One of our greatest goals as a traveling family is to find activities that everyone can enjoy. It is so easy for parents to get sucked into the world of the child, where every vacation is filled with arcades and amusement parks and large, furry characters. Then there is the flip side of that coin…the classic stories about children getting dragged from historical battlefields to prissy museums, rolling their eyes and burying themselves in some electronic device.
As parents, we believe our preferences and tastes matter. We don’t want to surrender the next decade of our lives to our little Napoleons. Jeremy and I like hiking, swimming, kayaking, and great food. We want to enjoy all of these things, but we also want our boys to be excited about our travels and to know that we respect their love of bounce pillows, playgrounds, pools and camp store ice cream. It is a constant dance of negotiation, and we think it is worth it to maintain harmony and joy on the road.
That is why we LOVE LOVE LOVE when we find places that please the adults and children at the same time. Brookgreen Gardens, in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina offers beautiful landscapes and art for the adults while providing crafts, play, and whimsy for the kids.
Whoever is running this place gets it. When we arrived, the lovely volunteer at the welcome center gave us scavenger hunt booklets for the boys and promised a ‘surprise’ upon completion. This meant that Max and Theo were as motivated to look at the sculptures as we were. They received a ruler and pencil at the end, and were as pleased as punch.
The Discovery Room was small and cheerful, with diverse activities for all kinds of learners. We created a collage fox mask, dug for artifacts in sand, and looked at the turtles and snakes. The highlight for Max and Theo was this gorgeous set of tree trunk blocks. They could have played with them for hours, but we wanted to explore the rest of the gardens.
The boys’ eyes lit up when we came across the Enchanted Forest Playground. No standard playground equipment here…just pirate ships, castles, trains, and a Dr. Seuss house with rope swing.
I was impressed by the children’s sensory trail, where interactive stations encouraged kids to act out animal movements, describe the feel of bark, or listen to the sounds of the forest. I would love to see this idea in more state and national parks. It seems like a relatively low cost/ high reward way to engage young children in hiking.
The zoo is really more of a preserve, featuring native plants and animals in comfortable, beautiful habitats. We got closer to waterfowl than I have ever been and enjoyed watching the otters play in the mud of their large swamp. The eagles, owls, and hawks are all rescue animals, so this is the perfect kind of ‘zoo’ for us.
Here is the most important bit of information: there is more to do here than you could ever do in one day with young children. The entry price is good for 7 days, so if you are visiting on vacation it would be smart to go towards the beginning of your stay and then return later in the week. We were there for hours and we still didn’t get to go in the butterfly house or take a ride on the pontoon boat excursion. We also missed the Meet the Animals demonstration.
But we are not worried…there will be future visits.
The nitty-gritty: We paid $14 for each adult ticket and $7 each for Max and Theo. Wes was, blessedly, free. There are $2 off coupons available at the ranger station at Huntington Beach State Park, or you can get $1 off for purchasing tickets online. The butterfly exhibit and the boat excursion are extra, but reasonably priced. There is a cafe, but we brought a picnic lunch and had a lovely time eating on the grass, in the sun. A shuttle is available between the welcome center and the zoo, if your crew can’t make it even one more step. It accommodates strollers, another reason why we heart Brookgreen Gardens.