Central Florida, with cities including Lakeland, Winter Haven, Lake Alfred, and Lake Wales, to name a few, is one of my favorite places to visit and recommend in Florida. The small towns feature spectacular beauty, delicious restaurants, and quite a few one-of-a-kind attractions. From world-class theme parks to legendary architectural gems, you’ll find it all here. These eight awesome things to do in Central Florida will get you started with exploring this remarkable region.
1. Visit Legoland
LEGOLAND is a creative theme park in Winter Haven, Florida. It is filled with incredible LEGO sculptures and displays, featuring rides, shows, and attractions for the whole family. Plan to spend about four to five hours enjoying the carousel, water rides, ski shows, and fabulous mini-cities created by LEGO pieces in this little slice of Florida paradise.
If you want to make an overnight of it, the newly opened LEGOLAND Pirate Island Hotel, is a fun and colorful space with loads to do, great rooms, and excellent food. There is fun for the whole family at these festive accommodations.
2. Eat at a Classic Diner
Andy’s Igloo Drive-In Restaurant is the perfect place to relive old-school memories and have a delicious meal in Winter Haven. Choose from finger-licking burgers and fries, onion rings, and thick, rich shakes, or step it up a notch and have a flavorful steak dinner. Andy’s kitschy decor is fun and festive, and your meal won’t break the bank.
Tip: One of Andy’s signature items is a Chocolate Big Daddy Fruit Salad shake. Try it, or skip directly to a Banana Split for under $5.
Please note: This is a cash only business.
3. Explore the Frank Lloyd Wright Campus
Child of the Sun is the name given to the incredible one-site concentration of Frank Lloyd Wright structures completed at Florida Southern College in Lakeland. It is the largest in the world. The crown jewel of the FLW pieces is the Annie Pfeiffer Chapel, with the basic Wright elements all on display.
The Polk County Science Building was his last contribution to the campus complex and has a planetarium that Wright designed. Be sure to see the Water Dome, completed in 1948, which makes a dome effect, 45 feet in the air, when the high-pressure nozzles are turned on. Guided or self-guided tours are available, but currently not running due to COVID.
4. Have Incredible Animal Encounters
You’ll find Florida’s premier animal adventure park, Safari Wilderness, in Lakeland. Take a guided tour via canopy-covered safari vehicle over 260-acres to get up close and personal with zebra, lemurs, camels, deer, and eland. The water buffalos were my favorite thing to see–do docile and friendly. Ostrich literally tried to climb aboard our vehicle to collect their treats— it did make for great photos. Safari Wilderness is an exceptional animal attraction and one you will have the time of your life at.
5. Go Glamping or Luxe Teepee Camping
One of Florida’s lesser-known resorts and a dazzling jewel in Central Florida’s crown is Westgate River Ranch. With dozens of accommodations, including luxe teepees, glamping tents, lodge guest rooms, and one or two-bedroom cabins, you are in for a fantastic time at this secluded property.
The plentiful Westgate activities include:
- A petting zoo
- Watusi cattle
- Zip line
- Swimming pool
- Swamp buggy rides
- Horseback riding
- Airboat rides
- And much more
There are onsite restaurants on the property, too, so you don’t have to leave to enjoy a relaxing vacation or weekend getaway. Rent a golf cart to get around the massive property with ease. On Saturday nights, enjoy a live rodeo, one of Florida’s best and the largest dude ranch east of the Mississippi.
6. Catch a Baseball Game
The Detroit Tigers play their spring training games at Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, Florida. The Tigers have practiced there at TigerTown for 84 seasons, quite an impressive record. This beautiful park is continually voted “Best of the Ballparks” by the fans (Grapefruit League) in Baseball Digest. Having visited most of Florida’s spring training stadiums, the seating and ease of parking are best here, I would concur.
To shade yourself, choose tickets in the Pepsi Pavilion. For great views of the bullpens and clubhouse entrance, the Margaritaville themed area is a great pick. And to get up close and personal with the players, the Dugout Club is excellent. Kids will love the 27-foot inflatable Southpaw (the tiger mascot) bounce house.
Tip: Save room for a strawberry shortcake. You are in prime strawberry country in Lakeland, and they are delicious!
7. Explore Amazing Gardens
Bok Tower, in Lake Wales, is another of Florida’s most unique attractions. It is centered around a 205-ft singing tower, often with a live musician (though sometimes prerecorded) playing the 60 carillon bells. Bok Tower, a National Historic Landmark, is one of the few remaining places globally with a live carillon player. Designed by famous landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., Bok Tower’s 50-acres feature a museum, bountiful gardens, and zenful places to explore and relax.
In addition to the gardens and singing tower is Pinewood Estate & Gardens, a gorgeous Mediterranean home you can tour with antiques, ornate tiles, and custom carved wooden doors. My favorite time to visit is at Christmas when it is all dolled up in its holiday attire. You are in for a great time when you visit Bok Tower, one of Florida’s best-kept secrets.
Note: Unfortunately Pinewood Estate is closed due to COVID at this very moment.
8. Dine in an Iconic Florida Eatery
Drive over to Cherry Pocket Steak & Seafood Shak in Lake Wales, and enjoy an indoor/outdoor restaurant with freshly prepared seafood dishes and a great selection of ice-cold beer and cocktails. Oysters, crab, alligator, and shrimp are all the rage at this relaxing spot that affords excellent canal photo-ops.
Start your dining experience with the Gator Nuggets; we prefer them blackened. The Seafood Nachos are a perfect main dish, layered with shrimp and crab, and drenched in a Parmesan cream sauce. It is incredibly rich and decadent; pairs well with a cold beer.
Enjoy live music Thursday through Sunday and happy hour specials 11 AM to 4 PM Monday through Friday. Cherry Pocket Corner is also an RV park and cabin rental site. Bring your overnight bag and stay longer.
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