When a heat wave gets to be too much in Southern California, it might seem like there aren't too many places to escape the rising temperatures — except the indoors.
But sometimes, all you need is just a little shade.
And that's exactly what you can find offered by our official California state tree, the coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens).
It's the tallest tree on Earth!
Coast redwoods are cousins of the giant sequoias (Sequoiadendron giganteum) found in Sequoia National Park and points farther north — but this species can actually grow taller than the "giant" ones.
The only problem? Coast (or "coastal") redwood trees aren't native to most parts of SoCal. And because they're downright thirsty — and there's just less water to drink up in this region — our coast redwood trees don't always grow to their fullest potential.
But that doesn't make these red-trunked wonders any less wondrous.
If you're in Southern California, here are six fantastic places where you can enjoy these monumental trees a little closer to home — from the Central Coast to North Orange County and beyond.
1. Redwood Grove, Carbon Canyon Regional Park, Yorba Linda
Orange County's only grove of redwood trees can be found on three acres of the undeveloped portion of Carbon Canyon Regional Park. How did they get there? Well, funny enough, a local bank was giving away redwood seedlings in 1970 to anyone who opened a new account— and when the promotion ended, it gave the overstock to Orange County. The seedlings were planted as part of the park's opening in 1975.
You can get to the redwoods from the main vehicular entrance off Carbon Canyon Road in the town of Brea (for a fee), pulling into the south lot near the volleyball courts and walking the rest of the way — but construction projects have seriously curtailed available parking spots this summer.
Fortunately, you can "backdoor" your way into the grove by parking your car on one of the neighborhood streets near the intersection of Valley View Circle and Red Pine Road in Yorba Linda. There, you'll find the trailhead to the Redwood Grove Trail. Follow the nice dirt path for about five minutes until you reach a break in the white fence on your right. Then, follow the steep dirt trail on your right down to the grove.
2. Ancient Forest, Descanso Gardens, La Cañada Flintridge
Descanso Gardens may be most famous for its world-class camellia collection — but the redwood trees in its Ancient Forest offer a welcome respite from the sun on a hot day and an arboreal anachronism in Southern California. After all, the coast redwood just wasn't made for such a hot and dry climate!
The Ancient Forest was created in 2015, but the redwoods were planted way before that — and a 2011 plan was hatched to replace the already-mature trees with species that were more drought-tolerant, in order to save water. But the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted to spare them and preserve them in place. They're now surrounded by drought-friendly cycads — a prehistoric plant group dating back as far as the Jurassic Period and Pangaea. They are known today as the oldest living seed plants.
To find the Ancient Forest, head towards the Japanese Garden from the main entrance. The redwoods stand just beyond the Japanese teahouse and minka, between the Lilac Garden and Camellia Forest. If you hit the Hilltop Gardens and the Boddy House, you've gone too far. You can find a digital version of the most updated map here.
Open weekdays 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. and weekends 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. through July 31. For current admission fees or to purchase advance tickets or memberships, click here. For the Garden Code of Conduct, click here.
3. Soroptimist's Redwood Grove, Ganesha Park, Pomona
Located on the corner of McKinley Avenue and Canyon Way in Pomona — directly across from the main entrance to Fairplex, home of the Los Angeles County Fair — you'll find the Soroptimist's Redwood Grove. It was created in 1971 to mark the 50th anniversary of the founding of Soroptimist International, a volunteer-run non-profit devoted to empowering girls and women through education (though the Pomona/Claremont chapter was created later, in 1946).
The group first planted 50 coast redwood trees — one for each year — and then returned in 1976 to plant 200 more redwoods for the country's bicentennial celebration. It continues to maintain the grove in partnership with the City of Pomona government.
Unfortunately, not all coast redwoods survive the heat and drought of Southern California — and particularly the Pomona Valley — but fortunately, some of the redwood trees that have perished there have since been reincarnated as 13 wood sculptures carved by John Mahoney. They were placed throughout Ganesha Park in 2016, starting with the wood-carved grizzly bear at the entrance by the surface parking lot.
Open daily sunrise to sunset. Free admission and parking.
4. Redwood Forest, Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, Santa Barbara
According to fossil evidence, coast redwood trees used to grow in Santa Barbara County — but that was several thousand years ago. Now, the best place to find them is in the Redwood Section of Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, which is part of the garden's original 13 acres (when it was still known as the Blaksley Botanic Garden).
The entire botanic garden is located in Mission Canyon — and the trees were planted (starting in 1926 and continuing into the 1930s) in the floodplain of Mission Creek. Right next to there is the circa 1806 Mission Dam and Aqueduct, which provided water to the Santa Barbara Mission, about a mile and a half downstream. This extant water source probably helped these redwoods survive the devastating 2009 Jesusita Fire.
Open daily 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., with last admission at 5:30 p.m. (Members-only hour occurs daily from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m.) Dogs on leash are welcome to enter with gratis admission. For garden etiquette and safety advisories, click here. For COVID-19 protocols and other guidelines for visitors, click here.
5. Griffith Park, Los Angeles
Cedar Grove is surprisingly wooded and one of the shadiest places in the entire park, which makes it a great summertime destination. Most directions place it off of Vista Del Valle Drive, a paved road that's closed to thru traffic in this particular section.
Instead, you can pretty much get direct access to the redwood grove from the east side of North Commonwealth Avenue — past the stone pillars marking the park entrance and just before the fork with Commonwealth Canyon Drive. Look for a break in the wooden fence on the right and follow the dirt path. Extremely limited street parking is available on Commonwealth and Dundee Drive — but because this is a residential neighborhood, please be respectful of the neighbors.
Fern Dell is one of the easiest areas to access in Griffith Park — and it delivers a welcome respite from the sun and heat, too. It's one of the lushest botanical destinations you'll find for miles and miles. This shady canyon with a year-round stream was transformed in 1914 into a rustic fern garden and grotto with terraced pools, bridges and faux bois railings.
To find the redwoods, start at the bottom of the dell and walk along the Fern Dell Nature Trail on the east side of the road, starting from behind the bear statue and working your way up the hill. The Los Angeles chapter of the women's club Soroptimist International has been meeting in Fern Dell for much of its nearly 100-year history — having dedicated the Soroptimist Walk and Grove in 1932 and planted a redwood seedling here in 1947. Bring a snack to enjoy in the terraced picnic area, also installed by the Soroptimist L.A. chapter, which continues to volunteer for the maintenance and restoration of Fern Dell.
6. Wayfarers Chapel, Rancho Palos Verdes
Sometimes called the "glass church," Lloyd Wright's Wayfarers Chapel on the Palos Verdes Peninsula is surrounded by a grove of mature coast redwood trees — earning it another nickname, the "tree chapel." In fact, the trees are as much a part of the design of this nationally landmarked site as the glass, wood, concrete and fieldstone used to construct the building.
Wright has said that a few years before he received this commission, he'd been inspired by the cathedral-like redwood trees in the Santa Cruz area — and that he'd decided to bring that same experience of a sacred sanctuary to this hilltop chapel site, which overlooks Portuguese Bend.
You're welcome to visit Wayfarers Chapel even if you don't celebrate its religion of Swedenborgianism, as the church was intended as a kind of rest stop for wanderers to meditate and experience nature. Enjoy the trees' towering majesty while wandering the grounds or taking a seat inside and enjoying 360-degree views through enormous plate-glass windows. Listen to the bells of the Chapel Carillon, calling all wanderers from its tower.
Grounds open daily 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. As of July 1, 2021, the Visitors Center has reopened to the public Thursdays through Sundays. Chapel is open for public view for 30 minutes each odd hour (between wedding ceremonies) and for 10 a.m. Sunday Worship service.