In the very northwest of Lake County, Lady Lake is a town with a population that has more than doubled since 1990.
Part of that growth can be explained by The Villages. Set next door, this vast retirement community resembles a full-fledged city, and has a series of public districts that non-residents are free to visit.
For its part, Lady Lake is an understated place that also caters to older visitors. On its outskirts are RV resorts and camps, many on the shores of the scenic lakes that pepper the landscape.
I found a lot to love about Lady Lake, including a farmers’ market, spectacular old live oaks, and a historical museum in an old railroad depot.
1. Spanish Springs Town Square
Lady Lake sits side-by-side with an enormous 55+ retirement community, where golf carts are the main mode of transport. At around 32 square miles, The Villages is larger than Manhattan and has a population growing exponentially.
When I compiled this article there were 80,000+ people living here, up more than 30,000 from the 2010 census.
To experience this unique place, I’d recommend a visit to Spanish Springs Town Square, a mixed-use development. Looking a little like a theme park, this shopping, dining and entertainment district has a Spanish Colonial design.
There’s a Main Street with boutiques, eateries like Dunkin’ and Panera Bread, with a town square at the south end.
This is a hive of activity all day long, and has live entertainment every evening. The square is fronted by the Sharon L Morse Performing Arts Center. There’s live entertainment 365 days a year at this 1,000 seat, state-of-the-art theater.
2. Farmers’ Market
When I was in town, this seasonal market had recently moved to the Rolling Acres Sports Complex.
A weekly tradition that takes place every Tuesday October through March, the Lady Lake Farmers’ Market is the place to get healthy ingredients for your home-cooked recipes. This is also a fine place to network, make new friends, and support local small businesses.
Along with fresh produce, the market is also where you can get hold of freshly baked homemade pastries, honey, flowers, arts and crafts, and even plants for your home.
3. Lady Lake Historical Society Museum
Opened in 2000 in a converted train depot, this cute museum dips into Lady Lake’s past. The building dates to 1883, and was sold to the Florida Southern Railway a few months later.
For much of its history this structure was used as storage, before becoming the town library from the 1980s until the current one opened in 2000.
Now, the museum is the perfect place to come and see the history of Lady Lake. Exhibits look at the Timucuan and Seminole Native American, the railroad, and everyday life over the years.
One display that caught my interest was a recreated general store, stocked with items from the 1930s and 40s
The surrounding property is known as Veterans Park. As well as the museum there’s a Depression-era Works Progress Administration log cabin, along with several preserved train cars.
4. Hampton Beach, Lake Weir
Five minutes north of Lady Lake there’s a lovable public park on the eastern shore of Lake Weir. The evocative name actually comes from the local Hampton family, which donated the property to Marion County in the early 1980s.
Hampton Beach has a small but well-maintained strip of sand, with a shallow swimming area. Behind the beach is a beautiful stand of mature live oaks, draped with Spanish moss, and with an understory of saw palmettos.
I’d look no further if you want a scenic setting for a picnic, while the light becomes magical late in the day.
5. Lake Griffin State Park
No more than a couple miles south of Lady Lake, this 620-acre park is an escape to nature on Florida’s eighth-largest lake.
Water activities dominate the agenda at Lake Griffin State Park, and I’d recommend renting a kayak or canoe, or joining a guided paddling tour.
On land, there’s a half-mile path guiding you across a portion of the basin swamp, taking you to one of the park’s big attractions.
This is the Mammoth Live Oak tree, dating back 400 years and among the oldest live oaks in Florida. With plentiful largemouth bass, speckled perch and bluegill, there’s some great fishing to be done in the park.
You can also stay overnight, with 40 campsites equipped with water, electricity and sewer hookups.
6. Heritage Park
Keep an eye out for this adorable little park, wedged between US 27 and the Old Dixie Hwy. Heritage Park was laid out in the late 2010s and features signs charting milestones in the town’s history.
For me, it’s a magical little oasis for a moment of reflection, or a good place to bring a book. There are winding paths, white picket fences, fountains, flowerbeds, and a gazebo occasionally used for public events.
The park is commanded by an immense live oak, thought to be more than 200 years old, and with branches touching the ground.
7. Rolling Acres Sports Complex
This expansive park on the west side of Lady Lake has an assortment of sports facilities. When I was here, I saw three soccer fields and a 250-foot softball field.
The centerpiece though is the Lady Lake Bob Johnson Legacy Golf Driving Range. Embedded in verdant parkland, this facility has at least two-dozen hitting stations.
At the time of writing, a bucket of 60 balls was $6. On Tuesdays the complex hosts Lady Lake’s farmer’s market, while there’s a dog park at the back, with ample seating under two canopies.
8. The Orange Blossom Opry
For rural entertainment at its best, there’s a classic opry a couple of minutes away in Weirsdale. Housed in the old Weirsdale School gymnasium (1923), this establishment goes back to 1991.
With a packed schedule, there’s weekly live music Thursday through Sunday without fail. Being an opry, the prevailing genre is country music, but there’s something for most tastes.
To illustrate, I caught a super-talented Fleetwood Mac tribute band, called Fleetwood Mask. Around this time there were tributes for Paul McCartney, Rod Stewart, Santana, and The Eagles.
You can head to the Tin Roof Cafe for pre or post-show drinks and bites, and there’s even a gift shop for a souvenir.
9. Lake Sumter Landing
Another of the three public squares in The Villages is this development on the south shore of Lake Sumter.
Incorporating the lakefront, everything looks a little like a quaint New England seaside town, with a boardwalk, clapboard houses, and old-style brick storefronts.
On this idealized streetscape there’s a big blend of local and national shopping and dining choices. So you’ll find local boutiques for clothing, pet care, shoes, wine, art supplies, one-off gifts, and a lot more besides.
These are mixed in with the likes of Johnny Rockets, Haagen-Dazs, Sonny’s BBQ, Panera Bread, and one-off spots for seafood, Thai, steaks, sandwiches…the list goes on.
As with Spanish Springs Town Square, Lake Sumter Landing has a program of live entertainment every night of the week. A little later I’ll talk about the Old Mill Playhouse, the nostalgic movie theater in the heart of this district.
10. Tree Tops Golf
This 18-hole mini-golf attraction is perfect for family and friends to come together over a nice round.
Under a canopy of palms, the course at Tree Tops Golf has tropical landscaping, waterfalls, and little ponds. In the absence of crazy obstacles, the biggest challenge comes from the contouring of the holes.
If you’re serious about improving your game, there’s a golf studio offering private lessons led by a PGA pro. This facility has a Trackman simulator, analyzing technique at the most intricate level.
To work on a different kind of swing, there’s also a pair of slow-pitch softball batting cages at Tree Tops Golf.
11. Grand Oaks Resort
In the northeast of Lady Lake is a boutique resort with an accent on equestrian sports. On more than 400 acres of historic live oaks and sweeping pastures, Grand Oaks has a wide range of accommodations, from RV sites to two bedroom villas.
The resort hosts a year-round program of Olympic-standard horse events, including dressage, CDEs and hunter/jumpers.
You don’t need to be a guest to get a table at The Bistro. A beautiful anchor for the resort, this American-style restaurant serves lunch, dinner and brunch on Sundays, and commands magnificent views of the property.
12. Old Mill Playhouse
At Lake Sumter Landing, the Old Mill Playhouse is the place to see some of your favorite movies on the big screen
In a lavish Beaux-Arts setting, this eight-screen cinema shows all the latest releases, as well as classics.
Inside, the bright carpets and art deco style evoke the golden age of cinema in the 1930s, ‘40s, and ‘50s. This is a real treat for movie buffs of any vintage.
Rather than on an electronic display, I was impressed with the old-school marquee out front. It’s one of many nostalgic little touches found here and all across The Villages.
13. Corkscrew Winery
If wine is your thing, or you enjoy relaxing with an occasional glass, this is surely the place to come and unwind for an evening.
At Spanish Springs Town Square, Corkscrew Winery also offers unique wine-making experiences. Designed for people who live locally, this process allows you to mix the raw juices yourselves.
Then after the wine has fermented, you’ll get to cork your own custom bottle of wine and give it a label.
You can also make your very own beer at Corkscrew Winery. Still, if you’re just dropping by, I’d come on a Friday or Saturday evening when there’s always live music.
14. Uncle Donald’s Farm
First opened in 1980, Uncle Donald’s Farm welcomes visitors to come down and pet/feed a variety of animals.
Among the gentle residents are cows, goats, and llamas. There are also many more interesting animals here, such as tortoises, ostriches, magnificent birds of prey, and cute young fawns.
And in case I forget, what would any Floridian farm be without an alligator or two?
The chickens bred on the far are top-class and are known as ‘heritage’ breeds, including New Hampshire and New Jersey chickens. Depending on the season, there are also hayrides here.
15. Lady Lake Public Library
One way you can enjoy some quiet time in Lady Lake is buried in a great book. If this is your kind of thing, Lady Lake Public Library has your back.
Here you’ll find not only a great selection of books, and free Wi-Fi, but a host of events. These include regular book signings and a great summer reading program for kids to get involved in.
For parents looking for something educational to do on a rainy day, I recommend the dedicated Children’s Library here.
Residents also have the chance to educate themselves more widely than just by reading books. For example, there are numerous self-directed free courses available to teach yourself a new skill.