If you have ever wanted a taste of Old Florida and the history of Fort Lauderdale, The Bonnet House is the place to find it. This historical site is tucked away in the city’s tropical rainforest, where skyscrapers and city streets have sprung up around. On my recent visit to Fort Lauderdale, I was shocked by the amount of untouched oceanfront space and realized I had to check out this place. Now I am here to report back that it is worth the visit and share all my tips for visiting the Bonnet House Museum & Gardens.
Whether you are a nature lover or a history buff, a tour of this estate will be of interest. Andrew and I went on a September weekend and though it was hot and humid, we were very pleased with the experience. This post includes everything to know about having an enjoyable experience while visiting the Bonnet House.
Visiting the Bonnet House Museum and Gardens
Given its central, beachfront location, visiting the Bonnet House is convenient when in Fort Lauderdale. There is a ton of free parking or you can even walk right off the beach. Once here, I would recommend the $20 self-guided tours to most. The map and volunteers provide plenty of information and this way you can also explore at your own pace.
If you prefer a guided tour, they are available Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday from 9:30-11 AM. Tickets for these tours are $5 extra and you can reserve your spot online. If you are especially interested in the Bonnet House, there are special house tours and orchid greenhouse tours offered a couple of times per month.
Highlights to See
It is hard not to be enamored with the various sights of the Bonnet House, but there are a few highlights to look out for. Obviously, the Main House is worth exploring as this gives a lot of insight into the family. It was designed by the artist Frederic Clay Bartlett, after his father-in-law, the famous Hugh Taylor Birch gifted him the land. The family resided on it until 1995 and the way it has been maintained provides a fascinating look at life for the wealthy in the 20th century.
There are plenty of nature highlights to see when visiting the Bonnet House as well. I was surprised to see a monkey living on the estate! Apparently, there were at least 30 of them at one point, but only one is left now. Flower enthusiasts will be in awe of the Orchid House where a variety of orchids are grown. I preferred the Desert Garden where lots of succulents were despite the humid climate.
Probably the most impressive part of visiting the Bonnet House was how much area it takes over the big city. There is a whole maritime forest where trees and plants grown undisturbed. It’s impressive to see what Florida used to look like before all the development! You can also find a crossover to the beach and explore more, but the little bridge was flooded when we went. It made it feel even more like a secluded urban jungle surrounded by nature!
Our Experience at the Bonnet House
Our visit to the Bonnet House Museum and Gardens took place in September 2020. We came here after brunch looking forward to learning a bit more about Fort Lauderdale. We were one of the first people to get here at 11 AM on a Sunday. After purchasing our tickets, we were guided across the bridge to the main area. Before the video, we got to see the resident monkey eating its breakfast.
Once a few more people arrived, we were ushered in to a room for a short video about the history of the property. It started out with some interesting tidbits about the Bartlett family and the construction of the property through the years. However, after ten minutes it was getting dull. Because of the pandemic, we did not want to spend a lot of time inside and left the video early. I am not sure how long the movie is, but you will not miss much if you skip it.
From here, we took our own tour of the property. We first looked around the main house and inside the various rooms. Both Andrew and I found the décor quite interesting, especially the mix of Victorian art and more whimsical design. We occasionally spoke with guides who had some fun facts about the different rooms.
Then we moved on the Orchid House which included a dazzling array of orchids, and a large seashell collection in the room across from it. This family used to be quite the collectors! Once we covered everything around the house, we explored the property. This included the Fruit Grove, the Dessert Garden and the Lily Pond. These areas a perfect for picture taking and we enjoyed spending the rest of our time walking around and seeing the sights.
Events and More
The Bonnet House prides itself on providing educational opportunities to the community. During the holidays, you can visit in the evening to see the museum decorated while enjoying holiday music. However, there are plenty of events all year including jazz concerts under the stars and lecture series with historians.
Other events to look out for when visiting the Bonnet House are the adult classes. They have instructive workshops in everything from calligraphy and water colors to birding and orchid care. If you want to get in touch with some mindfulness, there is even a forest bathing seminar! Of all these various events, the most renowned is the International Orchid Festival. The Bonnet House hosts this two-day event every April where you can view and purchase a variety of rare and beautiful orchids. There are also bites and drinks for purchase and lectures and seminars to attend, making an exciting weekend for Orchid lovers!
Know Before You Go: Visiting the Bonnet House Museum and Gardens
For a break from city sights, The Bonnet House Museum and Gardens is the perfect Fort Lauderdale attraction. Between the gardens to explore to the antique artifacts to examine, you can spend hours soaking up the history of this place. I recommend coming early in the day when its cool and making sure you bring a camera! The photo opportunities are plentiful. Here are a few other tips to remember before your visit.
- The Bonnet House Museum & Gardens is open Tuesday through Sunday every week. It is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Day and during the Fort Lauderdale Air Show.
- Admission currently costs $20 for adults, $16 for children 12 and under and $17 for South Florida Residents.
- The Bonnet House opens at 11 AM and closes at 3 PM during the week and 4 PM on weekends.
- Parking is free and plentiful at the Bonnet House Museum & Gardens.
- You can book private tours, weddings, field trips and more here.
- Applications for volunteers at the Bonnet House are available if you would like to help the museum and gardens.
Have you been to the Bonnet House Museum and Gardens before? Let me know what you thought if you have! For more tips for your Fort Lauderdale vacation, check out my guides for things to do, where to stay and best local restaurants.
I also offer a printable Fort Lauderdale Bucket List on Etsy to keep track of all the must visit’s there! Let me know what your favorite thing to do in the city is in the comments.