Whenever I get prolonged visits from my six out-of-state grandchildren, which fortunately happens a few times every year, I am always looking for some unique things to do to make their trip fun and memorable. Luckily, Delco is always packed with lots to do, but occasionally we like to fit in a trip or two to the shore and Lancaster and a few other not-so-distant places. When we want to explore the city, my car always seems to be on automatic pilot to Philly, simply because it’s our backyard playground and we feel at home there.
This year, however, we shook things up from our tried-and-true, went outside of the box and got on an “Explore Wilmington, Del.” kick. We turned that car south on 95 and discovered a few new-to-us wonderful places. I know readers are going to say, “What? You never went there before?” I will have to honestly answer that no, although I’ve frequented Blue Rocks games, Winterthur, the Grand theatre at Hotel DuPont and some of the other close-to-Pennsylvania, more well-known attractions, I never took the time to explore Wilmington’s smaller highlights — until June 2017, that is!
Last month, we explored three new places: the Brandywine Zoo, the Delaware Art Museum and the Delaware Children’s Museum. We explored each one on separate days, but if I had to do it over, I would probably combine two destinations into one day, which would still leave plenty of time to explore both adequately. They were all about a half-hour drive from Delco. Right off the bat, they had an edge over Philly because they all had free parking — and lots of it! Although they couldn’t even begin to fairly be compared to the Philadelphia Zoo, the Art Museum of Philadelphia and the Please Touch Museum, all three Wilmington attractions were special in their own rite. As visitors, we didn’t have to rush through them to see everything like we do at their larger counterparts, which made them extra nice for younger children. In fact, if I were a young mother who lived closer to these venues, I would likely invest to become a member and bring the kids there on a regular basis to play and learn.
Another plus of the Delaware attractions is that all three destinations are affordable. Admission to the Delaware Children’s Museum is $8.75 ($5 Fridays after 5 p.m.). The Delaware Art Museum is only $25 for a family; individual adults are $12, seniors are $10, children and students are $6 and kids under 6 are free. The Brandywine Zoo charges seasonal admission. From Mayto September, adult admission is $7, seniors and children 3 to 17 are $5; from October to April, adult admission is $5, seniors are $4 and children are $3. I had to bring up the pricing because like the Blue Rocks games, these places are low-cost, which makes them attractive to local seniors and families. Affordable admission, free parking and no tax in the gift shops and on other purchases are all added bonuses when choosing a destination to visit.
The Delaware Children’s Museum is a very cool place, where kids can safely run around and explore and learn. Situated right on the waterfront, the museum made a delightful afternoon for all of us. The kids explored and played for several hours, and then we all enjoyed a nice, relaxing dinner at Joe’s Crab Shack next door. While I watched the children playing, I couldn’t help but think what a perfect place it was for grandparents to take their grandchildren, because of the way it was set up. It was relatively easy to keep a good watch on the kids while they roamed and had a ball.
Exhibits, on the day we visited, included a transportation-themed area; an eco-exhibit with water play and a wind tunnel; a STEM section centered around learning science, technology, engineering and math in fun ways; a tree pavilion; a studio for creative and artistic expression that includes sculpting, painting, weaving, printing and more; sections with giant building blocks and other construction materials; a kid-friendly bank where the younger set can learn about money; a giant stratosphere climber; and much, much more. Truthfully, I couldn’t imagine any child, of any age, not having a good time there. Heck, even I had fun!
The Delaware Art Museum is definitely another south-of-the-border place that’s worthwhile to visit. The 105-year-old museum holds a collection of more than 12,000 objects. The collection focuses on American art and illustration from the 19th to the 21st century and on the English Pre-Raphaelite movement of the mid-19th century. In fact, the museum is home to the largest and most significant Pre-Raphaelite collection outside of the United Kingdom. The museum is recognized for its cornerstone collection of works by celebrated American artist and illustrator Howard Pyle, a Wilmington native, complimented by hundreds of works by some of most talented illustrators. The museum is also famous for the preeminent collection of urban landscapes by American painter John Sloan and his circle and many other artists and exhibits, some permanent collections and others visiting exhibits.
The museum building was expanded and renovated in 2005 and includes a 9-acre Sculpture Park, the Helen Farr Sloan Library & Archives, studio art classes, a children’s learning area, as well as a café and museum store. My daughter and I found the museum to be a really great way to teach the children about art. Like the Brandywine River Museum, the Delaware Art Museum’s smaller size seems more conducive to learning for children because it has way less people and distractions. Honestly, the entire museum can be toured in under two hours, going at a relatively slow pace. I was thinking how it would make a nice jaunt with a few friends sometime, to take in some art and then go have lunch or dinner in Wilmington’s Little Italy.
We really did enjoy the ambience and the exhibits at the Delaware Art Museum. Afterwards, my daughter and I reflected on how the place was as artistic and pretty outside as it was inside! Located in a residential neighborhood, the museum was not only just artsy, but classy as well.
Lastly, I want to talk about the Brandywine Zoo, which is located in picturesque Brandywine Valley surroundings. I was fascinated by how small it was and because of its size, we spent more time getting to know each animal than we would have at a larger zoo where we would be more hurried, trying to get through the whole zoo. We stretched our visit out here to about an hour and a half, but honestly, my guess is that the zoo should take no more than an hour, tops, to see from start to finish., including a browse through the interesting little gift shop.
The zoo had a bobcat, which we watched during his feeding time; a capybara, the largest rodent in the world (I am still having nightmares thinking about coming across one of those in a river or dark alley); red pandas; llamas; Andean condors; foxes; otters; monkeys; and a handful of other animals. An intern told us there were other animals in the upper part of the zoo, but they were not for public viewing. Rather, he said, the zoo operates summer camps and other special programs and uses those animals for educational purposes. We spent a good deal of our time in the petting zoo, where there were lots of friendly goats, enjoyed and cuddled by the kids. These goats probably posed for more selfies than any celebrity. The grandmom, on the other hand, was dousing each grandchild down with hand sanitizer as soon as their individual little love-fest with the goats came to an end.
The zoo was very clean, uncrowded, with a real relaxed feel to it, and, on the day we visited, the staff was plentiful. Summer interns shared their newly learned knowledge with us, and more seasoned staff encouraged us to follow them to watch feedings and other animal-care routines, They eagerly answered our questions knowledgably and in a very friendly manner.
June wasn’t even over yet, and I was already able to check off these destinations from my summer bucket list. I had been wanting to check out these selected attractions on the Wilmington scene for a while now to see what I’ve been missing. I found out the answer, plain and simple, is that I’ve been missing a lot! In fact, a friend told me last week that we should have also paid a little visit to the Delaware Natural History Museum, suitable for all ages. Her suggestion prompted me to think that we’ll surely be heading back to Delaware sooner than I though — and not just for the Delaware beaches or the tax-free shopping opportunities!
The next time I’m itching to view art, visit animals to occupy and delight visiting children, soak up some culture or treat myself to an enjoyable morning or afternoon — I am heading straight back below the Pennsylvania border.
IF YOU GO: The Delaware Art Museum is at 2301 Kentmere Parkway, Wilmington, Del. 19806. For more information or hours, call 302-571.9590 or 866-232-3714 or visit delart.org. The Delaware Children’s Museum is at 550 Justison St., Wilmington, Del. 19801. For more information and hours, call 302-654-2340 or visit delawarechildrensmuseum.org. The Brandywine Zoo is at 1001 N. Park Drive, Wilmington, Del. 19802. For more information, call 302-571-7147 or visit brandywinezoo.org.