We’re adding art back into our lives one garden at a time. We miss wandering the halls of the Smithsonian (sniff, sniff), but you don’t have to wait for the museums to reopen to experience great works. Outdoor sculpture gardens are probably the most kid-friendly way to introduce littles to the art world. You can leave your museum manners at home at these sculpture gardens and art installations made for hands-on exploring and full-sprint running. Read on for the best outdoor art exhibits near Washington, DC.
photo: Meghan Yudes Meyers
The Museum of the Shenandoah Valley
Make a day trip to this Winchester property (an 1.5 drive from DC) for a day of social-distancing fun. David Rogers’ Big Bugs are on display now through Nov. 15. Kids can run under a giant daddy long legs (pictured above), stand tall beside an oversized praying mantis or watch the real-life dragon flies dance around—you guessed it—a humongous dragon fly statue. There is plenty to see in addition to the Bug exhibit; you can get lost in a forest of bamboo (keep your eye out for the little fairy houses) or watch the ducks and geese float on the pond.
At home: You can recreate part of the MSV experience in your own home by making a fairy kit. You can get one here.
901 Amherst St.
photo: Austin G. via Yelp
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
While perhaps not first on the list of child and parent National Mall outings, the quirky, and always interesting Hirshhorn is a place for families seeking both quiet solitude and the little bit of chaos we all thrive in. With plenty of space to run around both on its front plaza, and in the sculpture garden located below the museum entrance, the Hirshhorn’s collection exposes visitors to a wide-range of sculpture artists like the classical Auguste Rodin, and modernist Roy Lichtenstein.
At home: Pick up this book for instructions on how to make your own sculptures at home.
Independence Ave. SW and 7th St. SW
While its namesake’s record on civil rights is well ingrained, the second historical figure in sculpture on the grounds of Lincoln Park, Capitol Hill’s largest, is equally impressive . Dedicated in 1974, the statue of Mary McLeod Bethune, African American educator, activist and presidential advisor necessitated the repositioning of Lincoln’s so the two would face each other. At the time, Ms. Bethune was the first Black woman honored in a Washington DC public park, made possible through the fundraising efforts of The National Council of Negro women, an organization founded by her in 1935.
At home: Honor honest Abe with this art kit that lets you make a portrait out of pennies (find it here).
East Capitol St. SE and 13th St. SE
photo: Eugene L. via Yelp
National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden
This collection spread over 6 1/2 acres on the National Mall, is a go to spot with young residents and visitors in any season. Ice skating, beginning in November, and a popular outdoor family friendly Jazz series June to August (concerts will resume 2021), round out the sculpture attractions, including works by greats like Calder, Oldenburg, and David Smith.
6th and Constitution Ave. NW
The Kreeger Museum
This once private Northwest home turned modern art enclave, is home to more than a dozen outdoor sculptures installed throughout the museum’s grounds, also featuring the always fun for kids, a reflecting pool. Allow kiddo to wander also among the trees and discover an earlier installed exhibit called , composed of seven stainless steel and mirrored columns wrapped in wire, inviting visitors to explore the mazelike natural world.
COVID-19 Update: The Kreeger Museum is currently closed.
2401 Foxhall Rd. NW
photo: Sean M. via Yelp
Meridian Hill Park
Most prominently featured at this family-favorite, also known as Malcom X Park, is the many-tiered fountain, perfect for running up and down and making wishes. There is also the well-celebrated Sunday drum circle popular among families. Easily missed however, are commemorations to two of the most passionate thinkers in medieval history, inspiring to both young and old. Begin with the only female equestrian statute in all of DC, that of Joan of Arc. Next, find 14th Century thinker Dante Alighieri, author of the Divine Comedy, installed here as a tribute to Italian Americans.
16th St. NW & W St. NW
WORTH THE DRIVE
Anne Marie Sculpture Garden and Arts Center
Discover a new kind of outdoor art called , artwork hidden in the knots of trees among this 30 acre reserve in Solomons, MD. Spend time in the Fairy Lolly and stroll the Women’s Walk . Honoring local heritage as well, other pieces range from a commemoration at the entrance of Chesapeake Bay watermen, The Oyster Tonger, to Thirteen Talking Benches, arranged throughout the garden and inlaid with plant mosaics native to Southern Maryland.
13480 Dowell Rd.
Baltimore Museum of Art
The museum is currently closed, but guests can still wander the sculpture garden Tues.-Sun from 10 a.m.-8 p.m. On a crisp fall day, kid easily forget the urban landscape that surrounds them, charmed for certain by this Charm City’s landscaped outdoor art collection. A two terraced garden features thirty plus pieces including a Calder and a Rodin in the earlier 20th Century Wurtzberger garden, and later 20th century work in the Levi garden, including one with a title any toddler to teenager can appreciate, Spitball, by Tony Smith.
10 Art Museum Dr.
—Meghan Yudes Meyers and Carolyn Ross