Encounter Arts and Culture in Princeton

Take in life-like art in the open air at Grounds For Sculpture before grabbing a nearby bite.

grounds for sculpture

At Grounds For Sculpture, visitors encounter Seward Johnson’s life-like sculptures, such as Daydream. Many of his works pay tribute to famous artists, from Renoir to Grant Wood. Daydream by Seward Johnson © 2oo7, 2o14 The Seward Johnson Atelier, inc.; photo courtesy of David W. Steele

All you need for a day well spent at Grounds For Sculpture is curiosity and a camera. The 42-acre outdoor museum and arboretum in Hamilton attracts art lovers and nature enthusiasts alike. Tree-lined walkways, lily pad-filled ponds and unique plants create a tranquil atmosphere. Vibrant peacocks roam the grounds. Serenity morphs into wonder as you stumble upon nearly 300 whimsical figures and supersized abstract works crafted from wood, steel, stone, bronze and paper.

Grounds For Sculpture is the brainchild of the late artist and philanthropist Seward Johnson, who, in 1992, transformed the former New Jersey State Fairgrounds into a cultural destination.

Many of Johnson’s own sculpted pieces are positioned throughout the park. A Turn of the Century, a 21-foot likeness of French painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s Dance at Bougival, greets guests outside the welcome center. Johnson’s admiration for well-known works is also seen in God Bless America, a 14-foot sculpture inspired by Grant Wood’s American Gothic. Dozens of other artists are represented. Snap photos of Philip Grausman’s Leucantha, a stoic head that appears to float on a pond. Walk under Hans Van de Bovenkamp’s gleaming Sagg Portal. Peak through Elizabeth Strong-Cuevas’s Arch II.

In the secluded Meadow section of the Grounds, you’ll encounter two of Johnson’s most impressive pieces. In Daydream, female figures play what seems to be a game of ring-around-the-rosy. The Awakening portrays a Greek godlike figure emerging from the ground.

The center’s indoor galleries are currently closed due to the pandemic. During high season, the required timed-admission tickets run $15–$18. Stop for a snack at gazebos throughout the property, or complement your visit with a reservation at Rat’s Restaurant. Don’t let the name deter you. The excellent French fare, chateau-like setting, and patio seating with a view of a replica of Monet’s iconic bridge will transport you to the artist’s beloved Giverny.

Continue your cultural getaway in Princeton, an Ivy League town where art and memorable architecture abound. A stroll on and around the campus reveals tiger statuary, abstract pieces, towering sculptures of university icons, and a modest bust of Albert Einstein. Typically, the Princeton University Art Museum is a must visit; it is currently closed for renovations that will roughly double the square footage. Construction is expected to wrap up in 2024. Take in nature’s beauty at Prospect Garden or the Morven Museum and Garden. Both are within walking distance of Palmer Square, a hub of downtown activity, with its Federal-style exteriors and plenty of dining and boutique shopping options.

STAY: To complete your retreat, book a room at the rustic Inn at Glencairn. The renovated 1700s Georgian manor offers guests plush robes, Wi-Fi and a common living room with coffee, tea, red wine and homemade chocolate chip cookies. Enjoy a glass of vino on outdoor chairs or explore the property and a 19th-century barn. The farm-to-table breakfast, prepared by innkeeper and chef Lydia, features fresh, local ingredients.

DINE: For lunch, try the Yankee Doodle Tap Room, a spacious gastropub located on Palmer Square in the Nassau Inn and named for the Norman Rockwell mural that looms above the bar. It’s worth ducking in just to see the portrait wall of notable Princeton University alumni, including Michelle (Robinson) Obama and Jeff Bezos. For a more upscale dining experience, opt for Mistral or Elements, both at 66 Witherspoon Street—and both on New Jersey Monthly’s latest 30 Best Restaurants list.

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