In a lake-strewn landscape in Polk County, Lake Alfred is a small but fast-growing city of 6,500. I’m telling the truth when I say that water is everywhere in Lake Alfred. Officially it makes up almost half of the city’s total area.
There are lots of places both here and in neighboring communities where you can take picnics by these lakes, in the shade of mighty oak trees.
Lake Alfred may be a rather sleepy place, but there’s a delightful assortment of small businesses to check out. You can shop for imported English antiques, purchase Amish-made gourmet foods, and dine in style at a dainty tearoom.
1. The Barn Antiques
There’s a cherished shopping destination in Lake Alfred’s picture-perfect countryside. The Barn Antiques goes back to 1969, and was founded by a couple with a love for English antiques.
More than 50 years later, these are still acquired up and down the English countryside, and shipped across the pond almost every month.
The Barn features an extraordinary hodgepodge of items ranging from porcelain to furniture, lighting, garden decorations, mirrors, clocks, silver, and much more.
Over time, the Barn has been joined by The Stable, selling hand-crafted Americana, as well as The Seasons Gift Shop for holiday decorations. I’ll talk about The Back Porch Restaurant below.
2. Heavenly Honey Amish Warehouse
Located on South Lake Shore Way in Lake Alfred, Heavenly Honey Amish Warehouse is something you won’t find often in Florida. This store sources an enticing array of specialty food items from Amish partners in North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
These include jams, jellies, and preserves that you’re guaranteed not to be able to find anywhere else within hundreds of miles.
I also adore the locally produced honey, with award-winning varieties like Tupelo and Sourwood.
Lastly, Heavenly Honey is well-known for its ornate holiday decorations, generally arriving in late November.
3. Lavender ‘n Lace Tea Room & Restaurant
The dainty Lavender ‘n Lace Tea Room & Restaurant in Lake Alfred is the perfect stop for those in the mood for a little refinement.
The restaurant is housed in an adorable cottage with fancy tableware and vintage styling throughout.
On offer is a tempting array of dishes such as homemade butternut squash soup, curry, and aromatic teas from all over the world. I was won over by the delectable shepherd’s pie, and the beautifully presented quiche (spinach), which comes in a different variety each day.
It’s impossible not to fall in love with the decor. Fortunately there’s a gift shop brimming with cute pieces and teas to take home.
4. Mackay Gardens and Lakeside Preserve
Lake Alfred at its prettiest, there’s a 100+ acre preserve on the north shore of Lake Rochelle. This is a former estate, established in 1915 by the Scottish entrepreneur and investor Alexander Mackay.
His beautiful La Rochelle mansion is an important example of the Craftsman style, and covers 8,000 square feet. There’s wonderful landscaping here, with a walled arbor on the west side and a sunken garden with a fountain to the east.
The surrounding woodlands can be discovered on a network of blazed trails. These will bring you to features like a fishing pier and canoe launch, fitness equipment, and a playground.
5. TECO Auburndale Trail
Stretching nearly seven miles through scenic Central Florida countryside, the TECO Auburndale Trail is a treasured multi-use path.
This is on the abandoned railbed of the Seaboard Air Line Railroad, dating back to the turn of the 20th century. You can pick the trail up at Lake Myrtle in Auburndale. The northern trailhead is in Polk City, where you can get onto the 30-mile Van Fleet State Trail.
I had a fine time riding this trail. The path is wide, at 12 feet, with a smooth gradient and bucolic views all along the way. Before you start, there’s an observation area where you can observe bald eagles, which nest here in winter and spring.
6. Hilochee Wildlife Management Area (Osprey Unit)
Over two units, the nearby Hilochee WMA comprises a wide variety of habitats on land previously used for agriculture and mining.
As part of the Green Swamp ecosystem, the area’s wet prairie, wet flatwoods, sandhill, mesic flatwoods and scrubby flatwoods are being restored to their previous splendor.
Naturally the WMA is a place for hunting. But you’re free to explore on foot, bicycle or horseback on non-hunting days. My perfect time to come is in fall, when there’s an astonishing variety of butterflies.
Lake Alfred is closest to the southern Osprey unit, which was acquired in the early 2000s.
7. The Back Porch Restaurant
The place to dine during your trip to the Barn Antiques is this quaint eatery serving small plates. The Back Porch Restaurant opened in 1986 to cater to the large numbers of shoppers flocking to the property.
The lush, wooded location is a big part of this place’s appeal, with a wraparound porch and deck overlooking a natural pond.
On the menu are elegant lunches, with a soup, salad, sandwich and a dessert, all in a cute basket. Personally, I couldn’t get enough of the blue cheese slaw and the chicken salad.
You can order alcoholic beverages, and the specialties are the wine ice stir and non-alcoholic frozen lemonade.
8. Chain of Lakes Trail
You can travel between Lake Alfred and Winter Haven’s vibrant downtown without needing a car. The Chain of Lakes Trail runs north to south for just under four miles along an abandoned railroad corridor.
I find it fascinating to think that this route was laid down as long ago as the 1800s, as part of the Bartow Branch of the South Florida Railroad.
More practical than scenic, the Chain of Lakes Trail is a handy multi-use connection between two towns. Still, you will pass by a couple of lakefront parks, as well as the CMX Grand multiplex in Winter Haven.
9. Waldo Wright’s Flying Service
Abutting Lake Alfred to the southwest is Winter Haven’s Gilbert Airport (GIF), which started out as an auxiliary airfield in WWII. Something unique about this facility is that it’s almost totally surrounded by water, and has a public-use seaplane base on one side.
One of the companies based at the main airport is Waldo Wright’s Flying Service. Located in an area steeped in Old Florida, this company offers flight experiences in vintage biplanes.
In the fleet are a New Standard D-25 from the 1930s, a WWII-era Boeing Stearman N2S-3. When I was in town the company was just about to add a floating 1929 Travel Air E-4000 to their collection.
The flights are like a mini-lesson, and you’ll be able to take the controls and perform a few simple maneuvers.
10. Ephraim M. Baynard House
For a bit of local history there’s an exquisite house in nearby Auburndale. In the heart of the historic downtown, the Ephraim M. Baynard House (1894) sports beautiful Folk Victorian architecture.
Baynard was a successful citrus grower, and also helped develop much of Auburndale’s downtown, constructing several commercial buildings.
His residence is one of the best preserved of its kind in the area, and is full of period antiques and art. Visiting hours aren’t well-defined, so I’d recommend calling before making a special trip if you’d like a tour.
The Old Florida ambiance makes the house a go-to for weddings and family photos.
11. Auburndale Speedway
There’s no better way to inject a little excitement into things than with a few hours at a stock car racetrack.
Located on East County Road 542 in Winter Haven, the Auburndale Speedway is a ¼-mile paved oval with a calendar chock full of races.
Events typically take place on Saturday nights, across a big range of categories. These include Super Late Models, Mini Stocks, Pure Stocks, Street Stocks, and many more.
My favorite date on the calendar, and a must for families, is the Night of Destruction. Taking place in spring and fall, there’s two nights of mayhem with the likes of figure 8 school bus racing, skid cars, and even a reverse race.
12. Lake Blue Park
The area around Lake Alfred is peppered with ponds and lakes of all shapes and sizes. Not many are quite as accessible as Lake Blue, moments away in Inwood.
For one thing, Lake Blue is almost perfectly circular. The shores are mostly undeveloped, with a pleasing green buffer boasting a line of mature oaks.
A trail arcs around half the lakeshore here, passing a playground, picnic tables, and informative kiosks explaining how water bodies like Blue Lake feed the famous Peace River.
Blue Lake is a stone’s throw from a clutch of restaurant chains on Havendale Blvd, so this is a prime picnic location on nice days.
13. Willowbrook Golf Course
Located in nearby Winter Haven, Willowbrook Golf Course is a highly-rated municipal course. In addition to being reasonably priced, Willowbrook is appropriate for players of most ages and levels of ability.
I have to say, I haven’t seen many municipal courses in such good condition, from the tees to the greens. The 18 holes are spread over many natural environments, with a lot of water, attracting the likes of gators, ibises and sandhill cranes.
The course’s amenities include a driving range, putting green, and chipping areas for those who need a bit of warm-up before hitting the links. There’s also a grill that serves tasty fare to players with empty stomachs.
14. Lake Swoope Park
I’d be lying if I said this park on the eastern shore of the eponymous lake was filled with things to do.
Instead, what you get at Lake Swoope Park is a pair of picnic pavilions, and a small fishing dock, tree-shaded benches, and porch-style swings.
The joy of this passive space is the panorama, taking in the entirety of Lake Swoope. As you can imagine the view becomes even prettier when the sun starts to go down.
If you want to access the water there’s a public boat ramp not far away on N Rochelle Dr.
15. Elite Cable Park
Under ten minutes west of Lake Alfred there’s a watersports facility at the beautiful Lake Myrtle. Elite Cable Park features a state-of-the-art, full-sized cable unit, offering wakeboarding, wakeskating, waterskiing, and kneeboarding.
This facility is ideal for experienced boarders out to learn some new tricks. Meanwhile beginners will be up and running in no time at all. If you need some extra help there’s a team of coaches offering personalized lessons.
Finally, Tantrum’s Lakeside Grill shares the property, and is the only lakefront restaurant in Auburndale.