There is something special about Florida at the beginning of the year – namely that you can still walk around in a short-sleeve shirt while the rest of North America wraps itself in electric blankets to stay warm. Unlike the rest of the country, it is during the winter months that the streets and downtowns of Florida come alive as locals and visitors alike enjoy the weather. Here are some ideas to help you get outside to enjoy Central Florida’s brilliant blue skies and mild winter temperatures. Enjoy the beautiful weather in Polk County.
Perfect weather meets Peak Bloom
An annual rite of spring, Peak Bloom at Bok Tower Gardens offers visitors a chance to observe more than 150 varieties of camellias, along with hundreds of azaleas, plus nun’s orchids, irises, Mexican flame vine, and other flowering plants. Guests are encouraged to return throughout the bloom season to experience the area’s ever-changing palette of Instagram worthy colors.
In Florida, we only have two seasons – wet or dry. Flowering plants bloom in response to this water cycle, with the added wrinkle that chilly days – well, near the 30s without freezing – make the blooms even more colorful and vibrant.
Visitors can learn facts like these as well as the history of Bok Tower Gardens during hour-long guided garden walking tours through April 15, included with general admission. Tour hours are Monday through Saturday at noon and 2 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tours meet at the Visitor Center.
What began as nearly 50 acres of woodland gardens designed by Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. has grown to more than 600 acres of woodland gardens, nature trails, conservation lands, and groves. The visual centerpiece of the gardens is the 205-foot art deco and neo-Gothic Singing Tower, pink marble and coquina stone architectural treasure that houses one of the world’s finest carillons. The carillon, a keyboard instrument comprised of bells, rings every half hour and during daily concerts at 1 and 3 p.m.
In February and March, Pinewood Estate, a 20-room, Mediterranean-style building once used as a winter retreat, opens its doors in full bloom with fresh floral displays throughout each of the rooms. Here you can learn more about the estate’s historical significance including its Mediterranean-Revival architecture, the finest example in the state, its furnishings, exquisite gardens and the cultural impact of the 1930s, 40s, and 50s told through the stories of the first owner and family, Charles Austin Buck.
Take a ride on the slow side
If your idea of time on the bicycle means pedaling like mad, this one ain’t for you. But if you’d like to add a leisurely bike ride into the mix – as well as a water ski show, a photo to share with your friends and perhaps a pint and a bite at a local microbrewery – then saddle up. Welcome to the monthly Winter Haven Slow Roll, an idea that mixes community, history, food, and fun together with a dose of healthy living. The Slow Roll starts at 5:30 p.m. on the third Saturday of the month at The Bike Shop, 249 3rd Street S.W. Check facebook.com/slowrollskishow for the exact schedule.
Not coincidentally, the third Saturday of the month is also when the Cypress Gardens Water Ski Team, motivated by their desire to keep the history of water skiing alive in Winter Haven, presents their free water ski show. For those unfamiliar with it, long before there was Disney, there was Cypress Gardens. Celebrities from around the world visited so as to water ski with the world-famous team, whose acrobatics were featured in hit Hollywood films such as “Easy to Love,” featuring 1950s superstars Esther Williams and Van Johnson. Today, LEGOLAND Florida Resort has encompassed what was the Cypress Gardens theme park, but continues the water ski show, albeit with a LEGO theme. But former water skiers never fade away. Many of the original water skiers remained in the Winter Haven area, and today, take to the waters of the Chain of Lakes with their children and sometimes even grandchildren to continue the tradition. A favorite of locals and visitors alike, the gathering for the water ski show has a small-town carnival feel to it. Locals bring lawn chairs and blankets, perhaps hit the concessions stand for a T-shirt or hot dog, and interact with friends both new and old while the water ski team performs.
But the slow roll is far from done. After the show the group rides back through Winter Haven, stopping along the way at one of the numerous murals in the city for a group picture before stopping for the evening at Grove Roots, a local microbrewer in downtown Winter Haven, where more food – thanks to a rotating roster of food trucks – can be had, as well as drinks.
The Winter Haven Slow Roll – as well as the Cypress Gardens Water Ski Team show on Lake Silver – happen on the third Saturday of each month. The public is welcome to participate in either, and there is no cost. Rental bikes are available at numerous area shops as well. An amazing way to slow down and enjoy the beautiful weather in Polk County.
He changed the world, one structure at a time
If you’ve ever watched a home improvement show and heard the terms “open concept,” “open floorplan” or “form follows function,” you are experiencing the influence of one of the world’s foremost architectural minds, Frank Lloyd Wright. More than just an architect – he was also a writer and educator – his works continue to inspire and challenge others. No visit to Polk County is complete without a stop in Lakeland to see Frank Lloyd Wright’s “Child of the Sun” collection of architecture on the Florida Southern College campus. Designated a National Historic Landmark in 2012, the Florida Southern College Historic District is the largest single-site collection of the famed architect’s work in the world.
Envisioning the campus rising out of the ground, Wright made designs for 18 structures, 12 of which were completed during his lifetime. Constructed of concrete blocks with native sands and shells added, the buildings were placed in such a manner that the overall vision would be similar to an orange grove. And even though the campus is now more than 80 years old, it was recently named “The Most Beautiful Campus in the Nation,” by the Princeton Review. Visitors can either take a guided tour or simply stroll through the campus. Guided tours start at the Usonian House, where pieces of glass embedded in the walls act as prisms, casting rays of light throughout the home, and end on the far side of campus. Be sure not to miss the Tourism and Education Center complete with unique one-of-a-kind gifts, or the Child of the Sun Collection’s crown jewel, the Annie Pfeiffer Chapel.
About Polk County
From LEGOLAND Florida Resort to some of the nation’s best golf courses, sweeping natural vistas sprinkled with orange groves, world-famous architecture, shopping, dining, and nightlife, when you Visit Central Florida’s Polk County, you find yourself in Florida’s Sweetest Spot. For more information on a Polk County vacation, go to VisitCentralFlorida.org and enjoy the beautiful weather in Polk County