For motorsports fans, this city in south-central Florida’s Highlands County needs no introduction. The name alone is synonymous with the Sebring International Raceway, home of the famed 12 Hours of Sebring endurance race.
Sebring was founded in the 1910s by an Ohio pottery manufacturer who had a novel approach to urban design. The City on the Circle was literally given a circular layout, with streets radiating from a central roundabout.
I’m a sucker for quirky stories like this, and was pleased to find a blooming downtown, with a lot of welcoming small businesses.
Sebring is at the southern end of the Lake Wales Ridge, an elevated region with a lot of rare native wildlife. You can discovered this close by on airboat tours or at the amazing Highlands Hammock State Park.
1. Sebring International Raceway
Out on a former WWII Army Air Corps base, Sebring International Raceway is one of the country’s oldest race tracks, in continual use since 1950.
Unlike other popular raceways, Sebring is a challenging 3.7-mile circuit full of tight turns and switchbacks.
The 12 Hours of Sebring, the raceway’s signature event, takes place over the third week in March, and dates back to the year the circuit opened.
This is my ideal time to be in Sebring. The race weekend features live entertainment, family activities, and lots of great food and drink options as well.
2. Highlands Hammock State Park
One of Florida’s oldest and most beautiful state parks is directly on Sebring’s western boundary.
Covering 9,000 acres, Highlands Hammock State Park is vital for its old-growth forest and an abundance of rare and endemic species unmatched at any other Florida state park.
To my mind, what makes this place essential is its old-growth wooded habitats, including awe-inspiring cypress swamp, with amazing centuries-old trees.
You can make your way through this otherwise impenetrable environment along elevated boardwalks. As you go you’ll see some trees that defy belief, like a 1,000-year-old live oak, thought to be the largest in Florida.
If you have two wheels there’s a three-mile bike loop. And for a more relaxed touring experience there’s a tourist tram, with plenty of gators to see on the way.
3. Downtown Sebring
If your only reason to visit the historic heart of Sebring is to get a sense of the strange layout, it would be worth it.
As a frustrated urban planner, the unusual design and profuse architecture going back to the 1910s, make Sebring endlessly fascinating.
What I found here was a robust central commercial district, with plenty of shops, galleries, entertainment venues, and restaurants on the central Circle and radiating streets.
I’ll talk about a couple later in this list, while at the very core is an idyllic little park with benches under the cover of some stately old live oaks.
4. Lake Jackson & City Pier Beach
A few steps from downtown Sebring, behind the Civic Center, you can get onto the beautiful shore of Lake Jackson.
Facing west for a magical sunset, this may be my favorite part of the entire city. There’s a thick canopy, constant birdsong, and a little sandy beach where kids can swim safely in the lake’s shallow waters.
Also here are picnic tables and playground equipment, while extending from the middle of the park is a pier. Most of all this structure stands out for its views, especially looking back towards downtown as the sun comes up.
5. Weigle House Museum
Next to the Highland Art League building, this historic house museum is run by the Sebring Historical Society.
A close friend of city founder, George Sebring, Dr. Charles F. Weigle (1871-1966) was a prominent evangelist and songwriter in the early 20th century.
He built this Bungalow-style home on Lake Jackson in 1922, during a mini-development boom in the city. Inside you can do a deep dive on the history of Sebring and Highlands County.
I enjoyed the exhibits looking at the 12 Hours of Sebring race, the Army Air Corps training school at Hendricks Field in WWII, the CCC, and the rapport between the Weigle and Sebring families.
6. Airboat Wildlife Adventures
Southeast of Sebring sits the 28,000-acre Lake Istokpoga, the fifth-largest body of freshwater in Florida. Despite its vast area, this is an extremely shallow lake, with an average depth of just four feet.
Unlike, say, Lake Jackson, the shores of Lake Istokpoga are sparsely developed, and primed for nature experiences on the water. Helping you out in this regard is Airboat Wildlife Adventures on the north shore.
Departing seven times a day, seven days a week, this company offers 90-minute tours of Central Florida’s wilderness. On my trip I saw gators aplenty, along with the unspoiled swampy habitats along Arbuckle Creek, growing some awe-inspiring bald cypresses.
7. Highlands Lakeside Theatre
If you’re up for some live entertainment, Sebring has a renowned community theater dating more than 50 years. The Highlands Lakeside Theatre can be found at the Civic Center by the shore of Lake Jackson.
There are actually two performance spaces here, at the Lakeside Playhouse, and the adjoining Thakkar Pavilion from the 2000s.
The theater offers a tightly-packed season of Broadway musicals, comedies and dramas. Whenever you visit Sebring it’s very likely there will be a show here.
I was here for a rollicking performance of Sister Act The Musical. Everything was so well done, I had to remind myself it was a community production.
8. Military Sea Services Museum
On the southeastern edge of town, Sebring’s Military Sea Service Museum was founded by local members of the Fleet Reserve Association (FRA).
The museum is housed in their HQ, preserving and promoting the history of the country’s maritime forces. These include the Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard.
The museum is free to visit, and fills every corner of this hall with artifacts and memorabilia. I saw weapons, a lot of photographs, WWII-era flags, uniforms, vehicles, newspaper clippings, and model ships.
The museum’s docents are veterans, and give you a compelling perspective on the exhibits.
9. Highlands Museum of the Arts
The Sebring area is home to a talented community of artists, and you can see their work at this museum by the Civic Center.
When I was in town the main exhibition space was the historic Clovelly House, at 1971 Lakeview Dr. The Highlands Art League, which organizes these shows, also runs classes for a variety of skills, including oil painting and pottery.
In addition, the league organizes the annual Sebring Arts & Crafts Festival, which has been going for more than half a century. Taking place in November at The Circle Downtown, this event features dozens of booths, food trucks, and family fun.
10. Civilian Conservation Corps Museum
Opened in 1931, Highlands Hammock State Park was one of eight state parks in Florida to be developed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).
This was a Depression-era New Deal initiative, giving unemployed people an opportunity to work on outdoor public projects.
There’s a museum in the park recalling the history of the CCC in the Sunshine State in a building designed by the corps. This goes into detail on the history and projects around the park, and features volunteer docents who are mines of information.
The best bit for me was the theater, showing oral histories by the people who developed places like this state park.
11. Lost Mines of Atlantis
This lovable roadside attraction/store can be found in the very south of Sebring. Lost Mines of Atlantis is a hit with kids thanks to the gem mining experience where they can become a prospector for an hour or two.
You can buy a small or large bucket and start hunting for gemstones and fossils. At the end, the friendly staff will help you ID and label your finds. The list is long, running from amethyst to zeolite clusters.
With a New Age feel, the gift shop here is full of unique mineral-oriented gifts and jewelry.
12. River Greens Golf Course
The Sebring area is as famous for golf as it is for motorsports, with ten excellent courses to play on the Citrus Golf Trail.
My priority would be the River Greens Golf Course, which opened in 1969 in nearby Avon Park. Nestled between three lakes, this is a course with a lot of water, and arresting views that roll out for miles among palms, orange groves and pastures.
If you love nothing more than cutting loose with a driver, this is a course for you. Three of the final four holes at River Greens are par 5s, setting up a grandstand finish for golfers with power.
13. Sebring Soda & Ice Cream Works
Something unique at the south side of Sebring’s Circle is an ice cream parlor and soda shop. If you’re like me and prefer the taste of sodas from glass bottles, you’ll be in heaven at the Sebring Soda & Ice Cream Works.
In an historic commercial building from 1922, this establishment stocks more than 300 carbonated beverages from all over the world, all in glass containers. Many are from obscure brands that have disappeared from the national market.
There’s also 40+ flavors of delicious creamy ice cream. Of course, the best thing to do at a spot like this is get an old-fashioned ice cream float.
14. Children’s Museum of the Highlands
Downtown, this attraction offers an educational and creative environment for kids up to the age of 12.
The Children’s Museum of the Highlands is all about interactive play, with exhibits fostering curiosity and imagination.
Along those lines, there’s a puppet theater, kids’ theater, puzzle area, soft play sensory area, and a variety of spaces recreating everyday environments like a hospital, restaurant, branch of Publix, a farm, and a kitchen.
On top of that, there’s a schedule of programs, from seasonal themed days to Tot Time, with crafts and stories on Thursdays, September through May.
15. Sebring Soda Fest
Dubbed Florida’s Fizziest Festival, Sebring Soda Fest was a relatively new event when I compiled this article. Launched just before the pandemic, this soft beverage extravaganza takes place over two days in April.
Fancy, artisanal soft drinks are all the rage at the moment, and Soda Fest has 200+ varieties to try. These come from all over the world, with some flavors from caramel apple to espresso.
There’s also a host of food trucks with fair-style bites, as well as family activities, live music, and a wide selection of wine and beer for adults.