Planning your visit
Due to a perfect climate for succulents and a surging demand, San Diego county has a wealth of succulent specialty nurseries, each with its own distinct character. Land is more affordable away from coastal and urban areas, so large nurseries tend to be inland and in North County.
When visiting a large nursery, wear sun protection and closed-toed walking shoes. Call first before making a long drive; some nurseries close during heat spells, high winds or rainy weather. Also, if it says "by appointment only" and you don't call first...well...you may be greeted by barking dogs and a locked gate.
Hours and days of operation can change, so visit the websites or Facebook pages for up-to-date info. If I've done a video or article about the destination, click to learn more. Also, I occasionally escort out-of-area visitors or those with minimal time and specific interests to local succulent destinations; if this would be helpful to you, email me.
If you're unable to transport plants and the nursery isn't set up for shipping, ship them to yourself as cuttings (no soil) for next-day delivery. Depending on the destination, plants may require a phytosanitary certificate.
Please tell the nursery manager or owner that Debra sent you!
In or near downtown San Diego:
-- Public garden: Along the canyon east of Balboa Park, adjacent to Park Blvd. & Zoo.
-- Streetside garden by Michael Buckner in Pt. Loma, bayside end of McCall Street. See Michael’s work in my book, Designing with Succulents.
-- Pigment floral boutique and design shop, three locations: North Park, Pt. Loma and Del Mar. Caters to urban professionals who love plants but have limited space for gardening. Lovely succulent terrariums and a plant-your-own potting bar. See my video: Create a Colorful Succulent Terrarium.
*-- SD Cactus & Succulent Society semiannual shows and sales: winter, 2nd weekend in Feb; summer, 1st weekend in June. Casa del Prado Room 101, Balboa Park. Worth planning a trip around. See hundreds of award-winning specimens, plus succulent vendors, pottery artists and more. See my videos: Succulent Shopping at the Show, Succulent Pot Shopping, and At the San Diego Cactus & Succulent Show.
*--Scripps Coral Reef Garden, 8755 Biological Grade, La Jolla. A tucked-away, streetside installation within view of the ocean suggests what you might see underwater, snorkeling, All planted with succulents that resemble undersea flora. On the Scripps Institute of Oceanography campus in front of the Eckart Building. On weekends, park next to the Naga Entrance to the campus or along La Jolla Shores Drive. On weekends, park at the Birch Aquarium and walk down (strenuous).
-- Exotic Gardens, 14269 Olde Hwy 80, El Cajon. Owned by long-time succulent expert Carl Dykema.
-- Hunter’s nursery, 3110 Sweetwater Rd., Lemon Grove. Family-owned for 50 years; full-service nursery.
-- Kniffing's Discount Nurseries, 14940 Oak Creek Rd., El Cajon.
-- Public garden: Water Conservation Garden 12122 Cuyamaca College Dr. West. Display gardens and waterwise landscaping ideas.
-- Planter Paradise. 1146 East Chase Avenue, El Cajon; 619/440-6563. Huge inventory of imported pots at bargain prices. Small on-site nursery.
North County inland:
-- Kat and Brad Dorfman’s KBD Nursery growing grounds. By appointment only, 949/292-9999; firstname.lastname@example.org. Wholesale.
*-- Waterwise Botanicals, 32151 Old Hwy 395. Manager: Tom Jesch. Extensive selection of succulents and low-water plants for in-ground gardens and landscapes. Aloe source. Lovely display gardens. Hosts the annual two-day Succulent Celebration. Closed Sundays.
-- Desert Theater, 9655 Kiwi Meadow Lane. Nine acres of landscape succulents; thousands of large specimens. Go midwinter when the aloes bloom. BY APPOINTMENT ONLY. Call owner Brandon Bullard first, 760/594-2330. Mainly wholesale, so if possible, take your landscape designer.
*-- Oasis Water Efficient Gardens, 10816 Reidy Canyon Trail. Outstanding selection of succulents for containers and small gardens. Owned by Altman Plants, the largest grower of succulents and cacti in the US (they supply Lowe’s & Home Depot). The location is rural and a bit hidden: Go north on N. Broadway and turn left on Reidy Canyon Trail. Ahead is a gate that goes into Altman's growing grounds. Just before you get to it, turn right onto a lane that leads through another gate into the retail nursery. Manager: Carmen Contreras. View my video. Closed Sunday and Monday. Open Tuesday--Saturday 8 am to 4 pm.
*-- Public garden: San Diego Zoo Safari Park, 15500 San Pasqual Valley Road (35 mi. north of the San Diego Zoo). In the Baja Garden and Old World Succulent Garden, both proudly tended by C&SS volunteers, are 200 species of succulents that include uncommon aloes and the largest collection of boojum trees outside their native habitat. Aloes also enhance the park's Africa section.
-- Roja’s Succulents. 2005 E. Alvarado. Rosalina Roja, owner. Small specialty nursery with occasional rarities. Call first: 760/429-9580.
*-- Serra Gardens, 8897 Quail Hill Rd. Don Newcomer, owner. 760/990-4762. See my video: Don Newcomer’s Favorite Cactus. Open for walk-ins Friday and Saturday, 9 to 3:30; by appointment Tuesday-Thursday; closed Sunday, Monday and holidays. Good source of landscape succulents, especially aloes.
*Rare Succulents. Collectible, greenhouse-grown cacti and succulents. Owned by renowned succulent horticulturist Petra Crist. By appointment, 562/618-7250. Shipping available. Email: email@example.com. See my video.
*-- Peter Walkowiak, Exotic Plant Sales & Landscape Design. Facebook page. Seed-grown caudiciforms, unusual succulents and cacti. Peter is active in the C&SS. Numerous award-winning succulents on display. BY APPOINTMENT ONLY. Call first: 858/382-1797. See my video.
Rancho Santa Fe:
*-- Rancho Soledad Nursery, 18539 Aliso Canyon Rd., Rancho Santa Fe. Twenty-five acres of succulents and tropicals for garden beds and landscapes.
-- Grigsby Cactus Gardens, 2326-2354 Bella Vista Dr; 760/727-1323. Collectible cacti and succulents. Mostly mail order; hours limited. One of the oldest succulent specialty nurseries in the San Diego area, Grigsby has seen better days. But it’s worth visiting for the large specimens growing on the property, and to shop for unusual plants in the retail greenhouse.
-- Rancho Vista Nursery. 1430 Buena Vista Dr.; 760/726-7786. This 40-year-old wholesale nursery has a retail farm shop Thurs.-Fri. 10 to 3 and Sat.-Sun. 8 to 3.
-- Nursery Outlet and produce stand, 908 Buena Creek Rd. You never know what you’ll find here; plants are bargain-priced seconds from the largest grower of cacti and succulents in the US. Friendly employees and best-anywhere seasonal produce. Manager: Lecia.
North County coastal:
-- Plantplay, 4915 El Camino Real. Owner/designer Sergio Regalado. Also known for Australian and New Zealand plants.
*--Succulent Café, 505 Oak Ave, Carlsbad, CA 92008 (760) 717-9612; Owner Peter Loyola designs creative container gardens from repurposed items and architectural salvage. Coffee, smoothies and pastries in a patio setting. Formerly in Oceanside. See my video.
-- Public garden: Meditation Gardens at the Self Realization Fellowship, 215 K St., (between 2nd and 3rd streets), Tues.-Sat., 9 to 5, Sunday 11 to 5, closed Monday. The lush, immaculately tended garden is tropical but does include succulents, plus breathtaking ocean views and soothing water features. Come prepared to be quiet, observant and respectful. Food and drink not allowed.
-- Barrels & Branches, 1452 Santa Fe Dr. Idea-packed nursery in a lovely setting.
*-- Public garden: San Diego Botanic Garden, 230 Quail Gardens Dr. The underwater-themed succulent garden designed by Jeff Moore and Bill Teague is near the administration offices, south of the main parking lot. Succulent plantings by region are northwest of the main parking lot. The SDBG hosts North County’s Palomar Cactus & Succulent Society’s annual show & sale the 4th weekend in Oct.
*-- Weidner’s Gardens, 695 Normandy Rd.; Sabine Hildebrand, succulent designer. Good source of Kalanchoe blossfeldiana (numerous floral colors), succulents for containers and garden beds, and tillandsias. See my video and post about the nursery's succulent display garden.
*Gardens by the Sea, 1500 North Coast Highway, 760/840-0270. Design ideas; garden vignettes, outdoor art, pottery, and succulents that thrive in this ideal coastal climate. Good source of ornamental rocks and topdressings for container gardens. Note: Despite rumors, the nursery is not closing.
-- Leucadia Succulents, 940 Orpheus Ave. 760/633-4883. Beautiful container gardens.
*-- Solana Succulents, 355 N. Hwy 101. Additional parking in back. Jeff Moore, a renowned designer, horticulturist and author, has owned this small nursery for decades. It’s crammed with interesting plants. Although space is small, he can obtain larger specimens for landscapes. See video. Go to Jeff on medusoid euphorbias (book excerpt).
Los Angeles, Orange County and Riverside
Dana Point: Dana Point Nursery
*Encino: Annual (June) Drought Tolerant Plant Festival hosted by the Los Angeles Cactus and Succulent Society
Highland Park: Ponderosa Cactus
Irvine and Torrance: OC Succulents
*Northridge: Desert Creations Nursery and Gift Shop, Artie Chavez
North Hollywood: Francis' Cactus and Succulents
*Pasadena: California Cactus Center
Reseda: California Nursery Specialties
Riverside: Granite Hill Nursery at the Jurupa Mountains Discovery Center
San Juan Capistrano: Seaside Growers Nursery
If you’re aware of a resource that should be included or have an exceptionally positive or negative experience with any of the above, please let me know. Thanks! – Debra Lee Baldwin
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Find out what to do if the succulents you want aren’t available near you. See others’ favorite succulent sources, mail-order and walk-in, and share yours in the comments below. Please tell us your city or region, what you’ve purchased, and anything else that might be helpful.