The flavors of the major cities in California are so amazingly different. San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco—all unique in appearance. Santa Barbara, only two hours from Los Angeles, showcases not only the appealing variety of architecture in California: Spanish, craftsman, Victorian—but the best of land and sea as well. An exit off the 101 will take you winding up the hills, past a dazzling array of beautiful homes on your way to what would be a dream of a back yard: The Santa Barbara Botanical Garden.

Santa Barbara Butterfly

What a place this is, tucked away in the hills, far from the bustle of the city yet nestled safely within reach of civilization. We have happily visited the botanical garden several times over the years, enjoying the fresh air, the cold shadows of the grand redwoods, and the quiet hum of nature. This year we managed to be at the front gate in time for an official tour of the gardens, lead by an Englishman who shared his enthusiasm for the horticultural variety in the gardens and took our group across the street to a part of the garden we never knew existed. We hiked up a small hill through all sorts of flowers and plants, carefully labeled with little placards and commented upon as we passed by. The view from the top was breathtaking.

“Stand and contemplate the wondrous works of G-d.” (Job 37:14) Everywhere one looks is the beauty of the Creation. It isn’t hard to take pretty pictures in this garden. While I don’t think we’ve visited in the winter, the colors in the spring and summer are delightful, especially against the backdrop of the distant hills and the clear blue sky above. There are long and short paths around the gardens, to saunter along and drink in the delicious, exulted, vibrant green beverage of life. And there is much to experience, from the “fried egg flowers” (matilija poppy), to the beavertail cactus, to the hummingbirds diving and dashing between the blossoms.

It certainly isn’t necessary to have a background in horticulture to appreciate the environment, but the gardens are very informative for those who are interested in learning more. There are different themes within the garden including the Redwood forest (the oldest trees were planted in 1926 and are already quite big), the meadow section, and even a home demonstration garden. There are also some extensive paths along the creek and through the woods for those in search of a hearty nature walk.

When evaluating the feasibility of this outing, please note that there are a few options which make it more accessible than you might think. Some of the paths through the gardens are paved for visitors in wheelchairs or strollers. We carried the baby in a baby backpack, which is a piece of hiking equipment that is sure coming in handy for the kind of off-roading I’m willing to do (especially when I’m not the one wearing the backpack.) Also, there is a nice arrangement of picnic tables and chairs next to the retail nursery where we ate our bag lunches.

On our way out, we stopped in the gift shop and found some nice nature oriented gifts, then wended our way back down the hill, past the beautiful homes and onto the highway.

It was a good day trip.

Notes:

Santa Barbara Botanical Garden: 1212 Mission Canyon Road, Santa Barbara, phone: 805-682-4726, www.sbbg.org

P.S. Don’t forget: your scavenger hunt entry (Jewish Life, June 2007) must be received by Aug. 1, 2007.