Think Chuck E. Cheese. Or even COSI for example – I love the place and Zoe does too, and it’s the number one kids science center in the country for a reason, but I can only handle it in small doses. I find myself very depleted and in need of a nap after spending more than a couple of hours there. (Fortunately, it has the same effect on kids – and that’s why we love COSI!).
Franklin Park Conservatory, on the other hand, is a kid-friendly fantasyland that doesn’t deplete the adults. It’s the perfect indoor getaway for parents with kids, couples or anyone looking for a quiet and beautiful place in which to walk, explore, discover and relax. I absolutely love the energy of this place – I don’t know if it’s all the plants putting out good clean oxygen or what, but the air simply feels wonderful there at any time of the year. It’s rejuvenating.
If you haven’t heard of it, Franklin Park Conservatory is a small but world-class botanical and horticultural center located two miles east of downtown Columbus. It showcases exotic plant collections, special exhibitions, and a signature collection of work by glass artist Dale Chihuly. You might be thinking that this doesn’t sound like a place to take toddlers – in fact at one time I never would have dreamed of doing that myself – but once you do, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. FPC is kid heaven!
The size is manageable. It’s never uber crowded. And the atmosphere can’t be beat. Adults get to walk around in a gorgeous, natural space, following our little adventurers as they explore a peaceful, serene environment (except when the big macaws are in full voice – then it’s quite loud!). On too-rainy, too-hot or too-cold days, FPC is an oasis where kids can be kids, the whole family gets some exercise, and everyone goes home with that refreshed feeling as if you’ve been outdoors. All without braving the elements.
FPC highlights for little ones include the koi ponds (one outside, one inside), many waterfalls and fountains, the afore-mentioned loud parrots, courtyards with rock huts, a tropical jungle, a fairytale themed model train, hidden pathways, stairs to a tree house or pirate’s roost (depending upon your imagination), a cactus world, ramps and stairways to climb, and cave tunnels with glowing, gorgoeus ceilings to marvel at and explore. But it’s certainly not just for kids.
Not just for kids and families
For kid-free adults, FPC is romantic and peaceful: romantic walkways, exquisite glass art nestled amongst beautiful plants and flowers, waterfalls, hidden spots for stealing smooches, amazing scenery for photo backdrops, fat happy koi fish, secluded outdoor courtyards, lush foliage, bubbling fountains. There are also frequent evening events such as Cocktails at the Conservatory, and there’s an adorable gift shop and really nice cafe. There’s a reason this is a primo spot for engagements and weddings – it’s simply gorgeous here. It’s a great spot for a date but I wouldn’t waste it on a first date – I’d save it for that first serious date (once you know he or she is the one). Then you can come back many more times as a couple or family and reminisce that this was the place where it all went down.
But wait, there’s more
We love the indoor conservatory part so much that we’ve never even visited the surrounding gardens and grounds, all of which I’m told are also beautiful. As an extra bonus, the Victorian Palm House is lit up each evening at dusk by a one million dollar light art installation by famed light artist James Turrell. It is pretty spectacular. Bring a picnic blanket, sit outside on the lawn and wait for the subtle, gradual, enchanting rainbow light show to begin. It does go v-e-r-y slowly, and is definitely designed for adults rather than kids, but I think older kids would enjoy it. Little kids will think it’s pretty but boring, so pack some other fun activities (light sabers or glow necklaces, anyone?) to keep them happy, too.
What’s the catch?
If there’s a catch to all this, it’s that all of this greatness comes at a price. The walk-in prices are pretty steep for what is likely only an hour or two of activity. I highly recommend becoming a member of FPC because then it works out to quite a good deal. I have an individual plus guest membership which cost me $55 for a year. That allows me to take E and Zoe (under 3 are free), or invite another mom and her little ones as I did this week for an awesome playdate. I promise you’ll want to visit enough during the year that the membership will pay for itself in no time. Oh, and did I mention that parking is free, plentiful, close and easy? Total win.
So, what have I forgotten – what else do you love about Franklin Park Conservatory? Or are there other places like this in Columbus – hidden gems I haven’t found yet? I’d love to hear in the comments below!