Fresh (and exhausted) off a gorgeous summer Saturday at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum with the family. This was the last foreseeable completely free weekend — definitely of the summer and quite possibly the last of of the year — and we wanted to spend it exploring someplace new. We’d never been out to the Arboretum at the height of summer. The eye-popping colors, space to run free, and hands-and-feet-on exhibits were just what our kids needed with summer slipping away and the schedules of fall beckoning. Here are ten things that get their stamp of approval:
1) Green Play Yard – You may not want to make this your first stop at the Arb. Chances are, you’ll have a hard time dragging your little ones away from the sand-and-water play, dreamy little paths among the plants, playhouses, stumps and logs. It’s designed for ages 0-5 conveniently divided into age-appropriate areas, but don’t be surprised if older ones are just as tempted to dive in and play. Read more about the nature play elements here.
2) Andrus Learning Center hands-on exhibits – Did you know it takes 367 gallons of water and 26 square feet of land to produce a hamburger? These exhibits encourage kids to be mindful of how important plants are when it comes to what they eat. They’re fun, engaging, and appeal to all ages. Plant-Maker Studio is offered weekends at the Arb (12-4pm), this program is included with admission and features simple hands-on activities for kids. Today we sealed milkweed seeds in handmade paper to take home, plant, and lure monarchs to.
3) Rotating interactive exhibits – Find these crowd-pleasers in the Oswald Visitor Center along with restrooms, dining and information on making the most of your trip to the Arboretum. [Please note: This particular exhibit is no longer on display. Visit the Arboretum website to find the latest seasonal installations. We’re leaving the picture up as proof that this place appreciates its younger visitors, too!]
4) Space to race – Pick up a map and start wandering. There are tranquil gardens, sculpture gardens, technicolor gardens, edible gardens, ponds full of frogs, makeshift splash pads tucked into corners and often other artwork marching about the grounds. The kids will probably get pretty dirty, but they won’t break anything. [Note again: check the website for current outdoor exhibits as they change with the seasons. That super-sized butterfly below has since fluttered on to a new home.]
5) Sunday brunch favorites
A scrumptious weekend brunch is served up at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum’s cafe filled with tastes for all ages. The kids can bulk up on a full meal for $9 (waffles, eggs, bacon, potatoes, fruit – the menu is always subject to change) before letting them loose outside. Sat 9am-12pm, Sun 10am-1pm.
6) Bee-Line Shuttle – Leave your car in the parking lot and hop the free shuttle for a scenic, relaxing tour of Three-Mile Drive. Jump off at points of interest along the way including the new Bee & Pollinator Discovery Center, the sculpture garden and the hedge mazes; shuttles run about every 20 minutes, May thru October, 11:30am-5:30pm.
7) The buzz on the bees – is about the new Bee & Pollinator Discovery Center! Jump off the shuttle to try out the exhibits and get some fun photo ops.
8) Maze Garden – Nothing like having your 11-year-old challenge you to a run through the hedge maze to remind you that your stamina is not what it once was. Great fun, though, and if the littlest ones aren’t up for the big labyrinth, there’s a junior maze to navigate as well.
9) StoryTime in the Library – Toddlers and preschoolers can curl up for nature-inspired stories ongoing Thursdays in the Anderesen Library, 10:30am.
10) Seasonal & Special Events – We were thrilled to happen upon the summer Art Crawl (hand-crafted treasures and wine-tasting makes for happy adults, too!). Keep in mind the Landscape Arboretum is open year-round and offers such seasonal treats as fall apples, spring syrup, snowshoeing through the winter, and much more programming for families.
Savings tip: Free Third Mondays of the month, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m., Visitor Center and buildings close at 4:30 p.m.