According to visitors and locals alike, the Milwaukee Domes are a must-do activity for anyone in the city. These three giant glass ecosystems are iconic to MKE, each containing a delightful botanic garden to explore.
Officially named the Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory, the Domes are considered a classic piece of Milwaukee. I can see why: they’re beautiful, interesting, and also cheap—tickets were $7 for us as residents.
The Domes are historic to the area; the first Mitchell Park project was built in 1898 as a glass conservatory. In 1959, construction began on the three-spherical structure that exists today. It officially reopened in 1965 and has been serving the community ever since.
Two Domes are permanent collections: the Tropical Dome and the Desert Dome. The third is the Floral Show Dome, which changes five times a year to different themes.
While similar to most botanical gardens (like the Denver Botanic Gardens, one of my very favorites), the Domes are indoors and temperature regulated; this makes for a great activity year-round, even when it’s snowy or balmy outside.
Dome One: The Floral Show Dome
As previously mentioned, the first Dome is a rotating exhibit, and that this one was titled “The Barrio Train,” dedicated to Milwaukee’s Latinx communities.
There were bright displays of flowers, with toy train tracks running through and a bubbling pond at the base. Every angle was picture-perfect and sweet, and I loved the neighborhood signs and the sweet gazebo for flower gazing.
Everything was in full bloom in this ecosystem and it was SO unbelievably pleasant and calm and joyful.
Dome Two: The Desert Dome
Upon entry of Dome number two, I felt immediately transported back to Colorado, among the cacti and sage brush I grew up with in my high alpine desert hometown. I was also reminded so strongly of Grand Junction, my parent’s house and garden, the Colorado National Monument, the rugged terrain in Santa Fe, and a vacation to Arizona that Chad and I took a couple years ago.
It was comforting. And beautiful, too. I love the prickly plants that are so dense that they almost look fuzzy and inviting, even though they’re quite the opposite. The shapes and sizes of desert-dwelling flowers are diverse and endless, and it’s a fun reminder that the world is a big, gorgeous, surprising place.
Dome Three: The Tropical Dome
If I had to choose, the third Dome would probably be my favorite. As soon as we stepped in, the air changed—it felt like getting off an airplane in Hawaii and knowing that you’re about to be blown away.
The tropical plants are captivating, colorful, and eye-catching. I couldn’t stop taking photos and videos and getting lost in the hues of a vine or a leaf or a flower, and imagining looking into a rainforest and feeling incredibly small.
There was sticky joy in the humidity. For me, it was a piece of paradise in the Midwest, worth savoring and celebrating over and over.
I’m so glad that we found the Domes early in our Milwaukee adventures, and can’t wait to bring every visiting guest here in the future.
Visit the domes
Address: 524 S Layton Blvd, Milwaukee, WI 53215
W-F: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Weekends: 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Last admission one hour before close