Bursting with beautiful blooms, botanical gardens boast collections of everything from native plants to tropical rainforests. Several have a Japanese garden and an interactive garden for children, and some even offer free admission. It’s such a subjective topic that it’s hard to decide which ones to visit. That’s why we turned to our readers for our Best of Travel Awards to help us determine the best botanical gardens in the U.S.
1. Myriad Botanical Gardens (Winner)
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
TravelAwaits readers have spoken and we are proud to announce that Myriad Botanical Gardens is the best botanical garden in the U.S.! Its 15 acres are nestled in the heart of downtown, within walking distance of the Oklahoma City National Memorial, Scissortail Park, Oklahoma City Museum of Art, and the Bricktown district. The best part? The gardens are free and open to the public!
Home to a diverse collection of ornamental flowering perennials and grasses, water features, and more, Myriad Botanical Gardens hosts a variety of seasonal events and activities from concerts to classes. Kids love it due to the children’s garden and playground, vintage carousel, wintertime outdoor ice rink, and annual Children’s Garden Festival. Dogs love it too, thanks to the garden’s off-leash dog park.
2. San Diego Botanic Garden
San Diego Botanic Garden is actually 27 miles north of downtown in Encinitas. Four miles of scenic trails throughout 37 sprawling acres connect 29 themed gardens from around the world. Here, you can see native plants, desert gardens, a tropical rainforest (complete with a 60-foot waterfall), and an interactive children’s garden. It also boasts the nation’s largest collection of bamboo and is filled with birds and butterflies.
TravelAwaits writer June Russell-Chamberlin recommends that visitors “wander through the primeval-looking Palm Canyon, the verdant Tropical and Temperate Rainforest, and the African Garden. Compare the Old World Desert Garden to the New World Desert Garden. Watch the turtles at the pond in the Bamboo Garden or find citrus ripening on the trees in the subtropical fruit garden. You can also learn more about the plants that thrive in California garden scapes or browse the gift shop. Wherever you roam, the sheer variety of plants is fascinating.”
3. Missouri Botanical Garden
St. Louis, Missouri
One of the nation’s oldest continuously operating botanical gardens, Missouri Botanical Garden has been around since 1859. Its 79 acres lie adjacent to St. Louis’s Tower Grove Park. MoBot, as it is affectionately referred to, is home to the Climatron, a dome-shaped greenhouse that houses a tropical rainforest. It is also home to a tranquil Japanese Garden, which happens to be one of the largest in North America. Stop and smell the roses at the Lehmann Rose Garden and meander through the English Woodland Garden which features over 300 rhododendrons alone.
In addition to more than 51,000 plants, MoBot has one of the best venues to entertain kids in the entire city. Kids love running around the Doris I. Schnuck Children’s Garden area and the Sophia M. Sachs Butterfly House hosts children’s programs.
On Wednesday evenings in the summer, Missouri Botanical Garden hosts free concerts under the stars. Starting in the 2022 season, reservations are required to attend the Whitaker Music Festival. During the holiday season, the garden gets decked out with light displays for the annual Garden Glow.
4. The Dallas Arboretum And Botanical Garden
Situated on scenic White Rock Lake, the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden takes up 66 acres of East Dallas. Its Margaret Elizabeth Jonsson Color Garden earns its name with azalea, tulip, and daffodil blooms. Amongst its many fascinations, the children’s garden features The Skywalk, an elevated walkway that lets visitors walk amongst the treetops. Stop by the DeGolyer Tea Room for a three-course tea that includes tea sandwiches and scones with clotted cream.
The Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden is especially famous for its Halloween displays, starring 100,000 pumpkins in an incredible Pumpkin Village. During Holiday at the Arboretum, 25-foot-tall Victorian-style gazebos are decorated to represent the 12 Days of Christmas that light up at night.
5. United States Botanic Garden
Established by congress in 1820, the United States Botanic Garden (USBG) is over 2 centuries old, making it the oldest continuously operating botanic garden in the U.S. This living plant museum is located in near Garfield Circle in central Washington, D.C. It is free to visit. Learn about the importance of irreplaceable plants to the well-being of humanity and earth’s ecosystems.
Its Conservatory houses native Hawaiian plants, medicinal plants from all over the world, and rare or endangered plants. In her article on the Most Beautiful Botanical Gardens In The U.S., TravelAwaits writer Vanessa Chiasson encourages visitors to ask for directions to the really old ferns. Across Independence Avenue, Bartholdi Park features a beautiful fountain and showcases sustainable gardening methods. The National Garden is where you can find the First Ladies Water Garden, which honors the spouses of the American presidents, among other things. Can’t make it in person? Take a virtual tour!
6. Denver Botanic Gardens
Stroll through an oasis of greenery, aromatic blooms, reflecting ponds, and striking statuary at the Denver Botanic Gardens. DBG actually has two campuses: Located in the heart of Denver, the York Street Gardens offers 24 acres of botanic beauty, while Chatfield Farm serves as a 750-acre suburban nature preserve.
York Street’s diverse gardens highlight local, international, ornamental, shade, and water plants and flowers. The Monet Pool is populated by (what else?) water lillies. One of the world’s most unique collections of exotic plants is housed at the Tropical Conservatory. Learn about the interconnection of people and landscapes at the Science Pyramid. Home to bonsai and tea gardens, the authentic Japanese Tea Ceremony House hosts popular traditional tea ceremonies.
Peak bloom is from June through September, but there are plenty of reasons to visit any time of year. During the holiday season, see the garden’s flora and naturalistic landscapes illuminated by lights during Blossoms of Light.
7. Portland Japanese Garden
One of the most authentic Japanese gardens outside of Japan, the Portland Japanese Garden can be found just outside the city center in Washington Park. Its 5.5 acres are home to Japanese architecture and eight gardens, including a bonsai garden and the Strolling Pond Garden, which features a koi pond with around 50 koi fish. Tours with knowledgeable volunteer guides are included with admission and membership.
The Cultural Village hosts seasonal activities, performances, and music and art demonstrations. You can also learn about Japanese art and design through the garden’s galleries. Shop unique Japanese merchandise at the gift shop, including several items that aren’t available anywhere else in the country. Classic Japanese teas are served with local, handmade confections at the Umami Café.
8. Desert Botanical Garden
It might be hard to imagine a botanical garden in the arid Sonoran Desert, but Desert Botanical Garden boasts over 90,000 desert plants of 4,400 species. Nestled in the heart of Phoenix, its 55 acres surround Papago Park, the city’s 1,500-acre preserve.
See spectacular Chihuly glass art sculptures and a crested saguaro cactus, but avoid going in the heat of the Arizona summer. Cacti and wildflowers are in bloom in the spring and delicate blooms of wild poppies line the crushed rock paths. Hummingbirds are attracted to the bright flowers on the yucca plants and delicate pink balls that adorn the fairy dusters. In winter, garden paths are lined with thousands of flickering luminaria bags for Las Noches de las Luminarias.
After a day of walking dusty trails, swing by the gift shop to pick up a prickly pear souvenir on your way out. The Desert Botanical Garden is just 10 minutes from Sky Harbor airport, so you could technically visit it on a long layover. If you do go, check out these tips for visiting first.
9. New York Botanical Garden
Bronx, New York
Located in the Bronx borough of New York City, the New York Botanical Garden can be found in the Bronx Park, which is also home to the Bronx Zoo. Founded in 1891, its 250 acres boast 50 gardens with over a million plants! Explore wetlands, a waterfall, and a forest with trees that are more than 200 years old.
One of the foremost and largest botanical libraries in the Western Hemisphere, the Metz Library contains over 11 million articles. Other outstanding attractions include the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden, the native plant garden, and a Victorian-style greenhouse. Everett Children’s Adventure Garden and the Holiday Train Show are great for children, while adults are drawn to the amazing Orchid Show.
10. Longwood Gardens
Chester County, Pennsylvania
About an hour outside of Philadelphia, which is known as America’s Garden Capital, the world-renowned Longwood Gardens can be found in Kennett Square. Explore the Water Lily Display, orchid house, gorgeous greenhouse, fountain park, and more. Amazing experiences include seasonal exhibits, Live Music in the Beer Garden, lectures, and tours.
Tiptoe through nearly a quarter-million tulips in the springtime. During summer, take in Illuminated Fountain Performances as the stunning fountains’ jets synchronize to lights and music. Longwood Gardens is also a popular destination during Christmas, when over 500,000 lights are used to illuminate more than 100 decorated trees. A miniature railway and 140-foot-long tunnel of light round out the festivities.
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