Cheekwood is a 55-acre botanical garden and art museum located in Nashville atop a hillside with a scenic view of downtown in the distance. I originally visited Cheekwood with my husband Aaron during one of their Christmas evening events where I was drawn in by the visiting reindeer, lights, caroling, hot cocoa and s’more stations. It was absolutely lovely with all of the lights, natural decor, and romantic vibe. Once there, I realized there was more than I thought there was and that a daytime visit was in store. Per their website, Cheekwood describes this historic location as the original home of Leslie and Mabel Cheek in 1929 that was converted into a museum of art and botanical garden in 1960. I fell in love with the cultivated gardens, expansive vistas, and seasonal events.They often have outdoor contemporary sculptures interspersed amongst the wooden trailers and gardens.
Cheekwood is a place that suits the needs of many who may choose to visit. From couples, to families, to friends groups, and even to individuals. There is truly something for everyone. Aaron and I have enjoyed visiting on the evening music nights. We went for a date night and once we arrived realized that Thompson would have loved to have joined us. They had a live bluegrass band playing, an open field area with picnicking, dancing, and food trucks. They also had a live mum wall which provided a great photo spot. They have art, photography, yoga classes and much more. You can check out their happenings and updated events here.
Before they built the childrens’ garden, Aaron and I would just go occasionally to special events. Once the children’s garden was confirmed to be finished, we decided to invest in the Individual + 1 Annual Membership. Daily tickets are $19 each and children 2 and under are free so we felt this was a great savings for us if we all went together or if I took Thompson several times a year. Membership benefits also include parking, invitations to member-only events and days, discounts for the classes, workshops, and special events, and 10% off at the gift shop and cafe. We have never used the last perk because we bring our own food but the parking for sure saves a lot of money with a membership. So far this year, even with COVID halting visits to the venue, I have taken Thompson 4 times with 2 of those visits having grandparents come along without paying. That is already around $110 not including parking, so the membership definitely was worth it for our family.
Here are some tips and the best areas of the botanical gardens for young children. I always pack lunch for both myself and Thompson, or whoever is going with us. I ensure that I have the wagon ready and loaded up with a picnic blanket, umbrella, and our water bottles. Thompson is sprayed with sunscreen and bug spray before leaving the house and we aim to leave the house by 9:00am or 9:30am to arrive by 10:00am as that time frame works best for Thompson, plus we beat the heat and potential crowd. With COVID restrictions, you have to go online and reserve a timed-entry ticket. Even if you have a membership. This is challenging at times because if you do not plan enough in advance, the early times are already booked up. I have been able to arrive slightly before my reserved time and still enter which is nice. Masks are required for adults even in the outside garden areas. We have been able to park up top closest to the entry which is nice because there is a path nearby that takes you through the gardens to our first stop…TRAINS! As you get closer to this interactive display, there is a storybook trail that you can read to your children.
The TRAINS area is by far one of Thompson’s favorites. I like it too! There are miniature outdoor train tracks and 3 or 4 trains that ride around throughout. The wooded feel and way they designed the structures that the trains are on is very earthy, nature-inclusive, and appealing to the eye. There are a few tunnels to walk under and through with interactive buttons to push. Thompson loves running back and forth after the trains saying “Look! Here it comes!” Train sounds play from hidden areas of the landscaping and there is now a new play area right next to the train display. This has several small binoculars to look through, a seating area, and a spiral slide. The slide goes to a lower level area so parents or guardians probably need to go down and await children to slide down. It was muddy at the bottom last time we went so beware of that depending on the weather. Once we are done hanging out with the trains, Thompson hops back in the wagon and on we go to the Children’s Garden area. As we travel between areas, Thompson enjoys using his umbrella to spin around and block the sun. I always wear my sun hat as it is beautiful to me and it is essential in blocking the rays for my sensitive light blue eyes.
The Children’s Garden is a new addition that just opened in 2020. We arrive at the upper area of these gardens and visit the sculptured ducks. This has a duck display that doubles as a splash pad. We did not know this the first time, but fortunately Thompson had spare clothes and an umbrella so was able to take off playing in the water feature. He had a great time! He could run through the sprays back and forth with his umbrella, climb on the ducks themselves and put his hands in the water, and giggle and interact with other children. He really likes the covered playhouse with a large bell outside. He is sure to ring the bell loudly which hurts mommy’s ears so we are working on having gentle hands with that. Once done with the spraying ducks, Thompson and I walk on the cut log rounds that make a path of varying level heights to the connected log boards that make planks to balance on. After this, he normally peeks into a tiny fairy house structure and moves on to the art area. This area has several bowls of water with fountains in the center and rock easels next to them. Children take their fingers and hands and dip them in the water then make art creations on the slate stones. Super neat! Right across from this station there is a staircase that has a tunnel system underneath. Thompson enjoys running through this area with other children. We continue on the path and there is a meditation garden to walk which Thompson skips that is adjacent to more log rounds and log boards you traverse to the rope bridge. This is a safe, tightly knit rope bridge that leads to more log rounds and the path through more children’s areas. Once through that section, there is a large fountain children can touch and watch as it sprays. Moving along, there is a turtle sanctuary which rescued turtles and a neat turtle sculpture water feature.
At this point in our day, about an hour or so into the visit, we are ready for a rest and picnic lunch. We find a grassy patch, which is easy to do, and lay our blanket out. Sometimes, we go under a garden arbor and use that for a picnic spot. Thompson loves picnics and we enjoy eating outside amongst the beautiful scenery. I like that if Thompson finished eating first, he can run around and play in the open areas and I can still eat my meal and watch him play. Once finished picnicking, Thompson gets in the wagon and we decide if he is ready to go home or visit the other pond areas and Japanese garden. Most times, we head on home because Cheekwood is about 25 or 30 minutes from our house. A few times we continued on to the pond areas and Japanese Garden and it seemed that Thompson became overtired and fussy before we were home. So, I recommend the path described above for younger children and then coming another time to do the ponds and various other gardens. The Japanese Garden was impressive visually and the path is pleasant to stroll along. Once through this area, the path leads you back up to the Cheekwood entrance and main building. Here I will go use the restroom and change Thompson or let him go potty. I have not taken Thompson into the mansion estate yet as he has enjoyed the outdoor activities most so far and verbalizes that is what he wants to see. Even though we go the same route and see the same things, Thompson enjoys it over and over again.
Overall, I say that Cheekwood is definitely worth a membership for the variety it offers all age groups of people. I hope this blog helps you plan ahead to take your family to enjoy time connected to nature. It truly helps calm the mind, body, and spirit and helps provide an outdoor option for quality family time together or even some personal alone time. I know if I get the opportunity, that I would love to visit by myself and explore and relax there and see all that I have not seen yet. It is also a good space to go to get you out of the house and keep you socially distant if that is important to you. I am thankful to have such a beautiful venue nearby that I can visit many times and yet never feel like I have seen all it has to offer. I enjoy seeing new things each time and hope to continue to explore new gardens and features this year.
For more photos and video content, check out my youtube video about our day at Cheekwood here.