This past year has been a whirlwind of travel and the trips I’ve planned have been done in more of a fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants fashion where we only a pick a few must-sees in an area and then let the rest of the trip happen somewhat organically. I’ve noticed this works well for travel with my family because it is flexible and more care-free. I create a frame of places we definitely want to visit with places that sound interesting to visit nearby-a playground, coffee shops, stores, museums, landmarks. I pin these things to Google Maps and then when we arrive in a city we can pick and choose what we see depending on where we are or how we feel that day. I do my research with guidebooks, blogs and Instagram and try to get a feel for the place we’re visiting in a short period of time. (Usually late at night while the family snoozes…does anyone else find their best work comes at night?) When we visited Japan recently, I had a playground picked out at the Hakone Open Air Museum that I’ve been dreaming about since I saw it on Pinterest when my kids were little. Maybe you’ve seen it-it’s called the Woods of Net. So here’s a PSA for you if you have a dream spot you want to see: RESEARCH TO SEE IF IT IS OPEN FIRST. This sounds like a rookie mistake but it happens over and over again and there is no point doing all the research if you don’t check for basic information first. Looking back on previous trips to Japan, I think I did this with the Tsukiji fish market too and just recently I didn’t think there would be an opening or closing time for the Princess Diana Memorial Playground in London, but sure enough there was and we could have saved a trip to a closed playground had I checked the website first.
So the playground I really wanted to see in Japan this time was in a place called Hakone at the Open Air Museum. We bought our tickets the night before from the Odakyu Department Store in Shinkjuku. The train to Hakone is called the ‘romance car’ and we were traveling with my parents and my kids so the hubby and I thought this title was a little hilarious but this train does pass by beautiful scenery so I get where the name comes from.
If you are staying in Hakone or plan to see Mount Fuji you might also consider the Hakone Free Pass. We were going to the Hakone Open Air Museum and we only had one day so we did not buy this option. We rode the train for about an hour and a half and then transferred to another train to get to the Open Air Museum. We didn’t have trouble getting seats or tickets for the ride home that day but I’ve heard that sometimes they book up so it might be better to pre-book especially when traveling with kids.
When we arrived at the Hakone Open Air Museum I was devastated when I saw the sign that the Woods of Net was closed. I thought we had wasted our whole journey. I need to remind myself about all the magical things we’ve found when trips don’t go as planned.
The Hakone Open Air Museum is absolutely perfect.
There are two amazing playgrounds for kids-one indoor and one outdoor. Both are beautifully picture perfect and my kids could have played for hours.
There is tasty food. We had ice cream sandwiches that were literally ice cream in bread.
We climbed a beautiful tower full of stained glass and looked out into the scenic hills.
We got lost in a maze of gorgeous flowers.
And I didn’t want to do the whole bath experience in Hakone, but the Open Air Museum had a foot bath that was just enough bath for me. The oranges floating around in the hot water had the most delightful aroma and this was a fun way for the whole family to experience the volcanic waters while still fully clothed.
We really liked this one exhibit that went underground. The boys went up and down the stairs many times and it was just such an enthralling, creative art experience. We spent a few hours here and could have spent the whole day.
And with grandparents and kids along the hubby and I felt like we had the whole Romance Car to ourselves for a little while too. So even with the closure of the Woods of Net and the death of my Pinterest-dream, it was the most fantastic outdoor museum I’ve ever seen. I would definitely visit again.