Chanhassen, a small community at the southwest edge of the Twin Cities area, about 20 miles from downtown Minneapolis, has been named by Money and Family Circle magazines as a one of the best places in the country to live. It's also a great place to visit, with two major attractions well-known to area residents.
The Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, part of the University of Minnesota, is the largest public garden in the Upper Midwest, and its lovely grounds include woodlands, ponds, prairie, model landscapes and extensive gardens of annuals and perennials. Summer flowers bloom into September, and asters and mums are fall highlights. By early October, the trees display brilliant fall color. A new sculpture garden was added in 2013.
Many gardens are close to the visitor center, and other gardens and plantings are along Three-Mile Drive, to explore on foot or by bike or car; tram tours are also available. A highlight is the Maze Garden, an intricate network of closely planted trees and shrubs. Visitors try to find their way through the winding paths to the Lookout Tower, which they can climb to watch others navigate their way through the maze. The newest addition is the sculpture garden, which features an eclectic mix of artwork all collected and donated by a local couple.
There's a gift shop and cafeteria in the visitor center, and you can preorder a picnic basket to enjoy lunch on the grounds. The Arboretum is four miles west of Chanhassen on Hwy. 5 and is open daily. A mile west of the Arboretum is its Apple House, where you can sample and buy many varieties of apples developed by the University of Minnesota.
After a day enjoying the Arboretum, relax with dinner and a play at the Chanhassen Dinner Theatres. This professional theater has been staging top-rate productions for 40 years. Four hotels in Chanhassen offer theater packages or special rates. There's also a nearby country B&B in a 19th-century brick farmhouse. If you plan your Chanhassen getaway for a weekend, stop at the Farmers Market at the City Center Park on Saturday morning.
Another good place to visit in the area is Carver Park Reserve, further west a few miles off Hwy. 5. From its hiking and biking trails, you can watch for deer, foxes, and a variety of birds; on the lakes, look for migrating waterfowl and trumpeter swans. The Lowry Nature Center offers a variety of naturalist programs.