The end of summer in Ohio traditionally coincides with things like fruit harvests, county fairs, and the back-to-school season. And it also means that it’s time for sunflower fields to bloom.
The sunflower – or Helianthus – is a tall annual plant native to North and Central America. It was domesticated thousands of years ago, and grown as a crop throughout the Americas. Today, the bright yellow flowers are often planted in fields solely to be looked at and enjoyed by visitors.
You can find several sunflower fields on farms throughout Ohio. The flowers are planted each spring, and generally bloom for about 3 weeks in August and September. Many farms plant fields to bloom around apple-picking season and other fall harvest activities, as a way to offer visitors another beautiful space to enjoy.
In the Cleveland area, though, there are two very special sunflower fields that are slightly different than all the rest.
Maria’s Field of Hope
In 2006, 6-year-old Maria McNamara was diagnosed with a deadly type of childhood brain cancer called a glioma. This rare type of cancer is often fatal, and Maria died 14 months later at age 7. Her parents started Prayers from Maria Children’s Glioma Cancer Foundation out of a desire to help fund research into the causes, prevention, treatments and cure for childhood brain tumors.
In 2013, Prayers from Maria planted a sunflower field in northeast Ohio as a way to draw attention to the lack of funding for childhood brain cancer, and named it after Maria. Maria’s Field of Hope has become an annual tradition, and the organization now plants two sunflower fields in Ohio each year: one in Avon and one in Sandusky.
Both sunflower fields are free to visit (though donations are encouraged) when the flowers are in bloom.
In 2020, Prayers from Maria still planted both of its sunflower fields in the spring. The Cedar Point field in Sandusky bloomed in mid-August, while the Avon started blooming in early September, to coincide with Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.
Maria’s Field of Hope at Cedar Point
Where: 1201 Cedar Point Dr., Sandusky, OH 44870 (next to Cedar Point’s Express Hotel)
When: Second half of August in 2020. Maria’s Shop at the Cedar Point field is open 10 a.m.-1 p.m. and 4 p.m.-8 p.m. on weekdays, and 10 a.m.-8 p.m. on weekends, but you can visit the field itself anytime!
This year, Maria’s Field of Hope at Cedar Point was the first to bloom, with flowers opening up in the second week of August. More than 240,000 sunflower seeds were planted across 8 acres of land, making for a striking sight as you drive up Cedar Point Drive.
To visit this field, you can park in the parking lot for Cedar Point’s Express Hotel (no Cedar Point entry required), and simply walk into the field. There’s no fee to enter, though donations are suggested.
You can stop to visit the small shop located at the entrance to the field, where they sell t-shirts and other Prayers from Maria items. You can also dedicate a sunflower here, which costs a minimum of $10. You can then write a message and tie it to a sunflower of your choice in the field.
Once in the field, there are walking paths cut that allow you to explore all 8 acres of flowers.
Note that in 2020, masks are required to be worn in the field, as the pathways are not wide enough for true social distancing. Be kind and make sure to bring your mask!
The field welcomes professional photographers to bring their clients (for an extra fee), so don’t be surprised to find family photoshoots happening throughout the field. But you’re free to take as many photos of your own as you want for free.
You should also be aware that any sunflower fields you visit in-bloom will likely be filled with bees and other pollinators! If you’re allergic, be sure to take note.
Pro tip: In 2020, the sunflowers have bloomed at the Cedar Point field facing the road to the east, so if you want to visit the field and see the sun shining ON the flowers, sunset is not the right time to go. (At sunset, the sun shines from behind the flowers.)
Maria’s Field of Hope in Avon
Where: Corner of Chester Jaycox roads, Avon, OH (just north of I-90)
When: Early/mid-September in 2020. The sunflower field is open to visitors from dawn until dusk. Maria’s Shop at the Avon field is open most daylight hours, and you can find an ice cream truck there on Friday evenings, and on Saturdays and Sundays.
The original Maria’s Field of Hope is located in Avon, Ohio, at the intersection of Chester and Jaycox roads. This field is much larger (780,000 seeds planted on 26 acres of land), and in 2020 started blooming in early September.
This field is large and sprawling (perfect for social distancing in 2020!), and is a beautiful spot to go for a September stroll or to take some photos.
Just keep in mind how BIG this field is; don’t feel like you have to only follow the main trail through the flowers that everyone else is following. Spread yourself out; there are lots of pathways to explore in different parts of the field.
You can also keep your eye out for the different varietals here (5 different types of sunflowers were planted this year); see how many you can spot!
Parking for this sunflower field is in a grassy area next to a Planet Fitness parking lot (keep in mind that it can be muddy if the weather is wet), and is free.
Entry to the Avon sunflower field is once again free, with donations encouraged and flower dedications and a small shop available. In 2020, there’s an ice cream truck and small lemonade stand there on weekends, too.
Again, be prepared to wear a mask and practice social distancing when possible at this field, and expect to find lots of bee friends on the flowers!
Tips for visiting Maria’s Field of Hope
Thinking of making a trip out to visit one of these sunflower fields this year? Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Bring some cash for a donation – Unlike most other sunflower fields in Ohio, these are completely free to visit; no tickets are required. But because they aim to raise awareness for a good cause, donations are always encouraged and appreciated.
- Avoid weekends if you want to avoid crowds – As would be expected, the fields are busiest on the weekends. Consider going on a weekday for a less-crowded visit. In my experience, they also get more crowded around sunset hours.
- Be prepared for the weather – Both sunflower fields are open to the elements with no shade, meaning you’ll want to bring sun and/or rain protection, depending on the weather forecast. And if it’s been raining? Be prepared for mud!
- Be mindful of photo shoots – Professional photographers are welcome at Maria’s Field of Hope with their clients, so try to be aware of any photoshoots that might be going on; it’s usually easy to walk around them to avoid photobombing someone. (Though don’t worry; you don’t have to pay to take your own photos here; you only need a Shutterbug Pass if you’re bringing clients to the fields.)
- In 2020, make sure to pack your mask – Even though the fields are located outdoors, Prayers from Maria is still asking that visitors wear masks. This is because the paths cut through the fields are quite narrow, and it’s not always possible to practice safe social distancing. Kids battling cancer often wear masks to protect themselves; the rest of us can definitely do it while walking through a pretty sunflower field.
These sunflower fields are fleeting (they only bloom for about 3 weeks each year), but they are absolutely worth visiting.
If you missed the blooms in 2020, don’t worry – they will definitely be back in 2021!
Have you visited a Maria’s Field of Hope? What did you think?
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Amanda was born and raised in northeast Ohio, and has always been a fangirl of the state. Now, she wants to share her love of Cleveland with the world, highlighting all the best things to do, see, and eat in the CLE. She’s been running Cleveland Traveler since January 2019.