Explore San Diego: Alta Vista Botanical Garden

SAN DIEGO -- Thirteen acres filled with something to see and do for people of all ages. Moms know about this special place. Children love it. Yet it’s still one of San Diego’s best kept secrets.

Alta Vista, near downtown Vista, is different than other botanical gardens in town.

“It’s not as polished, it’s a little more wild,” says Naomi Stein, one of the volunteers and board members who tends to the gardens.

It’s a forest in the city that marries music with nature and art. One of the first attractions is an acoustic garden build with kids in mind. Everything is their size – the amadinda, chime wall, recycled drums and the centerpiece, the piano pebble chime. All of it designed for children to play and learn.

“Children can spend at least an hour or two in this garden alone,” Stein says.

And when they get tired of being hands on with instruments, they can follow the path to the children’s garden where they can learn about plants, smelling, plucking and observing in a kid-sized leafy enclave.

A few steps away is the showstopper of the garden. A baby dragon sculpture, which is a miniature version of the famous serpent in Borrego Springs, both made by the same artist and one that we’ve featured in an earlier Explore San Diego story.

As you follow the trail, the jungle turns into the desert, where things get pre-historic.

“Cykads are some of the oldest plants on our planets…they were around actually during the dinosaur age,” says Stein. Naturally, these rare plants are paired with metal sculptures of dinosaurs.

For more than three decades, this garden bloomed for one purpose – to educate, enlighten and inspire. The motto here is "see it, smell it and touch it."

Dogs are welcome on a lease, picnic space is plentiful and there’s even a rose garden to host weddings.

“We just want people to come and enjoy our gardens and we want to be on the map. We don’t want to be the best kept secret,” says Stein.

Google Map for coordinates 33.210362 by -117.219357.

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