If you need to escape Miami’s constant motion, consider a green day in one of the country’s largest tropical botanical gardens. A butterfly grove, tropical plant conservatory and gentle vistas of marsh and keys habitats, plus frequent art installations from artists like Roy Lichtenstein, are all stunning.
Founded in 1938 by Dr. David Fairchild, the Tropical Botanical Garden is a testament to his lifetime love of botany and contribution to American horitculture and even civic identity– it was Fairchild who introduced Washington DC to its signature cherry blossom trees. After retiring to Miami, Fairchild teamed up with environmentalist Marjory Stoneman Douglas (of Everglades fame) and landscape architect William Lyman Phillips to create a public garden where Miami's natural climate could provide a year-round setting for stunning plant specimens.
What to see
The lushly lined pathways of the Tropical Plant Conservatory and the Rare Plant House contain rare philodendrons, orchids, begonias, rare palms, rhododendrons, ferns and moss, while the Richard H Simons Rainforest, though small in size, provides a splendid taste of the tropics, with a little stream and waterfalls amid orchids, plus towering trees with lianas (long woody vines) and epiphytes up in the rainforest canopy.
The Fairchild Tropical Garden is also home to some impressive aquatic exhibits, including the Sibley Victoria Pool, which is named for its Victoria water lilies – the largest variety in the world. The Fountain Court Pool is home to even more water lily varieties, paired with glass art by Dale Chihuly. Stop at the Palm Glade Pool to see sacred lotus plants, and to the Tropical Plant Conservatory's pools to see another Chihuly, the End of Day Tower sculpture.
A favorite among the garden's youngest visitors is the Wings of the Tropics exhibition. Inside of an indoor gallery, hundreds of butterflies flutter freely through the air, the sheen of their wings glinting in the light. There are some 40 different species represented, including exotics from Central and South America, like blue morphos and owl butterflies. Visitors can also watch in real time as chrysalises emerge as butterflies at Vollmer Metamorphosis Lab.
The Fairchild is also home to some rare and endangered cycad plants, which are native to South Florida and Puerto Rico and are a very ancient plant variety topped only by ferns, conifers, and horsetails. Cycads are capable of living up to a thousand years and first evolved to be pollinated by beetles. It's not all lush, dew-dripped plants at the Fairchild however. You can also find arid and succulent varieties adapted to equally hot, but considerably more arid climates, too.
In addition to easy-to-follow, self-guided walking tours, a free 45-minute tram tours the entire park on the hour from 10am to 3pm (till 4pm weekends). There are also a couple of on-site cafes serving simple light fare or you can bring your own picnic and eat on the grounds.
Tips for visiting Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden
Fairchild Botanic Garden is open seven days a week from 10am - 4pm. Tickets are $24.95 for adults, $17.95 for seniors, $15.95 for students with ID, $11.95 for children ages 6-17, and free for children five and under.
Fairchild Tropical Garden lies about 6 miles south of Coral Gables downtown. It's easiest to get here by car or taxi. Another option is to take metrorail to South Miami, then transfer to bus 57. Parking is available by the Visitor Center as well as at the Lowlands Parking Field.
It's highly recommended you arrive with your own full water bottle, sun protection, and bug spray, as this is an outdoor environment in Florida where it can get hot, sunny, and sticky. Water fountains are not currently available due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and you'll want to stay hydrated.
The gardens are ADA accessible, including the tramway encircling the gardens, restrooms, and pathways. Shuttle service is available for those with mobility limitations, and first-come-first-served wheelchairs can be requested at the gardens entrance. Assistive listening devices can also be requested upon arrival for the Deaf and hard of hearing.