When cruising along Sunset or Santa Monica Boulevard in Beverly Hills, drivers know they've entered the self-proclaimed "Garden City" by all the manicured lawns and the more than 27,000 trees (including the iconic palms) planted along the city's parkways. And while many of the best gardens are off-limits (behind high walls and tight security), there are a few secret plots of green that visitors - in a much-needed break from all the miles of asphalt in surrounding L.A. - can seek out. Turn the page to read about our favorite five.

By Charles Runnette

1- Virginia Robinson House and Garden
The former grand dame of Robinson's Department Stores always loved to share her 1911 Beaux-Arts mansion and six hillside acres of gardens with others. Over the years, glitterati such as Douglas Fairbanks, Mae West, Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson, and Ronald Reagan have strolled through her five gorgeous, distinctive plots - from the magnolia trees and azaleas in the Italian Terrace Gardens to the banana plants, Australian king palms, and plumerias in her world-famous Tropical Palm Garden.

Before she died (in 1977, at the age of 99), Robinson bequeathed her estate to Los Angeles County so that others could enjoy the thing she credited for her longevity and quick mind: two daily strolls through a magical garden. Tours last 75 minutes and are held Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. and one p.m. Cost is $10 for adults and $5 for students and seniors; reservations are required (tours are limited to 50 people). 1008 Elden Way, (310) 276-5367, ext. 100, www.robinson-gardens.com

2- Brooks Brothers
The West Coast flagship store of the preppy Madison Avenue-based clothier - a favorite of Ashton Kutcher, who wore a cream-colored Brooks Brothers suit when he married Demi Moore - has a large, trellised, second-floor wraparound deck overlooking the busy intersection of Rodeo Drive and Santa Monica Boulevard. Clients buying suits use it to check color and fit in daylight; others just relax under the Chilean jasmine (Mandevilla) with a complimentary coffee or cappuccino. Open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to six p.m., and Sunday, noon to five p.m. 468 North Rodeo Drive, (310) 274-4003, www.brooksbrothers.com

3- The Peninsula Beverly Hills
Sarah Jessica Parker has referred to this low-slung, leafy oasis tucked away behind large magnolia trees as "the best-smelling hotel in the world." In addition to the trees' white flowers (with their heady, intoxicating citrusy-apricot aroma) out front, this favorite hotel of celebrities and Hollywood power brokers features a rooftop terrace, dining patio, and garden-villa area, all of which are planted with scentastic Gardenia augusta, pink jasmine, Hall's honeysuckle, French and English lavender, rosemary, Eureka lemon trees, and Valencia orange trees. 9882 South Santa Monica Boulevard, (310) 551-2888, www.peninsula.com

4- Greystone Mansion
A 46,000-square-foot English Gothic Revival mansion, Greystone is best known to moviegoers as the Green Goblin's manor house in Spider-Man (and in the upcoming Spider-Man 3). But the real star of the property is its stunning 18-acre park, which was designed by Paul Thiene. The mansion is open to the public only during the month of November, but the picturesque terraced Mediterranean gardens are an unexpected free refuge and are often filled with artists and writers looking to be inspired by the very un-Californian, E.M. Forster-ish surroundings. The park is open daily, ten a.m. to six p.m. Free. 905 Loma Vista Drive, (310) 550-4796

5- Frédéric Fekkai/Café 440
Perched above the Giorgio Armani and Polo Ralph Lauren shops on Rodeo Drive, this Italianate rooftop-terrace café — with cypress trees in planters and iron patio furniture — is open to the public but used mostly by the clients of the adjacent salon. The best people-watching from this deck may not be over the railing but across the patio to where stars could be waiting for their highlights to set — Fekkai works his magic on Renée Zellweger, Salma Hayek, Scarlett Johansson, and Naomi Watts, among others. Open 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. 440 Rodeo Drive, Third Floor, (310) 273-5440, www.fredericfekkai.com