation. » 6400 Bixby Hill Rd., Long Beach, 562-431-3541.
Earl Burns Miller Japanese Garden
Surrounded by parking lots and a busy thoroughfare, the roomy garden on the Cal State Long Beach campus is a Zen haven for students and those who seek escape from a city too urban for its own good. After traveling to Japan for inspiration, landscape architect Edward Lovell planted a sparse mix of local and Eastern flora in 1981, gambling on an aesthetic payoff 30 years later. It was a bet well placed. » 1250 N. Bellflower Blvd., Long Beach, 562-985-2169.