Located in the center of the Sunshine State in Polk County, Winter Haven is equidistant from Tampa to the west and Merritt Island to the east.
It’s just off Interstate 4, which is one of the state’s largest east-west highways, giving visitors a variety of quick and easy travel options for those who want to see everything the state has to offer and don’t mind spending time in the car to do it.
The area is home to dozens of lakes that are often the centerpieces of recreation, and there are a variety of cultural, historical, and other natural attractions nearby as well.
Below are 15 things to do in and around Winter Haven, Florida.
1. Willowbrook Golf Course
With more golf courses per capita than anywhere else in the country, Florida is an unrivaled mecca that draws golfers from near and far.
Known as a scenic and reasonably priced option for value-minded golfers, Willowbrook Golf Course in Winter Haven has been open since 1967, and its 18 holes play nearly 6,500 yards.
Featuring practice bunkers, a putting green, and a driving range for those who’d like a little pre-round warm-up, the facility also sports a fully stocked pro shop and a restaurant that’s known for its tasty fare.
Book your tee time in advance if you plan on playing during the peak season.
2. LEGOLAND Florida
Laid-out in a number of self-contained zones and spread over more than 150 acres, LEGOLAND Florida sits on the beautiful shores of Lake Virginia in Winter Haven and is one of the city’s major attractions.
One of the most expansive facilities of its kind in the world, it’s dedicated to inspiring creativity and encouraging children to get active and express themselves.
Though most of its exhibits were designed with preteens in mind, older children and adults usually end up having a blast too.
If you plan on visiting during peak season on the weekends, expect the atmosphere to be noisy and chaotic.
3. Marshall Hampton Reserve
Located on Thornhill Road in Winter Haven, the Marshall Hampton Reserve is one of the area’s least developed attractions. Though it’s full of relatively easily accessible trails, many of them probably aren’t the best fit for those traveling with young children or the elderly.
Fit and fearless travelers who possess sufficient physical prowess will find a variety of trails leading through several natural environments, and it’s not uncommon to see animals, especially in the cooler morning and afternoon hours when they’re usually most active.
Don’t expect amenities other than picnic tables, but the reserve’s lack of development is its biggest attribute.
4. Museum of Science and Industry
Solely dedicated to encouraging young minds to explore the worlds of science, industry, and technology, the Museum of Science and Industry on East Fowler Avenue in Tampa includes hundreds of interactive exhibits that are both engaging and educational for young and not-so-young minds alike.
The largest facility of its kind in the southeast, its displays and activities touch on robotics, 3D printing, space and the planets, and animals and the natural world.
Previous guests have noted that the museum was the most diverse and stimulating attraction they visited on their Florida vacation. It’s also home to an IMAX Theater that offers shows every hour.
5. Fantasy of Flight
Polk City’s Fantasy of Flight is the region’s premier destination for aviation enthusiasts, and their impressive collection of restored civilian and military aircraft is always a big hit with travelers of all ages.
Much of the facility’s exhibits center on the formative early years of flight, but there are plenty of historically significant items that deal with contemporary aviation as well.
Many of their restored aircraft are still in flying condition, and it’s interesting to note that their collection of airworthy aircraft is larger than the air forces of some small countries.
The museum’s exhilarating, immersive experiences are among the most popular.
6. Polk Theatre
Located on South Florida Avenue in nearby Lakeland, the Polk Theatre has been a community-centered venue for more than nine decades and is a unique blend of the historical and contemporary that you won’t likely find elsewhere.
Throughout the year, the theatre offers locals and visitors the chance to experience quality theatrical productions that they probably wouldn’t have access to otherwise; their classics like The Wizard of Oz and Mary Poppins are among the most popular.
The best way to keep abreast of what’s on the horizon is to check the calendar of events on their website before making a special trip.
7. Lakeland Pigfest
With a name like Pigfest, most visitors immediately know they’re in for heightened levels of culture and refinement.
Okay, maybe not, but for lovers of barbecue who find themselves in the Winter Haven area early in the year, there’s no better place to fill your stomach, hang out with lots of enthusiastic locals, and have an all-around great time.
Pigfest is a free event and home to one of the country’s largest competitive barbecue cook-offs that has raised millions of dollars for charity since it was created in the ‘90s.
You may have missed it this year, so be sure to check out their website for the upcoming edition.
8. Busch Gardens Tampa
Busch Gardens, Tampa is one of the state’s biggest theme parks and draws year-round visitors from all over the country.
With more engaging, exhilarating, and educational activity options than just about anywhere else on the planet, it’s the kind of place many families choose to spend the majority of their time when visiting the area.
Their guided Serengeti safari tours, live shows, and amusement park rides have been known to keep families busy for days, and there are a variety of dining and lodging options available onsite too.
Check online and in travel magazines for coupons and special deal offers.
9. Joker Marchant Stadium
Though it’s not the newest ballpark in the grapefruit league, Joker Marchant Stadium has undergone significant renovations in recent years and now holds nearly 9,000 fans in comfort.
The stadium has been the spring home for the Detroit Tigers for years and is the perfect place for lovers of America’s pastime who’d like to take in a game or two without shelling out $20 for a hot dog and a beer like they’d do at a big league facility.
The stadium is handicap accessible and offers other activity options like batting cages. It’s possible to buy individual or season tickets.
10. The Lakeland Center
With a seating capacity greater than 8,000, The Lakeland Center is large by any standards. Open since the mid-‘70s, it is home to several regional sports teams and hosts a variety of other year-round events too.
From professional wrestling and dance competitions to arts and crafts festivals and basketball games, there’s probably something on their schedule regardless of the age and interests of your travel companions.
The venue is located on West Lime Street in Lakeland, and with so much going on, it’s best to check the calendar of events on their website to see what’ll be taking place when you’ll be in the area.
11. Lake Kissimmee State Park
At nearly 6,000 acres, Lake Kissimmee State Park is comprised of a variety of natural environments that are home to a fantastic diversity of plant and animal species.
The park’s entrance is just off State Route 60 near Lake Wales, and visitors who choose to explore its trails will be led through forests, Florida prairies, flood plains, and a number of interconnected lakes.
There’s an inexpensive per-person park entrance fee, and the trails are open to both walkers and bikers.
It’s common to see a variety of animals, and the park is home to dozens of endangered species.
12. The Polk Museum of Art
Featuring works from titans like Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol, the Polk Museum of Art is head and shoulders above most other museums in the area, and is an affiliate of the world-famous Smithsonian Institute.
With a variety of permanent exhibits and community-centered programs available, the museum is focused on promoting and preserving not only art, but culture, science, and history as well.
The permanent collection includes more than 2,000 pieces, and the facility hosts hundreds of thousands of visitors annually, many of who are local school children and their teachers.
The museum is located on East Palmetto Street in Lakeland.
13. Hollis Garden
Though Hollis Garden isn’t the most expansive natural attraction in the area, it is one of the most beautiful.
Situated on just more than an acre, the botanical garden is known for its oriental themed koi pond, limestone grotto, and scenic promenade that winds its way around idyllic Lake Mirror Park.
Hollis Garden is free to visit and is a bit of a local gem that doesn’t get a lot of foot traffic, even on the weekends, making it the natural escape destination for those who’ve had their fill of overly crowded and commercialized attractions.
There’s a small food and drink concession onsite that offers cold drinks and tasty sweets.
14. Alafia River State Park
Located in Hillsborough County near Winter Haven and Tampa, Alafia River State Park’s grounds include more than 6,000 acres of diverse landscapes, offering visitors a wide variety of outdoor recreation options.
The land was once a commercial mine but was donated to the municipality. Since then, it has undergone an amazing transformation, and in a state that’s known to have little to no change in elevation, it’s a real stand out for its hills, berms, and bluffs.
The park is a favorite of mountain bikers, and for those who’d like to explore on wheels instead of feet, there’s a reasonably priced bike rental facility onsite.
15. Epcot World Showcase
Dedicated to celebrating the diverse cultures that make up the world, Epcot World Showcase is a unique attraction that many guests find a pleasant diversion from costumed characters and storybook-inspired castles.
The showcase is represented by a variety of countries, from Mexico and China to Canada and Brazil. In addition to getting a unique insight into each country’s culture and traditions, guests will have the chance to taste some fantastic international cuisine as well.
The facility is shaped like a horseshoe, so it’s possible to immerse yourself in foreign cultures, stuff yourself with exotic delicacies, and burn a few calories all at the same time.