Since I do not have an artistic bone in my body, I am always in awe of those who do. And when I look at artists’ work, I mostly tend to appreciate those works that are either beautiful or interesting, and if they happen to be both, even better! I recently encountered an example of this while visiting a friend who lives in Philadelphia. And it was the fantastic creation of mosaic artist, Isaiah Zagar: The Philadelphia Magic Gardens. This place isn’t just magical–it’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen. And I think you will love it!
Located on South Street in Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Magic Gardens describes itself as “an immersive mixed media art environment that is completely covered with mosaics.” Which, to me, seems like a pretty boring explanation for what this place actually is! That said, I don’t even know how I would personally describe this place, but I hope you’ll enjoy some of my photos below and that you can also appreciate the amount of imagination and creativity that went into creating this truly magical place.
Zagar was born in Philly but actually grew up in NYC. However, he and his wife moved to Philly in the ‘60s after spending a few years in Peru through the Peace Corps. He credits his travels, particularly his exposure to Peruvian folk art, for inspiring some of his own artwork. After moving back to Philly, Zagar and his wife became active in helping to revive Philly’s South Street neighborhood by purchasing and renovating buildings and cleaning up neighboring lots.
In the early ‘90s, Zagar started to add a mosaic the exterior of one of his buildings located next to a vacant lot. Soon after he started adding mosaics to the lot as well before the owner of the lot told him he’d have to purchase the lot or see his mosaics demolished. The community rallied together and money was secured to purchase the lot and create the nonprofit, Philadelphia Magic Gardens. This also allowed Zagar to continue adding to the Gardens, including the addition of the tunnels, caves, and arches you’ll find there today.
The Philadelphia Magic Gardens officially opened to the public in 2008 and are now open six days a week, with guided tours offered on the weekends. They also have quite a few special events including guided meditation, live music, and “garden parties”, and you really couldn’t ask for a better location to relax and unwind.
Regular admission to the garden is done by timed-entry. We were lucky to visit on a gloomy day and were able to buy tickets on the spot for the next time slot, which was starting in just 15 minutes. However, if it’s a lovely day, it’s recommended that you buy your tickets early because they’re known to sell out rather quickly (which I believe because we were surprised by the crowd out with us on this really ugly, cold day!)
When it was time for our visit, we were let in through the gate on South Street and immediately became overwhelmed trying to figure out where to look and where to turn. There isn’t a single inch of space that has been neglected! Glass shards, entire plates, bicycle tires, bottles, dolls, toys, and even an old toilet are just some of the items you’ll find on the floor, walls, arches, and caves within the Gardens. This is definitely a place that you should consider visiting more than once because I don’t think it’s possible to see every little detail in just one go.
We did try our best, however, to ensure we walked through all the various passageways, and we even wandered through some of them twice but from different directions. Some of the work is hard to appreciate up close, but when you step back a bit you can see all of the larger images popping out.
On the other hand, some of the items in the Gardens are quite small and many of the tiles and mosaic pieces are covered in writing, requiring you to get up close to examine them. You really could spend hours here, just trying to look at things from different perspectives and seeing what new detail you might discover next. If you visit, do give yourself plenty of time to just take it all in!
In addition to the garden, the Philadelphia Magic Gardens also has an indoor exhibition space, which is used to highlight other artists’ work. During our visit, we had the privilege of seeing the beautiful, colorful, and unique artwork of Claes Gabriel and Andrew Chalfen. This exhibition runs through April 28th, and you can check the website for their upcoming exhibitions as well in case you want to time your visit with a specific exhibition.
And if your schedule in Philly won’t permit you to make it to the Gardens themselves, you can take their virtual tour instead if you’d like a sneak peek. Similarly, you should keep an eye out while traveling throughout the city because Zagar’s artistic genius can be found in alleys and alongside buildings in quite a few different locations across Philly. Check out the Gardens’ mural map to find out where else Zagar’s gorgeous work is on display for all to see!
I would say, though, that if you live in Philly and haven’t visited yet, please go there now. You will not be disappointed! And if you’re visiting the city and only have a short amount of time, I recommend going to the Gardens. I’ve visited the city several times and have enjoyed multiple attractions, but this is one of the few locations I would definitely consider a must-do!
Have you been to the Philadelphia Magic Gardens yourself? What do you think of this amazing place???
Plan Your Own Visit
Where to Go
- Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens: 1020 South Street, Philadelphia, PA 19147, between 10th and 11th Streets.
When to Go
- The gardens are open daily (except for Tuesdays) from 11:00 am to 6:00 pm. Check their website for holiday hours and dates with earlier closings.
- There are also plenty of events at the Gardens in case you want to make your visit extra special. The Twilight in the Gardens and Garden Party events look really fun!
Tips for Visiting
- In order to prevent damage to the Gardens, you cannot bring large bags or selfie sticks into the exhibit with you. If you do bring large items, you will have to stow them inside before visiting the Gardens.
- Most of the attraction is outdoors, so I would highly recommend visiting during good weather. If there is snow or ice on the ground, the outdoor portion will be closed, but you can still visit the indoor section for half price. And though the Gardens are open when it’s raining, you cannot carry an umbrella with you. (And the ground is very slippery when wet!)
- Also, keep in mind this is art, which means you’re welcome to look at it, but you’re not welcome to touch it. This will help to preserve the art so that others can enjoy it for many years to come.
- Admission to the Gardens is done on a timed-entry system. We were able to walk up and buy tickets 15 minutes before the next timeslot, but if you’re on a tight schedule, it would be best to reserve your tickets in advance to ensure you’ll be able to enter at your chosen time. Tickets can be purchased up to 1 month in advance.
- If your dog is good around children and other dogs, you may bring it to the Gardens! We saw one pooch there the day we visited. They have to remain on leash, and you must clean up after them.
- If you’re unable to make it to the Gardens, check out their virtual tour or look for Zagar’s art throughout the city, using the Gardens’ mural map!
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