Rancho Los Cerritos - Self-Paced Tour Routes
Welcome! Rancho Los Cerritos provides both an enduring sense of serenity and a variety of seasonal surprises. The gardens feature both native and exotic plants, and they sustain native and migratory birds, butterflies, and other critters. The adobe house, which is more than 175 years old, is embedded with many layers of history. There are two walking routes: the standard (not fully accessible) tour, which includes ascending a staircase from the native garden, several steps in the courtyard of the historic adobe, and a loose-dirt pathway through the orchard, and the accessible tour, which includes a brick walkway and packed-dirt pathways. There is an ADA lift and gently sloped pathways to access the historic adobe; please ask for assistance. Standard Tour: Head north from the Visitor Center. Your tour begins at the entrance to the California native garden. After emerging from that one-way looping path via the staircase, visit the historic adobe, then take the one-way orchard path to the backyard. Please circle the backyard in a clockwise direction, then end your tour in the forecourt. Passing the administrative building, you can head back to your vehicle. Or, time permitting, feel free to walk the route again. Accessible Tour: After exiting your vehicle in the forecourt, you can enter the backyard through the green gates to start your tour in the alcove of the veranda. Depending on your personal circumstances, you can either follow the full backyard tour (heading next to the wisteria arbor) or cross from the central brick pathway that splits the lawns (heading next to the country club gate). When you would like to see the historic adobe, please ask for assistance to utilize the ADA lift and pathways inside the structure.
Backstory and Context
After building the adobe house (1844), John Temple's workers planted the site’s first formal garden. Temple's colonial-style garden reflected his East Coast sensibility – and his adopted West Coast environs too. He ordered black locust, apple, plum, and peach trees to be shipped around Cape Horn for his new garden. He also planted five Italian cypress trees and fruit trees that were common in Mexican California, including pomegranates, oranges, lemons, figs, grapes, and olives.
Flint, Bixby & Co purchased the property (1866) and installed Jotham Bixby as ranch manager. He and his family moved into the Rancho Los Cerritos adobe. Their workers dug a well and built a water tower with a windmill near the house to provide the family with better access to water. These improvements enabled the garden to prosper as well. The Bixbys spent many hours in the garden, as fondly recounted by Sarah Bixby Smith in Adobe Days (1925).
After the Bixbys moved out of the adobe house (1881), they leased the property to a succession of tenants, farmers, and dairymen. Row crops replaced many of the ornamental plants in the garden and pigs and chickens had the run of the backyard. During this same period, the Bixbys also sold off most of their land for farms and towns. The Virginia Country Club bought the adjacent acreage (1919) and opened the golf course.
Jotham Bixby’s nephew, Llewellyn Bixby Sr., purchased the remaining five acres (1929) and embarked upon extensive renovations of both the house and gardens. Architect Kenneth Wing was hired to modernize the crumbling adobe, and landscape architect Ralph D. Cornell was commissioned to design and install an estate garden. Cornell was an early proponent of the use of native plants. Rather than depend on annuals, he favored trees that would provide structure and seasonal color. He also incorporated John Temple’s try pot (a pot for rendering cow fat) and Jotham Bixby’s water tower into his design.
The City of Long Beach purchased the property (1955) and has continued to maintain the site, including its historic gardens, for public recreation, education, and research.