Trade Slush for Lush at Botanical Gardens from Denver to Des Moines

Ditch cold, gray days in favor of a balmy air, a profusion of color and heady scents at these botanical gardens and conservatories.

Conservatory of Flowers in San Francisco, California

by NEA Member Benefits


Right about now, winter feels like a moving goalpost. You can almost see the light at the end of the tunnel but you’re not there yet. When the weather is making up its own mind and inching forward to spring, get an early taste of the season by visiting an indoor conservatory or greenhouse. Bursting with foliage and flowers, it’s the perfect way to spring right on ahead.

1. Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania

Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania

One of the world’s greatest gardens is tucked into the Philadelphia countryside and is inviting all year-round. While many visit for spectacular holiday displays, the Longwood Gardens’ jaw-dropping conservatory is a half-acre under glass with almost every kind of greenery imaginable, tropical or otherwise. As an extra bonus, you just might be able to catch Longwood’s popular orchid and spring bloom events. As schedules vary, be sure to call or check the events section of the website in advance of your visit. (Admission starts at $23 for adults, $20 for seniors 62+ and college students with a valid ID, $12 for children ages 5–18 and free for children 4 and under.)

Plan your trip: Visit Philadelphia | Philadelphia Global Convention & Visitors’ Bureau

Driving distances: 30 minutes from Wilmington, Delaware | 1 hour from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania | 2 hours from Princeton, New Jersey | 2.5 hours from New York, New York

Where to stay: Microtel Inn & Suites by Wyndham West Chester | Fairfield Inn & Suites Kennett Square Brandywine Valley | Hilton Garden Inn Kennett Square

2. Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden in Iowa

You don’t have to travel far to escape the bone-chilling cold and get a feel for the tropics. The geodesic-domed conservatory, which received a significant gift from Longwood Gardens, is an invitation to paradise. The dizzying array of tropical plants at Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden includes the starfruit tree, the traveler’s palm and the chenille plant, among other fascinating varieties. Tucked in here is also an incredible desert garden, which showcases yucca, jade plants and more. Finally, dig into a tasty bite at the Trellis Cafe. (Admission: $10 for adults, $9 for seniors and military personnel, $7 for children ages 4–17 and free for children 3 and under.)

Plan your trip: Catch Des Moines | Travel Iowa

Driving distances: 2 hours from Omaha, Nebraska and Cedar Rapids, Iowa | 3 hours from Kansas City, Kansas | 3 hours 30 minutes from Minneapolis, Minnesota

Where to stay: Staybridge Suites Des Moines Downtown | Holiday Inn Des Moines Downtown | Embassy Suites by Hilton Des Moines Downtown

3. Rawlings Conservatory & Botanical Gardens in Baltimore, Maryland

Rawlings Conservatory & Botanical Gardens in Baltimore, Maryland

Imagine a conservatory that lets you move from a balmy Mediterranean climate to an arid desert and then on to the warm tropics. That’s exactly what you get at Rawlings Conservatory & Botanical Gardens, majestic home to a dazzling array of plants, which is the second-oldest glass conservatory in America. The best part about visiting is that some plant or the other is always in bloom, making it worth repeat visits. Tour the Tropical, the Mediterranean, the Desert or the Palm House and the Orchid room to get your fill of lush foliage and flowers. Watch for an early peek at spring flower displays or join a Sunday educational session if you can. (Admission is free, but a $5 per person donation is encouraged.) 

Plan your trip: Visit Baltimore | Visit Maryland

Driving distances: 1 hour 30 minutes from Washington, D.C. | 2 hours from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Dover, Delaware | 4 hours from New York City, New York | 4 hours 30 minutes from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Where to stay: Red Roof Inn Baltimore Northwest | Radisson Hotel Baltimore Downtown-Inner Harbor | Embassy Suites by Hilton Baltimore Inner Harbor

4. Conservatory of Flowers in San Francisco, California

Conservatory of Flowers in San Francisco, California

Here’s something to raise your glass to. As if heavenly foliage alone were not enough, the irresistible Bay Area conservatory hosts a monthly Botanicals and Brews beer garden. Held in the Victorian greenhouse at the Conservatory of Flowers, the brewers spin heady tales of the botanical origins of their spirited creations, much to the delight of attendees. The ultimate perk? Luxuriating in a mix of highland and lowland tropical plants, their aquatic cousins and more. (Admission: Free every first Tuesday of the month. $9 for adults; $6 for seniors 65+, college students with ID and children ages 12–17; $3 for children 5–11; free for children 4 and under. Discounts for San Francisco residents with ID.)

Plan your trip: San Francisco Travel | Visit California

Driving distances: 1 hour from San Jose, California | 1 hour 30 minutes from Sacramento, California | 3 hours 30 minutes from Fresno, California | 4 hours from Reno, Nevada

Where to stay: Red Roof Plus+ San Francisco Airport  | Presidio Inn | Days Inn by Wyndham San Francisco

5. Denver Botanic Gardens in Denver, Colorado

Denver Botanic Gardens in Denver, Colorado

Photo courtesy of Denver Botanic Gardens

If skiing is by now squarely in the rearview mirror, put Denver’s gardens on your list of getaways. The Mile High City is so in love with The Boettcher Memorial Tropical Conservatory at the Denver Botanic Gardens that it is an official historic landmark. Foodies will especially appreciate the range of food plants, including bananas, coffee and chocolate, and everybody will love the exotic tropical and subtropical plants sure to chase the winter blues away. (Admission: $12.50 for adults; $9.50 for seniors 65+, military and veterans with ID; $9 for students with ID and children ages 3–15; children 2 and under are free.) 

Plan your trip: Denver | Colorado Tourism

Driving distances: 1 hour from Colorado Springs, Colorado | 2 hours from Cheyenne, Wyoming | 4 hours from Grand Junction, Colorado | 4 hours 30 minutes from Casper, Wyoming

Where to stay: Red Roof Inn Denver  | Ramada by Wyndham Denver Downtown | Crowne Plaza, Denver

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