Gardens and buildings once formed part of Rancho del los Quiotes. Types of subject include Spanish style architecture, farm buildings, plants, rustic scenery, peafowl.
Advantages: Good place to photograph peacocks. Some interesting old buildings.
Disadvantages: Buildings only open on guided tours.
Finding the park
Leo Carrillo Ranch Historic Park is located in Carlsbad California off Melrose Drive south of Palomar Airport Road. Driving through the gates of the park and down the well-kept driveway, you could be forgiven for thinking you have arrived at a fancy private residence rather than a city park. The park itself is located in a small valley at the bottom of the driveway and none of it is visible from the road. The 2,538-acre ranch has been developed, but the original buildings have been preserved by the City of Carlsbad and improvements to the park are still being made. The park is closed on Mondays and open 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. On Sundays, the park does not open until 11:00 a.m.
Walking down the trail from the parking lot, you will arrive at the visitor's center. This is the old caretaker's cottage and in winter months there is usually a blazing fire in the hearth and the smell of woodsmoke in the air. It's a nice old structure, but difficult to photograph due to an abundance of signs and brochures adorning the exterior. The staff are very friendly and will show you a movie about the park and its late owner. Free guided park tours run 11:00 a.m. amd 1:00 p.m. on Saturdays and 12:00 p.m. and 2:00 p.m. on Sundays. Unfortunately, the buildings are only opened during these tours. The the park staff will run special tours if reserved in advance and they are welcoming of photography clubs. Phone (760) 476-1042 for more information.
From the visitor's center the trail heads east along Palm Lane to the Hacienda. The trail side often blooms with assorted plants and flowers and there is color all year round. On my last visit at the end of November I found citrus and berries forming a colorful foreground against the cactus and succulent plants. There are probably humming birds here when the flowers bloom, but I haven't seen any.
The Hacienda in the Spanish style has nice arches, windows, doors, and ornaments that make for some pleasing photographs. Other buildings include a stable, a barn, and a cantina. They all have some good points especially when shot against a blue sky, but like everywhere in the park, you have to be aware of modern signage getting into the frame of your shot. The old wind pump would also make for a nice shot, if it wasn't for the fact that it is often hung with Christmas lights. I therefore recommend you visit Leo Carrillo park outside the holiday season if you're main interest is photography.
In my opinion, the main attraction of the park is the muster of breeding peafowl. The peacocks and less-colorful peahens are unafraid of people and will pose on fences, rooftops, and pathways while you photograph them. As well as the more common irridescent blue peacocks that are a real feast for the eyes, there is a single pure white peacock that has a stunning beauty of its own. I am not generally a bird photographer, but it's impossible not to be impressed by a peacock when it spreads its feather train!