Location: Cape Cod, MA
Address: 67 Grove Street, Sandwich MA 02563
Hours: Heritage operates from mid-April to mid-October and offers Gardens Aglow, a holiday festival of lights on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from late November until just before Christmas from 10am – 5pm, daily.
FUN FOR ANY SEASON
How I Heard About Heritage
I was introduced to the gardens by my parents. As new residents of Sandwich, Massachusetts, they are blessed to live just a few miles away from the grounds. Over the past year of them living here, I can’t begin to count the times Heritage has come up in conversation as a part of their daily activities. It didn’t take them long to purchase a membership to allow them to return as often as they’d like. Since becoming members, they have brought my sister and her family along several times, attended many gardening clinics and just love going in to walk around for a breath of fresh air frequently. The flora and aroma here cannot be beat!
Heritage Museums & Gardens is a private, not-for-profit, tax-exempt organization that dates all the way back to 1677 and has been developed along Shawme Pond. It is a collection of gardens, museums, an adventure park, and other outdoor activities for families. Their mission is to celebrate American culture and inspire people of all ages to explore, discover and learn together. I encourage you to check out the map of the grounds at https://heritagemuseumsandgardens.org/plan-your-visit/maps/
My Personal Experiences
I took two separate visits to explore Heritage and tried different routes each time. The first visit was with my parents, sister, brother in law, nieces and nephew and my own two kids. Children’s ages ranged from 12 to 1. Heritage was a favorite with all of them!
My nieces and nephew’s favorite parts (ages 12, 8 and 6) include the Carousel (inside and air conditioned!) and Hidden Hollow. My kids (ages 4 and 1) loved those, but when we returned with just my husband, myself and our children, we made sure to check out some areas we’d missed the first time.
Immediately upon driving up to Heritage Museums and Gardens, you are met by amazing flora everywhere. There are 65 acres of gardens, walking trails and peaceful places throughout the grounds. These exquisite gardens and museums are maintained by 28 year-round employees, over 50 seasonal employees, and 177 volunteers each year. I can’t even keep up with a flower bed at my own home, so this really was spectacular from my viewpoint! As you walk in, you will see the overlook of the Flume Fountain to your right. The view is so wonderful that Heritage has placed two white Adirondack chairs for you to sit and enjoy the view – perhaps with a cup of coffee!
If you look closely, you can make out a small pond that the flume empties into. Around the corner and down the hill from the chairs is this pond, set back from the path in a field is the pond, along with some benches. It’s another nice place to sit and relax, and listen to the falling water.
Continuing along the paved walkway, you pass the Daylily Garden. Heritage houses tens of thousands of plants including collections of world-renowned Dexter rhododendrons, daylilies, hostas and hydrangeas!
Off to the left, my son was excited to see a real windmill! The Old East Mill is a windmill built in nearby Orleans and dates all the way back to 1800. This Mill is currently under restoration.
We were excited to go through the Hart Family Maze Garden next. On a warm day, the shade was nice and the maze was great fun, especially for my four year old! He took us to a few dead ends, but before any frustration or lack of enthusiasm kicked in, we were able to find our way through.
Shortly after, we found the labyrinth. The labyrinth was designed by Marty Cain, one of the best-known labyrinth designers in North America. I enjoyed that it was, again, a shaded activity, and a nice active way for my preschooler to run out some of his energy alongside his Dad! Tourists young and old were taking advantage of this opportunity to reflect and enjoy all that nature has to offer in this beautiful place.
At long last, we returned to the Tree House and Hidden Hollow!
Having been there twice now, I can’t begin to explain how wonderful this area is for kids of all ages and sizes. The four year old took part if every activity he could: performing on the stage, dressing up with butterfly wings, playing the natural wood xylophones, playing with blocks in the fort, creating a network of tubes to travel a ball down the hill, drawing on the chalkboards, creating unique works of art, and playing with old fashioned water pumps!
My nieces and nephew enjoyed this area as well. Each time they get to visit with Grammy and Grampy, they would love nothing more than to stay there until the Gardens close! As a parent, it’s so exciting to see my child interact with what are such simple and old-fashioned toys by today’s high-tech standards, yet not want to leave. This area is also somewhat shaded with several areas for parents to sit, while kids play and babies nap!
I was able to convince my son to leave Hidden Hollow on our second trip only because I’d planned ahead and we hadn’t made it to the 1908 Charles Looff Carousel yet!
This impressively antique hand-carved carousel is located inside along with the American Art Gallery and is a wonderful air-conditioned building (yes, it does get warm on the Cape sometimes!). Unlimited rides on the carousel are included with the price of daily admission to the Museum and Gardens. My toddler loved riding on the bench, while my preschooler thoroughly enjoyed selecting different horses (as a plus, the horses all had a “seat belt” to help keep wiggling youngsters on). I never tire of his explanations of color, design, etc. that led him to various horses. These are the real deal, and I’m glad I was able to share them with him!
The Gallery of American Art included many handmade and hand-painted lead figurines. We didn’t get to go in there, but my nephew was enthralled with the figurines and the dioramas that contained them (they were behind glass, so no worries about the lead!)
Our final stop in the park was a special treat for Daddy, the Driven to Collect Automobile Gallery! The automobiles fill a two story building and are absolutely breathtaking! Their pristine condition along with the detailed descriptions of each one teaches so much about the history of the automobile and human ingenuity in America. In my son’s opinion, the coolest thing to see was a toss up between seeing a Ford Model T Hose Pumper (Early 1900’s Firetruck built on the Model T chassis)
or the 1913 Ford Model which you are allowed to sit in and experience close up!
There were many more cars that were not on display, and if you were to get a membership, you get a chance to have a behind-the-scenes look at those, too!
Reflection on Child-Friendliness
I will admit that when my parents first started raving about Heritage Museum and Gardens and insisted that we bring our young children, I wasn’t buying it. I figured it’d be nice, but I was anticipating an over-heated preschooler quickly getting bored and in trouble. I am happy to report I WAS WRONG! In our two short visits, this has quickly become a family favorite and a place we’re excited to return to visit each summer to come!
Highlights for parents:
- The entire museum and its gardens are accessible to strollers and wheelchairs. There are a few nature trails and wooded paths where wearing a baby may be a better option, but we certainly didn’t miss out by using a stroller for both visits. Honestly, during our first visit, I was wearing the toddler home while the preschooler took a free ride in the stroller. I will warn you that some of the paths are pretty steep, and give you a great workout when pushing the stroller, but they are nice enough to label them on the maps, so you can navigate on other paths if you wish.
- For any areas that aren’t stroller friendly or that can easily become congested, there are nearby free stroller-parking areas, such as the carousel and some of the galleries.
- There are open-air transports which make continuous loops approximately every 20 minutes to assist all members of your party to explore the gardens. These are free with the cost of your admission to Heritage.
- Heritage has “Magnolia Café” on the grounds for food and beverages, but if you’d prefer, they welcome outside food as well, so feel free to pack a picnic to eat outside in the gardens.
- I was pleased to find that there were numerous children walking around the grounds during both visits. During our second visit, we were exploring along with several groups of children which looked to be part of a summer camp trip. It was a very laid back environment perfect for children and parents to have a relaxing family day enjoying the outdoors.
- If you have older children (ages 7 and up), Heritage has also opened an “Adventure Park” adjacent to the gardens. It is a tree top adventure course complete with climbing and zip lining! We did not go there as my children are way too small. I look forward to trying it with them in the future though! It looked really fun! Please note: Adventure Park is NOT included with your admission to Heritage Museum and Gardens.
Tips for parents:
- Since the grounds are so expansive, you might want to consider opening the map on their website to plan your trip before you get there (especially if you want to see anything besides Hidden Hollow!).
- If your kids are old enough, or you can use a carrier, be sure to take some of the nature trails around the pond and other areas. Many of these are not paved, and strollers would not work well there.
- If you or your children are into gardening, be sure to see if they are offering any classes during your visit.
- Even though a lot of it is in the shade, be sure to pack some sunscreen, (and bug spray, since you’re in the woods!), just in case!
Thank Heidi & Mike for writing this excellent article to share with families. Thank you also to Heritage Garden for inviting The Playful Parent to come out and share this experience with other families.