A little chill in the air (or a lot, for that matter) never stops us from getting outdoors. In fact, sometimes that’s exactly what entices us to get out — crisp, cool weather and the brilliant hues of autumn foliage or even colder temps and the exhilaration that comes as we warm up with activity.
And at Dumbarton Oaks Gardens in Georgetown, there’s an extra appeal to al fresco outings during the cool seasons: Free admission. From November 1 – March 15, you can wander around the 10 acres of enchanting terraces and landscaped plots at your leisure — without paying a dime.
We enjoyed both the complimentary admission and the gorgeous autumn weather there with friends this past weekend, and it was a perfect time to go. Fall flowers are on display, and there are stunning views of brilliant foliage of Dumbarton Oaks Park just behind the gardens.
You can read more about Dumbarton Oaks Gardens in a post from awhile back. And this one will give you a glimpse of our most recent visit. Something to note if you plan to visit is the limited hours — the gardens are only open 2-6pm Tuesday through Sunday. But it’s worth planning around that short span of time to go. You can do like we did and enjoy a picnic at Montrose Park right next door, take a short hike on the trail just behind the grounds, or grab some lunch on M Street before making your way to the gardens.
Dumbarton Oaks Gardens are located at 31st and R Streets NW in Georgetown. It’s open Tuesday – Sunday from 2-5pm (closed Federal holidays). Admission is free from November 1 – March 15. During the regular season, March 15 – October 31, it’s $7 per person.
Fountains here, "sparkly garden" ahead at Dumbarton Oaks
‘How in the world have I lived in DC for so long and not visited this place?!’
That very thought kept popping into my head as Levi, Sasha, and I wandered around the oh-so-glorious gardens of Dumbarton Oaks, the historic estate tucked away in a relatively non-bustling area of Georgetown. (Actually, I do kind of know why — which I’ll get to in a bit — but I still could not stop mentally kicking myself for missing out on something so incredibly divine for so many years.) That’s because the Gardens are absolutely enchanting. Absolutely. Enchanting.
Follow the red brick road…
It starts when you walk in to the East Lawn, a large expanse of freshly manicured green grass bordered by shade trees and lovely plant clusters. A walking path circles that area and leads to even more, even better landscaped magic. Stone and brick passageways meander in every direction to many different areas, each one seeming more lovely than the last. Some of them you arrive at directly, the path leading to the next obvious place. Others you feel like you encounter by chance, as if you’ve discovered a secret oasis within the larger, wonderful retreat.
Horses! Fountains! What’s not for a kid to love?
One of the first areas we came to was the rose garden with over 50 varieties of the bloom. Nearby, a cutting garden and growing garden contain an array of flowers and herbs. Some of the loveliest areas are the terraces, some bedecked with fountains and statues, others showcasing the gorgeous plant and flower collections, a couple with beautiful pebble mosaics in the ground. (Many of them have charming names, but I couldn’t keep track because I was so rapt by it all.)
View of the rose garden
Sasha’s favorite part was the “sparkly garden,” which contained a simple small pool of water amid a floor of white pebbles. Above it, crystals hanging from mesh wire above glinted in the sun, creating the “sparkly” effect that also reflected off the water. We arrived there via Fountain Terrace (I think), which had two fountains within a grass plat surrounded by colorful flowers. A breathtaking scene, to say the least.
The path to the “sparkly garden”
We made our way through the gardens generally going east to west, and up and down the hill. The long stone stairways and curving paths, bordered by both wildly growing plants and manicured flora were as much as part of the experience as the terraces and collections. This all took us to the massive lawn stretching behind the mansion, where Levi and I had major backyard envy (seriously, you could fit about 200 of our backyards in it).
Oh, the parties I could throw here…
I should note that seating is plentiful throughout the garden. There are beautifully carved wood and stone benches and chairs, tables under umbrellas, and plenty of space on the soft, grassy areas. These would be perfect for taking a break and just hanging out to enjoy the tranquility and gorgeous surroundings. (We did just that on our way out, stopping on the East Lawn and kicking off our shoes while Sasha ran around.)
A final, barefoot frolic on the East Lawn
The thought that kept popping in my head when we finally left: ‘I have to return soon.’
Dumbarton Oaks Gardens are located at 1703 32nd Street NW. Hours are Tuesday through Sunday from 2-6pm mid-March through October, and 2-5pm November – mid-March. (Remember that part about how I kind of knew why I hadn’t visited yet? I’d tried a couple of times, but always at the wrong time.) Admission is $8/adults, $5/children ages 3 and up, free for 2 and under during mmid-March through October, and free November through mid-March. There are a lot of stairs and bumpy stone paths, so if you’re bringing a little one, I recommend a carrier over a stroller.