Roadtrip: Lakeland, Lake Wales and Lake Placid
The lovingly restored downtown area of Lakeland reminds visitors of yesteryear with a quaint antique district and a beautiful scenic park, Munn Park, a beautiful downtown centerpiece. Surrounding the old-fashioned town square is a host of shops, galleries, eateries and professional centers. Specialty and boutique shops offer selections from antiques to jewelry, china, crystal and artwork.
The historic downtown of Lake Wales offers shopping enthusiasts an exciting experience with specialty and unique shops of every size and color. From antiques to fine arts, downtown has something for every visitor.
As visitors approach Lake Placid, they are greeted by Placid Tower, a magnificent landmark rising 270 feet above the ground, and beautiful murals that adorn many buildings throughout downtown.
Lakeland offers residents and visitors an exceptional quality of life. In fact, one travel writer has said they've gone from a "drive-by citrus city to a Mecca of Cool." With its central location, between Orlando and Tampa, it is a haven for visitors.
In the heart of downtown, Lake Mirror Park, 863-834-6035, is experiencing a rebirth with the addition of an amphitheater and pedestrian walkways. The promenade, built in 1928 and fashioned after the Roman style of olden times, was carefully restored to its original beauty and is on the National Register of Historic Places. The promenade has recently seen the addition of a new sculpture by Albert Paley. Hollis Garden, 863-834-6035, a breathtaking formal garden adjacent to historic Lake Mirror Park, displays more than 10,000 flowers and other plants. The grand staircase connects the park and the garden.
Florida Southern College, 863-680-4111, is home to the largest single-site collection of Frank Lloyd Wright's architecture. On campus, the "Child of the Sun" Visitor Center educates visitors to the Wright architecture and provides a home for the permanent display of photographs, furniture, and drawings depicting Wright's relationship with the College.
Downtown Lakeland also offers an interactive museum geared to children ages two to 12, Explorations V Children's Museum, 863-687-3869, featuring three floors of kid-powered exhibits and programs offering a hands-on, fun-filled adventure in learning. An additional museum, the Florida Air Museum at Sun 'N Fun, 863-644-2431, displays a rich variety of aircraft and aviation artifacts for the flying enthusiast including warplane jet engines and other aircraft memorabilia. The Polk Museum of Art, 863-688-7743, exhibits a collection of pre-Colombian, contemporary, African and Asian artwork and a unique sculpture garden. The restored Polk Theatre, 863-682-7553, opened in 1928, is one of the last remaining atmospheric theatres in the state. Lakeland has also been the spring training headquarters for the Detroit Tigers since 1934. Other recreational opportunities abound in Lakeland, with more than 550 freshwater lakes and rivers. It is recognized for world-renowned freshwater fishing.
Located in Lake Wales, Bok Tower Gardens, 863-676-1408, features a marble and coquina "Singing Tower," named for its 60 carillon bells. In the 1920s, Edward Bok, American editor and Pulitzer Prize-winning author, had the idea to preserve the highest hilltop of Florida's Lake Wales Ridge and create a bird sanctuary. Bok commissioned the finest artisans of the day to design and build the tower as a focal point of the Olmsted-designed landscape gardens. This 250-acre paradise includes spectacular flowering plants, wild birds and many species of wildlife. A National Historic Landmark, the Gardens include a Mediterranean-style mansion at Pinewood Estate, museum exhibits, a unique gift shop and the Blue Palmetto Café.
Located near the Sanctuary, Spook Hill, 863-676-3445, is a mysterious experience for all visitors as their vehicle appears to roll uphill backward from a neutral position! Local legends speak of Indian spirits and other apparitions. Look for the directional signs around town that point the way to Spook Hill.
The Lake Wales Art Center, 863-676-8426, provides visitors with rich cultural activities. Housed in a beautiful building built in 1927 to house the Holy Spirit Catholic Church, 863-676-1556, the Art Center is on the National Register of Historic Places and is one of the most striking examples of Spanish Mission Style architecture found in Florida.
The enchanting Chalet Suzanne Restaurant & Country Inn, 863-676-6011, features an internationally-famous, award-winning restaurant, uniquely romantic guest accommodations, and includes a grassy airstrip. This exquisite inn evokes old-world charm with cozy bungalows in European decor, gabled roofs, tinkling fountains and fragrant orange groves. There's also a sparkling lake, lush gardens, a vineyard and a gift boutique. Chalet Suzanne, on the National Register of Historic Places, was awarded three stars from the Mobil Guide, and has won numerous honors, including the Wine Spectator Award.
In addition to the beauty of nature in the Lake Placid area, the Greater Lake Placid Chamber of Commerce, 863-465-4331, and "Keep Lake Placid Beautiful" have concentrated on improving the community's appearance as the primary method of attracting businesses and residents. Their success is evident today as visitors traverse the uptown area, a paradise for shoppers.
Lake Placid is famous for its murals and has had more than 140 pieces of art introduced to the town since 1992. A few of the murals feature a motion-sensored soundtrack to enhance the visual image, including cowboys, bears and a train with lights, and unique trash containers, all of which help to make this town memorable.
For nature enthusiasts, the Lake June-in-Winter Scrub State Park, 863-386-6099, on the western shore of Lake June, offering lovely nature trails and a quiet venue for peaceful picnicking.
Lake Placid also proudly claims to have more clowns per capita than any other location in Florida. Whether the wild hair and bizarre clothing clown fashion of Germany, the historic, white-faced English clown, or the famous boxcar hobo of America, the Toby's Clowns, 863-465-2920, is housed in Lake Placid and proves that history can be entertaining as well as educational.
Ninety-eight percent of the world's caladiums are grown in Lake Placid, making this small rural community the "Caladium Capital of the World." The caladiums are grown in large fields which have been compared to the tulip fields in Holland for their beauty during the summer months. Many visitors have stated that the drive by the fields is well worth the trip to Lake Placid. The patchwork of color of over 40 varieties of red, white, green and pink, and all combinations of the colors is truly a handiwork of art. Be sure to stop by one of the many local distributors and purchase a few tubers to take home as living souvenirs.