About an hour away from the bustling city centers of Sarasota, St. Petersburg, and Tampa is a small city of about 5,000 people. Situated along the Peace River in Hardee County, Wauchula is a quiet, unassuming escape from the excitement of Florida’s theme parks and the crowds of the large cities.
Surrounded by orange groves and sprawling fields, even the downtown area is a peaceful escape characterized by a couple of tiny restaurants and cafes and a gift shop.
Wauchula has earned the nickname of “Cucumber Capital of the World,” but it’s known for so much more. Don’t let the lack of beaches and theme parks influence you to overlook a visit to this city. Long road trips into the countryside and canoeing excursions down the Peace River are much-loved activities among locals and visitors alike.
The best part about making your base in Wauchula is that you can take a quick drive to the nearby towns of Bartow, Arcadia, Zolfo Springs, and Bowling Green, where many of the area’s attractions are.
Below are 15 of the best things to do in and around Wauchula, Florida.
1. Find Adventure on the Peace River
With only a short walk from the center of Wauchula, visitors can find themselves on the banks of the Peace River. You can spend a day wading near the shore or partaking in a favorite local pastime – snorkeling and looking for fossils.
Other activities on the river include fishing and picnicking near the shore, but the best way to experience the Peace River and everything it has to offer is with a guided expedition with Peace River Paddle Sports & Kuleana Adventures.
You have the option to explore the river via kayak, canoe or paddleboard, and excursions run a few hours, a whole day, or for multiple days. Certified instructors provide lessons and are knowledgeable about the area. Along the way, expect to see a variety of bird species and perhaps even an alligator or two.
2. The Arcadia Opera House
The Arcadia Opera House is a huge draw for antique lovers, paranormal enthusiasts, and historians. This stately, well-preserved building was built in 1906 and was once a central venue for the area’s political and cultural events.
Today, it’s a large antique shop and museum and a known hot-spot for ghost sightings. Antiques are available for sale in 14 of the building’s rooms. Some of the historical items that are on display include old clothing, tools, glassware, and an extensive vinyl album collection.
3. Paynes Creek Historic State Park
The Paynes Creek Historic State Park serves as both a historic site and outdoor lover’s paradise. A number of nature trails wind through the park area, and visitors can participate in a variety of outdoor activities, including hiking, biking, fishing, canoeing, kayaking, bird-watching, and wildlife viewing.
The museum and visitor center has interpretative exhibits that showcase the lives of the Seminole Indians and pioneers in the 1800’s. On-site amenities include a picnic area, washrooms, a boat launch, and playground.
4. Streamsong Golf Clubhouse
While golf is one of the most popular activities in Florida and there’s no shortage of golf courses all over the state, Streamsong Golf Clubhouse offers a golf experience like no other in the region. Top architects came together to design two interlinked 18-hole courses featuring various challenges such as high sand dunes, prairie grasses, and various changes in elevation.
Walking with the assistance of a caddie is the best way to experience the courses. The on-site clubhouse has 12 guest rooms, a restaurant, relaxing lounge areas, a golf shop, and a terrace overlooking the lake.
5. Giovanni’s Main Street Kitchen
Visitors to Wauchula can find delicious food and a friendly atmosphere at the popular Giovanni’s Main Street Kitchen. Affordable Italian cuisine is on the menu, but it’s the Oven Fired Pizzas that are the main draw. A variety of American dishes are also served.
6. Cracker Trail Museum and Village
Situated in Zolfo Springs, the Cracker Trail Museum and Village is where you can learn all there is to know about the history and people of the region. The museum has more than 4,000 artifacts on display, including many items from the pioneering times, such as farming equipment, household goods, and furnishings.
Larger items, such as a 1914 Baldwin Locomotive Engine and two work wagons, are on display in the Pioneer Village, and a blacksmith shop, cabin, and smokehouse are on-site. The museum is also home to a growing photography collection and the Bone Valley, which is where a number of fossils discovered along the Peace River are on display.
7. Solomon’s Castle
Twenty minutes away from Wauchula in a large swamp area is the interesting and wildly eccentric Solomon’s Castle. Architect Howard Solomon built this well-known landmark with only aluminum newspaper printing plates, an Alamo replica, and a galleon from the 16th century. For a small fee, you can visit the castle, wander the grounds, and even meet the builder.
Guided tours are available. Along the way, you will see an assortment of unique sculptures, all with a story of their own. A gift shop is on-site, and The Boat in the Moat Restaurant serves lunch with their signature walnut pie for dessert.
8. Joshua Citrus, Inc.
Many years ago, James Shelfer planted an orange tree on his property in Arcadia. Today, that orange tree has grown into Joshua Citrus, Inc. This farm specializes in several citrus fruits which are grown on-site, including orange, grapefruit, and strawberry.
You can buy in-season fruit right at the farm, and while you’re there, enjoy some soft ice cream. Grove tours and juice tastings are offered as well.
9. Hardee County Wildlife Refuge
A variety of native Florida wildlife species, and a few exotic ones, make their home at the Hardee County Wildlife Refuge in Zolfo Springs, and visitors to the area can view these animals in a natural habitat. These animals came to the refuge because they were unable to survive on their own in the wild for one reason or another, but they do quite well at the refuge where they receive high-quality care.
While you’re there, walk along the high boardwalk, observe these animals, and learn all about their stories and backgrounds.
10. Polk County Historical Museum
The natural and cultural history of Polk County and surrounding areas is on display at the Polk County Historical Museum. Visitors to this museum in Bartow see many artifacts, from pre-Columbian times to the present. Some of these artifacts include fossils, hand-made clothing, art, tools, farming equipment, and household items.
11. Charlotte’s Webb Pub
Visitors seeking a great place to sit down to a hot meal served by down-to-earth staff can find it at Charlotte’s Webb Pub in Wauchula.
The cozy atmosphere and friendly patrons who visit this pub from all over the region make it a popular spot to enjoy a cold beer or have a bite to eat before heading onto your next destination.
12. Take a Tour of the Wonder House
More than six decades ago, a man named Conrad Schuck built his dream house, and that house still stands today in Bartow. This extraordinary 18-room home was an achievement in the way it was constructed and is characterized by a variety of unique features, including a fishpond on the third floor.
Although the home is currently a private residence, visitors can book a guided historic tour in advance and learn more about the man who built it and the house itself.
13. Platt Branch Wildlife and Environmental Area Trails
Hikers of all skill levels can enjoy a leisurely hike along the 4.7-mile trail at the Platt Branch Wildlife and Environmental Area Trails. Along this trail, you will pass through areas of pine flatwoods, wetlands, and oak scrub.
Many species of birds, including egrets, herons, and sandhill cranes can be viewed in the area, and you even spot some deer and gopher tortoise. You also have the option to wander off the main loop trail and explore some service roads.
14. Luster All African American Heritage Museum
Visitors to nearby Barstow can learn about African-American culture and influence at the Luster All African America Heritage Museum.
The museum houses various artifacts and documents related to the accomplishments of African-Americans as a proud people rewarded by past achievements and hopeful of a bright future.
15. Heartland Events
Situated in Bowling Green, Heartland Events is a farm and event venue with various activities available for families with children. A playground, jumping pillow, cow train, battlezone, and spider web are just some of the fun attractions that are on-site.