Let’s face it – we’d rather be traveling. Of course, we all understand the need to self-quarantine and keep proper social distancing etiquette to do our part in extinguishing the Coronavirus epidemic. By doing our part – staying home and staying safe – we help lessen the load on the medical community. But this too will pass.
Until it does, let’s take a journey of the mind to Polk County, where you will visit two of its largest cities. Lakeland, the largest city in the county, is metropolitan in feel and offers visitors big-city amenities in a more laid-back, open and country-charm setting. Just minutes away is Winter Haven, known to many as the inland coast. With 50 lakes within the city limits, waterfronts and coastal living abound.
A Metropolis Minus the Crowds
The first stop in a journey of the mind to Polk County is Lakeland. It features everything from the world’s largest collection of Frank Lloyd Wright architecture to locally-owned restaurants and bakeries.
What started as a booth at the Saturday Lakeland Farmer’s Market has grown into an early morning rite of passage for folks in the Central Florida area. From European style pastries and bread to cheesecakes, biscuits, and “cruffins” – a hybrid between a croissant and a muffin – you’ll quickly see why people stand in line, often around the block, for treats from Born & Bread Bakehouse. But be forewarned, this favorite only opens Saturday mornings and Wednesday nights.
Practically within walking distance from Born & Bread is Florida Southern College, home to the largest one-site collection of influential architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s work. Featuring 13 stunning structures in all, the Florida Southern campus was designed as Wright’s “College of Tomorrow” and is still considered one of the country’s most strikingly unique campuses nearly 80 years later. Just a few blocks away is Red Door Lakeland, a wine bar bistro that opens a wide variety of eclectic season dishes that only augment the standard menu. Open for both lunch and dinner, they also offer vegetarian and gluten-free options.
Other spots to stop for a bite include Honeycomb Bread Bakers, where the staff is dedicated to creating a flaky bite of heaven every day. Or stop by the Poor Porker, a mix of food trucks, shabby chic and beer hall where the offers are as diverse and eclectic as its clientele. And while the beignets – hot, fresh and dosed in powered sugar – may be the stars of the show, the bar, with an array of beer, cider, wine and even sake to sample, shouldn’t be missed.
No trip to Lakeland is complete without a visit to Circle B Bar Reserve. Considered one of the best spots for bird watching and alligator viewing the Southeast, locals know it as a prime destination for hiking and cycling as well. Home to the Polk Nature Discovery Center, visitors can learn about the area’s ecosystems through hands-on activities or climb around on the indoor play area that’s perfect for kids. A trip wouldn’t be complete without an alligator sighting, which can be safely done from the preserve’s pier or shoreline.
Central Florida’s Inland Coast
The next stop on your journey of the mind to Polk County is Winter Haven, Central Florida’s Inland Coast. Thanks to the fabled Chain of Lakes that defines the city, as well as the 40-plus other lakes encompassed in the town, you don’t have to go far to see sailboats, pontoon boats, and paddleboards. Water even defines a theme park that is the area’s largest attraction.
More than just a theme park, LEGOLAND® Florida Resort also features a water park as well as a massive botanical garden and three onsite hotels built specifically for kids ages 2-12. There are more than 50 rides and shows as well as interactive attractions and even a water ski show, besides everyone’s favorite interlocking bricks, LEGOs.
If you’d rather get out on the water yourself, you can explore the many lakes that makes up what locals just call “the Chain” on a Living Water Boat Cruises. One of the best ways to see the natural flora and fauna that call these waters home, Living Water offers 10 different types of boat tours including a Sunset Cruise, a Day Tour with Lunch, or a 2 Hour Tour. Additionally, the tours depart from various locations in Winter Haven, so it is best to book ahead.
Downtown Winter Haven is home to one of the best breweries in Central Florida – Grove Roots Brewing Co. Not only is the beer amazing but the brewery is children and dog friendly. Kids can choose from a variety of sodas, juices, and sparkling waters. In addition to yard games, Grove Roots has a variety of board games that can be borrowed through staff.
Take a step back to a simpler time with a visit to Andy’s Igloo Drive-In Restaurant. Not only do the building and décor harken back to the rocking 50s, but the food – think classic Americana ice cream sundaes and milkshakes – are out of this world.
Still, if you are surrounded by water, why not take in a sunset while dining at Harborside, a restaurant so close to the water you can park your boat. Featuring fresh seafood as well as steak and pasta dishes and an extensive kids menu, many come to have a peaceful meal while looking out over the Chain for a signature Florida sunset.
We hope you enjoyed this journey of the mind to Polk County enough to come and check us out in person in the near future.