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8 Fun Kid-Friendly Gardens for Families

See recent posts by Barbara & Jim Twardowski

Want the kids to appreciate nature? Take them to a botanical garden where they’ll learn by exploring. Spot wildlife along a woodsy trail, climb a tree house, make art from sticks, and yes—stop to smell the roses. Botanical gardens are bursting with fun ways to connect with the natural world in a setting that appeals to every member of the family.

The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens, California

Child walking through door at the The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens

Celebrating its centennial this year, The Huntington is located 12 miles from downtown Los Angeles in the San Gabriel Valley. Kids enter a magical world in The Children’s Garden. Designed especially for ages 2-7, youngsters step through a child-sized blue door and a tunnel of roses to reach the enchanting topiary animals, a vine-covered topiary cottage, and toddler-sized fountains. A big hit with older kids is the Conservatory of Botanical Science with 50 interactive exhibits inside a greenhouse. Children’s Saturday Workshops have changing activities for families. Make a reservation to attend an elegant Afternoon Tea with a California twist—kids will gobble up the PB&J tea sandwiches and parents can unwind with a glass of wine.

Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, Florida

Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

An urban oasis nestled on the downtown bayfront, the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens contain thousands of exotic tropical plants. The centerpiece of the Children’s Rainforest Garden is a 100-year-old Banyan tree that shades a deck where parents relax and kids can play. A 12-foot high waterfall creates a mist and gurgling sounds as it cascades down a rock wall. A stream connects the waterfall to a 1000 square foot Forest Pool surrounded by aquatic plants. Families can safely navigate a rope bridge poised above the rainforest. 

Related: 10 Best Eco-Friendly Hotels for Families

Atlanta Botanical Garden, Georgia

Couple taking a walk in the Atlanta Botanical Garden

Located in the heart of Midtown, the 30-acre Atlanta Botanical Garden is one of the city’s most popular attractions. Cross the Flower Bridge to enter the Lou Glenn Children’s Garden that features a splash pad, build-a-fort area, and water-painting wall. Watch honeybees encased behind glass feverishly work to make honey during the warm months. Check the garden calendar for special art and music sessions designed for young children. The botanical garden contains a dazzling glass collection by Dale Chihuly. A not-to-be-missed Atlanta icon is the Earth Goddess, a 25-foot sculpture made of 18,000 living plants.  

Missouri Botanical Garden, Missouri

Missouri Botanical Garden, the oldest continuously operating botanical garden in the nation, covers 79 acres including a 14-acre Japanese strolling garden. First-time visitors might want to begin with the 30 minute narrated tram ride. The Children’s Garden (open April-October) contains a Midwestern prairie village, tree house, Spelunker’s Slide, and limestone cave. Sign up for one of the numerous kid programs like exploring a sensory garden, watercoloring lily pools, searching for pollinators or learning about evergreen trees. The Garden Explorer Backpack, filled with curated fun and educational items for kids ages 6-10, are sold with adult admissions. From April 17 through October 10, 2021, OrigamiintheGarden, an 18-piece outdoor sculpture exhibit is on display. Families will be awed by the large scale metal tower of 1000 cranes, emerging butterflies, and painted ponies.

Brooklyn Botanic Garden, New York

Children digging at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden

The admission for children age 12 and under is free at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. At the one-acre Discovery Garden, kids march across an elevated boardwalk underneath the swaying branches of black locust trees. They love peeking through the windows of the “insect hotel” where termites, leaf-cutter bees, and praying mantis live. Families walk through a small forest at the Native Flora Garden keeping a watchful eye for rabbits, butterflies, and chipmunks. Look for raptors, herons, woodpeckers, cardinals, warblers, and red-tailed hawks. For an incredible view stroll the winding paths of Overlook, an ascending garden. 

Related: 10 Outdoorsy Vacations for Families Who Don’t Like Camping

Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, Ohio

Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens

Walk underneath a rainbow, splash in the pools created by a waterfall,  climb a rope bridge nestled in a mulberry tree, observe the clouds from a treetop hammock, and scramble on boulders at the two-acre Children’s Garden at the Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. Inside a whimsical playhouse, kids can play dress up or utilize the puppet stage. Children love finding the hidden faery houses and decorating them with natural materials.  Kids of all ages can learn about a different topic each week at the interactive Discovery Stations (daily from 10 am to noon). Every Tuesday at 10:30 am, children ages 3-8 gather for Nature Storytime. The Hot Shop presents daily outdoor glass blowing demos (April-December). Children, who are ages 10-17 and accompanied by a parent or guardian, can register to create an ornament or another glass object for a fee.

Cheekwood Estate & Gardens, Tennessee 

Cheekwood Estate & Gardens

A former 1930s country home set on rolling hills, Cheekwood Estate & Gardens is a botanical garden, arboretum, and museum. The 55-acre property has 12 unique  gardens and a woodland trail with modern sculptures. The new Bracken Foundation Children’s Garden opened last year and is a journey through the arts. Kids can listen to a story, watch turtles frolic, improvise a performance on a stage, paint with water on slate tablets, and skip through a stone labyrinth. From May 1-September 5, 2021, the garden will be filled with 38 bright sculptures made from more than 800,000 LEGO Bricks.  The playful exhibit, Sean Kenney’s Nature POP! Made with LEGO® Bricks, is fun for the whole family. 

Related: 10 Best U.S. Family Vacations for 2021

Dallas Arboretum & Botanical Garden, Texas

Children playing at an educational event at the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden

Just minutes from downtown, the 66-acre Dallas Arboretum & Botanical Garden with 11 distinct gardens and several dining options can easily be a full day’s outing. Sitting beside the shores of White Rock Lake, the 8-acre Rory Meyer’s Children’s Adventure Garden contains 17 indoor/outdoor interactive galleries.  Kids can look through a six-foot long kaleidoscope, walk a 240-foot Skywalk, solve a CSI mystery, shoot sun blasters, and catch a puppet show. Check the Arboretum’s calendar for special events like Tiny Tot Tuesdays with a petting zoo, music, and face-painting. From May 1 through August 8, 2021, more than 100 Zimbabwean stone sculptures—some weighing more than a ton— will be displayed throughout the garden. On select days, the artists will be carving statues.

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