L.A.’s Hidden Green Spaces

Looking for a hit of serenity or a dose of inspiration? These four extraordinary places will please garden lovers and conservationists alike

Virginia Robinson Gardens
The humble backyard of Mrs. Robinson and her husband, Harry (the couple founded Robinson’s department store), spreads out across six acres behind their 1911 beaux arts mansion. The landscaping ranges from the murmuring fountains and leaf-shrouded statuary of the Italianate Terraced Garden to the spiky verdure of the tropical section. The only way to experience them or the antique-filled estate is by appointment on a docent-led tour. //1008 Elden Way, Beverly Hills, 310-550-2065.

Walt Disney Concert Hall’s Blue Ribbon Garden
On a quiet day when no one’s up here and you’re looking out past the naked coral trees onto the city below, you can almost believe the garden is your own discovery. Four flights of stairs lead you to the 3,500-square-foot refuge that sits in the back of L.A.’s flashiest building, its islands of flowering shrubs, grasses, annuals, perennials, and mature trees (no less than 45 of them, all told) casting shadows on the pathways. //111 S. Grand Ave., downtown, 213-972-7211.

UCLA Hannah Carter Japanese Garden
The sloping spot is a stunner. It was designed in 1959 to symbolize a person’s transition from rambunctious youth to staid maturity. The shrine, garden house, and pagoda, along with the bridges, were constructed in Japan, then transported to Bel-Air, where they transport you to the landscapes of Kyoto. The university acquired the one-acre plot in 1965 but limits access—including to magazine photographers. To see it you’ll need to book an appointment. //310-794-0320.

Los Angeles River
To get a sense of what the L.A. River was like before it became a 51-mile rut, set your GPS for Anthony C. Beilenson Park. There the concrete momentarily gives way to silt. Just like the real thing. Thick with trees and shrubs and industrious birds, it’s joltingly placid. Enter the park off Balboa Boulevard. From the dirt lot, cross the lawn heading south. //6300 Balboa Blvd., Encino, 818-756-9743.

PLUS: Four Beautiful Tours

Tournament House
February through August, you can practice your princess wave in the stately Pasadena manse where the Rose Queen is anointed. Tours are held each Thursday. //391 S. Orange Grove Ave., Pasadena, 626-449-4100.

Angelus-Rosedale Cemetery
And the dead shall rise. Each September, courtesy of the West Adams Heritage Association, costumed actors portray a handful of notable, all-but-forgotten Angelenos who lie beneath in the once grand graveyard. //1831 W. Washington Blvd., West Adams, 323-735-9242.

JPL Open House
Check out Mars rover prototypes at the home of NASA’s deep space program. The Jet Propulsion Lab opens its well-guarded doors May 14 and 15. You can also arrange a weekday tour throughout the year. //4800 Oak Grove Dr., Pasadena.

Hyperion Water Treatment Plant
See what happens once the toilet is flushed. You’ll be fascinated, despite yourself, as you gawk at the eerie pipes, tanks, and centrifuges. Tours last 90 minutes and must be booked in advance. //12000 Vista del Mar, Playa del Rey, 310-648-5363.