Ruth Bancroft Garden in Walnut Creek will transport you to the desert. This botanical garden is small but mighty, with an amazing collection of succulents, cacti, and other low-water plants on its grounds. It’s a fun place to visit year-round to explore the beautiful and unusual plants that can live in a drought-tolerant setting. If your children need to sweeten the deal, Ruth Bancroft is near one of our favorite playgrounds.
Kid-Friendly Scavenger Hunt
When purchasing your tickets, ask for a children’s Bingo card. The card is a mix of Bingo and scavenger hunt—find three of the pictured plants in a row and your kids will win a small prize. The garden has a series of paths to wander down which keeps the scavenger hunt exciting for little ones. You’ll pass by spiky cacti, flowering aloe plants, and towering palm trees.
My kids were super pumped to participate in the scavenger hunt and ended up finding all the pictured items. There are multiple versions of the game to keep things fresh for each visit.
Pro tip: Remind your kids to look and not touch because many plants have spikes.
Seasonal Blooms & Koi Pond
The garden provides visitors with helpful “What’s in Bloom” guides. The plants come from all across the globe, so something is always in bloom. We like to play an I Spy color game when visiting because the flowers and plants span the color spectrum. There are also plenty of opportunities to spot pollinators.
In addition to flowers, there are many trees with low branches that are perfect for playing house or hide-and-seek. Be sure to spend some time searching for fish at the Koi Pond. The setting is very tranquil.
Events for Families
During the winter, families can enjoy a dazzling light show called Garden d’Lights. The weeks-long display features colorful lights that spark and shine throughout the garden. It’s a good introduction to holiday light displays if you’re looking to bring your child to a smaller event.
In the past, the garden hosted nature-themed storytimes and crafting workshops for young children. These events appear to be on hold, and we hope they return soon.
The Bottom Line on Ruth Bancroft Garden
The Ruth Bancroft Garden is worth a visit if your family enjoys botanical gardens, gardening, or exploring new outdoor spaces. It’s about a thirty-minute drive from Berkeley and offers a fun escape. The garden itself is small, especially compared to other local botanical gardens. However, the dense collection of plants and beautiful grounds keep visitors engaged. There are thousands of different plant species, ranging from familiar to other-worldly. Don’t miss the on-site nursery to bring one of the unique plants home.
The garden makes an effort to welcome families and delivers. My family typically spends just over an hour touring the grounds each visit, longer if we plan to picnic in the garden. My kids (2 and 5) like to make at least two rounds through the garden, admire the mosaic art displays, and spend lots of time at the pond. It’s an easy add-on destination when visiting Heather Farm Park and Playground, or worthy of a special trip if grandma is in town.
About Membership to Ruth Bancroft Garden
If your family enjoys outings to gardens, a dual membership with Ruth Bancroft is a good value compared to memberships offered by other Bay Area botanic gardens. Members enjoy special pricing perks, members-only events, and free access to hundreds of AHS botanical gardens throughout North America, including UC Berkeley Botanical Garden, San Francisco Botanical Garden, and the Conservatory of Flowers in San Francisco.
Pro tip: If you’re on the fence about a membership, consider taking advantage of a free pass through the Discover & Go program.
Plan Your Visit to Ruth Bancroft Garden
Location: 1552 Bancroft Road, Walnut Creek
Hours: Tuesday through Sunday, Open 9 am – 4 pm (last garden admission at 3:15 pm), Closed Monday
Cost: Adults $12, Seniors (65+)/Students/Active Military with ID $10; Children (5-17: $5; Entry for children 4 and younger is Free
Parking: Free parking is available at the main entrance
Covid-19: Masks for ages 2+ for indoor settings
Stroller Friendly: Yes, if using a jogging stroller or stroller that can handle pebble or gravel pathways.
Food: Bring your own lunch or snacks to enjoy at tables scattered throughout the garden on a first-come, first-served basis.
Have you been to the Ruth Bancroft Garden?