Ask Davis residents where they should take visitors, and most will mention the UC Davis Arboretum. The 100-acre public garden is the community’s most spectacular asset. And it’s free.
About the arboretum
This “living museum” spans about 100 acres, and showcases some 4,000 kinds of trees, plants and shrubs. The grounds, which follow the old north channel of Putah Creek, serve as a habitat for birds, reptiles and other wildlife. For visitors, the meandering path offers space to exercise your body, rest your mind and spark your creativity.
Gardens in the arboretum are displayed in collections from various geographic regions, plant groups, horticultural themes or historical periods. Since 1939, the landscape has served as an outdoor classroom for university students and researchers, and as a demonstration garden for hobbyists. Signs identify the trees and plants, and tell stories about the area.
The constantly evolving landscape displays new palettes for each season. This is a sensory experience, where you can smell the seasonal blooms. Leave your earbuds in your pocket; you’ll want to hear the rustling leaves and chirping birds. Much of the path is shaded, and its design shelters it from wind. Benches and grassy knolls give you the chance to pause and breathe it all in.
Lawns at the west end, near the Peter J. Shields Oak Grove, and in the center, by the East Asian Collection and Lake Spafford, are great gathering places. There are picnic tables behind the Putah Creek Lodge, and in the shady T. Elliot Weier Redwood Grove. The Arboretum Terrace Garden on the east side of Davis Commons shopping center is another hidden gem.
The arboretum’s main path is a 3.5 mile loop. For speedy walkers, it takes at least an hour to complete. The loop’s east and west ends are most accessible to wheelchairs or those with limited mobility.
The intended entrance is through the Shovel Gateway Sculpture just west of the Davis Commons parking lot (behind the center at First and D streets). The sculpture by artist Chris Fennell – a bronze arch formed from donated spades all welded together – serves as a symbolic and geographic link between the city and university.
Want to picnic? Grab provisions at Whole Foods Market, or a salad, burger, sandwich, sushi or pizza slice from one of several restaurants. Or, treat yourself to a reward in downtown Davis when you’re done.
To begin the loop, head straight through the arch, toward Putah Creek; avoid the higher bike path. Although bicycles are permitted in several sections, the paths and gardens are pedestrian-oriented, and best appreciated on foot.
The path stays close to the water, and occasionally sends you over bridges or across campus roadways. Don’t worry about getting lost; just stay along Putah Creek. Not actually a creek, the waterway is a long, skinny pond collecting campus water. In warm weather, it’s murky with duckweed and algae, but a plan is in the works to circulate the water so it’s more pristine.
The preserve is home to more than 135 species of birds, and many kinds of mammals, fish, amphibians, reptiles, butterflies and more. Watch for horses at the horse barn along the center north side of arboretum, and for riders at the equestrian center at the west end. Ducks, turtles and squirrels are especially common sights, but please don’t feed them. For the protection of wildlife, dogs are permitted only on leash. And the campus – indoors and out – is smoke-free.
The arboretum is alive with art, creativity and learning. Check the calendar of events for walking tours, exhibits, talks, readings, music, plant sales and more. Along the way, look for the murals in the tunnels.
If you have time for a detour and want to learn more about UC Davis or its arboretum, follow signs to the welcome center, a short walk south on Mrak Hall Drive, or the Arboretum Headquarters on La Rue Road.
An interactive map of the arboretum highlights areas for visitor parking, drinking fountains and restrooms, and gives details on each garden collection.
For additional information, visit the arboretum website.
Where to park
If you’re traveling by car, the Davis Commons lot offers free, two-hour parking from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays. If you plan to linger or picnic, use the parking garage at F and First streets, above Holiday Cinema, which is free for three hours on weekdays, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. On campus, visitor parking is free on weekends, but $9 per day, per car, on weekdays.
Article written by Wendy Weitzel