In Central Florida, two hours south of the bustling theme parks of Orlando, you’ll find Highlands County, a unique getaway that encompasses the towns of Lake Placid, Sebring and Avon Park.
Be whisked back in time in downtown Lake Placid, where the town’s vivid murals portray the past with colorful scenes of cattle drives, leaping bass and even a panther slinking into the swamp; immerse yourself in the electric, always happening vibe of Sebring International Raceway, home to the epic Twelve Hours of Sebring race; and discover the gracious, historic Hotel Jacaranda in Avon Park, where you can catch a lift with an honest-to-goodness elevator operator.
Read on to find out about some of the area’s favorite offerings.
Take a trip to the ‘City on the Circle’ to explore art galleries; discover a famed raceway; and enjoy quirky events and outdoor adventures.
Nearly every guest who visits Walt Disney World hears from cast members how Walt created the park’s famed ‘hub and spoke’ design, each spoke radiating off to a new and exciting destination. Well, Disney must have gotten the idea from George Sebring who, in 1911, created the circular plan as a focal point for this lakeside community.
The ‘City on the Circle’ invites you to take a stroll downtown to find a roundabout that encircles a flower-filled park. Huge oaks trees shade park benches, music plays over loudspeakers, and dappled sunlight shines brightly on public art displays.
A Florida Heritage District, it’s old-fashioned, but not tired. It offers down home restaurants like Dee’s Place – a fine choice for breakfast-- and upscale fashion boutiques like Steve & Co or Southern Drawl Boutique & Salon. The Circle Theatre is here as well as the Children’s Museum of the Highlands. Art galleries treat the eye and move the spirit; you can scoop up treasures at Grateful Hearts, Alice Stroppel’s Studio 215 or Highlands Museum of the Arts.
There’s a real barbershop, and if you poke your head into Linda’s Books, you’ll find more than 100,000 books filling the walls, shelves and even floors (note that the Friends of the Library also have a bookstore close by).
Sebring reminds visitors to admire their displays of public art, but remember, too, to admire the many historic buildings that create this lovely district.
Life at the Lake
From the circle, find your way down Center Avenue to the shores of Lake Jackson. Just as businesses circle the park, Sebring encircles Lake Jackson. In addition to lovely Arts & Crafts homes on Lakeview Drive, several condominiums and high-rise towers give residents a stunning view of the water. For every Sebring resident, points of pride include the Highlands Little Theatre, the Sebring Historical Society and the Public Library. Also here, the Sebring Rotary Park on Lake Jackson is a peaceful sanctuary where a pavilion on the water is a splendid place to stop and rest awhile.
Each April, the award-winning three-day Sebring Soda Festival bubbles into town with its family-friendly block-party vibe. It promises over 200 craft sodas for you to sample, so besides your classic Coke and Pepsi offerings, you can float away with you’ve-never-had-them-before flavors like caramel apple, prickly pear, candied bacon and pepper soda in addition to vintage tastes like RC Cola. Craft beer and wine as well live music and festive food round out the fun.
If you won’t be in the area in April, no worries. You can try some of those eccentric sodas at Sebring Soda and Ice Cream Works anytime, and if you’re looking for an event, Sebring almost always has something going on—check out the event calendar.
Raise your Glass
Kick back and savor a glass of wine with the backdrop of a vineyard from a generous, shaded patio at Secret Garden Winery and Farm, open to the public for tours, tastings and sales. If a mug of suds is more your style, visit Turn 2 Brewing Company a 5,000 square-foot full production brewery that’s family and pet friendly.
Start Your Engines!
Sebring International Raceway is about nine miles from downtown, but it’s where the racing world goes each March to stare awestruck at the speed and handling of 1,000 horsepower cars hurtling around the track. Part of the prestigious American Le Mans Series, the speedway’s main event, Twelve Hours at Sebring, may be the annual highlight each March, but the track that was created from a former WWII air base gets a workout throughout the year with 175 events that span 250 days annually, including road races, performance driving schools and car testing.
Park Yourself Here
Sometimes you need thrill rides and parades and characters to make a vacation memorable. Other times you need a place like Highlands Hammock State Park, a 9,000-acre wonder that invites you to appreciate the world around you.
Near the entrance is a campground that accommodates primitive camping and RVs. A little further on the Conservation Corps Museum is dedicated to the Civilian Conservation Corps workers who helped create this and other state and federal parks. While Highlands Hammock hosts events such as Music in the Park as well as other festivals and an alligator tram tour, seeing it yourself may be the best way to discover it. The 2.5-mile loop road can be done on foot or bicycle, but it’s more convenient in a car.
The drive is very peaceful, almost Zen-like, and along the way if you wish to stop there are parking areas by trailheads that lead deeper into the hammock via trails with names like Fern Garden, Hickory Tail, and Big Oaks. When you stop (and you should), shut off the car and shut off your mind. All you’ll hear is the sound of the wind in the trees and the sounds of birds and animals in the branches, woods, and waters around you.
Check out more natural and outdoor attractions from Visit Sebring.
Go on a Treasure Hunt
Free and fun, the Sebring Area GeoTour sends you on a spree to locate caches in Sebring, Avon Park, Lake Placid, Lorida, and Venus, introducing you to hidden gems along the path. Your GPS or smartphone will guide you as you discover this tour’s four GeoTrails: Ranch & Harvest, Parks & Recreation, Historic, and Art & Culture. The Centennial GeoTrail, new in fall of 2021, celebrates the heritage of Sebring, Avon Park and Lake Placid as well as the 100th birthday of Highlands County.
To say Lake Placid makes for an intriguing visit is an understatement. The small enclave is not only heralded as the ‘Caladium and Mural Capital of the World,’ but Reader’s Digest named it ‘America’s Most Interesting Town,’ citing its unique variety of nature, culture, and fun.
Elephant Ears and Angel Wings
Lake Placid’s title of ‘Caladium Capital of the World’ is well-earned. Caladiums—colorful plants with heart shaped leaves and often known by their common names of elephant ear, heart of Jesus, and angel wings—thrive in the area’s rich, dark soil, and an astounding 95 percent of the world’s caladiums grow here. You can celebrate the plant at the town’s Annual Caladium Festival, a three-day extravaganza held in late July that’s complete with a car and bike show, 5K race, food and entertainment.
The town’s undisputed bragging point is the breathtaking murals you’ll find in its historic downtown. Nearly 50 murals – some as large as 175 by 30 feet and others filling several stories on downtown buildings – are painted throughout the community.
Pick up a mural guide, available at the Visitor’s Center and other locations throughout the town for $4, then take a leisurely drive or casual stroll to see the story of cattle drives, of Lake Placid’s pioneers, of Indians who lived here 10,000 years ago, of sandhill cranes and the citrus industry and larger-than-life local residents like lady rancher Jennie Reninger, who was so good with a bullwhip she could snap a cigarette out of your mouth from 10 feet away.
A Laughing Matter
Toby’s Clown School and Museum provides another intriguing stop, with its free admission museum where you can wonder at clown memorabilia, including figurines, pictures, and costumes-- or where you can learn to be a clown; since 1993, the school has graduated over 1,500 clowns who’ve successfully completed its 25-hour clown class.
History on Display
Lake Placid Historical Society Depot Museum showcases photos and memorabilia from the town’s history in addition to an antique caboose, a 1929 steam engine, and the town’s 1920s-era jail.
Eat and Drink
When you need to refuel, Jaxon’s on the Lake serves up casual, classic American fare; Casa Tequila Mexican Restaurant and Bar gets rave reviews for its ice-cream taco with a crispy chocolate shell; and Wet Dogs Brewing delivers an authentic taste of Lake Placid with its craft beer as well as wine, hard ciders, hard seltzers, craft sodas and coffee.
And there’s more!
Watersports, swimming, boating, sailing and fishing, as well as golfing and biking, are also popular.
With an abundance of outdoor recreation from fishing and boating to golfing, the ‘City of Charm’ is all about relaxing.
Step Back in Time
If you’d like to know what Florida looked like in the 1940s, you could look at archival photos – or you could visit Avon Park. On a typical day, kids and families are swimming in Lake Verona, which lies between Highway 64 and the cavernous Avon Park Shuffleboard Courts.
Nestled alongside the mile-long mall highlighting the downtown, the Hotel Jacaranda spins back the wheel of time even further, to 1925. Nicknamed the ‘Gracious Lady,’ the hotel was a hotspot for the rich and famous in its heyday, hosting celebrities that included Babe Ruth and Clark Gable. Today, guests are still checking into its authentic retro rooms, dining in the elegant hotel restaurant, enjoying its spacious lobby, and catching a lift with an honest-to-goodness elevator operator. Really.
A Ticket to the Past
A few blocks west by the railroad track, the Depot Museum and Avon Park Historical Museum memorializes the glory days of Florida’s passenger train service --although a gleaming stainless steel ‘California Zephyr’ is the focal point of the facility.
Craving the Creative
Who knew? You can find famous works of art in Avon. The Peter Powell Roberts Museum of Art and Cultural Center showcases the artist’s priceless collection of paintings that celebrate the details of Central Florida’s outdoors. And the South Florida State College Museum of Florida Art & Culture pays tribute to the Sunshine State with its Florida Masters Collection, including work by Christopher Still, Clyde Butcher, John Costin, and Robert Butler. It also shines light on what the area was like 25 million years ago, illuminating the story of the first people who made landfall in 12,000 B.C. and the tribes that followed using archaeological treasures, paintings, ceramics, etchings and quilts.
If you want to step into the action, The Artist’s Group (TAG) Art Studio and Gallery offers painting classes and an artists’ group and gallery.
Wildflower Wayside Shrine Trail blends science, art and nature on a self-guided walking trail that meanders through unspoiled scrubland on the South Florida Community College Highlands Campus. Along the path you’ll find nine shrine boxes created to honor the endangered plant species found on the Lake Wales Ridge.
The Alan Jay Wildstein Center promises more than 30 shows annually, with past star-studded appearances that include Jay Leno, Johnny Mathis, Kenny Rogers, the Vienna Boys Choir and Broadway tours.
A Taste of Old Florida
Avon Park’s local eats include the Wild Turkey Tavern, that truthfully declares ‘your appetite doesn’t stand a chance against our burgers’; Eighteen East Restaurant and Bar, delivering specials that are both unusual and wonderful (fried green fried tomatoes topped with crab cakes and hog wings are past offerings); and Maxwell Groves Country stores shares the sweet flavors of the area’s succulent citrus.
Odds & Ends
Where's the F?
Heading east from Sebring on Highway 70, look for the road sign for Lorida, an unincorporated community. If you travel with an extra ‘F’ you can pose by the sign and create a new state. Or without.
Take a Drive
Route 621 is a wonderful road that arcs around the eastern and southern shores of Lake Istokpoga, Florida’s fifth-largest lake, and is especially great on a motorcycle. Narrow and sharp, it releases you into the countryside where, occasionally, a side road leads to waterfront fish camps like Henderson’s, which bills itself as having the best bass fishing in Central Florida with country folk hospitality. In season, the scent of orange blossoms from the surrounding groves is magnificent. At the southern shore, be sure to stop by the spillway that feeds a canal – it’s a popular spot for fishing.
When you go…
Highlands County, which is branded as Visit Sebring, is best known for its historic Sebring International Raceway, which is home to the legendary 12 Hours of Sebring endurance auto race held the 3rd week of March. New racing events are positioning Sebring as Florida’s race capital.
Top Activities in Highlands County:
- Sebring International Raceway - track is hot 50 weeks a year with driving schools, track rentals, smaller races, testing and car club racing events.
- Highlands Hammock State Park - one of Florida’s oldest and largest state parks is also home to Florida’s Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) museum.
- Unique festivals and events, such as the Sebring Soda Festival and the Caladium Festival.
- A variety of sports events such as cycling, jet ski racing, motorized surfboard racing, Spartan/Tough Mudder, triathlons, and golf tournaments.
- Nearly 100 freshwater lakes ideal for fishing, boating and recreational water sports.
- Citrus Golf Trail - Known as the Value Golf Capital of America, Sebirng’s collection of golf courses offer value, history, outstanding service and an extraordinary experience.
- Geocaching - Sebring Area GeoTour and the Centennial GeoTrail
- Historic downtowns - Sebring (City on a Circle), Avon Park (City of Charm) and Lake Placid (Town of Murals and the Caladium Capital of the U.S).
- Agritourism - Places like Sugar Sand Distillery, Maxwell Groves, Wet Dogs Brewing, Secret Gardens Winery, Henscratch Winery and Turn 2 Brewery.
For More Information
Visit Sebring Travel Guide
Lake Placid Chamber
Greater Sebring Chamber of Commerce