A couple of weekends ago, it was chilly but stunningly beautiful in NYC. The bright blue skies beckoned us to take a little drive south to Hamilton, NJ where my husband and I had the pleasure of visiting a lovely place called Grounds for Sculpture. Just a bit over an hour from Brooklyn, this sculpture park makes for an excellent day trip from NYC!
Founded by the artist and philanthropist Seward Johnson and opened in 1992, Grounds for Sculpture encompasses 42 beautiful acres on what used to be the New Jersey State Fairgrounds. Throughout the park, you’ll find close to 300 different outdoor sculptures, some of which are iconic and always on display and others which are rotated out periodically to allow new artwork to be added in its place.
In addition, Grounds for Sculpture has six indoor galleries housed in the Welcome Center and throughout three historic buildings that were part of the old Fairgrounds complex. Since the weather was so nice the day we visited, we opted to stick to the outdoors and didn’t actually check out the indoor exhibitions. But if it were a particularly hot or cold day, those indoor galleries would be a welcome refuge!
Tickets for Grounds for Sculpture are sold on a timed-entry system, and you’re asked to arrive within the hour-long block of time allotted for your ticket (you may stay as long as you wish once you arrive, though). Since it was March, we weren’t concerned about buying tickets in advance, and so we just purchased ours on the phone on our way there. However, I could see this place getting pretty nutty in the summertime, so you’ll definitely want to plan accordingly if you go on a beautiful summer day or during the spring bloom/fall foliage seasons.
When we arrived, we were able to park pretty easily, and then we headed into the Welcome Center, where they checked our tickets and gave us wristbands. You’ll need to make sure not to skip this step in the process because you need that wristband before you head out into the park (and at least one section of the park had an exit that we needed to return to and re-enter, and your wristband allows you to do just that).
We got ourselves some coffee and hot chocolate from the cute little Van Gogh Cafe inside the Welcome Center and headed back outside to start enjoying our day. There are tons of little paths at Grounds for Sculpture, and you can really choose your own adventure here! We headed to the section farthest left when you come out of the Welcome Center and worked our way through the park in a clockwise direction from there.
Early in our visit, we encountered a lovely pond and these adorable little buildings which collectively make up Rat’s Restaurant. Their whole setup is meant to be modeled after Claude Monet’s town of Giverny, and it truly had the feel of a cute European village. The restaurant isn’t actually within the park itself, but you can walk around their patios and look into the koi pond outside and then re-enter the park with your wristband.
No one was dining outside the day we visited, but it must be a very lovely place to sit and have lunch (or a cocktail) on a summer day! We’ve already decided to have a meal there next time we visit Grounds for Sculpture, and we fully intend to enjoy it on that super cute patio!
Back in the park, you can walk along a larger pond lined by private residences. Along the way, you’ll find sculptures of people fishing in or sitting alongside the pond’s shores. In a couple instances, we had to do some double-takes to determine whether we were looking at sculptures or actual people!
The variety of sculptures throughout the rest of the park varies quite a bit from the very small to the incredibly large. Some are people or other recognizable objects and many are just very abstract (and we found that the titles of the sculptures didn’t always explain what exactly we were looking at!)
Toward the main entrance, we saw a few massive sculptures that were all visible when we came in at the beginning of the day. This is where my favorite sculpture could be found–check out this giant who was half-buried in the ground!
Throughout the park, you can sit and enjoy the sculptures and scenery on one of their many chairs and benches, some of which even have sculptures on them! And there is another outdoor cafe called the Peacock Cafe, which would make yet another lovely place to sit and have a meal on a beautiful day. And it’s not called the Peacock Cafe for nothing–we saw at least two peacocks (one of which was completely white!) wandering through the park’s grounds the day we visited.
Once we were confident we had seen most of the outdoor sculptures, we decided to call it a day. As we were leaving Grounds for Sculpture, we took a different route than the one we had come in on, and we were pleasantly surprised by what we saw. For at least a few miles, we saw all kinds of sculptures dotting the local businesses along the road. There were even several massive sculptures out near where we got back onto the highway.
We’re not sure why Google Maps didn’t send us that way when we arrived, but we were so happy we got to see a little extra art as we headed back to Brooklyn. It’s also just very cool how the whole town seems to be have been graced by the artwork of Grounds for Sculpture! It makes sense, though, when you think about it. If they’re regularly updating the artwork onsite, you have to put the stuff you’re replacing somewhere else, right?
Grounds for Sculpture has to be a madhouse in the summertime, and I suspect once all the flowers start to bloom the crowds will be out in full force. But if you have a chance to sneak in there before spring is well underway, you just might beat some of the crowds. Otherwise, they are open Tuesdays-Sundays throughout the year, and if you can catch a beautiful bonus day in the off-season you just might have the place mostly to yourself.
So if you had never heard of Grounds for Sculpture or haven’t yet been able to visit, I hope you’ll go check it out! We were pleasantly surprised by the amount and variety of artwork we saw there, and we kept saying, “this place is so cool!” the whole time we were there. Plan to spend at least a couple hours, and if you want to have a snack or lunch, check out one of their cafes or make a reservation at Rat’s.
And if you’ve already been, please let me know what you think of Grounds for Sculpture and if you have any other tips to share with our readers.
Interested in Grounds for Sculpture? You might like Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, too!
Plan Your Own Visit
Where to Go
- Grounds for Sculpture: 80 Sculptors Way, Hamilton, NJ 08619
When to Go
- Grounds for Sculpture is open Tuesday through Sunday, year-round. During the warmer months, they have later closing hours on Fridays and Saturdays. Check their website to see the hours for the day you might want to visit.
- Tickets are sold for particular time slots, so you’ll want to check their website to ensure the time slot you want is available and to buy your tickets.
- If you’d prefer not to just wander and would rather have a more guided experience at Grounds for Sculpture, plan your visit around one of their docent-led tours.
- Check out their current exhibitions page in case you want to time your visit with a particular exhibition.
- You can also view their calendar to see if something special is coming up that you might like to do!
Tips for Visiting
- Admission is based on a timed-entry system. You can save some money by buying your tickets online, and this will also guarantee you admission during your purchased time slot. If you show up without tickets or outside of your purchased time slot, it is possible the park will not be able to accommodate you. Plan ahead!
- If you want to have a meal during your visit, there are several restaurants on site. The Van Gogh Cafe in the welcome center sells hot beverages to keep you warm on cooler days, and they even have wine and beer, which you can carry with you throughout the park. For a more special treat, try Rat’s Restaurant which is just outside the park’s fence. After your lunch, dinner, or cocktail(s) at Rat’s, just show your wristband to re-enter Grounds for Sculpture.
- There are lots of meandering paths, so if you want to be sure you see everything, definitely use their map! The sculptures are labeled, which makes it easy to find what you’ve seen, what you still have left to see, and all the paths that will get you to where you want to go.
- If you can’t make it to Grounds for Sculpture in person, you can still check out the artwork currently on display through their website.
- For any other questions you may have, their website has a helpful FAQ page!