Opened to the public in 1879, this glorious Victorian glass structure is the oldest existing public conservatory in the Western Hemisphere. But it’s not just a place of historic interest: the Conservatory is a cutting-edge horticultural destination with over 1,700 species of plants, including rare tropical flora of the Congo, Philippines, and beyond. In fact, this is one of only four public institutions in the U.S. to house a highland tropics exhibit. Its five galleries also host species from the lowland tropics, aquatic plants, the largest Dracula orchid collection in the world, and special exhibits. It doesn’t take long to visit, but make a point of staying awhile; outside there are good sunny spots for people watching as well as paths leading to impressive gardens. If you’re around during summer and fall, don’t miss the Dahlia Garden to the right of the entrance in the center of what was once a carriage roundabout—it’s an explosion of colorful Dr. Seuss–like blooms.
- Erika Lennert