Want to take a road trip a little closer to home? We asked the experts at Visit Central Florida for some of their favorite places to go here in Polk County. From viewing a zebra from your car to sitting down to a proper tea, there are so many things to do in our own backyard.
LAVENDER N’ LACE / THE STABLE HOME DÉCOR & BARN ANTIQUES
Featuring homemade food, unique signature teas and artisan wares for sale in the gift shop, Lavender N’ Lace Tearoom in the rolling hills of Lake Alfred offers visitors an escape from the usual. Offering an array of more adult fare from throughout Europe – think crepes, cottage pie and chicken curry – a trip to Lavender N’ Lace Tearoom is a trip to a simpler, slower time where a conversation over a meal was expected. Open from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Sunday.
For another antique shopping and dining experience, right around the corner, The Stable Home Décor encompasses several shops and a restaurant. This rural shopping mecca is a family affair, owned and operated by the Wales family for over 50 years. Enjoy a leisurely lunch at The Back Porch Restaurant then spend the afternoon hunting treasures in the shops. The Back Porch is known for its quaint picnic basket lunches that include soup, salad, sandwich, dessert and a drink, all for one low price. The charming dining room features hand-painted tabletops and large stained glass windows. Weather permitting, you can also dine on the wrap-around covered deck overlooking the nature pond.
The Stable is a unique home decor and gift shop filled with wonderful accessories to suit a variety of tastes, including framed prints, lamps, mirrors, wreaths, floral arrangements, fragrances, jewelry and more. The Back Yard Garden Shop is a shaded, outdoor shopping venue, featuring seasonal plants and garden accessories such as birdhouses and fountains. The Seasons Gift Shop is the perfect place to refresh or embellish your holiday décor with items for all your seasonal celebrations.
The Barn Antiques (closed for summer), offers a selection of fine imported European antiques. Shops open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., restaurant 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Home to the largest collection of its kind in the world, Lakeland remains one of the most weekend-worthy cites to visit in Florida. More than 80 years after famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright constructed his vision of a “College of Tomorrow” at Florida Southern College, the largest one-site collection of the architect’s work still draws visitors from around the world.
Envisioning the campus rising out of the ground, Wright dubbed the collection the “Child of the Sun.” Incorporating native sands, shells and glass into the concrete blocks, he arranged the buildings as an homage to an orange grove. Guided tours are available or you can opt to walk around yourself. Just don’t miss the crown jewel, the Annie Pfeiffer Chapel, or Wright’s piece domestic bliss, the Usonian House.
Located nearby is one of the top-10 art museums in the state, the Polk Museum of Art at Florida Southern College. With an extensive permanent collection of contemporary and modern art, it remains home to rare 19th-century Japanese woodblock prints as well as ceramic plates made by Pablo Picasso. The outdoor garden area showcases a number of permanent sculptures. The museum is closed Mondays as well as major holidays. Visit polkmuseumofart.org before heading out.
If you prefer your art al fresco, Lakeland’s murals fit the bill. Found on buildings throughout the city, the selfie-worthy works dot the city. Some of the more memorable ones include the angel selfie wall behind Born & Bread Bakehouse, 1113A S. Florida Ave. or, just a block away, the #Made in Lakeland mural at 1035 S. Florida Ave. Within driving distance on the same road is the mural of the French frigate L’Hermione at 3825 Florida Ave. S behind the Mahoney Group building. More can be found through a simple Google search.
As a top citrus producer since the mid-1800s, Polk County has earned the title Florida’s Sweetest Spot. You’ll find many sweet treasures dotting the landscape and there’s even a Citrus Label Driving Tour. Used as marketing tools to distinguish brands, citrus labels were popular from the early 1900s through World War II. The artistic labels depicted Floridian heritage, flora, fauna and historical sites. The tradition of citrus labels ended as cardboard boxes replaced wooden crates due to scarcity from the war effort. Today, enlarged reproductions of these colorful, vintage labels can be found at more than 20 locations across Polk County.
For a truly authentic Florida experience, you can pluck an orange straight from the tree and enjoy the golden treasure inside. Ridge Island Groves offers this experience on their grove tours. Afterwards, cool off with a delicious citrus soft-serve cone and peruse their open-air store. For more citrus delicacies, check out the candy factories at Davidson of Dundee and Webb’s Candy Shop then stop for dessert at the Taste of Florida Café at Lang Sun Country Groves. Co-founder Mary Lang’s famous grapefruit pie recipe found world fame after being featured on The Food Network show “Epicurious!” and is an enduring staple on the café’s menu.
Surrounded by orange trees, the Florida’s Natural Growers Grove House in Lake Wales offers up more sweetness with assorted samples of their premium juices and a gift shop featuring a wide range of citrus treats and keepsakes. Don’t miss the video tour to see how juice starts as fruit before it is squeezed, packaged and delivered to a supermarket near you.
Florida’s citrus season generally runs from October through May, so please check days and hours of operation before visiting those above. For more information, go to VisitCentralFlorida.org.
LEGOLAND FLORIDA RESORT
Ahoy matey, and welcome landlubbers to LEGOLAND Florida Resort’s newest reason to visit, the Pirate Island Hotel! The first LEGO pirate-themed hotel in North America, this on-site accommodation invites brick fans to vacation like a pirate. Just steps from the entrance you and your band of privateers can enjoy the resort-style pool, family-style dining and pirate-themed entertainment, including s’mores around the campfire, a 9-hole miniature golf course, daily builds with Master Model Builders in the lobby and pontoon rides on Lake Eloise. And when you and your staycationers are back in the room, the kids can enjoy their own separate sleeping area, LEGO bricks to play with, and their own flat-panel TV with complimentary On-Demand content.
Of course, just steps away is the 150-acre interactive LEGOLAND theme park. Featuring more than 50 rides, shows and attractions, restaurants, shops, the LEGOLAND Florida Water Park, two hotels, a beach retreat and a botanical garden, there is plenty to do all day long. Tiny pirates can jump into the LEGO wave pool or the interactive water-play structures of Joker Soaker and DUPLO Safari to the apt named Build-A-Raft River and Creation Cove to cool down, then hop on the pink-knuckle rides like the Coastersaurus. For a more immersive experience, head on over to LEGO Movie Land to the Triple Decker Flying Couch or, for some old school fun, jump on Mia’s Riding Adventure disc coaster.
Please note, LEGOLAND Florida Resort has changed some procedures due to the Coronavirus pandemic, including temperature taking at the gate, social distancing at restaurants and stores and stringent cleaning measures. For more information visit www.legoland.com
But if you really want to get wild, we’ve got a place for you. Tucked away down a winding road seemingly in the middle of nowhere, these wide-open spaces, flat topography and miles of lush field isn’t the sand-and-surf that most think of as Florida. This is where cattle and cowboys once roamed. It is the perfect veld-like setting for Safari Wilderness Ranch, an African safari type experience. Here, cattle still roam, but they are Watusi, the African version of the longhorn, known by their distinctive upright horns that can reach eight feet in length.
Opened in 2012, the ranch – a 260-acre expanse – is not a zoo. Here, the animals roam freely, grazing and interacting with each other much like they would at home in Africa or Asia. Eland, water buffalo and antelope mingle with zebras and Watusi cattle, while lemurs dance away on an island in the middle of it all. There are even breeds here that you can no longer find in Africa, such as the Scimitar-horned Oryx. Extinct where they originated, this type of antelope thrives in game farms around the United States.
Normally, visitors only have four choices of excursion types – safari bus, kayak safari, camel expedition and llama trek, with most opting for the safari bus, which offers the most shade from Florida’s intense sun and allows visitors to enjoy up-close encounters with the wildlife the park offers. But for a limited time, Safari Wilderness is offering a guided, hour-long drive through tours, allowing you to view the exotic animals around you while observing social distancing. Led by an ATV-riding tour guide, vehicles allowed must be full-sized SUV or smaller. Motorcycles or commercial vehicles are not allowed. For more information or to book your tour, visit safariwilderness.com.