The small Florida town of Lake Wales may just be in the Sunshine State’s most central location. For those visiting the area, its convenient setting gives road-trip-ready visitors relatively easy access to nearly every part of the state.
Lake Wales sports about 14,000 residents and is located in Polk County. For lovers of sun and sand, it’s equidistant from the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, which are home to a wide array of world-class beaches.
Many large theme parks are within an easy drive too, so staying occupied shouldn’t be difficult.
Below are 15 things to do in and around Lake Wales, Florida.
1. Bok Tower Gardens
Edward Bok was a famous publisher and author who was born in Holland but spent much of his life in American.
The Bok Tower and Gardens in Lake Wales were a gift he bequeathed to the American people upon his death in 1930; they’re now one of central Florida’s most popular garden attractions.
The grounds include Iron Mountain, which is one of the highest points in the state. In addition to the many cultivated areas, the garden is known for its carillon bells, which produce amazingly idyllic music for guests on a regularly scheduled basis.
There are a variety of activity options, and the bells play daily from 1 until 3 PM.
2. Spook Hill
If you believe the rumors, Spook Hill in Lake Wales is a place where the laws of gravity don’t apply, where magnetism is super-strong, and where cars with their transmissions in neutral will roll uphill.
Though the verdict is still out on what causes these interesting phenomena, there seems to be little room for doubt that there are odd occurrences on the hill, and they’ve been around for as long as anyone can remember.
Naysayers claim that the hill is just home to optical illusions that make things appear to be happening that really aren’t, but either way, it’s a fun and convenient stop that’s totally free.
3. LEGOLAND Florida
Comprised of more than 150 action and creativity packed acres, LEGOLAND Florida is located in Winter Haven about a half-hour northwest of Lake Wales.
One of the state’s most popular theme parks, though it’s only been around since 2011, it has attracted quite a loyal following.
The facility includes dining and lodging options in addition to its activities, and many visitors with children choose to spend significant amounts of their vacation time on site.
Most of the rides and activities were designed with 2 to 12-year-olds in mind, but older kids and parents usually have a blast too.
4. Lake Ashton Golf Club
The East Course of the Lake Ashton Golf Club in Winter Haven plays about 6,300 yards and is known for its tight, well-kept fairways and beautiful scenery.
Many of the course’s 18 holes front Lake Ashton, and there are a number of tee box options to accommodate young, elderly, and inexperienced players.
There is also a pool that’s open every day of the year, and a restaurant on-site; both are the perfect complements to a morning or afternoon round.
Tee times go quickly during peak times, so reserve yours in advance if that’s when you’ll be playing.
5. Grave of America’s Oldest Man
It’s said that when Charlie Smith finally died, the coroner spent nearly an hour checking and rechecking his math to make sure he had the man’s age correct.
According to records, the man was born in Liberia, Africa in 1842, was captured, sold into slavery, and sent to America, where he died in 1979.
That made him more than 130 years old! Though some dispute the claim, his grave is a unique bit of local lore and Americana that’s a worthwhile visit for those who don’t mind straying from the beaten path.
The grave is free to visit and about a 40-minute drive from Lake Wales.
6. Hollis Garden
Located on East Orange Street in Lakeland, Hollis Garden is an admission-free natural wonderland set on slightly more than an acre.
The garden is neo-classically themed and features several distinct areas that include fountains, waterfalls, koi ponds, grottos, and a variety of native and exotic species of plants, trees, and flowers.
The garden is owned and managed by the city and features a lake where the waters perfectly reflect the garden’s vivid colors.
Many guests choose to bring a few sodas and sandwiches and enjoy a picnic before heading off to their next adventure.
7. Wonder House
Located in nearby Bartow, Wonder House has a fascinating history that dates back to the ‘20s, when it was built by a wealthy Pennsylvania man who’d been told he had less than a year to live.
You may know where the story goes from there, but to get the real inside scoop, you’ll need to visit the home, which is one of the area’s most well-preserved examples of early Florida architecture.
In addition to the interesting stories of the home’s builder and occupants, the house itself was a technological marvel for the time, and used steel-reinforced concrete long before it was a construction mainstay. Admittance and tours are by advance reservation only.
8. Joker Marchant Stadium
Located on North Lake Avenue, Lakeland’s Joker Marchant Stadium has been around since the mid-‘60s and is now the spring training home of Major League Baseball’s Detroit Tigers.
The stadium has undergone extensive renovations in the last few years and now seats more than 8,000 spectators in comfort.
During the state’s Grapefruit League play, the stadium hosts many games featuring teams from all over the country. Though it’s relatively small, it’s full of big-league amenities and is accessible to handicapped fans too.
Check out their website for the schedule of pre-season training events and games.
9. Busch Gardens Tampa
Busch Gardens Tampa is among the most renowned premier theme parks in the world, and for those visiting Lake Wales, it’s tantalizingly close.
Just an easy drive straight west in Tampa, it is really a theme park, zoo, interactive museum, and world-class live entertainment venue all rolled into one.
Its Africa-themed guided animal and adventure tours are among its most popular activities, and it’s chockfull of dining, lodging, and retail options. All in all, it’s a convenient, value-packed one-stop destination for families looking to minimize unnecessary travel time and maximize the fun in their limited vacation schedules.
10. Sharp Family Tourism and Education Center
Located on Lake Hollingsworth Drive in nearby Lakeland, the Sharp Family Tourism and Education Center is a popular historical attraction, and the building in which it’s housed was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
The center is located on the campus of Florida Southern College. Though visitors have wide-ranging opinions on Wright’s design elements in this particular case, it’s definitely a noteworthy attraction.
The center’s exhibits touch on Florida’s history, development, economy, and tourism, which accounts for a large portion of the state’s overall revenue.
Professionally guided tours are available, but it’s okay to see the sights on your own if that’s more your speed.
11. Tampa Museum of Art
The Tampa Museum of Art was founded in 1979 and houses an impressive collection that primarily includes modern and contemporary art created in a variety of mediums.
The collection features pieces with local, national, and international influences, and even includes historic and ancient pieces as well. In addition to its permanent exhibits, the museum often hosts temporary ones from other institutions.
The staff offer a full schedule of lectures, tours, workshops, and educational programs designed for children and adults alike, and the museum’s scenic downtown location overlooking the Hillsborough River adds to the experience.
It’s open every day of the week, though hours vary.
12. The Polk Theatre
The Polk Theatre in Lakeland has been open for more than 90 years, and in its golden days, hosted some of the biggest names in entertainment, like Glenn Miller and Elvis Presley.
The era in which the theatre was built was characterized by booms and busts, and during the Great Depression, it fell on hard times.
In the ‘80s, the struggling theater was purchased by a group of civic and arts-minded citizens; since then, it has undergone several renovations and upgrades. It has now been returned to its former glory and is still providing a variety of live entertainment options to visitors.
13. Museum of Science and Industry
Tampa’s Museum of Science and Industry is located on East Fowler Avenue. It is close enough to many other area attractions to make it convenient to visit without spending too much unnecessary time behind the wheel.
The museum features hundreds of interactive exhibits covering a much more extensive range of topics than many other museums – the most prominent of which are business, industry, science, and technology.
Not just another look-but-don’t-touch attraction, visitors of all ages are encouraged to touch, think, and experiment. It’s one of those places that’s been known to occupy larger slots of guests’ time than they’d originally allotted.
14. Tampa Riverwalk
For much of the year, the weather in Florida is absolutely perfect.
It’s true that the summers can be sweltering, but even during June, July, and August, there are plenty of pleasant days. For those looking to stretch their legs, take in some fantastic sights, and dine on some delicious food, there’s no better place to do it than Tampa Riverwalk.
The walk fronts the Hillsborough River and links public parks, retail areas, museums, galleries, hotels, and a variety of entertainment and dining establishments too.
It’s a particularly popular place in the afternoon and early evening, when the temperature is dropping, and the sun is setting.
15. Big Cat Rescue
Sometimes, even big, carnivorous cats with bad attitudes need a little TLC.
Aptly located on Easy Street in Tampa, Big Cat Rescue is an animal sanctuary and rehabilitation center located in Citrus Park; it’s dedicated to aiding big cats that have been injured, orphaned, or abandoned.
The facility was established in 1992 and includes more than 100 felines that represent nearly a dozen different species, including bobcats, pumas, and tigers, to name just a few.
The rescue offers a variety of programs and guided tours with different focuses, like photography, behind-the-scenes animal care, and even night viewing, which is perfect considering cats are nocturnal animals.