On a recent trip to Cape Cod, we enjoyed a beautiful afternoon exploring the grounds and museums of the Heritage Museums and Gardens. Located at the “start” of Cape Cod in Sandwich, the 100 acre space includes three indoor gallery spaces; dozens of gardens; over 1,000 varieties of flowers, plants, trees, and shrubs; an outdoor discovery center kids will LOVE; a cafe and gift shop; and even a preschool through grade one school! The property was owned by the Lilly family who vacationed on the Cape during the 1950s and 1960s. J.K. Lilly wanted to showcase his late father’s collection of automobiles and other artifacts. Since 1969, when it first opened, gardens and additional buildings have been added to enhance the beauty of the complex and of Cape Cod. Read more about the property and development of the complex here.
The complex is open from mid April through October and then again in December for the Gardens Aglow event, with extended hours during warmer months. Guests are able to leave and return the same day. Members also have early access several days a week. Find information on hours and admission fees here.
A helpful map of the complex can be found here.
The Shop at Heritage gift shop is located near the entrance to the gardens; restrooms are located near the entrance, in the Lilly Automobile Gallery, and at the cafe.
Plenty of free parking available near the entrance; information on directions and parking here.
There is a trolley (large golf cart) that has several stops throughout the gardens- we enjoyed taking the trolley on the hot summer day we visited, and we enjoyed chatting with the driver.
The museum traditionally offers daily, guided tours of the gardens, as well as several special events and programs; check here for an index of events and here for kid and family events. Some activities are on hold during pandemic restrictions.
Plan on 2-3 hours to walk through the gardens and explore the two indoor museums.
The entire complex, including indoor museum exhibits, are handicap and stroller accessible. Bring a stroller for the toddler crowd.
10 Spots Kids Will Love:
1. The McGraw Family Garden of the Senses is a two acre space that invites visitors to touch, smell, and see over 25,000 plants and listen to the water features. Check out the Old East Mill, built in nearby Orleans in 1800, that was used to ground wheat, barley, and salt.
2. The Hart Family Maze Garden is a maze that will puzzle the entire family. The maze is built using shrubs, hedges, and vines and informational signs describe the plants used in the maze. It’s located near the Old East Mill.
3. Hidden Hollow, a two acre space that showcases hide and seek drawers, water play, discovery trails, build and create areas, xylophones, a tree house, and performance space. Kids will surely want to spend a lot of time here, and there are monthly themes of activities.
4. Wampanoag Wetu is a replica of the house the tribe called home during colder, winter months. The Wetus were typically built near the coast, for easy access to resources. Guests can walk inside the Wetu, built from cedar saplings and covered with bark or cattail reeds, and see replica furnishings.
5. The Labyrinth, made from crushed seashells. The open air labyrinth is a favorite of the preschool crowd.
6. The North American Hydrangea Test Garden, where hybrid varieties of hydrangeas are planted, grown, and studied by national experts. As of 2020, there are over 200 hydrangeas being evaluated.
7. The Bugs, Birds, and Bricks displays throughout the gardens. Created by artist Cody Wells, there are eight replicas of the bugs, birds, plants, and flowers that call Heritage home- see the map here.
8. Let’s Play exhibit, on display through 2021 (and hopefully extended through 2022), an indoor exhibit in the Special Exhibitions building that showcases toys (dating back to the 1600s!) that were created in New England.
9. The American Automobile Collection in the J.K. Lilly III Automobile Gallery. The collection of 41 automobiles was assembled by museum founder Josiah Kirby Lilly III and began with a 1899 Winton Motor Carriage. The entire collection is housed in a replica round stone barn (a replica of the stone barn at Hancock Shaker Village in the Berkshires), which was opened in 1969. Be sure to check out the lower level and peek inside the storage unit for the cars and the Adopt-A-Car program.
10. The 1908 carousel, hand carved by Denmark immigrant Charles Looff. Rides are included in the admission fee. Note: The carousel is currently closed in 2021 due to pandemic restrictions.
For more fun on Cape Cod, check out our posts on the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History, the Whydah Pirate Museum, and the Ocean Edge Resort. And for more fun throughout Massachusetts, check out this index and follow along on our adventures on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.
Disclosure: My family was given a media pass to explore the complex; all opinions expressed are my own.