Looking for a fun, inexpensive way to get out of the house for a day? Visit a local botanical garden, where your kids will climb through tree houses, smell exotic plants (we bet you”ve never smelled a popcorn plant), embark on nature walks and more. Plus, many gardens offer special events, particularly during the winter holidays.
These are a few of our favorites (along with some hotel recommendations, if you happen to be visiting the area):
Written by Hilarey Wojtowicz
Cleveland Botanical Garden
Take in scents of popcorn and chocolate from real plants, view garden art in the gallery and don"t miss the Hershey Children"s Garden when visiting the Cleveland Botanical Garden. Daily Explorations change day to day (and are free with admission), and often include butterfly releases, animal meet-and-greets, and garden tours. Kids will love the Tree House and fishing for gold fish with their fingers.
Best Seasonal Event: The summer program, Nature Connects, offers children and families a chance to discover 14 nature-inspired LEGO sculptures. Kids can even build something of their own with LEGO bricks and take it home as a souvenir. Program runs May 24 through August 24, and admission is $11 for adults, $6 for children and free for garden members.
Located just 30 minutes from Niagara Falls, the living museum that is the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens offers exhibits and collections that include plant species from all over the world. The Wegmans Family Garden is a designated area for children of all ages to play and discover new plants, flowers and wildlife. Weekly Saturday and Sunday programs for kids incorporate hands-on learning through activities, such as creating hummingbird feeders, making coconut playdough and tasting potatoes and apples. Kids will love planting seeds, building sand castles and watering gardens, too.
Best Seasonal Event: Check out the Native Butterfly Exhibit each summer, hosted June through August, for a look at monarch butterflies.
Located within Golden Gate Park, the San Francisco Botanical Garden is a living museum with 55 acres of gardens and more than 8,000 plant species from around the world. Families who visit will love exploring the redwood trees, magnolia collection and the Children"s Garden, which hosts a plethora of family activities; Saturdays are Bean Sprouts Family Days, Fridays are Family Adventures, Sundays are Children"s Storytime, and everyone can join the Family Nature Club year-round. Kids will also love the Ã¢â‚¬Å“Seeking California in a World of PlantsÃ¢â‚¬Â scavenger hunt.
Best Seasonal Event: The Magnolia by Moonlight tour takes place early in the spring and allows visitors a chance to see the flowers in a whole new light. The event is held from 7 to 9 p.m. and includes homemade cookies at the end of the tour by the Moon Viewing Pond. The cost is $20 per person and $10 for garden members.
It may be the nation"s oldest botanical garden, founded in 1859, but the Missouri Botanical Garden offers modern fun for visitors of all ages, especially little ones. The Children"s Garden is open from April to October each year and in it, kids can explore a limestone cave, slip down Spelunker"s Slide, board a steamboat and climb through the tree house. Pick up a Family Backpack, with even more activities centered around specific gardens.
Best Seasonal Event: Nature Navigators: Get Muddy! allows visitors of all ages to get down in the soil for some fun. The event has two sessions on a select Saturday in August each year.
With 250 acres of non-stop fun, the New York Botanical Garden is a must-see on any family trip to New York City. The Everett Children"s Adventure Garden hosts guided activities daily, with hands-on exploration for little ones, and The Enid A. Haupt Observatory allows visitors to step into a tropical rainforest any time of year, no matter the weather outside. Kids will especially love climbing through the Boulder Maze and feeling the slimy or soft aquatic plants and animals in the Touch Tank.
Best Seasonal Event: Learn about the pickling process with the Dig Plant, Grow: Pickle Me! event that takes place from mid-July to mid-August each year. Children will discover plants that help with the pickling process and can make their own batch of pickles to take home!
The 96-acre Memphis Botanic Garden offers outdoor fun and learning for every age. Enjoy Family Paint Parties, a weekly farmer"s market and live music, all in the heart of Memphis. My Big Backyard is specifically for kids, with hands-on exhibits, playgrounds, outdoor art and plants galore - there are more than 15 exhibits for pint-size gardeners!
Best Seasonal Event: Camp overnight with your family during the Summer Family Campout in My Big Backyard. Pitch a tent, cook S"mores over a campfire and stargaze all night long. Dinner and breakfast are provided and the tent costs $35 per person and $25 for garden members.
The Green Bay Botanical Garden aims to cultivate a lasting relationship between plants and people. With 25 gardens and collections to explore near Door County, Wis., families will find flowers and foliage from various cultures and environments from around the world. The Gertrude B Nielsen Children"s Garden is designed with kids in mind, and is home to a gardening patch, butterfly garden, sensory garden, frog bridge and wetting zoo. Enjoy daily scheduled events or special classes and programs specifically for children and families, like Children"s Story Hour, and be sure to visit the Vine Maze.
Stroll through themed gardens, hike the nature trails or discover a historical farm at the Denver Botanic Gardens. The Mordecai Children"s Garden offers hands-on learning for the littlest gardeners, and you can enjoy a Phenology Walk, hunt for bugs and see aquatic animals in the Pipsqueak Pond. Kids can listen to stories or show off their talent at the Sagebrush Stage, too. The children"s garden is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, March 1 to November 1 annually.
Best Seasonal Event: Think your family can find your way out of a corn maze? Try it at the garden each fall. Kids will help Farmer Green find his lost animals along the way. Come back at night for the Glo Maze, a fun evening activity for Ã¢â‚¬Ëœtweens and teens. The corn maze is open Friday, Saturday and Sunday, from mid-September to the beginning of November.
Located adjacent to Piedmont Park in Atlanta, this garden is home to indoor and outdoor plant collections, and more than 20 art sculptures, displays and fountains. See the Sunflower Fountain at the entrance to the Children"s Garden, which offers daily, weekly and monthly programs for families. Also enjoy treasure hunts, story time and a garden stroller strut with your little ones, as well as the Music From Plants Program, in which you"ll hear music made from instruments made of plants!
Best Seasonal Event: Feed an amphibian with the garden staff at the Fuqua Conservatory, and watch frogs jump to life when they"re fed. This event is held Saturdays at 11 a.m.
Step into the South Africa Garden and then transport your family to Australia before heading to the Bamboo Garden at this spectacular botanic garden in the heart of San Diego. The Hamilton Children"s Garden hosts various activities daily, weekly and monthly for children of all ages to enjoy, such as scavenger hunts, arts and crafts and the building of a fort with balsa wood blocks. The Spell and Smell Garden has kids spell their names with plants and test their sense of smell along the way.
Best Seasonal Event: The Garden of Lights, on display each December, illuminates the plants and brings holiday cheer to the area. Check out the Nutcracker Exhibit, sing along with carolers, roast marshmallows and make crafts to take home.
See if you can spot a moose or bear on the Lowenfels Family Nature Trail at the Alaska Botanical Garden. Located in Anchorage, the garden"s 1.1-mile trail takes families through a spruce and birch forest before guiding them back to the gardens to pick up the Discovery Duffel. The bag includes activities and books that lead families through the various exhibits.
Best Seasonal Event: Harvest Day takes place every September and offers fun activities for families, including a scarecrow contest, garden games and a food drive for local organizations.