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2024 guide to visiting Santa Barbara’s botanic wonder, Lotusland

Thinking about visiting Lotusland? Learn how admission works, some important considerations, and how it compares to other SoCal botanic gardens.

Nestled deep in Montecito near Santa Barbara, California, Lotusland is a must-see for plant enthusiasts and nature lovers. This 37-acre botanic wonder boasts a fascinating history, a large plant collection, and an impressive garden arrangement.

Thinking about visiting soon? Here’s everything you need to know before booking that reservation (based on personal experience!).

The history behind Ganna Walska Lotusland

Lotusland was the vision of Madame Ganna Walska, a Polish opera singer and humanitarian. She bought the property in 1941. Over the next 43 years, she transformed it into a magnificent display of exotic plants and unique garden designs. Today, it’s a lasting legacy visitors enjoy from all over the world.

ganna walska lotusland

Source: Lotusland

What is Lotusland?

Lotusland is a non-profit botanic garden home to more than 3,000 plant species from around the world. With 20 distinct gardens, each showcasing a different theme or plant collection, visitors immerse themselves in the beauty and diversity of the botanical world.

lotusland desert garden on a rainy day

Source: David Potter

For example, in the Cactus Garden, you’ll find a uniquely dense jungle of towering columnar cacti that you can walk through.

The serene Japanese Garden features a tranquil pond, carefully pruned trees, and a traditional tea house. This garden evokes a sense of harmony and balance, inviting visitors to pause and reflect amidst the beauty of nature.

Source: David Potter

In the Cycad Garden, you’ll see one of the world’s most comprehensive collections of these ancient plants. These have existed since the Jurassic Period! With their striking, palm-like leaves and prehistoric appearance, cycads captivate both plant enthusiasts and curious visitors.

The whimsical Topiary Garden has trimmed shrubs and trees in various imaginative shapes and designs. From spiraling hedges to animal-shaped topiaries, this garden shows the artistry and creativity possible with living plants.

These are just a few examples of the diverse gardens in Lotusland.

Admission cost

Compared to other botanic gardens, single-visit Lotusland tickets are on the higher side*:

  • Adults: $60
  • Youth ages 3-17: $25
  • Child ages two and under: Free
  • Docent-led tours: $15 (purchased as an add-on to the entry ticket)

If you live nearby and see yourself visiting more than three times, it may be worth looking into an annual membership*:

Membership tierCostBenefits
Individual$1254 free visits, $30 per visit thereafter
Dual$2254 free visits, $30 per visit thereafter
Friends & family$3854 free visits, $30 per visit thereafter, 3 single-use guest admissions, free admission for children/grandchildren 17 and under
Advocate$600Unlimited free admission (reservations required), 3 single-use guest admissions, free admission for children/grandchildren 17 and under

*Rates are subject to change. The listed ones above reflect accurate rates at the time of writing in March 2024.

How admission works

Because Lotusland is in a residential neighborhood, you must reserve a date and time before showing up.

To ensure a smooth and remarkable experience, follow these steps:

  1. Book early: Spots can fill up weeks in advance, so reserve your preferred date and time as soon as possible. The garden is open from mid-February to mid-November.
  2. Choose your tour type: Lotusland offers self-guided tours and docent-led tours. Each time slot accommodates 30 people for self-guided tours and 30 people for docent-led tours. Self-guided tours allow you to explore at your own pace, while docent-led tours provide an in-depth experience where you’ll learn more about the plants and the garden’s history.
  3. Plan for the time limit: Unlike other botanic gardens, Lotusland has a strict 2-hour time limit for all visitors. If you choose the tour, you won’t have time to explore the garden freely.
  4. Arrange for transportation: Parking is free for one car per reservation. Extra cars are subject to a $25 fee based on availability.

Refund policy and some important considerations

Lotusland allows cancellations and rescheduling up to 48 hours before your scheduled visit. But it doesn’t refund last-minute cancellations due to unforeseen weather changes — the garden operates rain or shine.

Author’s tip: Traveling from out of town? Leave early to plan for traffic. Arrive 15 minutes early to enter before it closes the gate to late arrivals.

Accommodations near Lotusland

Planning on staying overnight in Santa Barbara?

Here are some great hotel options near Lotusland:

Montecito Inn

Address: 1295 Coast Village Rd, Santa Barbara, CA 93108

Phone number: 805-969-7854

Charlie Chaplin built this chic, Spanish-style hotel in 1928. Montecito Inn is conveniently situated near many of Santa Barbara’s top attractions. Besides Lotusland, guests enjoy the hotel’s proximity to the Santa Barbara Zoo, Stearns Wharf, and the historic Old Mission Santa Barbara.

Distance from LotuslandNightly rate*Star ratingCheck-in/out time
1.8 miles$1424-star4 pm / 12 pm

Amenities include free wi-fi, an outdoor pool and hot tub, a fitness center, an on-site restaurant, and parking (fee applies). This hotel is pet-friendly with a $150 one-time fee for each pet you bring.

Hideaway Santa Barbara, A Kirkwood Collection Hotel

Address: 420 W Montecito St, Santa Barbara, CA 93101

Phone number: 805-965-2333

Located on a vibrant tree-lined street, Hideaway Santa Barbara offers easy access to fun places like Lotusland, Stearns Wharf, and Leadbetter Beach.

Distance from LotuslandNightly rate*Star ratingCheck-in/out time
3.2 miles$1264-star4 pm / 11 am

Amenities include free breakfast, parking, and wi-fi. It’s also a smoke-free property and very kid-friendly. Unfortunately, pets aren’t welcome at Hideaway Santa Barbara.

Franciscan Inn

Address: 109 Bath St, Santa Barbara, CA 93101

Phone number: 805-963-8845

My family stayed at the charming Franciscan Inn located about five and a half miles from Lotusland. The hotel’s oceanfront neighborhood is perfect if you want a relaxing getaway with a wide beach, the historic Stearns Wharf pier, an aquarium, and a maritime museum all within easy reach.

Distance from LotuslandNightly rate*Star ratingCheck-in/out time
5.4 miles$1443-star4 pm / 12 pm

Although Franciscan Inn doesn’t offer certain amenities like free breakfast or a fitness center, we enjoyed our stay. The room was clean and comfortable, and the hotel’s pet-friendly policy was a major plus. We loved that it only charged a $75 fee for our entire 3-night stay with two pugs, unlike other hotels that charge per dog, per night. Free parking and wi-fi are also included in the nightly rate.

Besides being close to Lotusland, Franciscan Inn is central to many other Santa Barbara highlights. We loved exploring the pier, downtown, and enjoying amazing food without driving if we didn’t want to. The surrounding neighborhood was charming and quiet, perfect for an evening stroll with the pups.

*Rates are subject to change depending on the time of year you visit. The listed ones above reflect accurate rates at the time of writing in March 2024.

When is the best time to visit Lotusland?

To have the best Lotusland experience, visit during clear, sunny weather. Santa Barbara can experience unexpected rainfall, particularly during winter.

I went with my family in early March. At the time of reserving our slots, there was no forecasted rain. To our surprise, it ended up pouring so hard during the two hours we were there. Needless to say, it put a huge damper on our visit.

Author’s tip: Choose a time of year when rain is less likely. You want to make the most of the $60 admission cost and soak in all the garden’s beauty (rather than be soaked)!

Source: David Potter

How Lotusland compares with other Southern California botanic gardens

Curious how Lotusland stacks up against other popular botanic gardens in Southern California? I was, too.

Here are some quick comparisons:

Lotusland vs. Huntington Gardens

Both are stunning and have themed gardens. But Lotusland offers a more intimate experience with unique and densely planted gardens. Huntington Gardens in Pasadena is larger with a broader range of gardens, art collections, and architecture.

SoCal-native cacti and euphorbia enthusiast and photographer, David Potter shared, “I could spend well over two hours at most of the individual gardens at The Huntington. The desert garden has an iconic section of decades-old golden barrel cacti with mammillarias and columnar cacti, and large specimen plants like dioscorea elephantipes and boojum trees.”

Huntington’s cost of entry for adults is $25 to $29 depending on the time of year. Kids ages 4-11 get in for $13 no matter the time of year, and children under age four get in for free.

huntington gardens in los angeles

Source: David Potter

Lotusland vs. Moorten Botanical Garden

Moorten Botanical Garden in South Palm Springs is a small family-owned garden that takes 20 to 30 minutes to walk through. As a Palm Springs resident, Potter explained, “It’s a no-brainer visit if you’re passing through the Coachella Valley to see its famous cactarium.”

The best part? It only costs $5 to enter — and you get to see desert tortoises!

In contrast, Lotusland provides a much more diverse and immersive experience with its wide variety of plant collections and imaginative garden designs.

Lotusland vs. San Diego Botanic Garden

While Lotusland is known for its densely packed gardens and artistic design, San Diego Botanic Garden in Encinitas is larger and showcases a mix of native and exotic plants.

Plant enthusiasts like Potter appreciate its specialized gardens: “To me, SD Botanic Garden is most notable for its Dragon Tree Grove and impressively-sized trees from Australia like the bottle tree. The Bamboo Garden is also quite expansive compared to other gardens.”

San Diego Botanic Garden charges only $18 per adult and $10 per youth ages 3-17 for general admission. Little ones under three years old get in for free.

Source: David Potter

Is Lotusland worth the money?

At $60 per adult ticket, Lotusland is significantly more expensive than other botanic gardens in Southern California. But it’s a beautiful garden worth seeing at least once, especially if you’re visiting Santa Barbara. The key is to plan your visit, double-check the weather forecast, and choose a time of year when rain is less likely to fall unexpectedly.

During our visit in March, we were hit with a sudden, massive downpour that lasted the entire two hours. This was frustrating because the forecast didn’t show any chance of rain when we made the reservation. Two days before, the forecast showed a low chance of rain but we didn’t expect it to pour as hard as it did. Our shoes got soaked within 30 minutes of arrival and my plant-enthusiast boyfriend couldn’t take the photos he’d hoped to capture.

Due to this unfortunate experience, we felt Lotusland wasn’t worth the steep total admission cost of $120. Had the weather been free of rain, we would’ve really enjoyed this garden.

What visitors are saying

Lotusland has earned a stellar reputation among visitors, with 475 reviews on Tripadvisor rounding out to an impressive 4.5-star rating. The garden is also ranked as the #1 attraction out of 12 things to do in Montecito.

As with any attraction, the garden has received positive and negative reviews from guests.

For example, MCK visited in September 2018. They gave Lotusland a 4-star review because they enjoyed touring with a docent, despite the steep admission cost:

“Absolutely gorgeous, breathtaking, though pricey, but my friend and I thought it was worth the cost. 37 acres, 21 gardens (though one of my desired gardens to see was closed for renovation: Japanese Garden), and I was informed the day I bought my tickets, so I did have an option not to go. We went on the tour. Our Docent’s passionate knowledge about Ganna Walska herself, the gardens, and the history was presented to our group of 10. Honestly, if I lived in SB or near SB I would join the membership, so I could go at different times of the season to see all the different vegetation changes.

The Saturday we went in mid-Sept, the weather was beautiful, not too hot and no rain or clouds. A lot of the tour is shaded, but there are some areas where it can get hot and there is no shade. Wear comfortable shoes, there is a lot of walking.”

While most visitors have wonderful experiences at Lotusland, some have expressed concerns or disappointment.

For example, a visitor going by the name “ihatescorpions” from Arizona visited in May 2023. They gave Lotusland a 2-star review because of their subpar tour experience and the garden’s lack of flexibility:

“The property is beautiful but we regretted booking the tour. Our docent had a very soft quiet voice making it difficult to hear. We did not go to the topiary garden and when we asked if we would be going, the docent replied, “Oh, did we miss that? I’m sorry”. We asked if we could leave the tour and go view it ourselves and we were told that we must stay with the group and be escorted to the exit by the docent. It is too bad that they do not allow at least 30 minutes for self-exploration when you book the tour. $50 is too much to charge for a tour that does not include all the gardens.”

Source: David Potter

Should you visit Lotusland?

For plant enthusiasts and seasoned horticulturalists, the $60 adult ticket price may be worth it for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Santa Barbara locals might consider an annual membership, which pays for itself after three visits. After that, it’s only $30 per visit.

If you’re like me and not particularly passionate about plants and simply want a nice garden to stroll through, you may not appreciate all that Lotusland has to offer at a steep price. In this case, more affordable options like Huntington Gardens or San Diego Botanic Garden may be better.

Frequently asked questions

Is photography allowed at Lotusland?

You can take personal, non-commercial photos at Lotusland. But drones and professional photoshoots aren’t allowed without permission from the garden.

Is Lotusland pet-friendly?

No, you can’t bring your pets to Lotusland, but service animals are welcome. The staff will turn away visitors who bring pets, with no option to refund or reschedule.

Is Lotusland open year-round?

No, Lotusland is only open from mid-February to mid-November. It’s not a place to visit last minute because advanced reservations are non-negotiable.

Can I get married at Lotusland?

Yes, it’s possible to get married at Lotusland (and host other special events). Contact its Events department at 805-969-3767, ext. 127 for more information and pricing.

How long is a Lotusland docent tour?

Docent-led tours at Lotusland last two hours. This is the entire duration of your visit. Buy a regular ticket without the tour if you wish to explore the garden at your own pace.

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