Adventure in The Bamboo Forest

Looking for a kid-friendly activity that's also dog-friendly and free? Try Bamboo Giant in South Santa Cruz County.

By Jennifer Karno

July 16, 2014—Only 15 minutes away from Santa Cruz lies an outdoor adventure that’s free and enjoyable for the whole family. Take a trip to the Bamboo Giant, and you and your kids will be transported to 38 acres of beautiful bamboo forests, koi ponds, trails and many other delightful surprises. The nursery is one of the largest displays of timber bamboo (the generic term for the really tall stuff) in North America, and it’s landscaped beautifully.

One of my favorite aspects of Bamboo Giant is that the trails are easy to navigate, which means kids can play hide-and-go-seek and explore to their hearts’ delight. Also, it’s dog friendly—a major bonus if your family includes any four-legged people. I especially appreciate that the exploration is also an educational journey. Placards of the names and explanations of the bamboo are placed thoughtfully throughout the property.

I took my son and dog there a few weeks ago to wander the grounds and had a typical Bamboo Giant experience—one full of beautiful sights, minor adventures and encounters with the slightly bizarre.

We had our lunches with us, and after making our way from the entrance, I sat down beside the pagoda temple next to a beautiful koi pond. I had a tranquil view of waterfalls and lily pads and was starting to take in the dulcet sounds when my son decided that banging on the nearby large gong over and over would be much more fun than hearing the water cascade into the pond. Then our dog Rocket (a very adorable but excitable Jack Russell) caught scent of some animal and took off running. We spent quite a while chasing him through the bamboo maze, and I realized there’s a very good reason to have dogs on leash at all times here, as it is virtually impossible to locate your pooch once he wanders off. (Think corn maze, only much, much taller.) One of the staff told us there are many foxes and deer in the area, so of course we spent some time scouting for “wild animals.”

We also encountered alien life, or something like it, in the form of one very rare tropical fungus from Australia. The Octopus Stinkhorn Mushroom, recently discovered at Bamboo Giant, is quite a sight. It grows randomly around the property, and while beautiful to observe, really is quite stinky and attracts flies. (Says Wikipedia: “In maturity it smells of putrid flesh.” Mmm.) Rocket, of course, wanted to sniff it, and was instantly backing off and barking at this pungent, strange-looking creature.

One bonus of a visit to Bamboo Giant is the Bamboo store, which has many bamboo products for sale and to learn about. Occasionally the Nursery also has special programs. For example, a program offered last year included bamboo flute making for all ages with Michael Kanner, a local artist who not only makes the flutes but also plays them. They also held an Arts and Crafts Fair open to the public.

The staff is very knowledgeable, and we learned some surprising facts about bamboo, including that they can grow up to a foot a day. We also learned that the TV show “Mythbusters” shot an episode at the Bamboo Giant Nursery in 2008 to find out if a World War II torture technique of growing bamboo through human skin was possible. Check out the weirdly exhaustive MythBusters (2008) page on Wikipediato find out. The show isn’t on YouTube, but it’s fascinating to read about. I’m glad for our sake our Google search didn’t turn up any visuals.

Our adventure over, it was time to think about heading home. Being 7, my son naturally wanted a bamboo sword. Another helpful staffer gave us a large piece of bamboo and explained how easy bamboo is to whittle. We promptly went home and whittled away on our bamboo stick, which resulted in a stub that looked like a prehistoric spatula. Ah, well, maybe with more practice.

Bamboo Giant Nursery
The Bamboo Giant Nursery provides licensed landscape contractors, consulting and design and is a full service retail nursery offering consulting and design. They specialize in providing privacy hedges, but “running and clumping” bamboo from all over the world are for sale and displayed.

5601 Freedom Blvd, Aptos, CA 95003
Open daily 10am-4pm

In A Nutshell:
• All ages
• Free
• Dog-friendly
• Educational
• Easy to walk and hike
• Close to the freeway but feels like you’ve been transported to another continent
• You can bring your lunch
• Educational and affordable store of bamboo products