TRAVEL

4 places to explore redwoods in Southern California

Big trees await forest fans at these SoCal redwood oases

Carbon Canyon Redwoods
Carbon Canyon Regional Park. Flickr photo by John Watson.

When I first moved to Los Angeles from my small town, I imagined a towering cityscape more than I ever imagined towering trees. And yet, it was only after moving to this city of sprawling concrete, that I found myself staring up at the tallest species of trees in the world not even a 15-minute drive from my apartment.

Map of featured redwood parks in Southern California.
Map of featured redwood parks in Southern California. Click to enlarge.

Planted outside of their native range, these coast redwood groves in Southern California haven’t reached the heights of their siblings up north, but they have still found ways to thrive in the hot, dry climate tucked into damp hillsides or in community parks and gardens.

I often get bogged down with thoughts that I need to hike the hardest path or go the longest distance to see the most beautiful things, but sometimes it’s important to remember that there’s a world just outside your door. My journey into my own backyard—the surrounding Los Angeles area—opened my eyes again. I took a moment to slow down, breathe the moment in, and lay my palm against the thick trunk of a redwood. I had everything I needed right here.


Descanso Gardens

LA CAÑADA FLINTRIDGE | Ancient Forest

Descano Gardens
Redwoods are a centerpiece in Descanso Gardens’ Ancient Forest, teeming with other prehistoric plant species from the age of dinosaurs.

Descanso Gardens sits on 150 acres of cultivated and wild land nestled into a natural bowl by surrounding mountains. In the Ancient Forest section of the garden, you can find a grove of coast redwoods surrounded by prehistoric plant species that date back to the age of the dinosaurs. With coast redwoods themselves going back 200 million years, stepping into this garden feels like transporting yourself back in time. As the lush ferns sway below, take a rest on one of the benches and gaze up at the towering redwoods. This quiet, peaceful spot may be the best way to feel like you’re in Jurassic Park—without the Velociraptors.


Griffith Park

LOS ANGELES | Fern Dell and Cedar Grove

A woman wearing a backpack smiling with her hand on the trunk of a redwood tree.
Christin Campbell meets a sizable coast redwood in Fern Dell in LA’s Griffith Park. Photo by Christin Campbell.

Griffith Park is well-known to LA residents, but not many realize that shady redwoods oases rest in the heart of the city. When I made the short drive to Fern Dell on a sunny morning, I wasn’t sure what to expect. So much of my Los Angeles hiking experience has been beneath the baking sun. But the canopies of Fern Dell and Cedar Grove were a cool surprise.

Fern Dell Nature Trail, less than a mile long, follows a tinkling stream. The coast redwoods here have grown tall, and verdant vegetation has flourished in the shade in the southern part of the park. Although Fern Dell can get busy heading toward the popular Griffith Observatory, a couple miles east, Cedar Grove is more of a hidden gem and local favorite. Here you’ll find picnic tables, benches, and an optional hike up to Vista View Point that rewards visitors with a sweeping city view of downtown Los Angeles, Hollywood, and the Griffith Observatory.


Carbon Canyon Regional Park

BREA | Redwood Grove

Wooden log fencing  borders both sides of a trail into a sunny redwoods grove.
Carbon Canyon Regional Park features Orange County’s only redwood grove. Flickr photo by Ron Reiring.

Within the 124-acre Carbon Canyon Regional Park you’ll find ball fields, picnic areas, bike trails, and Orange County’s only redwood grove. The hike through this 3-acre grove is fairly flat and just over a mile, which makes it the perfect family outing, but I wondered if it would be worth my 35-minute drive from Los Angeles. On this sweltering day, I was glad for the temperature drop under the canopy. Heading down the soft path cushioned with redwood needles, the shade provided a respite for a variety of native plants, fungi, and wildlife. A desert cottontail rabbit scurried nearby, and my earlier skepticism melted away as I became immersed in this magical grove filled with life.


Santa Barbara Botanic Garden

SANTA BARBARA | Redwood Section

A redwood bench offers seating to enjoy the surrounding redwood grove.
Redwoods rise from Mission Canyon in Santa Barbara Botanic Garden. Photo by Christin Campbell.

I took the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara to visit the coast redwood grove at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden. Out of my train window, waves crashed against the coastline, preparing me for a day spent taking in the natural world.

This 78-acre botanic garden focuses exclusively on California native plants organized into 11 sections. The redwoods are some of the oldest and most popular plants at the garden. Planted in Mission Canyon nearly a century ago, the tallest tree reaches 160 feet. Their trunks were larger than I expected, the nearby Mission Dam giving these trees a cool spot to flourish into the giants they are today. Sitting on a bench surrounded by the great trees, birds twittered overhead, and I watched the world slow, remembering that sometimes it’s the simple things that make a profound experience.

 

Read more highlights from the Spring-Summer 2024 Edition online.

About the author

Christin Campbell is a writer, creator, and avid hiker who has solo-adventured her way through parks around the world. She catalogs her travels through photography, poetry, and non-fiction, and currently lives in Los Angeles.

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