In Central Florida, you’ll find Lake Wales, surrounded by beautiful wetlands and rolling hills that were once the peaks of prehistoric islands. Although sometimes overshadowed by nearby Lakeland and Orlando, Lake Wales is the small-town escape that you’ve been searching for.
With its charming historic district lined with cute cafes, bakeries, eclectic thrift shops, and boutique galleries, it’s a perfect place for a getaway. Beyond the downtown streets, Lake Wales is close to Lake Kissimmee State Park for outdoor adventures on land and water, not to mention the incomparable Bok Tower Gardens.
Not sure what to do in Lake Wales? Find out more with our complete Lake Wales guide, including the top things to do and the best places to eat, drink & stay.
Things to do in Lake Wales, FL
Bok Tower Gardens
The most striking sight in Lake Wales is the Bok Tower Gardens, specifically for its rose brick skyscraper that reaches 205 feet. The land at the top of Iron Mountain was donated to the town residents in 1930 after celebrated author Edward Bok passed away. Since then, the tower and the surrounding 250 acres have been a popular gathering point for locals and a must-see for visitors.
Atop the Singing Tower are stained windows and spires, complete with carillon bells that chime between 1 pm and 3 pm. If you replaced the ornate gardens with stone pavement, you’d think you were in Renaissance Europe, but there’s much more to the Bok Tower Gardens than that.
If you’re looking for a cool place to unwind and relax, why not check out the gardens? There are spacious areas to contemplate and admire the array of plant life, while the trails meander through the beautiful park, leading you to bird sanctuaries and ponds topped by lily pads.
Lake Kissimmee State Park
Lake Kissimmee State Park holds a brilliant mix of Florida’s history and its beautiful nature. The park is home to 13 miles of hiking trails, almost half of which are open to horseback riders. Spend time on the banks of a trio of lakes, go kayaking, or go fishing on the glistening waters.
From Lake Wales, it’s only a 35-minute drive east towards the Florida state park. Your adventures will bring you up close to wildlife, including sandhill cranes, turkeys, bald eagles, and even the odd bobcat running along the shoreline. Your time at Bok Tower Gardens may be tranquil, but Lake Kissimmee State Park is the top local choice for outdoor enthusiasts.
While the varied ecosystems will keep you on your toes, the trails will guide you through maritime hammocks, plains, forests, and flatwoods.
Try to see it all in a single day if you can, but if you fall short, the park has 60 campsites with electric and water hookups.
One of the best things to do in Lake Wales is to experience the weird and wonderful Spook Hill. The roadside attraction has taken on a life of its own, thrilling locals and all that dare come past. The hill itself is a part of an optical illusion. From various standpoints, a parked car looks like it’s rolling uphill!
This isn’t just a coincidence, though. Spook Hill is located along Lake Wales Ridge. This ridgeline is made of limestone and sand, forming islands over two million years ago. When the sea dispersed, it left what is called a gravity hill or magnetic hill.
The Central Florida township has embraced the phenomenon and has turned it into a fun tourist attraction. The sign describes the illusion not as a gravity hill but as the ‘Legend of Spook Hill’ and offers an eternal battle between Chief and gator.
So indulge a little: Park your car on the hill’s white line, put it in neutral, and watch the magic happen.
Westgate River Ranch Resort & Rodeo
Covering an immense 1,700 acres on the surging Kissimmee River, the Westgate River Ranch Resort & Rodeo is one of the last bastions of old-school ranching in Florida. The ranch, which forms part of the larger resort, is the main draw, giving you the chance to don your cowboy boots and step into the Wild West.
This dude ranch will have you feeling just like a cowboy as you go horseback riding through the Florida countryside, taking in memorable viewpoints along the way.
Afterward, head to the petting farm or go catch yourself a prized fish on the water. For something more relaxing, play a round of golf or if you’re feeling adventurous, why not take on a bungee jump?
It’s a fantastic resort for friends and family to gather. Trade your regular vacation for a slew of activities along with the option of luxury glamping. The latter provides you with plenty of rest before the famous rodeo on Saturday nights.
Lake Wales History Museum
When enjoying a trip to a smaller town like Lake Wales, it’s always fun to learn a bit about its history. At the Lake Wales History Museum, you can do just that. By combining historic photographs, relics, a rich archive, and interactive displays, you’ll leave with a far greater appreciation for the Lake Wales area.
From the get-go, exhibits take you on a journey back to the beginning of Lake Wales and its surrounding regions. You can learn all about the initial settlements in the area, including Native American tribes (there’s even a 1000-year-old canoe on display), the beginning of European development, all the way to the modern era.
Although it’s a small museum, it does paint a fantastic story. It’s also where you’ll find a well-preserved train depot built in 1928. The depot still features its original desk used by the trainmaster and a refurbished wooden caboose.
Alligator Cove Airboat Nature Tours
A thrilling way to get to know the world around Lake Wales is to join an airboat ride. With the help of Alligator Cove Airboat Nature Tours, you can zip across the water as you explore the Kissimmee Basin Headwater.
Florida’s wetlands are packed with wildlife, marine life, and a vast array of birds. Leave the downtown streets and escape to the real Florida. Tours are great for the whole family, with an option for an even larger group of friends, giving everyone the opportunity to experience this unique and exciting landscape.
Because of the wild nature of the tour, you never quite know what’s lingering around every corner. The swamp is a great way to spot alligators in the wild, not to mention migrating birds in a microcosm that’s constantly changing depending on the time of day.
Guests can choose between nature tours, gator tours, and bird tours.
Lake Wales Main Street
Lake Wales Main Street is the center of its historic downtown. Lined with restaurants, galleries, thrift, and antique stores, the rows of historic buildings offer an elegant charm and a look into the past.
Main Street is a great place to start and end your day. In the morning, stretch your legs and go for a leisurely stroll. As the Florida sun slowly warms the streets, grab a coffee and enjoy the sights as the local boutique businesses begin to open.
Wander by an exciting range of local shops, giving you the chance to shop small and claim some memorable items. Don’t forget to check out the series of vibrant murals splashed across the street.
At night, the bakeries and boutiques may close, but Main Street’s dining becomes even more inviting. You’ll find some fun watering holes and seafood restaurants that’ll help to end your day on a high.
Within the fabulous Bok Tower Gardens, the Pinewood Estate is a 20-room mansion that wouldn’t feel out of place on an island overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. The warm colors and classic design are appropriate as it was made for Charles Austin Buck, who used it as his winter vacation spot during the 1930s.
Alongside the Singing Tower, the Pinewood Estate, aka El Retiro, is a beloved local landmark. You can explore the estate which has been masterfully restored to include original period furnishings and an exceptional amount of intricate details.
Surrounding the home are 7.5 acres of carefully designed gardens, including an embellished Spanish frog fountain, stone grottos, a separate English garden, and a moon gate fountain.
Lake Wales Park
Steps from downtown is Lake Wales itself, where you’ll find Lake Wales Park. For locals and travelers alike, the park is the most convenient place to enjoy some time in nature.
If you’re staying downtown, you’ll be able to walk from your accommodation to the lakeside park to enjoy a beautiful day in the sun, complete with plenty of long walks and reading under the trees.
Lake Wales Park boasts a 2.5-mile hike and bike trail that circumnavigates the lake. This is a great starting point, allowing you to take in the scenery at your own pace as you pick out the perfect spot to throw down the picnic rug.
Other highlights of the park include its sports fields and picnic facilities. You can also wander down the fishing pier and try to catch yourself some lunch.
Florida’s Natural Visitor Center
If you’ve ever stood in front of the supermarket fridge and gazed upon the rows of OJ, you’ll likely have spotted Florida’s Natural. Florida is the Orange State, so it’s only appropriate that this brand has become renowned in homes around the world. Learn all about its amazing history by exploring Florida’s Natural Visitor Center.
Their story begins in 1933 when the first orange grove was developed. In the years since, it’s become a go-to breakfast juice or Mimosa pairing.
After making your way inside Florida’s Natural Grove House Visitor Center, you’ll find a range of multimedia exhibits that divulge the company’s stories – and yes, there are plenty of samples to enjoy.
LEGOLAND Florida Resort
30 minutes northwest of Lake Wales is Winter Haven, a town that boasts the action-packed LEGOLAND Florida Resort. Spanning 150 acres, the theme park has become a veritable hit among families and adults turning back the clock to their own childhood years, assembling masterpieces.
LEGOLAND features over 50 thrilling rides that are designed for a wide age group. Kids as young as two years old will be well represented by the attractions, allowing almost everyone to get in on the fun.
Alongside the fun-tastic rides are interactive shows that bring the amusement park to life, plus the relaxing botanical garden. On an extra hot day, be sure to cool off in the five-acre water park.
If one day just doesn’t cut it, pack your bags and check into the LEGOLAND Hotel.
Where to eat & drink
Lake Wales is a beautiful small town in the heart of Florida. It harbors a welcoming community devoid of any tourist crowds (yes, even at Spook Hill), making it a lovely vacation spot. This charm also permeates the local food scene, where you’ll find family-friendly restaurants among the many classic Floridian bars.
A great way to start your day is at The Ranch Taproom & Coffeehouse. It might be too early to get on the beers, but you can pick up a barista-brewed coffee to go with your bakery bites or breakfast sandwich. Another popular breakfast and lunch option is the Lake Wales Family Restaurant. Come for all the diner classics in this cozy and heartwarming spot.
Just a short walk from there is Manny’s Original Chophouse. This restaurant is a kaleidoscope of neon signs and sparkling license plates with American fare on the menu. Sizzling Grill also serves up American fare in a laid-back, family-friendly environment with amazing seafood and steaks.
If you like some fun atmosphere to accompany your dinner, then head to Crazy Fish Bar & Grill. Alongside their fresh seafood, make the most of their colorful drinks, and don’t be a stranger to the jukebox.
Next to the Lake Wales Country Club, Ya’ll Come Back Saloon is the place to go to extend your evening deep into the night. It’s a boisterous place to hang with friends over a pint or cocktail. Don’t forget to see who’s better at darts at their famous board.
Where to stay
There’s a fairly limited selection of accommodations in Lake Wales itself. Many of the area’s better hotels are located elsewhere, including in nearby Waverly and Winter Haven.
Located just north of Lake Wales, this budget-friendly hotel offers everything you need for a comfortable stay. Rooms here are clean & comfortable, with some offering seating areas for a tad extra space. Extra amenities include an outdoor pool and gym.
For an extra dash of comfort, duck into the Hampton Inn & Suites on the northern edge of town. Besides the spacious rooms, guests will enjoy a range of amenities, from an outdoor pool to hot breakfasts in the dining room.
Traveling with the kids? Take the excitement up a notch with a stay at the LEGOLAND Florida Resort. Located a few minutes away in nearby Winter Haven, this resort combines a comfortable night’s sleep with all the LEGO excitement you and the kids can handle. The kids will absolutely love staying in the colorful Pirate-Themed Family Rooms, featuring a daily treasure hunt with prizes!