Lee loves gardens, so everywhere we go, I try to find worthwhile gardens and parks to explore. Thus, over the years, we have been to numerous variations on this theme. We would like to share our favorites within the US and then elsewhere.
1. Longwood Gardens, Kennett Square, PA
Probably our favorite garden in the USA is Longwood Gardens. On the grounds of the former estate of famous industrialist and millionaire Pierre du Pont, myriad types of flowers and other botanical treasures adorn the landscape, both inside and outside. Numerous fountains enhance the setting and, on summer nights, are featured in musical illuminations. Even during the winter, the conservatory is abloom with an incredible variety of plants from around the world.
2. Central Park, New York, NY
Imagine a tropical-like oasis in the midst of a concrete jungle and you have a picture of Central Park. Renowned the world over, it is an example of a urban refuge, a place of solitude and peace surrounded by noise and hustle-bustle. Frederick Law Olmstead’s masterpiece has been carefully preserved and its popularity is evidenced by the thousands who spend time here, during all seasons of the year.
There’s plenty to do in the park at all times of the year, with skating in the winter, the zoo anytime, ponds and walking trails, etc.
3. The Mall, Washington, D.C.
It’s not technically a park, but its essence is park-like. It is probably the most important park for Americans to visit because it features monuments to many of the greatest Americans and memorials to its bravest citizens. It also is home to one of the world’s greatest museums, so vast that its collections fill numerous buildings.
Within the Mall are the many buildings of the Smithsonian, the Washington Monument (which dominates the skyline), and most of the war memorials. The Mall also allows easy access to the White House, the Jefferson Memorial, the tidal basin, and west to the Arlington Memorial Cemetery.
The Smithsonian Museum, the world’s largest museum, occupies numerous buildings on or near the National Mall in Washington, DC. There is also an annex to the Air and Space Museum at Dulles Airport, about 30 miles west of the city and two galleries in New York City. The Smithsonian also includes the National Zoo, located on the outskirts of the city.
Major sections (housed in separate buildings, primarily on the Mall) include the Arthur M Sackler Gallery, the Freer Gallery of Art, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the National Air and Space Museum, the National Gallery of Art, the National Museum of African Art, the National Museum of American History, the National Museum of the American Indian, the National Museum of Natural History, the National Portrait Gallery, the National Postal Museum, the National Zoological Park, the Renwick Gallery, and the Steven F Udvar-Hazy Center. Must sees include the following:
The National Air and Space Museum displays the history of flight through a variety of exhibits and experiences.
The National Museum of Natural History houses an immense collection of animals from around the world.
The National Museum of American History has a huge collection of artifacts and memorabilia representing American culture, past and present
The Washington Monument is a tall (over 550 feet/180 meters), obelisk which occupies the center of the Mall. Visitors can ride an elevator to an observation area which provides spectacular views of the city and the other major memorials. Be prepared to wait in line.
The Lincoln Memorial, at the western end of the Mall, is a moving tribute to one of America’s most beloved presidents. The huge statue of a seated Lincoln commands respect and admiration. On the walls flanking the statue are etched the words of two of Lincoln’s greatest speeches.
The Jefferson Memorial is located on the tidal basin, a large lake connected to the Potomac River. The building which houses the president’s statue looks like it would be at home in ancient Greece or Rome, and has stairs which lead to the water.
The most popular of the war memorials is the famous Vietnam Veterans Memorial “wall” which occupies a spot between the Lincoln and Washington memorials, near the reflecting pool. It is inscribed with the names of all soldiers killed or missing, in chronological order.
4. Balboa Park, San Diego, California
Balboa Park, which houses the zoo and many museums, as well as offering a peaceful respite from the bustling downtown nearby, is a gem of a city park. The architecture of its buildings is positively stunning and it is a major gathering place for locals and tourists alike. Note especially the California Tower and the Museum of Man with their striking Spanish architecture, as well as the Botanical Gardens, which are superb.
5. Washington Park, Portland, OR
In the western part of the city is Washington Park, which has several notable attractions. Here, the visitor will find the International Rose Test Gardens, which display row after row of beautiful roses, in various colors and varieties. Also in the vicinity, higher up on the hill, are the Japanese Gardens, an oasis of solitude and contemplation.
6. Calloway Gardens, Pine Mountain, GA
Calloway Gardens, located in Pine Mountain, Georgia, is a place renowned especially for its incredible display of azaleas in the early spring. There are actually much more than azaleas to see here in this horticultural wonderland. Scenic drives through the wooded countryside, greenhouses and outdoor flower gardens with extensive collections of plants from around the world, a lake with boat rentals, concerts and fairs, are some of the other activities available.
7. Cypress Gardens, Winterhaven, FL
A short day trip to from Orlando, FL is the quasi-theme park Cypress Gardens, in Winterhaven, Florida, which offers a variety of activities for people of all ages. There are water-skiing shows in the lagoon, museums, demonstrations, indoor shows, and a world-famous botanical garden with plants from all over the world as well as beautiful topiaries.
8. Millenium Park, Chicago, IL
Chicago is a city which contains many green areas. Particularly popular are Lincoln Park (see below)which also houses the city zoo, and Millennium Park, right on the lakefront. Millenium Park has fountains, gardens, a skating rink in the winter, as well as the architecturally acclaimed Pritzker Pavilion, which hosts outdoor concerts.
9. Magnolia Plantation & Gardens, Charleston, SC
Magnolia Plantation is located just outside of Charleston. It offers a look at a genuine southern plantation with its glorious mansion and its extensive gardens. The Greek-revival plantation house is set amidst sprawling woods and wetlands. The Spanish Moss-draped trees add a special ambience to the grounds. Walk the garden trail to enjoy the wetlands with their human touches of wooden bridges, painted white, and benches for rest and contemplation.
10. US Botanical Gardens, Washington, D.C.
These gardens and greenhouses are almost directly in front of the US Capitol Building, but are often overlooked by tourists who have so much to see and do in Washington. However, the occasional visitor is richly rewarded with displays of flowers and other types of plants from around the world.
11. Rock Creek Park, Washington, D.C.
Another less-visited park in Washington is Rock Creek Park, which occupies a large area north of the mall. This park is extremely popular with locals who enjoy the varied activities available here. There are tennis courts, a golf course, picnic tables, a planetarium, etc. I particularly like the Kahlil Gibran Memorial Garden which pays tribute to the great poet with a haven for reflection and contemplation.
12. Lincoln Park, Chicago, IL
Chicago’s other great city park contains the Lincoln Park Conservatory, with its excellent displays of flowers and other plants, and the Lincoln Park Zoo, which has a huge collection of interesting animals from around the world. There are also facilities for various sports, beaches and playgrounds.
13. Centennial Park, Atlanta, GA
Centennial Park, the site of the 1996 Summer Olympics, commemorates that event with fountains and walkways. Great views of the city abound since it’s framed by skyscrapers. The Fountain of the Rings is probably its most significant structure.
14. Boston Common, Boston, MA
This park makes the list because it is the oldest city park in the country, having been set aside in 1634. It hosts concerts and is used for many varied recreational activities.
15. Congress Park, Saratoga Springs, NY
Congress Park preserves many of the natural springs which made the city famous and gave it its name. Besides that, it is a lovely place to stroll amongst the attractive landscaping. There is also a very popular carousel for children.
16. Roger Williams Park, Providence, RI
A huge area in the southern part of the city of Providence not only houses the excellent zoo but also offers boat rides, pony rides, a children’s carousel, miles of trails, numerous lakes, and the city’s recently renovated botanical gardens.