McKee Botanical Gardens

Discover McKee Botanical Gardens in Vero Beach, Florida

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With travel being limited and outdoor venues being the thing to do, we decided to check out a local favorite in Vero Beach. McKee Botanical Gardens in Vero was known as McKee Jungle Gardens and I live literally less than 2 miles away. My husband Jack, fondly remembers visiting the attraction as a child because of the monkeys they housed there.

McKee Botanical Gardens has been restored to an 18-acre world-class botanical garden in Vero Beach, Florida. You will find some of the best collections of tropical water lilies in the nation. There are over 10,000 native and tropical plants. There are streams and waterways that you will follow along on your journey. As you follow the paths and trails, you will see unique flora, plants, and trees such as orchids, palms, oaks bamboos among many many other species.

McKee Garden’s History

McKee Botanical Gardens was originally purchased in 1922 by land developers, Arthur McKee and Waldo Sexton. Located in Vero Beach, Florida, it was originally 80 acres that were going to be used for citrus farming. However, the two entrepreneurs felt the land was too special.

They hired a tropical landscape architect that designed the gardens into a local attraction for tourists visiting the area. By 1932, the park was ready to be opened. It offered streams, ponds, and trails filled with indigenous vegetation. It was adorned with ornamental plants and seeds from around the world.

By the 1940s, over 100,000 visitors a year would come to visit the unique gardens. Unfortunately, by the 1970s they were unable to compete with the attractions in Central Florida, like Disney and the McKee Garden closed. It was sold to developers. Today 18 of the original 80 acres have been restored for the public to enjoy.

On January 7, 1998, it was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places under its former name of McKee Jungle Gardens and is now a Florida landmark.

I highly recommend visiting McKee Botanical Garden in Vero Beach, Florida

McKee Botanical Gardens Exhibitions and Attractions

If you are looking for things to do in Vero Beach, there are several things to see in the gardens that offer both botanical and artistic value. Exhibits do change so you can check their website to see what they are offering. No matter what is being displayed there, I can assure you it will be amazing! For this trip, we stayed on the outside trails that go around the garden.

Ocean Sole Africa

This display offers marine life sculptures that were made from flip flops that were polluting the oceans. The sculptures were created by artisans living in Kenya Africa. Their first year in making the unique one of a kind pieces, more than 750,000 flip flops were recycled from the oceans.

Ocean Sole Africa McKee Botanical Gardens
Ocean Sole Africa

Royal Palm Grove

Royal Palms are one of my favorite palms and they live up to their name. They will create a sense of wonder as you walk through the Royal Palm Grove at McKee. You will enter into this luxuriously shaded palm hammock and immediately be in awe. I would love to own a property with these majestic trees that can reach heights of 80 feet. I can imagine that these trees are at full maturity.

Royal Palm Grove
Royal Palm Grove

Stick Work Pavilion

Grand Central by Patrick Dougherty @ McKee Botanical Gardens
Grand Central by Patrick Dougherty

This was such an amazing piece of artwork made from sticks. Have you ever heard of the green art movement or Stick Work? Neither had I. Patrick Dougherty has an amazing talent for manipulating saplings into beautiful structures. The McKee Botanical Gardens is blessed to have such a unique and world-renowned piece of art from Patrick.

Grand Central by Patrick Dougherty

The structure took three weeks of climbing on scaffolding, weaving, bending, trimming and shaping willow saplings into a one-of-a-kind sculpture made exclusively for McKee Gardens.


Giant Mushroom

In the original McKee Jungle Gardens, there stood a giant mushroom. The family of Waldo Sexton offered this to the new McKee as a memorial to Waldo Sexton who helped build the Gardens.

Memorial to Waldo Sexton McKee Botanical Garden
Memorial to Waldo Sexton

The original mushroom still stands about 1/3 of a mile northeast of the garden in the Vista Gardens condominium development that was built on part of the original 80 acres.

Bamboo Trail and Pavilion

As you walk along the Bamboo Trail you will see many types of Bamboo along the way. I loved how meticulously cared for the Bamboo was. My neighbor has bamboo and I can tell you if it is not maintained it can be an absolute nightmare to get it back under control. The grounds at Mckee are pristine.

Bamboo Trail McKee Botanical Gardens
Bamboo Trail McKee Botanical Gardens

Once you pass through the trail you will come to a Pavilion entirely made from Bamboo and surrounded by a lush tropical forest.

Bamboo Pavilion, McKee Botanical Gardens
Bamboo Pavilion, McKee Botanical Gardens

Live Oak Trail

Once you make it through Bamboo Trail you will come upon Live Oak Trail and where you will find another waterfall and more native flora. Live Oaks are very popular in the South and even more so in Vero Beach. You will find one in most yards on the beach since they grow well in salty soil. They will bring you much-needed shade at this point in your journey.

Banyan Lane

The Banyan tree ignites the imagination and has for centuries. It was commonly called the Dragon’s Tree because people thought the tree’s trunk resembled hanging dragon tails. In the wild, dragon trees can grow up to 70 feet tall and live for hundreds, if not thousands of years. They are in decline and considered vulnerable so it is a treat to see this younger one in the garden.

Dragon Tree McKee Botanical Garden
Dragon Tree

The Children’s Garden

McKee has recently added a large children’s garden that offers an awesome play area. First, you enter through the Monkey Bridge, a rope bridge that takes you to the adventure.

Once you have crossed into the park you will find a huge pirate ship named the Scorpion where you can pretend you are a real pirate! Then be sure to cool off in the Karst Splash Garden or play with the musical instruments in the Music Maze. There is so much to do here!

The cool thing for parents is that the entire area is fenced for safety. There is only one way in or out. You can allow your kids to explore this magnificent playground and go back and forth to the many activities it offers families.

Hammock Trail

After exploring the playground area, we continued along Hammock Trail, which is mostly made up of Native plant and tree species. The Hammock Trail will guide you to the exit where you can continue on your journey and see the center of the Gardens.

The Hall of Giants and Spanish Kitchen

This is actually one of my favorite places in the Garden. The building is clearly a Waldo Sexton structure. Made from mostly wood with Pecky Cypress walls, it houses a magnificent mahogany table.  This is a giant table made out of a single 35-foot piece of mahogany, supposedly the World’s Largest, which Mr. McKee found in a basement in New York City.

In addition, you have the classic Spanish Kitchen which is very similar to the one located at the Historic Driftwood Inn, which is also on the National Registry for Historic Structures. Waldo Sexton’s original home is still standing and a part of the much larger hotel.

You can watch several clips I have compiled of the garden in this video and see all of the high points of the gardens.

We did not make it to the center of the garden and we still spent two hours there. The park does not open until noon on Sunday we were at the hottest part of the day in August. I purchased a Membership so we can return and I will update the article with more of the sites in McKee Botanical Garden.

Your trip to Vero Beach will be deeply enriched if you include the McKee Botanical Gardens in your plans.

McKee Garden Hours and Admission

Here are the current hours and fees associated with going to McKee. You can double-check to make sure there have been no changes on their website.

Hours of Operation

  • Tuesday-Saturday 10:00am – 5:00pm
  • Sunday Noon – 5:00 pm

Admission Fees

  • ADULTS $15
  • SENIOR (65+)/YOUTH (13-17)$13
  • CHILD $10
  • MILITARY $10

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68 responses to “Discover McKee Botanical Gardens in Vero Beach, Florida”

  1. Alexandra Alejandro Avatar
    Alexandra Alejandro

    I love botanical gardens. We have a good one in Puerto Rico. I liked the one in San Diego too. I’m sure I would enjoy this one too. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Tricia Snow Avatar

      Hopefully, you will get to McKee soon!

  2. Cindy Moore Avatar
    Cindy Moore

    I love visiting botanical gardens in different cities and countries. This one is gorgeous and so unique!

  3. Cindy Avatar

    I love visiting botanical gardens in different areas. This one is so unique!

    1. Tricia Snow Avatar

      I agree. I decided to get an annual pass. We did not get to see everything the first time around.

  4. kmf Avatar

    Wow…I love everything about this botanical garden. And that Royal Palm Grove…so majestic! Will definitely visit when I’m in the area.

    1. Tricia Snow Avatar

      Awesome Karen! I know you will love it there.

  5. Chantelle Avatar

    Oh my gosh! These photos are so beautiful! I need to go here next time we are in Florida! Also, it’s so sad how many Flipflops they find!!

    1. Tricia Snow Avatar

      I was really surprised by that number too. Thank you Chantelle!

  6. Barbara Avatar

    This looks like a super cool place to explore with a funky vibe!

    1. Tricia Snow Avatar

      Waldo Sexton was definitely funky! He made our little town very cool!

  7. Brianna Avatar

    I love that they have an Ocean Sole Africa exhibit! I have been following that company for years and LOVE their work!

    1. Tricia Snow Avatar

      That’s awesome! I am excited to learn about their work too!

  8. Leeanne Avatar

    I love Botanical Gardens. This one looks like it will not disappoint with it’s stick sculpture garden and children’s area. Will definitely add this to my must do list when in Vero Beach.

    1. Tricia Snow Avatar

      I loved the stick sculpture. It was so unique!

  9. Missy Avatar

    I love visiting botanical gardens. We have not been to this one yet. I like learning about new flowers.

    1. Tricia Snow Avatar

      I learned a lot about our foliage. I was amazed by all of the Lilly pads there.

  10. Stacey Billingsley Avatar
    Stacey Billingsley

    What a cool place! It’s a great place to get lost in your imagination. My daughter would really love it. And that mushroom–how cool is that?

    1. Tricia Snow Avatar

      Everyone loves the mushroom! It is huge!

  11. melissa Avatar

    That looks like an amazing place to visit! I would love to see the Banyon tree and I am sure that my kids would love the Children’s Garden!

    1. Tricia Snow Avatar

      It was a really unique playground. It even had musical instruments!

  12. Pam Avatar

    This looks like such a great place to visit! I’m definitely adding to our list for our next Vero vacation (fingers crossed for October).

    1. Tricia Snow Avatar

      Fingers crossed for you! I know you are ready!

  13. Cindy Avatar

    The giant flip flop is really cool I have to say. I love botanical gardens.

  14. Donna Avatar

    I could use a visit to a tropical garden right about now. It’s heading into cool fall weather up here in Northern Canada. My daughter would love the pirate ship Scorpion. Thanks for the inspiration.

    1. Tricia Snow Avatar

      I would kill for fall weather up north! LOL

  15. Amy Avatar

    Given this isn’t far from me, I’m wondering why I don’t know this place exists. Pinned it so I can take my kids to visit once this virus dies down.

    1. Tricia Snow Avatar

      We were there on a Sunday and there were very few people there. I am sure it won’t be long.

  16. Suzan Avatar

    So happy Waldo & Arthur had the vision! What a stunning garden, so unique, and interesting at every turn.

    1. Tricia Snow Avatar

      I agree! I love it when cool people did cool stuff we can all enjoy!

  17. Cindy Mailhot Avatar
    Cindy Mailhot

    This place is amazing! I love botanical gardens but I never seem to visit them when traveling. I am not sure why…

    1. Tricia Snow Avatar

      I think there is so much to do or see in a new area, I do not really think about finding a Garden to enjoy on vacation. One cool thing that came with the annual pass was access to reciprocating gardens so now I will be looking for them. She mentioned some famous gardens that take our passes.

  18. Marianne Avatar

    Love the photos!! I love to visit botanical gardens as they are usually so peaceful… the kids… not so much! Lol

    1. Tricia Snow Avatar

      Thanks Marianne! The kid’s section was very secluded which was nice. It was so peaceful there especially listening to the streams and waterfalls.

  19. Danielle Ardizzone Avatar
    Danielle Ardizzone

    I can’t believe how huge that mushroom is!

    1. Tricia Snow Avatar

      I think many people agree with you on this! lol

  20. Casandra Avatar

    What a cool spot. We would be entertained for hours there!

    1. Tricia Snow Avatar

      We could have spent a lot more time there. I look forward to returning to Mckee!

  21. Alyssa Avatar

    This looks beautiful! I live in fl and haven’t been here but my hubby and I will have to take a trip. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Tricia Snow Avatar

      Oh great! I can’t wait to see what you think!

  22. Barbara Avatar

    Thanks for sharing! This looks like a great find! Places like this often get overlooked! WOW! Really a really cool place!

    1. Tricia Snow Avatar

      Thanks Barbara! It was definitely unique.

  23. Sara Avatar

    Love the children’s garden and the recycled flip flops sculpture!

    1. Tricia Snow Avatar

      I loved seeing the sculptures too. I can not believe how many flip flops end up in the oceans!

  24. Charlene Avatar

    I have never been to Vero Beach, but my mom loves it there. I’ll see if I can tag along on her next trip and take her to these gardens!

    1. Tricia Snow Avatar

      Awesome! Vero Beach is a hidden gem! You will love it.

  25. Linda Egeler Avatar
    Linda Egeler

    Love the Giant Mushroom! My folks are in Florida, not all that far from Vero Beach. We’ll have to try to work this in.

    1. Tricia Snow Avatar

      I can’t wait to hear about your experience there Linda!

  26. Chelsea Avatar

    Wow! The giant mushroom is awesome. I’d want to check out the Live Oak Trail and the Children’s Garden as well.

    1. Tricia Snow Avatar

      Live Oaks are a staple in Vero. We love them too.

  27. heather Avatar

    I want to go! It looks beautiful. 750,000 flip flops?? My goodness, that is just wrong! How sad. Our oceans are being destroyed. Bamboo is a nightmare. My dad’s neighbor had some sneak into his garden and it strangled everything.

    1. Tricia Snow Avatar

      Wow! That is terrible. I debated on whether to include that in the article, lol. Bamboo can be a menace! But I really enjoyed it at McKee.

  28. Sabrina DeWalt Avatar
    Sabrina DeWalt

    I love the artwork, both natural and man-made.

    1. Tricia Snow Avatar

      Thanks Sabrina. It was a nice addition to have man-made art. I really loved the Stick Sculpture.

  29. leeandra Avatar

    I love going to the botanical gardens. This is such a beautiful place.

  30. Lisa Manderino Avatar
    Lisa Manderino

    This looks like a fun garden. I love that there is a place for children to have a great time too!

    1. Tricia Snow Avatar

      I wish I had suggested this for you guys when you were here. Next time!

  31. Alexis Farmer Avatar
    Alexis Farmer

    I LOVE all these pictures! Looks like an awesome place, I love a good botanical garden.

    1. Tricia Snow Avatar

      Thank you so much Alexis! I enjoyed taking them!

  32. Holly Avatar

    Great post! I love botanical gardens.
    So the next time I am in town I have this on my must-see list!

    1. Tricia Snow Avatar

      Awesome Holly! You will love the peaceful atmosphere at McKee.

  33. Lucy Perkins Avatar
    Lucy Perkins


  34. Maggie Avatar

    I am definitely keeping this on the bucket list for my next trip to Florida. Thanks!

    1. Tricia Snow Avatar

      Thanks Maggie! I hope you enjoy it!

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