courtesy of Shutterstock
"From tropical green houses to a multi-story cascading waterfall to manicured herb gardens, the Arboretum has something to suit everyone's FLORAL preferences. Even Hollywood's."
Not surprisingly, there was some grumbling when we told the kids we were headed to The Arboretum.
The Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanical Garden is a 127-acre outdoor paradise in Arcadia that features multiple gardens, landscapes and plants from around the world.
But what kid gets excited about looking at plants, right? They were with their cousins, so there was at least a glimmer of hope that some fun would be had.
Sure enough, the grumbling stopped and the joking began in the Madagascar Spiny Forest, an accurately-named collection of plants from the island off the east coast of Africa.
"Ethan, do you want to climb this tree?" my son Drew, 12, asked his 13-year-old cousin.
"Can we?" Ethan replied. Sure, if you want to get skewered by the inch-long spikes that surround the barrel trunk of the Seuss-like Madagascar palm.
The variety of plants and settings is what makes the Arboretum so appealing. You can stand on a wide lawn and gaze at the nearby San Gabriel Mountains. You'll find Oaxacan palms planted next to California redwoods. From tropical green houses to a multi-story cascading waterfall to manicured herb gardens, the Arboretum has something to suit everyone's floral preferences. Even Hollywood's.
The Arboretum has hosted dozens of film and television productions over the years, from 1930s "Tarzan" features to cheesy '80s TV faves. If the famous Queen Anne Cottage, a gaudy white and red Victorian set beneath palms on the edge of Baldwin Lake, looks familiar, then you might be tempted to point to the sky and say, "De plane, de plane."
While The Arboretum was a setting for "Fantasy Island," certain places look like they may have been seen in "Jurassic Park." As we passed a jungle-ish stand of bamboo and palm shrub, my sister-in-law said, "I'm still expecting a dinosaur to run out."
You're more likely, however, to see a peacock than a pterodactyl. The preening birds roam the grounds freely and make it clear that they live here while you're merely visiting.
After wandering for a couple of hours on the Arboretum's paths (Or "condensed paseos" as my sister-in-law coined them.), we left in search of a late lunch.
Quite by accident, we ended up at Rod's Grill nearby on Huntington Drive. It was like entering a time capsule, which is why it was a location for "Mad Men."
The diner boasts the turquoise booths, brick walls, flecked vinyl tile floor and all-day breakfast menu you would expect from an eatery that opened in 1957.
We walked past the long counter toward tables in the back. The six kids slid into a curving corner booth. We parents found an adjacent table.
Coincidentally, it was overlooked by a portrait of E.J. "Lucky" Baldwin, builder of the Santa Anita Racetrack, and whose spread of property eventually became the Arboretum. I took it as a good omen. If Rod's was good enough for Lucky, it must be good.
My wife will tell you, with some embarrassment, that I'm a sucker for a good cafe. With classics like omelets, meatloaf, reubens and country-fried steak on the menu, I couldn't decide what to order.
The kids, however, had no indecision. They were instantly set on waffles. Both kinds. The Strawberry Royale, topped with strawberries, whipped cream and powdered sugar, and the Peaches and Cream, with sliced peaches and, you guessed it, whipped cream.
Unlike the start of our visit to the Arboretum, there was no grumbling this time. Everyone was happy to explore this Arcadia gem and its rich array of cafe comfort classics.
Eric Harnish lives in Castaic, a veritable Mecca of cafe dining.
Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden