Located in central Florida’s Polk County, Haines City is a small town of about 20,000 that has experienced substantial growth in the last decade.
One of the key areas in the Lakeland – Winter Haven metro area, it is relatively equidistant between Orlando to the northeast and Tampa to the southwest.
Its convenient location along Interstate 4 gives visitors easy access to attractions spread over a large area, and it also marks the center point between the state’s Atlantic and Gulf coasts.
Below are 15 things to do in and around Haines City, Florida that you won’t want to pass up.
1. Lake Eva Community Park
In many ways, scenic Lake Eva Community Park is the heart of Haines City. That’s especially so for those who value its wide-open spaces, natural scenery, and abundant amenities.
Though it’s got tons of typical park attractions – like a lake, tennis and basketball courts and walking trails – Lake Eva Community Park also boasts a contemporary live event center that can accommodate more than 1,300 people.
The park is also home to a popular Florida IRONMAN competition that takes place every April. Even for those who aren’t likely to participate, it’s a festive, family-friendly event that’s worth a visit.
2. Southern Dunes Golf & Country Club
Featuring 18 scenic holes that play about 7,200 yards, Southern Dunes Golf and Country Club has been open since the early ‘90s. It was built to resemble links-style courses that are traditional overseas, especially in England and Ireland.
Unlike many Florida courses that are flat and relatively wide open, Southern Dunes features significant changes in elevation. In addition to its narrow fairways, multi-tiered greens, and strategically placed sand and water hazards, this landscaping makes for a truly remarkable round.
Previous guests have noted that tee times can disappear quickly during the peak season, so to avoid an all-full situation, reserve yours in advance.
3. Sonny’s BBQ
No matter where you find yourself in the American southeast, you’ll likely have a number of barbecue choices close at hand; not surprisingly, the competition is pretty hot.
Located on Highway 27, Sonny’s BBQ is part of a chain, but those who’ve visited several of their restaurants have stated that the one in Haines City is nicer and more efficient than many of the others.
Sonny’s is known for its variety of meat and sauce options, and there are both half and full-portions available.
It’s a relaxing, down-home style restaurant that keeps many customers coming back again and again.
4. LEGOLAND Florida
Located in nearby Winter Haven, LEGOLAND Florida is an easy drive from Haines City and is one of the region’s top destinations for families traveling with creative and active children.
LEGOLAND is really many different attractions in one. It features a botanical garden, a variety of carnival-style rides and games, and a water park that’s the perfect place to spend a few hours escaping from the intense Florida sun.
Live entertainment, numerous dining options, and plenty of nearby lodging make it a one-stop destination. This spot typically ends up devouring large chunks of many unsuspecting families’ valuable vacation time.
5. Fantasy of Flight
Since 1995, Fantasy of Flight has been central Florida’s premier aviation attraction. It’s located just up the road from Haines City, on Broadway Boulevard SE in Polk City.
Its main attractions are the restored aircraft that span countless generations of aviation development, including such classics as a World War II-era P-51 Mustang long-range fighter escort and a German Buzz Bomb.
In addition to its impressive collection, the museum features many interactive exhibits. All areas include historical documentation on the machine’s history, performance, and when and where they were used.
Check their website for hours of operation admission costs.
6. Ridge Island Groves
Florida is one of the country’s largest citrus-producing areas, and it accounts for a significant portion of the state’s overall economy.
From oranges and grapefruits to lemons and limes, there are almost always fresh citrus options available. For those who prefer picking their own to buying them in a store, a trip to Ridge Island Groves would be a great way to spend a few morning or afternoon hours.
Ridge Island is a u-pick-‘em facility, which means it’s time to grab a hat, some gloves, and a basket and hit the groves.
Be sure to check online to see what’ll be in-season when you’re in the area.
7. Universal Orlando
Universal Orlando Theme Park is about 30 miles from Haines City, making it a favorite day-trip option for those who want to experience the iconic Florida attraction.
Universal Orlando is part theme park, part live entertainment venue, and part museum dedicated to movie and television – it’s one of those places that consistently wows visitors of all ages.
With its abundant onsite lodging, dining, and recreation options, many families choose to remain onsite for days, and most find that they never run out of new things to do.
The water park and amusement park-style rides are big hits, and there are live entertainment events for both adults and children.
8. Manny’s Original Chophouse
Another perennial contender in the central Florida food arena is Manny’s Original Chophouse.
Manny’s is also part of a growing chain known for its tasty grub, efficient service, and world-class steaks, chops, and seafood.
Previous guests have noted that the bottomless table salads are a big hit; they are available with a variety of distinct dressings.
Guests have also stated that though the atmosphere is fun and festive, the background noise can be a bit overwhelming. Those looking for a relaxing evening might want to consider bringing earplugs, consuming alcohol in copious amounts, or both.
The restaurant is located just off Highway 27 and has quite a few Mexican food offerings as well.
9. Lake Kissimmee State Park
Coming in at just a tick under 6,000 acres, Lake Kissimmee State Park is a big attraction that packs a powerful outdoor recreation punch, drawing visitors from all over the state.
Though it’s modest in size when compared to Everglades National Park, it boasts a large variety of natural habitats, like Florida prairies, floodplains, hammocks, and a number of interconnected lakes and rivers – all of which harbor an abundance of plant and animal life.
For visitors who didn’t know that Florida has a rich cowboy history rivaling those found out west, a trip to the ‘cow hunters’ camp would be fun and enlightening.
Located on South Orange Blossom Trail in Orlando, Gatorland is one of those central Florida attractions that most visitors choose not to pass up.
Getting up close and personal with swamp denizens like gators, snakes, and snapping turtles isn’t the kind of thing most city-slickers want to delve into themselves, so experiencing the Glades as part of a tour is the next best thing.
Gatorland offers airboat tours, regularly scheduled nature shows, and zip-lining. There are a variety of self-led activities too, like hiking along the boardwalk, climbing the observation tower, or just scratching the heads of some cute and cuddly animals in the petting zoo.
11. Monument of States
Located on East Monument Avenue in Kissimmee’s Lakefront Park, Monument of States is one of those quirky and unique attractions that’s convenient, free, and won’t take up too much of your time.
As its name states, it’s a monument to the union’s 50 states. It was the brainchild of a local man who was inspired to create a unifying attraction after the attack on Pearl Harbor at the outset of World War II.
At that time, there were only 48 states. Though the building process was slow, it never stopped, and it’s now a local historic icon worthy of a quick stop and a few pictures.
12. Chocolate Kingdom
Chocolate Kingdom on Florida Place Boulevard in Kissimmee is another cool area attraction. It’s an especially big hit with those who’ve fallen under the cocoa bean’s addictive spell.
Chocolate Kingdom is part candy store, part chocolate factory, and part museum. The best way to experience it all is as part of a guided tour. They’re inexpensive and last about an hour, which makes them appropriate for little ones with short attention spans.
Samples are distributed along the way, and there’s a great onsite gift shop too. Personalized chocolate bars are available for a small charge. If you are arriving as part of a large group, they recommend that you call ahead.
13. Osceola Arts
Many Florida towns have experienced art and cultural renaissances in recent years, and Kissimmee is no exception.
Located on Irlo Bronson Memorial Highway, Osceola Arts gives artsy visitors a chance not just to watch some fantastic, locally-produced performing arts, but to rub elbows with local artists and performers and participate in a variety of interactive activities as well.
Osceola Arts presents Broadway-style productions and some less traditional ones too. For those traveling with budding performers, the staff offer a number of classes and programs aimed at fostering expression and creativity through conventional fine arts and performing arts.
14. The Hollis Garden
Though it’s only slightly larger than an acre, Hollis Garden on East Orange Street in Lakeland is a beautiful and serene oasis that’s free to visit. It’s full of thousands of species of tropical and sub-tropical flowers, plants, and trees.
The garden is done in the neo-classical style and includes fountains and grottos, koi ponds, and a walkway that leads around the central lake.
The garden is named after the local family who donated the land to the city with the agreement that it wouldn’t be developed. For those who’ve had their fill of the area’s more crowded and commercial tourist sites, Hollis Garden is the perfect place to spend a quiet afternoon.
15. The Florida Air Museum
Also located in nearby Lakeland, the Florida Air Museum’s history began back in the ‘80s, when its founder envisioned a facility geared towards history and aviation buffs.
Though its beginnings were humble, to say the least, the museum has continuously expanded. It now includes an impressive variety of exhibits, equipment, and memorabilia in addition to the stars of the show, which are the refurbished airplanes from both civil and military aviation.
The museum is located on Medulla Road and is the state’s official aviation museum.
Admission is inexpensive, and it’s convenient to visit from Haines City for those who don’t mind a short drive.