Central Florida-Mania, Part Three: Lakeland is Polk County’s Jewel in the Crown – Polk County, Florida

Hollis Garden features an accompanying classical music soundtrack.
Hollis Garden features an accompanying classical music soundtrack.

Lakeland is one city where you can spend a full day or two wandering around, and will soon realize how much the residents love art and nature! This is truly Polk County's Jewel in the Crown!

Lakeland Familiarization Facts
The city has an average daily temperature of 73 degrees, and is 141 feet above sea level. Lakeland was first settled in the 1870s, by Abraham Munn. It didn't become incorporated until 1885. – designated by Money Magazine in the late 1990s as a "Best Place To Live In America" selectee.

This city of 90,000 has roughly 175 churches. Over 7.5 million residents live within a 100 mile radius of the city, more than any other city in the southeast currently!

Lakeland is a college town, for the University of Southern Florida and Florida Southern College campuses are located here. Florida Southern has the largest concentration of Frank Lloyd Wright architecture in the world. It's the spring training home of the Detroit Tigers and has had the longest association with a major league baseball team than any other spring training city. Visitors will come away from Lakeland with a great feeling because its art and culture scene really creates a positive ambience, yet they will also feel as if they've been in a down-to-earth Southern city, too.

My Must-See Sites

Frank Lloyd Wright Walking Tour
Oh, What a Great Vibe! This architectural tour along the western part of the the Florida Southern campus was one of my most memorable walks. Wright's philosophy speaks loudly here – twelve structures named "Child of the Sun" collection. I'd only seen Wright's edifices on television. I finally got to experience his work up close and personal.

As I walked around this part of the campus, a distinctly different kind of vibe came over me because Wright designed buildings in such a way that they complemented the natural surroundings rather than intruded upon it. Florida Southern College is affiliated with the United Methodist Church. Its former President, Dr. Ludd Spivey, was a big fan of Wright's designs. He commissioned Wright in the late 1930s to design a number of buildings for the school. The twelve structures were completed over a 17-year time frame, from 1941 to 1958.

One of Wright's best designs is the 1.5 miles of low esplanades, which run along the western part of the campus. My favorite Wright structure is the Anne Pfeiffer Chapel, completed in 1941 by student labor. The building's tower is known as "the bicycle rack in the sky" and "the bow-tie".

The "Child of the Sun" Visitor Center will give even more information about this great architectural mind and some background on his other inspired works. The center features permanent displays of Wright's relationship with the college via photos, furniture, and drawings.

Explorations V Children's Museum
Kids can act like adults! Explorations V has been an interactive adventure for children of all ages since 1991. Three stories high, it covers the spectrum of science, health, consumer issues and world culture. The world exhibits offer children the opportunity to get their Impressions Gallery Passports stamped each time they participate in one of the specific activities, like visiting an Aztec market or making a Nigerian Akuaba doll. They can shop like their parents do for groceries in the explore store, the most popular exhibit. They can also act like a star as they dress for theatre and dancing parts in the theater exhibit.

The museum sponsors field trips and workshops for such activities as candle making, rope making, to name just a couple. Throw a special birthday party for your son or daughter. Explorations V offers such party themes as chemistry and princess tea parties, which are a change of pace from the Chuck E. Cheese fare!

Patriotic Trees, Promenades, and Childhood Fun Just South of Lake Mirror
Lake Mirror is one of the city's largest lakes, but to the south of it, you will find it loaded with lots of family-themed activities, including Barnett Family Park, where children can play in the midst of fountains and splash water on each other. The playground area includes a ground made of recycled tires.

Lake Mirror's Promenade is almost 80 years old and fashioned after the classical Roman style of architecture, plus it is listed in the National Register of Historical Places. It leads to my favorite area in this complex, Hollis Garden. Have you ever wished you could listen to a musical soundtrack while wandering through a beautiful garden? Well, your Mozart dreams will come true. Venture to this 1.2 acre garden south of Lake Mirror. It's loaded with the best of Mother Nature's fare, featuring more than 10,000 flowers and ornamental shrubs which tell the story of the primeval roots of Florida's agrarian period up to today. One of the sections of Hollis Garden (the sections are actually called "rooms") is the Trees of Americana Room, where the Helen Keller Water Oak and the M.L.K. Jr. Sycamore proudly stand.

Frank Lloyd Wright's vision lives on at Florida Southern College.
Frank Lloyd Wright's vision lives on at Florida Southern College.

Because butterflies are such an integral part of Polk County, a special section is reserved for these creatures with vegetation that attracts them, encircled by a magnolia hedge. Garden lovers will take note just how aesthetically designed each of its 16 Rooms have been designed and maintained – reflects and honors values of gardening.

Take special note of The Grotto Room's limestone walls and adorning of orchids. At the entrance of Hollis Garden, free walking maps are available for reference to the 16 Rooms. Barnett Family Park and Hollis Garden are both located at 702 E. Orange Street to the south of Lake Mirror. Telephone contact for Hollis Garden is 863-603-6281. Free Admission.

Polk Museum of Art
Art and more! For 40 years, the Polk Museum of Art has been a mecca for art lovers. Once housed in a former Publix Super Market, this venue not only shows art in all its forms, but it's a center for education. Community art classes abound here.

Visual arts students from Harrison Arts Center get their art training every day of the school year, adding to the vitality of the museum. The museum sponsors a large outdoor arts exhibit once a year that brings in people from all over the state. The four areas of collection for this 37,000 square foot museum include Asian, Pre-Columbian, American/European Decorative and Modern/Contemporary art, especially those crafted by Florida residents in the latter category. You'll find a nice sampling of wood and fiber art and a sculpture garden is also located on the premises. Traveling exhibits find their way to the museum on a regular basis, including "AFTERMATH: Images from Ground Zero, Photography by Joel Meyerowitz", which is scheduled to appear from April 22 – July 9, 2006, in one of the galleries.

Down-Home Southern Eatin' in Lakeland
When you are done with your touring of the Wright buildings, viewing great exhibits at the Polk Museum of Art, and being Bach'ed out at Hollis Garden, here are a few great places you can re-fuel your body, while also emanating that down-home Southern feel!

Harry's Seafood, Bar, and Grille
New Orleans comes to Lakeland. This is a wonderful New Orleans-style restaurant in the heart of Lakeland. Its fresh seafood is awesome, especially the calamari! I ate a very popular Bayou dish of red beans and rice with smoked sausage, served up on a large platter – filling and delicious! Other dishes of note are the Louisiana Gumbo, Pasta Jambalaya and Crawfish Tails. Harry's is decorated to give the feel of being in Bayou country. It's a local favorite for Lakelanders, and it is across the street from Munn Park, named after Lakeland's founder! Outdoor dining is available too.

The world exhibits at Explorations V Children's Museum.
The world exhibits at Explorations V Children's Museum.

I have a good friend who is from Bayou country in Louisiana, and when I went over the establishment's menu with her after returning back to frigid Wyoming, she told me this place serves true Bayou dishes all the way down the line! So this isn't one of those gimmicky touristy eating traps that try to pull the wool over tourist's eyes.

Harry's take-out menu doesn't just laundry list their items, but it goes into decent descriptions of their selections. Harry's currently has eight locations around the panhandle of Florida and central Florida.

Garden Bistro: Picnic-like dining
This little eatery has a nice variety of sandwiches and salads. Its outdoor dining option is especially nice for lunchtime, and a people watcher around Lake Mirror. Garden Bistro is also open for breakfast, serving up omelets, waffles and pancakes at fair prices. For lunch, I feasted on the Bistro's Porta Garden sandwich, which contains, in part, alfalfa sprouts on bread. I really enjoyed it, and I still had room to taste another great selection, their loaded Bistro Club Sandwich, full of bacon, turkey and ham. They also serve a variety of homemade desserts and tea with strawberry flavor. The Garden Bistro is at 702 E. Orange St. (in the back of the Magnolia Building between Hollis Gardens and the Barnett Water Park). Telephone: 863-686-3332.

Here's more information on the Lakeland area

Special Note About Polk County Tap Water
Travelers who drink tap water, like myself, need to be warned that the tap water and ice for drinks in Polk County, while potable (that is, very safe to drink), can have a mild to strong sulfuric taste! The shower water may also be a bit sulfuric, depending on the degree of filtering used by hotels.

The tap water was hard for me to get used to, as I've lived on chlorinated tap water all my life. Of course, the simple alternative is to drink bottled water or soft drinks!

Getting to Polk County By Air
The closest major airports are the Orlando International Airport (MCO is the code) and the Tampa International Airport (TPA is the code). Tampa International Airport has free WIFI internet access.

Here's a general road map of the area.

For lodging considerations around Polk County, check out www.bootsnall.com for great deals, or you can also access the Central Florida Visitors and Convention Bureau/Sports Marketing Office to help you with that and other travel issues. They are at: 600 N. Broadway, Ste. 300, Bartow, FL 863-534-2500

See Roy A. Barnes' Part I and Part II articles of Polk County.

Roy A. Barnes is a past contributor to BootsnAll.com and lives in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Travel has always been in his blood, from the time he rode shotgun all over the USA with his father in an old International Harvester 18-wheeler when school wasn't in session. Since that time, he's been as far north on the globe as Edinburgh, Scotland; as far south as Robben Island, South Africa; as far east as Athens, Greece; and as far west as The Great Wall of China.


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