Rancho Los Alamitos
Rancho Los Alamitos
Long Beach, California
Visiting Rancho Los Alamitos was a bit of a complicated affair, involving entering an exclusive gated community and getting a special permit just to drive up the hill. Somehow all of the formalities made the experience seem more rewarding, like I was getting to go behind the gates into a secret garden paradise. Eventually I pulled up to a preserved adobe ranch house atop a hill surrounded by ancient trees, formal gardens, and rustic farm buildings. There was something incongruous about a historic site within an exclusive gated community, but this land, I later found out, has a complex history.
The property on which the Rancho sits was once a sacred site of the Gabrielino-Tongva people. The Spanish invaded and took over what was then known as Alta California before the land went back to Mexico. Eventually California became a state and the property passed between several wealthy families until it was finally donated to the city of Long Beach as a public park.
The garden is the work of former owner Florence Bixby, who in 1926 hired several renowned landscape designers, including the Olmstead Brothers, to surround her home with a series of fanciful gardens.
Instead of one elaborate garden, the space is broken up into a string of smaller rooms encircling the hilltop. The interior courtyard and Secret Garden, which are tucked behind the signature white stucco walls, contain all sorts of succulents, palms, and flowering vines. In front of the adobe facade are two massive Moreton Bay fig trees, stunning with their writhing root systems (one of which is over 100 years old). A proud row of palms rising from a tangle of succulents line the curved driveway.
I really enjoyed the thought put in to the sequence of the garden rooms. One led artfully into the next, often though dramatic tree-lined passageways. The sunken Rose Garden is the first section off of the Geranium Walk, easily winning me over with its rectangles of rose bushes bordered by low clipped boxwood hedges. The roses were not yet in bloom, which let the bits of ornate statuary and large ceramic vases have their moments. From here was the first of many striking views to be had down the Oleander walk, so named because it is edged with two rows of oleander trees. There was a narrow stone-paved pathway though towering walls dense cypress trees, which I can never get enough of. I enjoyed the Cutting Garden which had a lively assortment of flower beds and white walls hung with rows of flowerpots.
Final Rating: This modest attraction on a beautiful hilltop rising from a sea of billion-dollar houses captures a slice of the history of California before that was even its name. Mrs. Bixby's botanical additions to the rancho elevate the spot from being a stuffy old museum into a beautiful historical treasure worthy of preservation. While the gardens certainly speak of wealth and prominence, they also have a casualness to them. I love how fences surrounding the tennis court were being overtaken with a tangled mass of wisteria vines while barely holding back the chaos of the Cactus Garden beyond. The gardens and trees have become a living part of this historical site and are a worthy tribute to all that have resided here. FOUR BLOOM RATING