Encinitas, CA, offers not only one but two popular botanical gardens: the San Diego Botanic Garden and the Meditation Gardens of the Self-Realization Fellowship.
So which one should you visit?
During my recent trip to Southern California I visited both in one day and while they are both well worth a visit they are quite different from each other and will appeal to different people.
This post will first give a short overview of both the San Diego Botanic Garden and the Self-Realization Fellowship Gardens: how to get there and what to expect.
And in the final part I will give my opinion on which garden is better for a visit for YOU – depending on your personal interests and needs.
Let’s go for it!
What is the San Diego Botanic Garden?
The San Diego Botanic Garden is an urban oasis with 4 miles of trails and 5,300 plant varieties in 29 themed gardens representing 15 different regions and habitats.
When can you visit the San Diego Botanic Garden?
The San Diego Botanic Garden is closed on Tuesdays but otherwise open daily from 9 am to 5 pm (last ticket entry at 4pm).
How do you get in?
On their website, they strongly recommend that you pre-buy a timed entry ticket online before your visit.
However, I did not realize this (and hate being locked into a specific activity) so I just showed up.
As long as they are not too busy you can buy a ticket at the entrance to the San Diego Botanic Garden.
The cost is $18 per adult (Military/Senior/Student are $12 and kids $10). You wont get a paper ticket – they just wave you in.
Please note: They do not accept cash – you have to pay by card!
If you want to leave and come back on the same day you may do so – just make sure you get your hand stamped for re-entry.
Luckily, I had no problems getting a ticket on the day of my visit.
How long should you spend at the San Diego Botanic Garden?
If you just want to have a quick look around, you can see the better part of the gardens in about an hour.
If you want to see everything, read the educational signs, maybe have a snack, and relax a bit on one of the benches, 2.5 to 3 hours are probably about right.
Where is the San Diego Botanic Garden and how to get there
Given its name, you might think that the San Diego Botanic Garden is in San Diego but not so!
The San Diego Botanic Garden is actually on the outskirts of Encinitas, about 25 miles north of San Diego.
Getting to San Diego Botanic Garden by car
With a car, your best bet is to follow your GPS or Google Maps.
There is a parking lot right next to the entrance and for general admission parking is free.
Free parking – always a plus
Getting to San Diego Botanic Garden by public transportation
Not surprisingly, getting there by public transit is a bit more involved but can be done.
When I looked at the map I thought getting to the San Diego Botanic Garden would be easy. Unfortunately, it took more effort than I had expected.
1. Make your way to Encinitas
Coming from either north or south your best option is to either take the Coaster commuter train (runs between San Diego/Old Town San Diego and Oceanside) or bus 101 (runs between Oceanside and La Jolla).
When taking the bus get off at the Encinitas train station (same as if arriving by Coaster). As both have the same final stop it doesn’t matter which one you choose.
So decide based on which is more convenient for you. The bus will likely be cheaper (a flat $2.50) but slower if you are coming from further away.
2. Travel along Encinitas Boulevard
From here you could take bus 309 which travels along Encinitas Boulevard to the East. Unfortunately, this bus only goes once an hour so depending on when you get to Encinitas you might have to wait a while.
As the bus only takes you about half-way to the San Diego Botanical Gardens I decided to walk.
The first half of the walk follows the bus route along Encinitas Boulevard. It is not exactly unpleasant but neither is it a pretty walk. Just your basic plodding along a busy street.
Stay on the right side of the street as that way there will be a sidewalk for the entire stretch.
Walking along Encinitas Blvd. is safe and easy but not exactly a joy
3. Turn left onto Quail Gardens Dr.
After about 25 minutes (1 mile) you will reach a crossing with Quail Gardens Dr/Westlake. (The San Diego Botanic Gardens used to be called Quail Gardens)
This is also where you would get off the 309 bus and start walking if you had decided on that option.
Cross Encinitas Blvd to turn left into Quail Gardens Dr. Again, best walk on the right side of the street as the sidewalk on the left side doesn’t go all the way to the gardens.
The walk would have been shorter if they still used the old entrance
Here you will walk uphill along a quieter street. Unfortunately, the entrance has moved so you will have to walk along the outside of the entire garden to get to the entrance (about another 10 minutes).
You have finally arrived at the Botanic Garden – cross and walk up the street for a minute
Amenities at the San Diego Botanic Garden
There are restrooms located throughout the gardens and you can get limited snacks/drinks at a coffee cart (they are working on a café).
This map of the San Diego Botanic Garden is helpful to make sure you don’t miss anything
What is there to see and do at the San Diego Botanic Garden?
The garden is separated in different themed sections. There is a Walled Garden, a South African Garden, a Herb Garden etc. Unfortunately, the Bamboo Garden was closed during my visit.
There was quite a bit of construction going on. I believe they are updating paths to be ADA compliant.
The San Diego Botanic Garden has a fair size. There are various paths winding through bushes, trees, and other plants. If you wander back and forth you can get a decent work-out.
For the most part this is not one of those gardens that wows you with displays of colorful flowers, topiaries, and manicured lawns. So to me it is not as pretty as for example the Palmengarten in Frankfurt or the park of Quinta da Regaleira in Sintra.
However, if you want to learn more about plants you are in the right place. You can see a huge variety of different plants from different parts of the globe. So if you are interested in the native vegetation of South America or Australia you have come to the right place!
Education is one of the goals of the San Diego Botanic Garden You will find plenty of signs with interesting and educational facts. Great for any keen botanists!
This was one of the aspects I appreciated here. Not knowing much about plants I do prefer being told what I am looking at. However, the signs did look a bit worn.
Interesting information but a bit dingy looking
Luckily, there was plenty of seating available. It was not difficult to find a place to sit and rest up a bit. A definite plus!
I did feel though that not all of the benches had the best view. You definitely were out in nature and had a view of plants but there weren’t many spectacular views.
There is plenty of space for kids to let off some steam in the San Diego Botanic Garden. A definite plus is the kids’ area that looked fun and inviting. I especially liked the look of Toni’s Tree House, a fake tree to climb around in.
Too bad I am too big to check out this tree house
Kids will also get a kick out of the Overlook Tower. The view isn’t amazing but you do see the ocean and little ones will enjoy the experience.
From the top of the Overlook Tower you get a good idea of the native vegetation
Even though this was more a plants/vegetation than flowers/pretty vistas garden, there were some definite highlights.
My personal favorites were:
The Mexican Garden was probably my favorite display at the San Diego Botanic Garden
I loved the jungle vibe and the waterfall
The rather unkempt and overgrown charme of the Walled Garden had an appeal of its own
The Self-Realization Fellowship Meditation Garden
What are the Meditation Gardens of the Self-Realization Fellowship?
The Meditation Gardens in Encinitas are run by the Self-Realization Fellowship, an international religious organization founded 1920 by Paramahansa Yogananda for the teachings of Kriya Yoga.
No worries however – visiting the gardens does not require you to attend services or talk about religion. While there are some brochures available, no effort to proselytize was made.
When can you visit the Meditation Gardens in Encinitas?
The gardens are open Tuesday to Saturday from 9 am to 5 pm and Sundays from 11 am to 5 pm.
On Monday and in the case of rain the Meditation Gardens are closed.
How do you get in?
Visiting the Meditation Gardens is completely free – a big plus.
As you enter through the gate a guard may remind you to set your phone to silent and to act in accordance with the Zen atmosphere but that is all.
A guard at the entrance will remind you of the rules
How long should you spend at the Meditation Gardens in Encinitas?
Touring the gardens won’t take more than 10 minutes – they arent very big.
However, they are very inviting. Unless you are in a great hurry (maybe not the best for a meditation garden) you will want to sit down and enjoy the tranquility.
So 30 to 60 minutes is probably a good time frame for a visit. But of course you could stay longer to gaze at the ocean, read a book, or even meditate.
Where are the Encinitas Meditation Gardens and how to get there
The Meditation Gardens of the Self-Realization Fellowship are located on the Southern end of Encinitas main street, close to Swami’s Beach.
Getting to San Diego Botanic Garden by public transportation
1. Traveling to the Meditation Gardens by bus
Getting to the Meditation Gardens by public transit is easy. Bus route 101 (every 30 minutes) stops right in front of the grounds (Southbound)/across the street (Northbound).
The stop is called Highway 101 & K St. and you can follow along on Google Maps to make sure you don’t miss your halt.
2. Traveling to the Meditation Gardens by train
If you are traveling by train you get off at the Encinitas station. From there you can either take Bus 101 southwards or walk.
You can easily walk to the Meditation Gardens in about 20 minutes from the station and on the way look around the town of Encinitas. Or do the same as me and make a stop to have a tasty ice cream on the way!
You can’t miss the Self-Realization Fellowship’s compound once you get close. It is marked by large towers with a golden lotus flower on top – very distinctive!
The entrance to the Meditation Gardens is on K-Street. Just turn off the main street and walk along K-Street in the direction of the sea until you come to a gate on your left.
Thanks to the golden lotus tower you can’t miss the Self-Realization Fellowship Meditation Gardens
Amenities at the Meditation Gardens
There arent any facilities here. This is not a large public park – the experience is closer to visiting someone’s private garden.
What is there to see and do at the Meditation Gardens in Encinitas?
After you pass the gate you will see a white building with red roof on your left and steps to your right. The gardens are up the steps.
Once you have climbed the steps (easily done unless you have trouble walking) you can turn left or right to admire the paths, plants, and views.
The Meditation Gardens are NOT very big. Walking through will take only a couple of minutes but there are plenty of benches and seats to relax (or meditate)
The short flight of steps is bordered by beautiful plantings on both sides
In contrast to the San Diego Botanic Garden this garden does have amazing views and pretty flowers. On the other hand I did not notice any educational content and there are of course far fewer plant varieties here.
As the gardens are intended for meditation you are asked to silence your phone and keep down all noise (including talking).
This stunning garden has a wonderful Zen atmosphere and the views out to sea are stunning.
Hard to decide what is prettier – the ocean or the gardens
Kids are welcome if accompanied by adults. However, this is not the place for running or jumping and may not be of as much interest at least for younger kids.
You know your children best – if you believe they would enjoy the beautiful scenery and calm atmosphere bring them by all means.
I had an absolutely wonderful time at the Meditation Gardens. Here are some of my personal highlights:
Watching the koi karps swimming lazily through their pond is a very relaxing activity
I loved the many benches in various corners and hidden spots
The serene atmosphere and stunning sea views are well worth a visit
So which should you visit in Encinitas: San Diego Botanic Garden or the Meditation Gardens?
No question, both gardens are great and worth a visit! They are however quite different from each other.
The San Diego Botanic Garden is big, fun for kids and educational. Without a car it is a bit of a pain to get to it and there is an admission fee.
This garden has a more natural, green atmosphere. Parts of it definitely looked a bit overgrown/unkempt to my eye but that did have its own charme.
I would recommend a visit at the San Diego Botanic Garden if you:
- want to learn more about plants and gardening
- enjoy walks surrounded by nature
- have children with you
- want to eat/have a picnic
- plan on talking/socializing while enjoying nature
Overall, the San Diego Botanic Garden looks more untouched and natural
The Self-Realization Fellowship Meditation Gardens are much smaller, serene, offer beautiful views, and a wonderful Zen atmosphere. These gardens are easy to get to by public transit and they are free.
The Meditation Gardens are pretty as a picture and very well maintained. Views are spectacular but they are smaller and more for sitting than walking. They show to their best effect when not many people are visiting.
I would recommend a visit at the Meditation Gardens if you:
- are looking for stunning ocean views
- don’t want to trek all the way out to the San Diego Botanic Garden
- prefer a free activity
- are looking for a quiet place to sit and think or read
The Zen aesthetics and the location on a cliff above the Pacific are a huge plus at the Meditation Garden
On this trip I prefered the Meditation Gardens as I was in the mood for pretty flowers, ocean breezes, and some quiet contemplation.
On a different day (or if I was traveling with kids or friends) I might feel differently.
Which one do you prefer? Or which one would you like to visit?
The Meditation Gardens in Encinitas are a great place for reflections