Think botanical gardens are for grown-ups? They’re not just appealing to lovers of rare roses and scientific plant names.
From the time my kids were little, we would visit botanical gardens to see seasonal blooms, feed ducks in ponds, and stroll on woodsy paths. These laid-back outings were more than just fun—they sparked my kids’ curiosity and love for the natural environment.
Over the years, many botanical gardens have become more kid-friendly, growing to include designated children’s gardens with space for advice plat and hands-on activities. They can offer relaxing green escapes when you’re on vacation, or a way to “travel” to a different sort of destination close to home—especially useful during the school year.
We rounded up seven of the most enticing botanical gardens in the U.S. for kids. From whimsical to science-based, they all get a (green) thumbs-up for outdoor fun.
Brooklyn Botanic Garden
This urban oasis spreads over 52 acres and is easy to reach by public transportation. Start in the made-for-kids Discovery Garden, which introduces them to nature and wildlife in various habitats. Cozy paths meander through tall native grasses and flowers that attract butterflies and hummingbirds, and raised boardwalks and platforms give kids a close-up view of leafy canopies. There’s also an “insect hotel” that houses leaf-cutter bees, praying mantises, and termites. The Discovery Garden offers educational programs and docent-led activities for youth ages 2 to 17. Locals can also sign up for children’s gardening classes. Before your visit, download the online field journal to learn how to make your own binoculars, and to log your findings in the garden. bbg.org
Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Gardens
More than just another pretty face, the eight-acre Rory Meyers Children’s Adventure Garden is designed to stimulate kids’ interests in life, earth and environmental sciences with more than 150 interactive exhibits and 17 learning stations. In the Incredible Edible Garden, kids learn about nutrition and how food comes from plants. Plants are Alive, featuring 16-foot-tall flower-filled pots, sheds light on photosynthesis and plant cycles. And children can learn about the benefits of trees and what lives in treetops from the elevated, 240-foot long Texas Skywalk. dallasarboretum.org
Desert Botanical Garden
This sunny, 140-acre garden has a new 8,000-square-foot Cactus Clubhouse play space where kids 12 and under can dig, climb, and build at nature stations that test skills and inspire creativity. They can stack, balance and climb on tree stumps, and play nature-based instruments that include a marimba, claves and rain sticks. At other stations, children can make nature art from seed pods, leaves, and other natural items, and build things from tree cookies, pinecones, large seed pods, and various sized sticks. dbg.org
Green Bay Botanical Garden
Green Bay, Wisconsin
Nestled in a historic apple orchard, the Nielsen Children’s Garden checks all the boxes for outdoor play. Kids can explore a treehouse (accessible by a ramp/bridge), zip down a slide, and navigate a vine maze. In the Wetting Zoo, kids are welcome to water topiaries that are shaped like a rabbit, giraffe, frog and other animals. They can also learn to tell time from a giant sundial, and explore themed gardens that include a Butterfly Garden, Peter Rabbit Garden, Frog Bridge, and Einstein Garden. The garden’s ponds offer quiet time to explore plants and fish. Free, seasonal activities take place in the Discovery Station. gbbg.org
You don’t have to be a chocolate lover to enjoy the multisensory, 1.5-acre Children’s Garden tucked into this sprawling property. It has 25 interactive attractions with fun surprises. Enter the garden through a “caterpillar” arch covered in chocolate vines (Akebia Quinata), one of many chocolate-named, colored or scented plants. A path leads to three motion-activated Hershey’s Kisses fountains that spout a cool mist and make a whooshing sound. There’s also an ABC Border with plants for every letter of the alphabet, and a Chocolate Tropics area with a floor-sized world map that shows cacao-producing countries. Be sure to visit the Hoop House, where kids can get a taste for growing sustainable gardens at home. hersheygardens.org
The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens
San Marino, California
Nestled in a serene suburb of Los Angeles, the Helen and Peter Bing Children’s Garden immerses kids ages 2 – 7 in a storybook setting that explores earth, air, light, and water elements. The adventure begins as families enter a kid-sized blue door and walk under a tunnel of roses to an interactive landscape. Children can swish their hands through bell-shaped water, make music with pebbles, discover fairy doors, and play among topiary animals that surround a vine-covered topiary cottage. Kids can also “disappear” into a swirling bank of fog, explore a tunnel illuminated by prism-diffracted sunlight, and feel the pull of the earth’s magnetic energy with a handful of iron particles found in beach sand. huntington.org
Huntsville Botanical Garden
Located near the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, the 112-acre Huntsville Botanical Garden is home to the nation’s largest open-air butterfly house and a unique two-acre Children’s Garden. Dinosaur fans can walk through an immense rib cage or dig for fossils. Budding astronauts get to observe an authentic space station node and water rocket clock. More traditional garden features include a rainbow garden with prisms and kaleidoscopes, and a storybook garden with toadstool seating, a wishing well, and a hidden garden gate. Kids can navigate an old-fashioned maze or make their own from giant sunflowers with moveable leaves. In the Bamboo Garden, kids learn how the sturdy plant is used for cutting boards, fishing poles, and musical instruments. hsvbg.org