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12 Best Things to Do in Lakeland, FL

Written by Meagan Drillinger
Sep 14, 2022

As the name suggests, Lakeland, FL is all about lake life. The city is home to 38 named lakes, which have become so entrenched in the destination's identity. These lakes range from as small as 2.5 acres to more than 2,272 acres, and each one has its own personality. As such, activities like fishing, swimming, and boating are integral to daily life here and are among the top things to do in Lakeland. Many of the lakes have parks that have been developed around them, as well.

The lakes are what will certainly draw you to Lakeland, but once you're here, it is easy to discover just how much you can see and do in this one destination. From architecture to aviation, botanical gardens, art galleries, and nature preserves, Lakeland truly has something for everyone.

One of the most beautiful botanical gardens in Florida is located in Lakeland, as well. Plus, you can learn all about the history of aviation at the Florida Air Museum. Get back to nature at the Circle B Bar Reserve, or catch a spring training session of the Detroit Tigers at Joe Marchant Stadium.

In Lakeland, it's all about choosing your own adventure, and chances are that adventure will have a lake to explore along with it. To make the most of your time here, take a look at our list of top things to do in Lakeland, Florida.

1. Circle B Bar Reserve

Circle B Bar Reserve
Circle B Bar Reserve | Photo Copyright: Meagan Drillinger

A hauntingly beautiful spot in Lakeland – perhaps one of the most beautiful in all of Polk County – Circle B Bar Reserve is a reminder that Florida is very much a part of the Deep South. Located on the northwest shore of Lake Hancock, this former 1,267-acre cattle ranch is now a preserved area practically humming with southern flora and fauna.

Centuries-old oak trees draped with ribbons of Spanish moss line the road that leads into the reserve. Circle B Bar Reserve sits right on the headwaters of the Peace River, which flows out to the Gulf of Mexico. This means that alligator sightings are more than likely when visiting.

Among the top things to do in the park are hiking along the trails, photography, picnicking, and wildlife spotting. The reserve is part of the Great Florida Birding Trail, so bird-watchers ought to be on the lookout for eagles, osprey, red-shouldered hawks, wild turkey, and white ibis, among many other bird species. Other animals include otters, bobcats, armadillos, frogs, and turtles.

Address: 4399 Winter Lake Road, Lakeland, Florida

2. Hollis Garden

Hollis Garden
Hollis Garden | Photo Copyright: Meagan Drillinger

Overlooking the sprawling Lake Mirror Park, Hollis Garden is a 1.2-acre botanical garden that explodes with vibrant blossoms across many different themed sections. The architecture surrounding the garden is Neoclassical, creating an elegant space in which to enjoy the public art; fountains; and gorgeous rows of more than 10,000 flowers, shrubs, and trees.

Some of the highlights of this popular tourist attraction include its roses, a butterfly trail, and a stunning Grand Staircase. Plus, the gardens have views of Lake Mirror in the background. Water features heavily in the design of the garden, thanks to the gravity-fed fountain that brings water down to Lake Mirror. A lily pond and koi pond are also part of the display.

Hollis Garden is divided into several themed sections, like the Tropical Room or the Herb Room. You'll also find rooms named for the different colors of the flowers, like the White Room or the Yellow Room.

One of the most interesting places to visit in the garden is the "Trees of Americana" section, which are all cuttings or seedlings of original famous trees. For example, you will find relatives of an oak tree from Abraham Lincoln's birthplace, a Water Oak tree from Helen Keller's House, and a weeping willow from the home of Elvis Presley.

Address: 702 E Orange Street, Lakeland, Florida

3. Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium

Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium
Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium | Photo Copyright: Meagan Drillinger

Detroit Tigers fans are very familiar with Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium. That is because Lakeland has been the winter home of the Detroit Tigers for a century. It is also the regular-season home of the minor league teams, Lakeland Flying Tigers and the Gulf Coast Tigers.

The original stadium opened in 1966 and has undergone several renovations since then. Most recently, the stadium added new covered sections, more box seats and air-conditioned areas, more concessions, restrooms, and wheelchair accessible seating.

The field was renamed to Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium in 2017 because Publix, Florida's favorite supermarket chain, has its headquarters in Lakeland.

Address: 2301 Lakeland Hills Blvd, Lakeland, Florida

4. Lake Mirror

Lake Mirror Park
Lake Mirror Park | Photo Copyright: Meagan Drillinger

The focal point of downtown Lakeland is Lake Mirror and Lake Mirror Park. If you've visited Hollis Garden, then you certainly have seen the lake. Named for its glassy, calm surface, Lake Mirror is one of the most beautiful of the city's many, many local lakes.

Surrounding the lake is the gorgeous Lake Mirror Park, a 32-acre jewel of the city. Eighteen of the park's acres are taken up by the lake. Seven acres of open space surround the lake, and an additional seven acres are designated for parks and public recreation.

The most visited area of the park is no doubt its meandering promenade, which dates back to the 1920s. It was part of Florida's "City Beautiful" movement, which was an architectural and urban planning movement designed to give cities a dose of elegance and grandeur. The promenade's decorative lamp posts, Corinthian columns, and boulevard-like vibe will certainly give visitors that sense of style and place.

Lake Mirror Park is the heart of the community, hosting nearly 20 events each year, the most famous of which are the Christmas parade and the classic car show.

5. Frank Lloyd Wright Architecture at Florida Southern

Sharp Family Tourism & Education Center
Sharp Family Tourism & Education Center | Photo Copyright: Meagan Drillinger

Believe it or not, Lakeland is the home of one of the largest collections of Frank Lloyd Wright architecture. The pioneer of "organic architecture" first visited the Florida Southern campus in 1938 and produced 18 building designs for the school over two decades. Today, the college campus is the largest single-site collection of Wright's architecture in the world.

Among the many beautiful landmarks on the campus is the Annie Pfeiffer Chapel, which was the first building to be built for the campus. The chapel is defined by its 65-foot bell tower, as well as sweeping vaulted skylights that flood the space in natural light.

Other structures of note on the campus are the iconic covered walkways; the Lucius Pond Ordway Industrial Arts Building; the Polk County Science Building; and the Water Dome, which is one of the largest Wright-designed water projects in the world.

One of the final buildings to be completed is the Sharp Family Tourism & Education Center, which was a Wright design that was developed posthumously. It was originally intended to be a sample of faculty housing, but that dream never came to fruition. Instead, this Usonian house is now a center for education.

Address: 840 Johnson Ave, Lakeland, Florida

6. Lake Hollingsworth

Lake Hollingsworth
Lake Hollingsworth | Photo Copyright: Meagan Drillinger

Another one of Lakeland's impressive lakes is the massive Lake Hollingsworth. The circular lake spans 350 acres and is wreathed in a bike/walkway known as the Lake-to-Lake Trail. The beautifully kept lake is blanketed with groves of lily pads and wreathed in thick trees. At sunset, the entire surface of the water comes alive with bright oranges, purples, and pinks.

Not only is the lake lovely to look at – and one of the nicest places to live in Lakeland – but it's a main hub of activity. Because the lake is so well-maintained, you'll find locals and visitors enjoying it year-round for running and jogging, swimming, and boating.

Keep a lookout for the beautiful birds that call Lake Hollingsworth home, as well.

7. Lake Morton

Lake Morton
Lake Morton | Photo Copyright: Meagan Drillinger

Though small in size, Lake Morton delivers in terms of beautiful wildlife. Home to hundreds of birds – and many of them swans – the lake is centrally located between Lake Mirror and Lake Hollingsworth.

Lake Morton sits at the heart of the Lake Morton Historic Districts, which date back to 1906. Many of the homes around the lake were built in the 1920s.

Today visitors to the lake enjoy the bike trails, walking paths, and close proximity to Florida Southern College and the Polk Museum of Art.

8. Colt Creek State Park

Kayaks at Colt Creek State Park
Kayaks at Colt Creek State Park

Getting lost in Colt Creek State Park is a truly magical experience. The sprawling 5,000-acre state park is one of the most enchanting in the state, with flowing waterways, majestic cypress trees, and thousands of species of wildlife.

Wander the 15 miles of multi-use trails within the preserve to discover the many lakes and creeks; the forest; and native residents that include eagles, deer, alligators, and otters.

Among the many things to do in the park are bird-watching, hiking, cycling, and horseback riding. The meandering creeks are also perfect for canoeing and kayaking.

Bird enthusiasts will love the park for the more than 150 species of birds that call it home. In fact, the park is part of the Great Florida Birding Trail.

Address: 16000 State Rte 471, Lakeland, Florida

9. Lake Parker Park

Lake Parker
Lake Parker | Photo Copyright: Meagan Drillinger

Of the 38 named lakes in Lakeland, Florida, Lake Parker is the largest of the bunch at 3.4 square miles. Surrounding the lake is the 88-acre Lake Parker Park. The two together create one of the best destinations in Lakeland for outdoor recreation.

Most of the visitors to the park will be exploring its many paved walking trails, from the Forest Path that runs parallel to the shoreline to the Water Path, which at .84 miles is the longest loop in the park, and one of the most beautiful. The Water Path weaves through the forest, which is particularly lovely when the irises are in bloom. Lake Parker Park is where the Lake-to-Lake Trail begins. It ends at Lake John.

Beyond walking, Lake Parker Park has a boat ramp, a playground, spots for fishing, picnic pavilions, shuffleboard, soccer fields, and tennis courts. Those casting a line in the lake will be able to catch largemouth bass, bluegill, and crappie.

10. Polk Museum of Art

Polk Museum of Art
Polk Museum of Art | Photo Copyright: Meagan Drillinger

In addition to the iconic Frank Lloyd Wright architecture, Florida Southern College is also home to the Polk Museum of Art. Overlooking Lake Morton, the museum has been open for more than 50 years as an institution to art, history, and science. The collection has more than 2,800 pieces, including works by Andy Warhol, Pablo Picasso, and Marc Chagall, among many others.

Beyond the permanent collection, the Polk Museum of Art has rotating exhibitions, student galleries, online exhibitions, and a film series. One of the favorite events at the museum is its Mayfaire by-the-Lake, held every May since 1971. It has grown from a humble crafts fair to one of the biggest outdoor art festivals in Florida.

When visiting the museum, guests can partake in self-guided tours, or sign up for a personalized docent-led tour. Admission to the museum is free, but a guided tour will have a charge.

Address: 800 E Palmetto Street, Lakeland, Florida

Official site: https://polkmuseumofart.org/

11. Florida Air Museum

Learn all about the history of flight at Florida's official aviation museum. The Florida Air Museum is dedicated to defying gravity, and is a must for anyone who is mesmerized by the power of flight.

The museum has a main building, as well as a hangar, where its fleet of aircraft are kept. The collection includes classics like the Boeing-Stearman Model 75, a Magnet Pou-du-Ciel, and a historic Aerosport Woody Pusher that dates back to 1930. The museum also features an exhibit on Howard Hughes and the Florida Aviation Hall of Fame.

Address: 4175 Medulla Road, Lakeland, Florida

12. Lake Hunter

Lake Hunter
Lake Hunter | Photo Copyright: Meagan Drillinger

Yet another of Lakeland's majestic bodies of water, Lake Hunter is a 93-acre lake, around which is a lovely park and beautiful homes. The lake has a boat ramp, which is popular among locals who love to go fishing. The lake is well-stocked with largemouth bass and bluegill.

The Lake Hunter Terrace Historic District is a lovely part of the city, with more than 160 historic buildings and homes.

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