Off the Beaten Path from Sebring: Highlands County, Fla.

    Gary McKechnie

    Of Florida’s 67 counties, Highlands may be the most perfectly balanced. Between two cities, one town, and 13 unincorporated communities you’ll find a mix of high-energy excitement and low-key attractions. Highlands County is all-natural Florida with few artificial preservatives, and it delivers everything you need for a great getaway.

    1. The Heart of Highlands County, the Sebring Area

    Taking a “round trip” in Sebring is as simple as walking around Circle Park Drive in the heart of downtown, where an assortment of independent businesses -- restaurants, art galleries, antique shops, a barbershop, boutiques, a bookstore, and the Circle Theatre –- encircle a flower-filled, oak-shaded, public-art adorned park. For information on these and other Sebring enterprises, just drop in the Sebring Chamber of Commerce (also on the circle). A pleasant excursion whether strolling, shopping, or pausing on a park bench to enjoy the restful setting.

    2. You Gotta Have Art

    The broad waters of Lake Jackson are as calming as they are inspiring. Perhaps that’s why Sebring’s Alan Altvater Cultural Center was placed along the waters’ edge. Clustered side by side is a wonderful collection of venues dedicated to the visual and performing arts: The Highlands Little Theatre, the Highlands Museum of the Arts, the Yellow House Gallery and Visual Arts Center and, for good measure, the Sebring Historical Society and Public Library.

    3. Resting in a Hammock

    There are three times you’d want to visit 9,000-acre Highlands Hammock State Park: When you’re ready to relax; when you’re already relaxed and want to remain so; and anytime at all. The beauty of this park is found in its intricate simplicity which you’ll discover on a walk, drive, or tram tour along the 2.5 mile loop road. Along the way, trailheads appear and beckon you to hike deeper into the park’s fifteen distinct natural communities. Nature provides every reason to visit, and campgrounds and RV sites provide every excuse to extend your stay.

    4. On the Right Track

    The name Sebring gets motors running for race enthusiasts around the world. Each March, fans and drivers gather at the Sebring International Raceway for Twelve Hours at Sebring, the premium event in the American Le Mans Series. But even when those twelve hours are up, the most noted names in performance cars -- Audi, Porsche, Ferrari, Jaguar, Audi, and BMW – will return to the track to test their latest models and compete in other race events taking place throughout the year.

    5. Painting the Town (and Clowning Around)

    While there’s no direct correlation between caladiums, clowns, and murals, combined they are the foundation of delightful Lake Placid. As the ‘Caladium Capital of the World’, the multi-colored plant is a point of civic pride for the community. Drive around town and you’ll find them planted in flowerbeds and painted into colorful murals. Nearly 50 murals, some as large as 175’ x 30’, celebrate flowers, plants, wildlife, and historical figures such as pre-Columbian tribes, Seminole Indians, ranchers, citrus barons… and clowns. Why clowns? Lake Placid is home to the American Clown School & Museum whose mission is to spread smiles, love, and laughter – which it has done by graduating more than 1,500 (and counting) clowns.

    6. Avon Calling

    Charming Avon Park has a few sights worth seeing, starting with downtown’s Hotel Jacaranda whose retro-style isn’t retro at all. Opened in 1926, it’s 100 percent authentic from the hotel restaurant and spacious lobby to an elevator that’s still run by an honest-to-goodness elevator operator. A few miles away, the South Florida State College Museum of Florida Art & Culture celebrate Florida’s rural origins through the works of contemporary Florida regional artists. If you love Old Florida, you’ll love paintings, pottery, sculptures, photographs that transport you into another world. A world that surrounds you in Highlands County.

    Avon Park also has The Peter Powell Roberts Museum where the centerpieces are oil-on-wood paintings and eight sculptures Roberts, an instructor and department head at the Ringling School of Art in Sarasota Florida for 23 years. He also founded the Design and Computer Graphics Departments at the college. But Roberts and his work went missing in 2010 after his wife of 45 years died.  He was found in 2012 when Heartland Cultural Alliance president Fred Leavitt and his therapy dog, Sheba, visited a nursing facility in Sebring. Roberts donated his work, much of which had been languishing in a storage shed, to the museum in 2014, shortly before his own death. The art been described as abstract nature compositions, focused on the cycle of life.

    For additional information, check out VisitSebring.

    Want to read about more hidden Florida gems? Check out these articles:

    Belle Glade

    Columbia County

    DeSoto County


    Glades County

    Hamilton County

    Hardee County

    Hendry County

    Holmes County


    Jackson County

    Madison County

    Okeechobee County


    Putnam County

    South Bay

    Suwannee County

    Union County


    Highlands County is highlighted in red.

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    Places to Remember