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Looking for things to do near Lakeland Florida? Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wale Florida is so much more than just a botanical garden experience and bird sanctuary. This National Historic Landmark should be on your day trip list if you’re looking for a calm escape after the adrenaline rush of the Orlando theme parks and Walt Disney World. We were pleased to find out it is very kid friendly. Here’s what you need to know before you go.
This post is sponsored by VISIT FLORIDA.
The historic Bok Tower Gardens in Central Florida’s Polk County features nearly 700 acres of conservation lands and gardens surrounding a magnificent 205-foot “Singing Tower” with its 60 bell carillon. There’s also Pinewood Estate, a 20-room, Mediterranean-style 1930s winter retreat, breathtaking architecture and inspirational messages. This destination is both a National Historic Landmark and on the National Register of Historic Places.
The 50 acres of spectacular garden landscaping were designed by famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., best known for designing Central Park in New York City, the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina and the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. He started off with magnolias, azaleas, live oaks and more and now the gardens boast thousands of plants including endangered plants.
Bok Tower Gardens was established in 1929 as a “gift to the American people” from Dutch immigrant and world peace advocate Edward W. Bok, then the editor of Ladies Home Journal. It was originally called Mountain Lake Sanctuary and Singing Tower. The 60-bell carillon tower itself was built on one of the highest points in Florida, Iron Mountain. Originally arid sandhill, the area is now lush and filled out with different habitats that you can explore on hiking trails.
I’d heard quite a bit about the beauty and utter serenity surrounding the experience of visiting, but what surprised me most was the fact that it’s fun for children too. My daughters are 12 and 9, so finding any experience that keeps them both entertained can be a challenge. Bok Tower Gardens did the trick.
Even better, Bok Tower Gardens is just 90 minutes south of Walt Disney World, which makes it a great day trip from Orlando when you need a calm day away from the theme parks. It’s located just under 45 minutes from Tampa.
Read More: Why You Should Take Your Kids to Kennedy Space Center.
Things to See and Do at Bok Tower Gardens for Kids and Families
For families visiting Bok Tower Gardens, here are some must-see experiences kids of all ages can enjoy.
TravelingMom Tip: Stop at the Visitors Center for a map so that you can follow the correct hiking trails to these experiences.
Hammock Hollow Children’s Garden
This is one of the main attractions for kids at Bok Tower Gardens. It’s filled with 18 different experiences to explore. I say explore because with every turn, you find something new and cool to keep the kids entertained.
Among my kids’ favorites were:
- Doodle Bug Art Place, where kids can create their own masterpieces then swing in a hammock while their artwork dries.
- Fairy Garden, which is a series of fairy doors in the trees. Kids are encouraged to walk quietly to keep from frightening the magical creatures.
- Frog Hop, where my girls jumped from tree stump to tree stump.
- Fox Den, where we all learned about the relationships between plants, animals and humans.
- Spider Climb, where the kids burned off some energy climbing the spider web ropes.
Kitchen Garden, Outdoor Kitchen
My daughter was able to find her own little fantasy world in the outdoor kitchen area. I thought it felt a little like a scene out of Cinderella with the iron stove and water pump. Yes, the water pump was quite a fun surprise and FYI- it pumps actual water.
Occasionally, Bok Tower Gardens hosts cooking demos and other fun events in the kitchen garden. I hope to experience those on a future visit for sure.
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Visitors from Arendelle?
To our surprise, as we were exploring in the Children’s Garden, I heard a few familiar voices in the distance. That was when we stumbled upon an interactive show with none other than Frozen’s Elsa, Anna and Hans.
While this was more so for the little ones, my 9-year-old did not want to leave either.
Just as we were heading out of the Children’s Garden, we found a fun surprise for the kids. It’s easy to miss this area, luckily we got a tip to see it. There’s a rocky area that seems like a simple resting area, but with the push of a button, turns into a water fountain.
There my girls were, just quietly sitting, when the splash party began, inciting lots and lots of laughter for the whole family.
TravelingMom Tip: Looking for more family fun in the area? Put Safari Wilderness on the list for kids of all ages.
Window By the Pond
The simplicity of this “exhibit” is that Window by the Pond is simply what it says, a window overlooking a Florida bog. You can watch butterflies, birds and more as they exist in their natural habitat. What you see will depend on the time of day but mornings tend to be more active.
The Singing Tower at Bok Tower Gardens
Needless to say, a visit to the actual 205-foot singing tower is a must at the Garden. What’s also really cool are the 1pm and 3pm daily carillon concerts. There is an actual carrilloneur (think piano using bells) playing live music from the tower and visitors watch from the viewing area outside.
While I watched the performance, the kids had a blast running around the adjacent park area and watching fish in the pond beneath the tower. The gardens are one of the highest points in the area, located along the Lake Wales Ridge.
The tower is constructed out of marble mined in Tate, Georgia and the unique coquina stone from St. Augustine, Florida. Edward Bok (a Pulitzer Prize winning author) wrote a book about the construction of the tower published in 1929, America’s Taj Mahal.
TravelingMom Tip: On your way to or from the tower, be sure to capture a view in the reflection pool. Here you can perfectly see the tower reflected in the water and it’s absolutely breathtaking!
Bok Tower Garden Visitor Center and Museum
Our last stop was the Bok Tower Garden History Gallery, filled with fun historical tidbits, artifacts, and sculptures from Bok Tower Gardens.
Here, we learned exactly what makes Bok Tower Gardens such an incredible gem to the history and culture of Central Florida. Not to mention some of the most beautiful artwork we’ve ever seen!
Attached to the Visitors Center by covered walkways are the Blue Palmetto Cafe and the Gift Shop.
TravelingMom Tip: Find out how to visit Bok Tower Gardens for free on Smithsonian’s Museum Day.
Dining at Bok Tower Gardens
Grabbing a totally family friendly meal at Bok Tower Gardens is a breeze as well. Blue Palmetto Café, located next to the Visitor Center, features a delicious variety of fresh, healthy sandwiches and fare. The kids menu has all of the favorites and comes with a fresh fruit cup and organic juice.
As you wait to order, be sure to check out the extensive selection of teas, spices and “Garden Goodies!”
If you’d rather bring in your own food, feel free. Picnics are welcome anywhere at the gardens, but they do designate some recommended areas.
Holidays at Bok Tower Gardens
Winter can be the perfect time to visit. Temperatures are more moderate and if you’re there late November through early January you can check out Holidays in the Gardens. With events ranging from ornament making to garden yoga to holiday concerts there is something for everyone. The big reason to visit though is the opportunity to tour the mansion, Pinewood Estate. All 20 of its rooms are decked out in Christmas decorations and no two years are ever the same!
What to Know Before You Visit Bok Tower Gardens
Before you head to Lake Wales here are a few things to keep in mind for a great visit.
- We recommend a minimum of 3 hours to spend touring the garden, museum and for lunch.
- Wear comfortable shoes, closed-toe recommended. With shuttles out of service due to Covid precautions there is a bit more walking. Some of the areas are a bit rocky and, as with any outdoor spaces, you may find on occasional ant hill or other outdoor life.
- Wheelchairs and mobility carts are available at The Shop at Bok and are accessible at all areas except the second floor of Pinewood Estate.
- Bring a water bottle! Florida can be hot and humid. Stay hydrated. There are several water fountains located throughout the area for refilling.
- Kid gets a cut? First aid is located at the Visitor Center and Info Booth.
- The performances at the Singing Tower take place daily from 1-3 pm, so try to arrange your visit around that time of day not miss out on the incredible carillon music experience.
- Have a well-behaved dog? You can bring it with you as long as it’s on a leash at all times. Clean up for pets is the responsibility of the owners.
Bok Tower Gardens is located at 1151 Tower Boulevard, Lake Wales, FL. It is open daily from 8 am-6 pm. Due to the pandemic, all visitors are required to wear a mask at common areas, inside interior spaces and when interacting with Bok Tower Gardens Staff. View all details at boktowergardens.org.
About the Author
Guest author Ari Adams is a lifestyle and parenting blogger, author, “Chiro-wife,” mother of 2 little minis, cyber- hippie, wannabe soap maker, and Ambassador of all things awesome, beautiful and impactful.
Ari is the lady behind the blog Love, Peace and Tiny Feet – where she shares her adventures of balancing parenthood, holistic wellness, DIY crafts, recipes, and other tips for parents- and CEO of ShiftCon Media, producer of the annual ShiftCon Eco-Wellness Influencer Conference for eco-friendly and health -conscious bloggers and influencers.