Sculpture gardens! Labyrinths! Literary walks! Oh my!
It’ll probably be a minute before any of us are standing shoulder to shoulder in an amusement park or crowding into our favorite booth at a packed restaurant.
But! There are many, many inspiring public spaces that can be safely enjoyed in the fresh air while standing six feet away from each other.
Obviously, before you head over, double check that these attractions are currently open. As more and more states re-open, these open-air sites are likely to be some of the first that invite the public back.
1. Denver, CO: The Denver Botanic Gardens
The Denver Botanic Gardens is home to a huge collection of cold-weather plants and flowers that thrive in Denver’s high altitude. Don’t miss the Sam Mitchel Herbarium of Fungi – there are more than 20,000 specimens!
2. Phoenix, AZ: Desert Botanical Gardens
The Desert Botanical Gardens in Phoenix specialize – obviously – in desert plants, including cacti species from around the world. If you’re visiting after dark in October through May, check out the Electric Desert exhibit!
3. Coral Gables, FL: Fairchild Tropical Botanic Gardens
Stop by the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Gardens in Coral Gables, FL to check out exotic butterflies, rare orchids and a tropical fruit pavilion where you can see a durian fruit tree, vanilla orchids, mangosteen and cacao trees. Yum!
4. Bentonville, AR: Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art
Tucked in the northeastern corner of Arkansas, the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is an indoor and outdoor museum that is home to 3.5 miles of trails that showcase 20 works of art. Best of all? It’s free!
5. Milwaukee, WI: Lynden Sculpture Garden
View 50+ pieces of modern art arranged across gently rolling lawn, woodlands and lake in Milwaukee at the Lynden Sculpture Garden. Keep an eye out for the polka dot cows grazing near the water’s edge!
6. New Windsor, NY: Storm King Art Center
Arguably the most famous sculpture park in the country, Storm King Art Center boasts 130 pieces spread over 500 beautiful acres. If you’re looking for a day trip from NYC, New Windsor is the destination for you.
Sure, LA and NYC have great street art. But you can find some incredible murals and artistic graffiti outside the big cities, too.
7. Fort Smith, AR
Begun as a downtown revitalization project, Fort Smith’s street art has made the town of 87,000 a world-class destination for modern art. As of 2020, there are more than 30 pieces of outdoor art, including murals that cover four-story grain silos and a two-story owl.
8. Indianapolis, IN
Indianapolis has an entire website devoted to their street art and helping you find it. Some favorites include a colorful portrait of Abraham Lincoln, a three-story mural of Indianapolis native Kurt Vonnegut, and an illusionist mural designed to look like a butterfly-filled shadow box.
9. Sacramento, CA
10. Boston, MA
Boston is rife with landmarks of literary importance – Edgar Allan Poe’s birthplace, the spot where Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote the title song for “Oklahoma!” and Nathanial Hawthorne’s residence. Take yourself on a self-guided tour with this map.
11. Key West, FL
We all know Ernest Hemingway made a home in Key West, but did you know the city also played host to Shel Silverstein, Tennessee Williams and Robert Frost? Take a guided tour or try a self-guided audio tour.
12. Iowa City, IA
Home to the world-renowned Iowa City Writers’ Workshop, it’s no surprise that Iowa City celebrates its literary heritage on its very sidewalks. The Literary Walk is “comprised of a series of bronze relief panels that feature authors’ words as well as attribution. The panels are visually connected by a series of general quotations about books and writing stamped into the concrete sidewalk.” You’ll find quotes from authors like Bill Bryson, Sandra Cisneros and John Irving.
Labyrinths are mazes’ less complicated cousins – they have a singular path that leads to the middle. You can’t get lost! The result is something akin to a walking meditation (rather than getting lost and frustrated).
13. Kansas City, MO: Glass Labyrinth, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
14. New Harmony, IN: Harmony Labyrinth
The Harmony Labyrinth is a shrub labyrinth that was built in the early 19th century by the Rappites, an ultra-religious German society who used it for meditation and reflection. The Rappites took a vow of celibacy, so the group eventually died out, but the New Harmony-based labyrinth remains with free admission and a shortcut to the center for the more impatient among us.