Bonnet House Museum and Gardens is an historic estate filled with art and surrounded by lush gardens. Gaze at masterpieces by artists such as George Seurat. The gardens are filled with natural vegetation and exotic plants, and a host of animals, including monkeys and parrots, are kept on the premises.
This impressive estate is on the barrier islands that lie between the Atlantic Ocean and the Intracoastal Waterway. Several bridges link this chain of islands with downtown Fort Lauderdale, and it’s easiest to come by car.
Artist Frederic Clay Bartlett built the plantation-style home for his second wife, Helen Birch, in 1920. The surrounding 35 acres (14 hectares) of land were a gift from her father, a prominent Chicago attorney. When Helen died in 1925, Bartlett married artist Evelyn Lilly and the couple kept Bonnet House as their winter home until his death in 1953.
Both the furnishings and the extensive collection of fine art remain. The art is spread out between the Main House and adjacent Bonnet House studio. Among the paintings are works by Pablo Picasso and Paul Gauguin, and originals by Bartlett and Lilly.
The best way to fully appreciate the history of this grand estate is by guided tour, which is included in the price of admission.
You’ll also have time to explore the grounds on your own. Check out the beachfront area, wetlands and forest, as well as landscaped gardens. Sit on a bench in the central courtyard and admire tropical plants and fountains. Two Amazon parrots are kept in an aviary here. Stroll through the Orchid Showroom, which was built to house Lilly’s collection. Look out for swans and tortoises in the garden’s Lily Pond, and watch for wild Costa Rican squirrel monkeys that roam the grounds.
Bonnet House Museum and Gardens is located just west of downtown Fort Lauderdale, and free parking is available. The house and gardens are open Tuesday to Sunday. Tickets are available online or at the gate. Admission is half-price if you just want to stroll the gardens without entering the house.