News & Events

Finding Southern California’s Hidden Gems - Part 1

Rancho Los Alamitos

Rancho Los Alamitos (the "Ranch of the Little Cottonwoods") Historic Ranch and Gardens is one of Southern California's longest-inhabited hilltops. The Rancho is located on Tongva-Gabrielino's ancestral land and is a traditional gathering place of the Tonga people. The history of this land also flows through the Spanish and Mexican periods, the great cattle-raising eras, oil discoveries in the early 1900's, and rapid urbanization after WWII.

Today, the once-prominent hilltop is almost hidden from view, but the surviving 7.5 acres of the Rancho still connect past to present. A visit to the site is a chance to reflect upon the ongoing story of Southern California's culture and environment.

The Ranch House was built between 1800-1834 as an adobe providing shelter for vaqueros and livestock on the 300,000-acre land concession awarded to Manuel Nieto. Each owner changed and added to the structure to suit their lifestyles and needs. Over time, the basic structure evolved into a large, comfortable ranch house.

While barns are no longer a familiar silhouette on our landscape as agriculture has largely given way to urban development, these barns are powerful reminders of the ranching heritage of Southern California. They include the Stallion Barn, Blacksmith Shop, Cow Barn, a portion of the original Feed Shed, and the 1948 Horse Barn - and they all date from the early to mid 1900s.

But now I want to introduce you to the REAL GEM - the Gardens of Rancho Los Alamitos! The four acres are comprised of a series of thematic areas. Building on the remains of the 1840s plantings by Abel Stearns, Susan Bixby developed the Old Garden and established the framework planting of pepper trees. She also introduced the magnificent Moreton Bay Fig trees on the Front Lawn. Susan's daughter-in-law, Florence Green Bixby, structured the Gardens as we see them today.

Developed in the 1920's and 1930's when flamboyance was the hallmark of most estate gardens, Florence Bixby's gardens stand apart for their unpretentious character and low-key elegance. While there are no rare or difficult-to-maintain plantings in this garden, Florence attempted to "civilize" the area around the rambling adobe ranch house in a way that complemented the home and expressed her own taste and interests.

Florence Bixby's elegant gardens are notable for the way in which they extend a modest domestic tranquility into the garden.The restrained plant palette in combination with the beautifully dimensioned spaces give quiet strength and character to the garden. Created in an age of flamboyance, the gardens at Rancho Los Alamitos represent a remarkable personal aesthetic, sensitive to the traditions and scale of the past, and at ease with the relaxed dictates of outdoor living.

In 1968, the children of Fred and Florence Bixby, the last private owners, donated the family ranch to the City of Long Beach, transforming what had been a working ranch to a public oasis and setting the stage for what Rancho Los Alamitos is today - a place for all time.

You can find Rancho Los Alamitos at 6400 E Bixby Hill Rd in Long Beach. Check their website for days and hours of operation:

Written by: Cindie Reilly, MLHMGT Board Member. The information contained in this newsletter was gathered from their brochure and website. The pictures were taken when my husband and I visited in the summer of 2022.

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About Us

The Mary Lou Heard Memorial Garden Tour is a yearly, self-guided charity event held by the Mary Lou Heard Foundation, a California nonprofit organization dedicated to continuing Mary Lou's life work.

a 501(c)(3) Public Charity

9681 Flounder Drive
Huntington Beach, CA

No price will ever be put on viewing the gardens. Let your heart dictate and let those who can dig down deep. Each home will have a donation table. Cash or checks will be gratefully accepted.

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