Exploring Orchids in Santa Barbara

Photo courtesy of Westerlay Orchids

 The History, Local Farms & Santa Barbara International Orchid Show

Santa Barbara’s mild, Mediterranean climate began attracting wealthy industrialists at the turn of the 20th century. These people often hired esteemed horticulturalists and landscape designers, many of whom were especially fond of orchids, to build elaborate gardens at their estates. From there, orchid growing started to bloom in Santa Barbara with several orchid farms opening in the late 1940s and 1950s. In 1945, the Santa Barbara Horticultural Society hosted its first flower show, which would become the renowned Santa Barbara International Orchid Show, one of the largest and most prestigious in the United States.  

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The Santa Barbara International Orchid Show

Every spring, Santa Barbara welcomes commercial orchid growers, as well as hobbyists and appreciators, for the annual International Orchid Show. What began as a small show in 1945 has transformed into a large celebration of this diverse and beautiful flower as Santa Barbara County continues to cement itself as a leading orchid empire. The 2024 show will take place March 8-10 at the Earl Warren Showgrounds. Show highlights include vibrant displays of exotic orchid species and hybrids, an exhibition of orchid-themed art and photography, free workshops, floral arrangement exhibits and blooming plants for purchase. Buy tickets online or at the show; both weekend and day passes are available. New this year, immerse yourself amongst the orchids with two unique events–Orchid Serenity: Yoga And Sound Bath Immersion (March 7) in partnership with Santa Barbara Beachfront Yoga and Orchids After Dark (March 9), where guests can explore the exhibit, skipping the crowds and opting for an after-hours ambiance with enhanced lighting, cash bar and DJ.

Orchid Farms Near Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara Orchid Estate

Nestled on five lush acres a short walk from the Pacific Ocean, Santa Barbara Orchid Estate was founded in 1957 and has since become one of the world’s most prolific collectors and propagators of orchid species and hybrids. Here, this estate specializes in outdoor temperature-tolerant orchids, and boast an ever-changing array of varieties, including rare and lesser-known hybrids, like the Encyclia talisker bay, which features rounded petals in hues of amber, yellow and olive green. While at the estate, be sure to get a look at the historical Laelia Santa Barbara Sunset “Showtime,” a sensational Laelia anceps and Laeliocattleya ancibarina cross that continues to be their top seller and a prominent feature in the annual Orchid Show. The Santa Barbara Orchid Estate is open Fridays and Saturdays.

Westerlay Orchids

Westerlay’s journey to becoming one of Santa Barbara’s most accomplished orchid growers began in Holland, where founder Joop “Joe” Overgaag started farming before moving to Southern California in 1978. Joe built his first greenhouse by hand, using oil pipes for the frames. Since then, Westerlay Orchids has expanded to 21 acres, producing nearly 4 million orchids each year. While cultivating and distributing flowers is the farm’s main purpose, Westerlay also focuses a lot of energy on sustainability, including creating an irrigation-cycling program that’s reduced its carbon footprint by more than 43% since 2018. Other sustainability efforts include the use of energy curtains, CO2 capture technology and use of solar energy. Its retail showroom is located in nearby Carpinteria and is open Monday to Saturday.

Cal Orchid Inc.

Owners James and Lauris Rose purchased Cal Orchid Inc. in 1987 after spending more than a decade at Santa Barbara Orchid Estate, located across the street. The two spend much of the year traveling around the world collecting new plants and orchid variants and have submitted nearly 5,000 seedpods and 500 cultivars to various laboratories. When they aren’t traveling or presenting at shows, the Roses are available to help you select the right plant for your home, whether you’re a collector or novice gardener. Their products span from African and Madagascan varieties to Sobralias, which are grown very successfully throughout Southern California. Cal Orchid accepts appointments Thursday through Saturday. Same-day appointments are sometimes available, but we recommend scheduling in advance as they are not guaranteed. 

Orchids Royale

Tucked away on a former avocado ranch, Orchids Royale features 70,000 square feet of temperature-controlled greenhouses. Also located in Carpinteria, 15 minutes south of downtown Santa Barbara, Orchids Royale primarily grows Cymbidiums, also known as boat orchids, as well as Paphiopedilums and Miltonias. To tour the farm, you must make an appointment in advance by calling (805) 684-8066.

Gallup & Stribling Orchids

Another grower with a long-standing history in The American Riviera® is Gallup & Stribling Orchids. This 48-acre orchid farm is situated just south of Santa Barbara, and houses more than 1.5 million square feet of greenhouse space, making it one of the largest in the country. The plant shop and visitors center is open Monday through Sunday (hours vary by day). Here, you’ll find a wide variety of orchids, succulents, seasonal floral arrangements and more. 

More Fantastic Floral Displays in Santa Barbara

From the expansive meadows and towering redwoods found at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden to the rare and exotic specimens—like the orchid cacti!—at Ganna Walska’s Lotusland, there are many incredible displays of flora scattered throughout The American Riviera®. Check out these 10 not-so-secret parks and gardens to start building your trip itinerary.