Visiting Sonnenberg Gardens & Mansion with Children | Kids Out and About St. Louis <

Visiting Sonnenberg Gardens & Mansion with Children

by Carol White Llewellyn

Sonnenberg Gardens & Mansion is one of those places where you might wonder whether you can take your kids. You need to know your child; a trip to a historic garden is not for every kid. However, if your children or grandchildren enjoy nature, it could lend itself to being a magical adventure.


Sonnenberg is a New York State Historic Park that was owned by Frederick Ferris and Mary Clark Thompson. Mrs. Thompson, in particular, was one of Canandaigua’s great philanthropists who endowed many of community’s treasures such as the Historical Society and the Wood Library. She loved gardens, and was inspired by her travels to create nine tribute gardens to her husband after he passed away. Today, in addition to the gardens, Sonnenberg is a magnificent 50-acre arboretum with multiple greenhouses and a Queen Anne-style mansion.

The New Family-Friendliness of Sonnenberg


I’m happy to share that Sonnenberg has recently been taking steps to become much more family-friendly.  They’ve developed a kids’ trail with a very creative scavenger hunt that covers the entire grounds. When your child completes the hunt card, he or she can turn it in for a prize at the admissions desk.

Another brand-new feature is a children’s garden that is modeled after the vegetable garden at the White House in Washington, D.C. They’ve even begun running a summer camp for children; for more information about the camp, click here.

Does it all sound like a fun adventure your family would enjoy?  If so, here are some additional ideas and tips that may enhance your visit to Sonnenberg Gardens & Estate with your children:

Does your child love nature?

Download one of these iphone apps

      better to understand the nature you’re seeing on the grounds:


Print out and take with you:

2. Does your child enjoy art?

Take a sketch pad and pencil for them to draw the trees, plants and flowers they see (check out Clare Walker Leslie's Guide to Sketching Trees at

3. Give a kid a camera and almost any trip becomes an adventure!

Whether it's digital, reusable, or a camera phone, a camera captures great memories and gives everyone a different perspective. If your child enjoys making scrapbooks or writing, the photos are also great tools to inspire creativity after the visit is over!

4. If it's autumn when you visit, collect some of the brightly colored leaves

When you get home, turn into place mats using contact paper (directions are at, or use them for splatter painting (directions at

5. Highlight "then and now"

When visiting the mansion, look for the differences between Mary Clark Thompson's time and today. Telephone? Bathrooms and bathtubs? Clothing? Beds? Porch? Types of furniture? Microwaves, computers and television? Transportation? Be sure to stop by the ice house near the mansion to see the carriages used on the property. Discuss how these differences would change how people lived back then. Ask your child if s/he would have wanted to live 100 years ago.


Other Tips

1. Bring sunscreen, bug repellant and sunglasses or hat – hey, it’s the great outdoors!


2. Bring water and wear comfortable shoes…there’s lots of walking!

3. Pack a lunch and/or snacks – there are several picnic areas. If you prefer, there is also a café that is open from 11 AM to 5:30 PM with some children’s selections, such as grilled cheese sandwiches on the menu.

4. Be sure to check with party members about need for restroom breaks. There are restrooms at the wine center/gift shop and in the carriage house near the mansion, but they are quite far apart.

5. Note that there are some areas, such as the rock garden, that would be difficult to explore with a stroller.

6. If any member of your party gets too tired to walk (it happens!), you can always hop on one of the trams and ride to the next tram stop or back to the entrance where there’s a gift shop, wine tasting room, café, greenhouses and parking.

In Summary

With the right amount of thought, preparation and creativity, many places parents think of as adult-only can be turned into fun and educational outings the whole family will enjoy. Sonnenberg is the ideal place to help blend nature, art, and history into an active day outside and inside.


Be sure to check it out The Woodland Trust Nature Detective site for everything from kid-friendly picnic recipes to the “spotter cards” listed here, as well as outdoor seasonal activities for kids. It’s a truly wonderful site for families!

© 2012, Carol White Llewellyn

Carol White Llewellyn is The Finger Lakes Travel Maven. She blogs at Coming soon… (Trips & Tips for Travelers Who Are Just Crazy About Learning).