Blake Walsh

15 Best Things to Do in Polk County, FL

  • Published 2023/04/20

Polk County is right in the heart of Florida.

Its beginnings date back to 12,000 years ago when Paleoindians occupied the region in the latter part of the last ice age.

In 1539, Europeans ventured into the area to visit Urriparacoxi, Lake County’s and Orange County’s ruling parts.

Polk County played a significant role in the 19th century when Seminoles were being pushed south.

The county was within the boundaries of the designated reservation area for Native Americans and Black Indians and was the site of the Second Seminole War.

Today, it’s a melting pot of cultures and traditions and is home to people from different ethnic backgrounds.

Here are the best things to do in Polk County, Florida.

See Life-Sized LEGOs at the LEGOLAND® Florida Resort

Skyscrapers made out of legos at LEGOLAND® Florida Resort

EQRoy /

Located on Legoland Way, Winter Haven is the LEGOLAND® Florida Resort.

The resort houses a theme park, a waterpark, three fully themed on-site accommodations, and a Peppa Pig-themed park.

The 145-acre park opened in 2011 on the site of the former Cypress Gardens.

Entrance to the LEGOLAND® Florida Resort

EQRoy /

It boasts more than 50 rides, attractions, shows, and restaurants that kids and kids at heart will enjoy.

Rides like the LEGO NINJAGO and Merlin’s Challenge are fashioned after real LEGO bricks.

If you want more adrenaline, the Flying School is a suspended roller coaster with loops and drops that keep you at the edge of your seat.

Street scene recreated using legos at LEGOLAND® Florida Resort

EQRoy /

The water park has seasonally heated pools, wave pools, tube slides, and interactive water play structures.

LEGOLAND® Florida Resort’s themed hotels are Legoland, Beach Retreat, and Private Island.

Rides at LEGOLAND® Florida Resort

EQRoy /

Spot Wildlife at the Circle B Bar Reserve

Alligator at Circle B Bar Reserve

Terry Kelly /

Located on Winter Lake Road, Lakeland is the 1,267-acre Circle B Bar Reserve.

The protected area was acquired by the Polk County Board of County Commissioners in the year 2000.

It’s a restored wetland that was once a cattle ranch named Circle B Bar, hence its present name.

Scenic view of the Circle B Bar Reserve

Sergey and Marina Pyataev /

Circle B Bar Reserve is a designated birding trail site, home to thousands of rare bird species, including the white ibis, sandhill cranes, roseate spoonbills, and the bald eagle.

Along its trails are a variety of other wildlife species, such as bobcats, wild hogs, river otters, and alligators.

The park also has 3.5 miles of unpaved hiking trails connected to the paved Fort Fraser Trail.

Polk’s Nature Discovery Center is in the preserve, featuring interactive displays about the local flora and fauna.

Cranes at Circle B Bar Reserve

Frank Fichtmueller /

Admire Seasonal Blooms at Hollis Garden

Beautiful hibiscus at Hollis Garden

Leodidthis /

The public botanical garden Hollis Garden is also in Lakeland.

It sits along the shores of Lake Mirror in the Frances Langford Promenade, providing a scenic backdrop for weddings and private events.

The promenade, dedicated to actress and Lakeland local Frances Langford, was built in the 1920s with plans for a botanical garden.

Top view of the Hollis Garden

VisitCentralFL, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

But the garden wasn’t realized until 2000 when the philanthropic Hollis family finished the original design plan.

Hollis Garden was designed in the neo-classical style, with patterned flower beds, romantic fountains, and a staircase adding to its grandeur.

It boasts more than 10,000 seasonal flowers, with hundreds of roses surrounding the Magnolia Building.

Fountain at Hollis Garden

Butter142, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Sample Award-Winning Barbecues at the Polk City BBQ Company

Located on Commonwealth Avenue Southwest, Polk City is the award-winning Polk City BBQ Company.

The grill specializes in slow-roasted meats, sandwiches, and wraps.

Founded by pitmaster Joel Vann, the restaurant aims to bring the taste of competition-quality barbecue closer to people.

With extensive experience and multiple awards, Vann continues to compete to enhance Polk City BBQ Company’s ever-growing menu.

One of the bestsellers is the Smokin’ Grilled Chez, a pulled pork or chicken sandwich with four-cheese bend and sweet sauce.

Another must-try is the Rib Meal, which is fall-off-the-bone half or whole slab of ribs served with your choice of sides.

The restaurant also boasts house-made sauces that go well with grilled meat.

See Classic Films at the Polk Theatre

Facade of the Polk Theatre

Ebyabe, CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

Located on Florida Avenue South, Lakeland, is the historic Polk Theatre.

The 1,400-seater movie house was opened in 1928 by local businessman John E. Melton.

Melton envisioned a multipurpose building with retail and office spaces and its centerpiece being the theatre.

The mezzanine lobby was decorated with twisted columns, brass-banded terrazzo floors, and an ornately tiled staircase that connected it to the entrance.

Street view of the Polk Theatre

Ebyabe, CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

Once the favorite entertainment venue, Polk Theatre faced demolition in the 1980s when modern cinemas began to dominate the industry.

A group of concerned locals banded together to save the theatre, doing renovation works in the 1990s.

It screens classic movies and hosts live ballet performances, concerts, and musicals today.

Take the Kids to the Florida Children’s Museum

Outside view of the Explorations V Children's Museum

Ebyabe, CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

Located on Bonnet Springs Boulevard, Lakeland, is the non-profit Florida Children’s Museum.

Also known as Explorations V Children’s Museum, it aims to educate Floridian children through explorations and to promote creativity and love for learning.

Founded in 1991 by volunteers, it was initially located in the historic four-story Kress building, with a new building constructed for the new Bonnet Springs Park.

Entrance to the Explorations V Children's Museum

Ebyabe, CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

Part of the permanent exhibit is the Watermelon Seeds gallery, which features interactive displays to improve sensory motor skills, language, and executive functions.

The Design Park focuses on children’s communication skills through displays that promote collaborations, evaluation, and engineering.

The Florida Children’s Museum also houses traveling exhibits to present new learning opportunities to kids.

Appreciate Pre-Columbian Art at the Polk Museum of Art

Signage of the Polk Museum of Art

Ebyabe, CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

Located on East Palmetto Street, Lakeland, is the Polk Museum of Art.

The nationally accredited art museum has affiliations with the Smithsonian Institution and Florida Southern College.

Established in 1966 by the Junior Welfare League as the Imperial Youth Museum, the teaching museum aims to provide inspirational and engaging art experiences for people throughout Polk County and beyond.

The museum focuses on pre-Columbian art, featuring a rotating collection of artworks that follow a central theme.

Entryway to Polk Museum of Art

Ebyabe, CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

It’s divided into three major exhibits.

First is the exhibit on Modern and Contemporary Art, which focuses on Florida art.

Then, you can go to the European Decorative Arts, which includes ceramics and silverware from 15th-century Europe.

Finally, check out African Art, which features African art in different media.

Exterior view of the Polk Museum of Art

Ebyabe, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Grab Dinner with a View at Tanners Lakeside Restaurant & Bar

Tanners Lakeside Restaurant & Bar is in Winter Haven, Florida.

The waterfront bar and restaurant offer scenic lake views, fresh seafood, and occasional live band performances.

One of the crowd favorites is the Gator Bites, alligator nuggets served with house-made Po Boy sauce.

Another must-try is the Blackened Yellow Fin Tuna, made of pan-seared rare tuna drizzled with Creole butter sauce and freshly made Po Boy sauce.

Tanners Lakeside Restaurant & Bar also serves market-priced crab legs, jumbo shrimps, and clams.

Explore the Colt Creek State Park

Signage at Colt Creek State Park

Ebyabe, CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

The 5,000-acre Colt Creek State Park is in Lakeland.

The nature preserve is part of the larger Green Swamp Wilderness Area.

Established in 2007, the park was originally a privately-owned tract of land in the 1930s before being used to raise cattle.

The area is also rich in limestone, which can be seen scattered throughout the park.

Scenic view of the Colt Creek State Park

Ebyabe, CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

Colt Creek State Park comprises pine flatwoods, cypress domes, vast pasturelands, and wetlands, creating a unique mix of natural habitats.

The park has 15 miles of mixed-use trails to hike, bike, ride horseback, or spot wildlife.

It’s home to over 150 species of birds and selects wildlife species that have been declared at risk.

Exotic plants at Colt Creek State Park

Judy Gallagher, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

See a Movie under the Stars at the Silver Moon Drive-In Theatre

The Silver Moon Drive-In Theatre is in Lakeland.

It’s the last drive-in theatre in Polk County, operating for over 70 years.

First opened in 1948, the theatre has undergone several management changes but has survived the slow death of drive-ins.

Outside view of the Silver Moon Drive-In Theatre

DanTD, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Silver Moon Drive-In Theatre has two screens showing first-run movies, with double features seven days a week.

Moviegoers can listen to the film through their FM car radio.

There’s a snack bar on-site for pizza, popcorn, hotdogs, soda, and more.

Every Saturday, the drive-in transforms into the Swap Shop, where fresh produce, clothes, and toys are sold.

Smell Exotic Flowers at the Bok Tower Gardens

Stunning view of the Bok Tower Gardens

Felix Mizioznikov /

Located on Tower Boulevard, Lake Wales, is the Bok Tower Gardens.

The garden was formerly the Bok Mountain Lake Sanctuary and Singing Tower, built by husband-and-wife Edward William Bok and Mary Louise Curtis Bok in the 1920s.

The original Bok Tower Gardens started as a 25-acre bird sanctuary erected on the highest hill of Lake Wales Ridge.

Colorful pots and plants at Bok Tower Gardens

Felix Mizioznikov /

Today, the garden is ten times larger than its original size, housing thousands of plant species, including ferns, papyrus, spider lilies, and monstera.

It’s also a sanctuary to over a hundred bird species, including wild turkey and sandhill cranes.

The 51-foot Singing Tower was built to irrigate the gardens.

At the top of the Gothic Revival Tower is a 60-Bell Carillion that plays music twice daily, while the rest contains large water tanks.

Picturesque walkway at Bok Tower Gardens

CHartz-studios /

Enjoy Country Style Surf ‘n’ Turf at Catfish Country Restaurant

Located on EF Griffin Road, Bartow, is Catfish Country Restaurant.

The seafood restaurant specializes in country-style surf ‘n’ turfs like ribeye steak and fried fish.

Established in 1990, it’s been serving fresh Cajun-style seafood in Polk County for the last 30 years.

True to its name, Catfish Country Restaurant only serves American farm-raised catfish that you can enjoy fried, grilled, broiled, or blackened.

The restaurant also serves mahi mahi, tilapia, cod, shrimp, grouper, and scallops.

One of their bestsellers is the Country Fried Steak, a steak cutlet breaded with seasoned flour, fried to perfection, and topped with grilled onions.

Other must-try are the alligator nuggets, crispy Krabby Cakes, and Alaskan crab legs.

Marvel at Rare Aircraft at the Florida Air Museum

Display at Florida Air Museum

WatchmanDS, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Located on Medulla Road, Lakeland, is the Florida Air Museum.

Previously known as the International Sport Aviation Museum and SUN ‘n FUN Air Museum, it’s part of the Aerospace Center for Excellence.

It aims to bring aviation history closer to people from all walks of life.

Interior view of Florida Air Museum

Lestocq, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Housed in a hangar, the Florida Air Museum has a collection of rare warbirds, ultralights, and classics that will excite aviation geeks.

The main museum building houses well-preserved small aircraft like the Boeing-Stearman Model 75 used by the Red Baron Pizza aerobatic team.

The complex also includes the 8,000-square-foot Buehler Restoration Center, which hosts aircraft restoration activities annually.

Grab Freshly Baked Pastries at Born & Bread Bakehouse

Located on Florida Avenue South, Lakeland is Born & Bread Bakehouse.

The neighborhood bakery specializes in the slow dough, naturally leavened bread, and viennoiserie.

Founder Jennifer Smurr started selling her cruffins at Lakeland’s Downtown Farmers Curb Market in 2015.

Born & Bread Bakehouse’s brick-and-mortar shop in Midtown serves freshly baked pastries, baguettes, desserts, crafted sandwiches, and even house-made butter.

On Saturdays, the bakery produces a large selection of croissants, cruffins, cakes, bread, and savory biscuits that can be paired with a cup of locally roasted Patriot Coffee.

Some of its bestsellers include the chocolate croissant, Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Cruffin, and Benton’s Bacon Breakfast Sandwich.

Experience the African Savannah at Safari Wilderness

Zebra at Safari Wilderness

OST_Florida, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Located on Moore Road, Lakeland, is the 260-acre Safari Wilderness.

The family-owned and operated safari animal park and licensed working game ranch is an exclusive wilderness area.

It houses exotic wetland species and heritage breeds like Irish Dexter cattle and African Watusi.

Surrounded by the 870-square-mile Green Swamp, the 260-acre animal park is home to large herds of African, Asian, and American animals.

Safari Wilderness offers ATV rides that will take you around the park in customized, canopied safari vehicles.

For a more adventurous trip, go for a camelback or kayak ride.

They also offer animal encounters with cheetahs, guinea pigs, and lemurs.

Final Thoughts

Polk County is one of the most diverse destinations in the country.

From historical trips and gastronomical finds to nature explorations and art appreciation, visitors of all ages will never run out of things to do in this region.

Try the best things to do in Polk County, Florida!

© All rights reserved.