Peacocks, Plants, Ponds & Pops
Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden – Arcadia
Another slice of local heaven is located within 15 minutes of our house, a spot that not only contains beautiful plants and flowers, but, during the summer, becomes an incredible venue that provides music (along with accompanying peafowl) in a magical setting (more on that later).
The Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden is basically a 127-acre museum located across the street from the Santa Anita Racetrack in Arcadia, a city just east of Pasadena. It’s home to plant collections from all over the world, including many rare and endangered species, while also serving as an animal sanctuary, including a bunch of loud and beautiful peafowl, which we got to see up close and personal this morning. These peacocks (male) were strutting their stuff trying to get the peahens’ (females) attention.
The Arboretum’s peafowl that roam the grounds are descendants of a pair imported by “Lucky” Baldwin (more on him later) from India in the 1880’s. As stated, these peacocks are as loud as they are beautiful (many of the arboretum’s neighbors complain about the noise, but sorry folks, these peafowl were here long before you arrived).
We walked the grounds for about two hours, although you could spend a lot more time here. I’ll just mention some of the highlights we really enjoyed. The Tropical Greenhouse contains orchids and other tropical plants in a jungle-like setting. This orchid collection contains over 1,700 species making it one of the largest species collections of orchids in the world. We also walked along the path through what we believe was Spanish moss.
To get to our next destination we had to walk through Australia and Africa, which would be a hell of a trick in real life. The Arboretum has a very peaceful vibe, and the smells that emanate from the plant life enhance the experience.
Next stop was the Tule Pond, home to birds, fish, wood ducks and turtles. Tule Pond and Baldwin Lake (across the paved road) are the only natural water features in the Arboretum. Tule Pond was named for the tule (giant sedge) growing along its banks.
These were used by the Tonga people for construction of their thatched homes. Near the pond are several willows which were important for food and shelter. The Indians chewed on the inner willow bark or leaves, which relieved their aches and pains. The chemical that made these people feel better was isolated, and is the active ingredient in aspirin. We were more interested in the ducks and the beauty this morning.
There was a very cool tree. I have no idea what it was, but it was very photogenic.
Next, we ran into the Goose family, and Mr. Goose and Mother Goose were very protective of their children, so Tracy and I left before one of them pecked our eyes out.
Meyberg Waterfall was our next stop. The brochure states that every hour 48,000 gallons of water cascades into the pool, where it is then recycled back to the top of the falls. The koi here are huge. They are members of the carp family and related to goldfish (I think on their mother’s side). The steps to the right of the waterfall lead to Tallac Knoll, where there are some spectacular views of the Arboretum and the San Gabriel mountains.
Since it was a rather hazy day at this point, we passed on this hike, because we were on our way to the Coach Barn and Queen Anne Cottage, but it does give us a good reason to return. We saw some Day Lilies with a statue in the center begging me to take its picture.
Elias Jackson “Lucky” Baldwin was a prominent California businessman and investor in the 1800s. He generated most of his wealth through savvy and lucky mining investments (thus “Lucky” Baldwin). He accumulated large landholdings of more than 60,000 acres in Southern California, where the communities of Arcadia and Monrovia are now located.
As you can see above in the top right photo, there have been numerous motion pictures and television shows filmed at the Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden. One of the shows that most people remember is Fantasy Island, which starred Ricardo Montalbán and Hervé Villechaize. Mr. Roarke (Montalbán) greeted his guests at the Queen Anne Cottage.
On the way to the cottage we stopped at the Rose Garden. Most of the roses had already received their first cutting, but it’s still a serene spot to picnic or perhaps just sit back, relax and enjoy the solitude.
The Queen Anne Cottage was built in 1885-86 as a honeymoon gift for Lucky’s fourth wife, 16-year-old Lillie Bennett (he was “Lucky” he didn’t get arrested for that). This marriage did not last (shocking) and it was soon converted by Baldwin into a memorial to his third wife, Jennie Dexter, who had died in 1881. A stained glass portrait of Jennie can be seen on the front door.
The cottage (the designation “Queen Anne” was added in later years in reference to its architectural style) was the Santa Anita Ranch guest house. Friends, relatives, and business associates of Lucky Baldwin, including stars from the Baldwin Theater in San Francisco, loved to visit up until his death in 1909.
Cooking, dining facilities, and Baldwin’s personal quarters were located in a modernized eight-room version of the old adobe house (which is closed for renovation) found on the property at the time of purchase (1875). The stained glass windows, marble fireplaces, and black walnut doors are all original features of the cottage as are the bathroom fixtures and the exterior marble walkway (every once in a while, they open up the house to the public).
When we left the house, I was sure I heard Tattoo scream, “The plane! The plane!”
There was more beautiful scenery as we were leaving, and the day had gotten so hot that we ran into a couple of ducks getting a suntan by the fountain.
We also scoped out the area where the Pasadena Pops have their summer concert series.
By the way, if you don’t want to walk like we did, there are trams that depart outside the ticket office throughout the day.
For visitors to Southern California, or if you’re just plain locals like us, the Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden is a most worthwhile place to visit .
During the summer months the Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden is also a site where you can listen to beautiful music. It is the home for the Pasadena Pops Summer Concert Series, which had, until 2012, performed at Descanso Gardens in La Cañada. Michael Feinstein is the conductor. He took the reigns following the death of the previous conductor, Marvin Hamlisch. These concerts are wonderful, and we now have had season tickets for the past couple of years
This is a great place to bring your own food and wine (and also a thermos of margaritas like we did on a hot summer evening), or you can order catered meals. There are also food trucks on the premises.
You can either sit at reserved tables or buy less expensive tickets and picnic on the lawn (as seen above).
We opted for a table that seated six, and our friends Lenny and Susan joined us for a dinner that consisted of Caprese salad, barbecued tri-tip (that I grilled that afternoon at home), an orzo/corn salad, all topped off with mixed berries in Cassis and biscotti (oh, and a little Prosecco and vino rosso to wash it all down…with the margaritas).
Last night’s concert featured Feinstein’s American Songbook. From An American in Paris Overture to a Benny Goodman Medley to guest stars singing such classics as Bewitched, Bothered & Bewildered, you could not ask for better entertainment. Sometimes, off in the distance, the peacocks join in on harmony, which only adds to the evening’s ambiance.
The concert lasted from 7:30 until 10:00 p.m. Gates open at 5:30. Our table was nearer to the back, and tickets were $53 each. Prices range from $88 at the front tables to $20 if you want to picnic on the lawn. Parking is $10 at the Arboretum (if purchased in advance), but the best way to park is at the nearby Westfield Santa Anita Mall (free), and then a shuttle bus takes you the three-minute drive back to the Arboretum. There is also a drop-off spot at the Arboretum where your party can unload the coolers and picnic baskets before you go park at the mall. This event is so well organized, I don’t think I’ll ever hassle with the terrible parking at the Hollywood Bowl again. If you’re in the area during the summer months, the Pasadena Pops Summer Concert Series at the Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden is something you should not miss!!
Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden
301 N Baldwin Avenue
Arcadia, CA 91007
Hours: 9:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
Cost: Adults: $9 • Students/Seniors $6 • Children 5-12: $3 • Under 5: Free
Pasadena Pops Tickets