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Day Trip: Lakeland

Swans are one of the most visible features on the lakes of Lakeland. They have a long history, the first swans appearing around 1923.

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Located under two hours southeast of the Villages of Citrus Hills, Lakeland is another wonderful place for residents to plan a day trip. 

The community offers a rich history of arts and culture, plenty of options for the nature enthusiast, great boutique shopping, and some outstanding and unique dining. Every city and town across Florida has its share of great experiences to offer, and Lakeland is no exception. 

Lakeland was settled in the 1870s and developed quickly after the railroads arrived in the 1880s. The city saw major developments happen in both the 1920s and the 1940s. Some of this development was led by legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who arrived in 1938 and spent 20 years designing many of the buildings on the campus of Florida Southern College. 

Your trip to Lakeland will provide you with plenty of fun and entertainment. Here are some of the more popular ones. 

For the Nature Lover 

If you assumed that Lakeland was named after a large collection of lakes surrounding it, you would be correct. There are 38 named lakes in and around the city, as well as many more in surrounding areas. 

One of the most popular lakes to visit is Lake Mirror, which is surrounded by a beautiful historic walkway that offers a stunning view of the city. Your visit will no doubt introduce you to some of the many swans that call the area home. Make sure you bring a camera!  

As you stroll around Lake Mirror, you will be drawn into the amazing Hollis Gardens. With over 10,000 different types of flowers, shrubs, and trees, you could spend your entire day cataloging everything there is to see in this magnificent public garden. 

If you prefer a more authentic natural environment, Circle B Bar Reserve is definitely worth checking out. This is an old cattle ranch that has been restored to its original condition, including freshwater marshes and swamps. It is the biggest attraction in the area for anyone interested in birding. 

Arts & Culture 

When it comes to the arts and culture side of Lakeland, there are two significant names that come into play: Wright and Polk. 

 The campus of Florida Southern College is the largest collection of Frank Lloyd Wright buildings in the world. The famous architect constructed 13 structures here to create his vision of the ideal college campus. Visitors can start their tour at the college’s Frank Lloyd Wright Visitors Center, and there are some great “behind the scenes” tours available through the college. 

Lakeland is located in Polk County, which was named after US President James K. Polk. The Polk Museum of Art and the Polk Theatre also pay tribute to the 11th President of the United States. 

The Polk Museum of Art is a very popular local attraction that features a wide variety of local art and history, as well as a fabulous gift shop. The Polk Theatre is an amazing place to see a performance, but even if you can’t fit that into your schedule this is still a must-see to appreciate its rich history. Elvis once performed here! 

Shopping 

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As with most small towns throughout Florida, shopping is a popular way to spend an afternoon. Downtown Lakeland is filled with plenty of great little boutique shops and vintage stores. The local antique scene is also very good.  

If you prefer more modern shopping, there is also the Lakeland Square Mall and Lakeside Villages, which contain all of the popular stores you’ll be looking for. There is also a Farmers’ Market in downtown Lakeland every Saturday.

 Special Events 

There are a number of annual events held in Lakeland. One of the biggest is the Sun ’n Fun Florida Air Museum’s annual Fly-In and Expo. This is one of the largest airshows in Florida and draws over 200,000 visitors every year in April. 

Like a number of other Florida cities, Lakeland is also the spring home for a Major League Baseball Team. The Detroit Tigers call Lakeland home every February for Spring Training, and after they head north you can still watch one of their minor league affiliates play in Lakeland all summer. 

Dining in Lakeland 

If you are only going to stop and eat at one place in Lakeland, that place should be Fat Maggie’s. The owners describe it as a “quirky mom and pop restaurant” that specializes in “American comfort food” like BBQ and burgers. Regardless of what you order here, you cannot leave without trying their candied bacon. 

Looking for a great cup of coffee or a bistro sandwich?  Just stop into Black & Brew. This unique coffee shop is a gathering place for Lakeland residents and visitors that is both inspiring and delicious…and the coffee is out of this world! 

For those who are looking to try something outside the box, the Saigon Bistro serves excellent Vietnamese cuisine. Owner Kim Huynh creates a wide variety of classic Vietnamese dishes, but you can’t go wrong ordering the Chef’s Famous Soup or Huynh’s Favorite Dish. 

From arts and culture to nature and from Vietnamese cuisine to burgers and BBQ, there is plenty of variety to be had on a day trip to Lakeland. You can focus your visit on any of these great attractions and restaurants and you are sure to have a great time.

Aptly named Lake Mirror

And since Lakeland is less than two hours from the Villages of Citrus Hills, you can visit again any time you like.