One of my son's favorites is Descanso Gardens in La Canada. I suspect it's mostly because of the train ride, but I know he appreciates other delights here, too, including talking to the ducks.
This summer we signed up for the garden's Toddler Treks with Acorn Bear class. I was so looking forward to this, but it was a disappointment. You don't trek with a bear of any kind, nor any guide. I suspect Acorn Bear is a small teddy that sits on a table out of the kids' reach, but I don't know because we weren't introduced. We did meet Mr. Patches, a sweet older man who reads stories. Unfortunately, garden staff enrolled too many toddlers--and babies--so, at the first class, it was hard to hear the story. The next week, Mr. Patches scolded parents who didn't keep kids quiet, which resulted in angry exchanges between some parents and Patches.
In this program, stories are followed by crafts. Then parents and kids are given a map of things to explore on their own in the garden. I mumbled to a friend that perhaps the class was a ploy to draw kids into the vicinity of the pricey train rides ($3 for a short ride).
We enjoyed our ramble, including excursions not on the map. I got a kick out of the koi that jump when you approach Mulberry pond (photo above). But you can have just as much fun--and save the $75--exploring the garden anytime.
At the entrance, look for a new brochure entitled "Jurassic Journey," a family guide for exploring the ancient plants in the garden. It invites kids to imagine the dinosaurs that supped on ginko trees, redwoods, ferns, and cycads, at a time before there were flowering plants.
Next month, Descanso offers Family Fun for Nature Nuts, a series of four Tuesday, early evening programs that includes a look exotic animals, brought in by handlers.
For toddler classes with more focus on learning about nature (and teacher/guides), try Family Nature Walks at the Arboretum, Aqua Tots at the Aquarium of the Pacific, or Toddler Totes at the LA Zoo. These venues, as well as the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, also offer classes for older kids.
More from me on Descanso.