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Central Florida Story Ideas
Welcome to Central Florida’s Polk County, where wide-open spaces meet up with sparkling lakes, fragrant orange groves, exciting attractions and unique downtowns. Our unmatched beauty, with abundant culture and history, makes us the perfect location for a quiet retreat or family vacation.
LEGOLAND® Florida Resort
LEGOLAND® Florida Resort is a multi-day vacation destination built for kids ages 2 to 12. As one of the largest LEGOLAND® Parks in the world, the 150-acre property offers a unique mix of more than 50 rides, shows and attractions, including a water ski show and a botanical garden (the former Cypress Gardens). Spectacular LEGO® models are found throughout themed zones including Miniland USA, LEGO Kingdoms, Pirates’ Cove and DUPLO® Village. The resort, celebrating its 10th birthday this year, has upgraded with several expansions since 2011, including LEGOLAND Water Park, LEGO® NINJAGO® World, THE LEGO® MOVIE™ WORLD in 2019 and the all-new, gravity-defying Brickbeard’s Watersports Stunt Show in February 2021. legoland.com/florida Media Room link: bit.ly/LLF_PressRoom
LEGOLAND Florida Resort includes a five-story, 152-room LEGOLAND® Hotel, located just steps from the park’s entrance. Rooms and suites feature LEGO-themed décor. Hotel guests can enjoy a breakfast buffet, interactive play areas, daily entertainment, a resort pool and exclusive access to a Master Model Builder Workshop. The resort doubled its capacity in 2017 with LEGOLAND Beach Retreat, a lakefront resort with village-style beach bungalows – and their new, 150-room LEGOLAND Pirate Island Hotel opened in June 2020. Guests of the Pirate Island Hotel can indulge in a complimentary family-style breakfast and amenities similar to those offered at LEGOLAND Hotel. legoland.com/florida/places-to-stay/
Named one of the “10 Best Safaris in the U.S.” by Fodors.com. Witness the dramatic landscapes of the Serengeti without setting foot on an airplane. At Safari Wilderness, you will be guided through lush wetlands and open grasslands, and enjoy spectacular close-up encounters with huge herds of exotic hoofstock. This 260-acre preserve is surrounded by Florida’s Green Swamp, an 870 square mile pristine watershed that is source to five of Florida’s finest rivers. Tours are available by safari vehicle, on camelback, on ATV’s and by kayak. Reservations are required and tours operate daily at 9am, 1pm and 3pm. Limited one-hour drive-thru safaris may also be available and optional extras include lemur and budgie feedings. Safari Wilderness is a family-run agritourism venture.
Bok Tower Gardens
Voted “Florida’s Best Garden,” this National Historic Landmark was dedicated in 1929 as a gift to the American people from Dutch immigrant and world peace advocate Edward Bok. Nearly 700 acres of conservation lands and gardens surround the magnificent 205-foot “Singing Tower” carillon and Pinewood Estate, a 20-room, Mediterranean-style 1930s winter retreat. Bok Tower Gardens sits on one of peninsular Florida’s highest points, providing a haven for rare plants and animals found nowhere else in the world. The attraction’s recent addition, Hammock Hollow Children’s Garden provides families the opportunity to experience nearly three-acres of nature play with cooling water features and delightful interactive art and music discovery areas. Visitors will enjoy daily carillon concerts, hiking trails, relaxing gardens and the Blue Palmetto Café, along with the all-new boardwalk, wild garden, pollinator garden, edible garden and outdoor kitchen.
Westgate River Ranch Resort & Rodeo
Westgate River Ranch Resort: Largest Dude Ranch East of the Mississippi. Rooted in the history of the nation’s first cowboys, Westgate River Ranch lies on 1,700 lush acres in the heart of Florida’s cattle lands, offering cowboy-themed accommodations ranging from tent camping and a lodge, up to luxurious two-bedroom cabins, Glamping tents (glamour camping) and Luxe Teepees. And just opened in March 2021 are new Luxe Conestoga Wagons and Signature Glamping tents. Recreational activities include horseback riding, airboat and swamp buggy rides, zip-lining, swimming, golf, a petting farm, nature hikes, trap and skeet shooting, a mechanical bull, hayrides, cookouts and a full-service marina complete with boating and fishing. The resort also features the River Ranch Saloon and the longest-running Saturday night championship rodeo in the United States, showcasing trick riding, bull riding, calf roping and barrel racing in a 1,200-seat rodeo arena. WestgateRiverRanch.com
Encompassing three internationally acclaimed golf courses designed by four world-renowned course architects (Gil Hanse, Tom Doak, Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw), the 216-room Streamsong Resort & Spa continues to collect awards and accolades from travel and golf publications. The Red, Blue and Black courses top a list of more than 40 historic and championship golf courses in Polk County that includes The Club at Eaglebrooke and Southern Dunes, offering golfers an enticing array of options.
Circle B Bar Reserve
Named one of the “Top 50 Places to see Wildlife” by USA Today. Once a functioning cattle ranch, Circle B Bar Reserve has been restored to its original natural state as one of the most impressive bird habitats in Central Florida. Birders, hikers, photographers, painters and nature lovers come from all over the world to experience this natural treasure. The reserve, which is made up of freshwater marshes, hardwood swamps, oak hammocks, creeks and lakes, is home to an assortment of wildlife, including waterfowl, ospreys, eagles and alligators. For the best opportunity to spy a gator, don’t miss the 1.2 mile Alligator Alley trail which overlooks Lake Hancock. The on-site Polk Nature Discovery Center helps visitors of all ages understand the delicate ecosystem of Central Florida with indoor and outdoor classrooms and numerous exhibits specifically designed to engage and excite young minds. Admission is free for both the reserve and the Discovery Center.
World Class Bass Fishing in the “Largemouth Bass Capital of the World.”
Polk County provides ample opportunity for you to have a “fish tale” that you can tell throughout your lifetime. Recognized as the “Largemouth Bass Capital of the World” for the abundance of large bass caught on area lakes annually, anglers catch “trophy class” bass weighing more than 10 pounds, and in 2015 at least three 13+ pound bass have been caught on local waters. Polk County is home to five of the “Top 10 Largemouth Bass Lakes” in Florida and the state’s certified record Florida Largemouth Bass, which weighed in at 17.27 pounds, was caught in Polk County. Abundant sunshine and pleasant temperatures allow for fishing in Polk County year-round on the region’s more than 550 lakes that occupy over 135 square miles.
With more than 550 freshwater lakes dotting Central Florida, locals and visitors alike all have their favorite lakeside dining spot. Winter Haven is home to Harborside Restaurant on Lake Shipp and Harry’s Old Place on Lake Ned; Cherry Pocket Steak and Seafood Shak is nestled on Lake Pierce in Lake Wales and Texas Cattle Company overlooks Lake Mirror in downtown Lakeland. Local inland favorites include Peebles Bar-B-Q in Auburndale and Gary’s Oyster Bar and Seafood House in Lake Alfred. For fine dining, make reservations at Arabellas Ristorante in Winter Haven and Terrace Grille in Lakeland.
If you’d prefer to snack on an orange picked fresh from the tree, visit Ridge Island Groves in Haines City and take a citrus grove tour (seasonally, October to May). You can pick your own fruit, sample fresh Florida citrus and juices, indulge in homemade ice cream, watch the packing process and ship fresh fruit right to your front door! Try famous Grapefruit Pie at Lang’s Taste of Florida Café (open seasonally) in Lake Alfred, featured on the Food Network show “Epicurious”.
Artisan brewers are making their mark on Central Florida. Grove Roots Brewing Company’s tasting room and outdoor Biergarten in Winter Haven utilizes locally sourced citrus and Lakeland’s Brew Hub, a unique co-op that brews craft beers for several different partner brewers, offers as many as 30 different craft beers. The newest addition to the list is Swan Brewing in downtown Lakeland. The name of the brewery & taproom, overlooking Lake Wire, pays homage to Lakeland’s iconic swans.
Architecture and Art
Visitors can tour the largest one-site collection of Frank Lloyd Wright architecture in the world, consisting of thirteen completed structures, including the Usonian House, finished in 2013 – based on a 1939 design. The collection is located on the Florida Southern College campus in Lakeland, and both paid and self-guided walking tours are available.
Polk Museum of Art at Florida Southern College (a Smithsonian Affiliate), offers a permanent collection of Pre-Columbian artifacts along with various collections and rotating exhibits on display in eight galleries and a sculpture garden.
Vacation Rental Homes
Central Florida’s Polk County offers comfortable accommodations in its more than 7,000 luxury vacation homes and condominiums. Just minutes away from Florida’s major attractions and a short drive to the Gulf and Atlantic beaches, these convenient and affordable properties are the perfect “home away from home,” with amenities including full kitchens, spacious furnished living areas and washer/dryer units. The properties range from two to eight bedrooms and most include private, screened-in swimming pools. They are also ideal for golf vacations since many of these homes are located in communities right on some of Central Florida’s best golf courses.