Summer is in full swing, which means there’s no better time to play outdoors. But even diehard city lovers sometimes tire of the incessant urban annoyances in the summer months: the long commutes, the endless pavement, and the oppressive heat.
Luckily, nearly every major city in the United States features a botanical garden: a place dedicated to the cultivation and display of plants and nature. Step under the shady foliage of a local garden and your summer worries melt away, replaced with a plant-inspired serenity.
And these days, botanical gardens offer so much more than just plants. From evening concerts to sculpture gardens to international art exhibitions, botanical gardens are at the heart of city culture. Some even boast stunning fountain displays or children’s gardens that will entertain even the tiniest among us.
For all the design- and architecture-obsessed urbanites out there looking for something to do this summer, consider a botanical garden. We’ve rounded up 11 of the best, right here.
Located in Portland’s Washington Park, this 5.5-acre Japanese Garden features five different gardening styles: a strolling pond, tea garden, sand and stone garden, flat garden, and natural garden. It’s a serene and picturesque atmosphere, considered to be the most authentic Japanese garden outside of Japan.
Founded in 1910 and located adjacent to Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden features more than 10,000 kinds of plants from all over the world. The garden is open year-round and boasts an alluring indoor tropical garden that’s great for winter, but one of the more popular times to visit is the period during the spring when dozens of cherry blossoms bloom.
It’s easy to discount arid destinations as unlikely places for botanical gardens, but Phoenix’s Desert Botanical Garden proves that deserts are alive and beautiful too. More than 50,000 plants are on display on 140 acres, and visitors can walk five different loops that showcase cacti, wildflowers, and even herbs. Don’t miss special events featuring music or a night of ballet, all set in the gardens.
Founded by industrialist Pierre du Pont, Kennett Square, Pennsylvania’s Longwood Gardens is a bit like jetting away to Versailles for the weekend: Stunning fountains abound, the Orangery is divine, and perfectly symmetrical hedges leave you in awe.
But Longwood also boasts four-and-a-half acres of indoor gardens, a 10,010-pipe Longwood Organ, and a serene waterlily display. Don’t miss the illuminated fountain and fireworks performances each weekend during the summer; the fountains just underwent a $90 million renovation and the show is spectacular.
It’s hard to choose just one or two things to highlight about the 50-acre Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, especially because this Richmond, Virginia, spot boasts more than a dozen themed gardens. The classical domed Conservatory—the only one of its kind in the mid-Atlantic—is downright Instagrammable, and we love everything from the children’s garden to the stunning rose garden.
It’d be easy to include this garden in Washington, D.C., on history alone: Congress established it on the National Mall in 1820, making it one of the oldest in the country. But there’s also plenty to love on its own merit, like the 65,000-strong plant collection and the conservatory, where you’ll find indoor gardens focused on jungle and desert climates.
This 24-acre oasis in Denver is one of the top attractions in the city, no matter the weather. Spring and summer are ideal times to visit the Japanese, waterlily, and ornamental gardens, while the Gardens of the West section shows how drought-tolerant and native plants thrive in a semi-arid environment. There is also an excellent children’s garden—complete with interactive stream—and top-notch concerts and events throughout the year.
There’s much to love about the 79-acre Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis, from the 14-acre Japanese garden to one of the world’s largest collections of rare orchids. But one of the most compelling exhibits is Climatron, the first geodesic dome to be used as a conservatory.
Open since 1960, the Climatron greenhouse has no columns from floor to ceiling and rises 70 feet in the center. The tropical rainforest theme boasts more than 2,800 plants and a river aquarium with exotic fish.
Set on 47 acres that lie between Highway 1 and the Pacific Ocean, the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens in Fort Bragg is one of the few botanical gardens located on the coast. This means that you get ocean views with your rhododendrons and dahlias, and the garden is also a great spot to see more than 160 species of birds.
There’s something for everyone at the Atlanta Botanical Garden, an urban oasis located in the heart of Midtown. From edible plants to an award-winning children’s garden to a tropical conservatory, the Atlanta Botanical Garden boasts 30 acres that educate, inspire, and provide an easy respite from the city beyond. Don’t miss annual outdoor exhibits that invite internationally renowned artists to showcase their work in the gardens.
Everything is bigger in Texas, so it makes sense that the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden offers a lot. Seventeen specialty gardens give you plenty to choose from in the 66-acre space, and the Dallas Arboretum is especially known for their holiday-themed events. At their fall festival, for example, the gardens use 150,000 fall blooming plants and 90,000 pumpkins to create a Pumpkin Village that will impress any plant (or Halloween!) lover.