DELRAY BEACH, Fla. – Like a lot of folks who live in places with long stretches of gray and chilly weather, I occasionally head to Florida for sunshine and relaxation. But the Sunshine State is hardly immune to traffic and crowds — especially when the rest of the country is arriving for vacation.
Fortunately, Florida has no shortage of wildlife preserves, gardens and other lovely spots that feel a world away from crowded theme parks and popular beaches. One such oasis is Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens in Delray Beach, about a half-hour's drive from Fort Lauderdale, an hour from Miami and just a few minutes from Delray's bustling restaurant and shopping strip.
The garden is named for George Morikami, a Japanese immigrant who was part of the Yamato Colony, a farming community founded in 1905 in Palm Beach County. The colony didn't last, but Morikami stayed and prospered. He eventually donated his property to become the park. An exhibit and film tells the story of the colony, and an onsite museum offers shows about Japanese arts and culture, both traditional and contemporary. There's also a teahouse and a cafe with fantastic bento boxes, $14-$17, and other fare for lunch.
But the gardens are the real stars of any visit. Laid out on paths around a pond, the gardens' two dozen features include a rock garden with raked gravel, picturesque bridges, a 17th-century stone lantern, a bonsai collection, waterfalls and a feeding area for the large colorful carp known as koi. Every turn of the trail offers a different panorama of water, sky, plants and stones, and each area was inspired by a different Asian tradition.
One of the most intriguing and unusual spots at Morikami is the bamboo grove. Stop and listen: It's not just about what you see here. It's about the natural symphony of sounds — whistling, squeaking, creaking, hissing, rustling, crackling — as the tall bamboo stalks move, touch and sway in the breeze. The soundscape adds another layer to the feast for the senses that awaits at Morikami.