Best American Landmarks to Visit with Kids: Spectacular Gardens in Every State
America’s natural landmarks represent the diversity and beauty of this country’s natural landscape and a visit to any of them will inspire a child’s learning. Whether visiting a historic landmark to see firsthand the documents our nation was built on, or gazing in awe at the beauty found in our national parks, visits to these places are an opportunity for memorable family bonding and can bring history to life for a powerful learning experience. This series includes tips and educational resources for visiting some of the most amazing landmarks our country has to offer with your kids. Some may be in your backyard, while others require a longer trip, but all are well worth a visit.
I have a confession.
When my wife and I first met, I was a hiker. Not a walker in horticultural gardens.
Hiking is rugged. Hikes go through untamed wilderness (well, sometimes). Hikes can be devoid of other people. You can fall off a cliff and not be found for months, if ever. Yes—hikes were, in my mind, manly.
But gardens—with their carefully laid pathways, labeled stands of trees and flowers, well-dressed and genteel crowds taking close-ups of flowers and butterflies—gardens were, in my mind, girly.
But now I admit. I’m a garden convert.
Oh, I still love a good hike. But the more my wife and daughters dragged me to gardens all over the U.S., the more I got into them. Why?
- The best gardens are studies in ingenuity, with carefully designed landscapes that make clever use of space and walkways, or running water and ponds, or plants that flower aromatically at different times, or all of the above.
- Great gardens are the work of visionaries, with the granddaddy of them all, Frederick Law Olmstead (designer of New York’s Central Park, among many others), setting the standard. You can’t walk in an Olmstead garden without experiencing a heady mixture of tranquility and awe, and you can’t leave without becoming more of a naturalist. (Watch the PBS documentary on Olmstead.)
- Beautiful gardens are oases in cities, suburbs, in fact almost everywhere. This list of gardens in all 50 states provides links with thumbnail descriptions, then a link to the park’s site for details. For example, Central Park.
Of course, Central Park is so famous I hardly need to tell you about it.
There are many Gardens less famous, but no less stunning.
- Speaking of tranquility, Portland, Oregon’s Japanese Garden will transport you to a higher plane – and do it drug-free! Waterfalls and streams run everywhere, and the curvy, bending paths create semi-private spaces amid the five distinct gardens, each gorgeously landscaped and manicured.
- The magical Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens is on America’s opposite coast, perched on the edge of Boothbay Harbor. Since it’s near my in-laws, we’ve gone a few times. On nearly 300 acres, there’s much to see and explore, from spectacular spring azaleas to fragrant summer roses and hydrangeas. Many fanciful or thought-provoking sculptures dot the landscape as well.
- The astonishing Longwood Gardens outside Philadelphia was created by the DuPont family, and I doubt you’ll ever see more beautiful, bountiful water fountains anywhere in the world. There’s also a huge Conservatory with 21 distinct spaces.
- The sub-tropical Selby Gardens in Sarasota, Florida, is set on the Gulf Coast’s Sarasota Bay. Our kids were enthralled by the fantastical grove of huge banyan trees, the boardwalk winding through a mangrove swamp, and a conservatory set up like a tropical rain forest, filled with endless varieties of orchids.
The point is these great American landmarks are everywhere. Everywhere! You just need to seek them out, bring a picnic, and soak them in.
Have a beauteous garden you’d like to recommend? Leave a comment to tell other readers about it!
Michael Solow has worked as a teacher, journalist, and commercial writer/creative director. Michael has also taught high school English and junior high math, gaining his teaching certification from Vassar College and a master's degree in the teaching of writing and literature from George Mason University. His writing has been published in the New York Times, the San Francisco Review of Books, TheMorningNews.org, and the Hemingway Review. He is the proud dad of two grown daughters and the happy husband of an elementary school librarian.