by Nila do Simon | June 18, 2024

Uncover Central Florida’s Charm

Family Fun, Scenic Beauty and Culinary Delights Await

Central Florida has gorgeous landscapes and attractions for families to discover like the wildlife excursions at Safari Wilderness Ranch. Photography courtesy of Visit Central Florida.

It’s no surprise that the heart of Florida’s entertainment world lies at the center of the state. Exciting family-focused attractions, a thriving food scene and unparalleled natural beauty make it a must-see destination for generations of visitors. And the best part? Laid-back and scenic, Central Florida is close to it all without the hustle and bustle.

That’s not to say the area lacks adventure. Find thrilling rides and an epic water park at LEGOLAND Florida Resort in Winter Haven. Designed for families with kids ages 2 to 12, LEGOLAND Florida Resort is a 150-acre interactive theme park with more than 50 rides, shows and attractions—and just steps away is Peppa Pig Theme Park Florida with just-my-size playscapes for toddlers. As they say in the world of Lego, “everything is awesome” here. 

Cool off from the Florida heat at the water park at LEGOLAND Florida Resort. Photography courtesy of Visit Central Florida.

Continue the family fun at the nearby Safari Wilderness Ranch, a 260-acre habitat preserve filled with free-roaming wildlife herds, including the African scimitar-horned oryx, zebras, llamas, camels and so much more. Book a tour with a knowledgeable guide or ride on an open-air bus to get up close to domestic Asian water buffalos. And, if that’s not enough, be sure to reserve time to feed lemurs grapes right out of your hand. But beware! Those lemurs have been known to lick the juices right off your fingers.

For more kid-friendly activities, head a few minutes south to Bonnet Springs Park to check out Florida Children’s Museum, a newly opened space for hands-on, sensory learning. The museum features six exhibits in a 47,800-square-foot space curated for all children to explore. Kids are invited to get creative at Design Park, where they will use various materials to build and test a vehicle of the future and play on a 100-foot climbable alligator at Harrell Family Charities Front Yard.

Explore the lush grounds surrounding the 205-foot Bok Tower. Photography courtesy of Visit Central Florida.

Linger longer around Bonnet Springs Park to enjoy its many diverse offerings. Created in 2022, the area blends urban ideas within its nature-inspired settings filled with unparalleled experiences with nature, the arts, education and wellness. Start out at the Hollis Family Welcome Center with a cafe, gift shop and outdoor playground. Then walk to the AgAmerica Heritage Garden, a sculpted linear garden with wellness equipment in the community fitness area and a train playground. Next, there’s the Kiwanis Cares for Kids Treehouse, a 500-square-foot aerial sanctuary complete with an ADA-accessible ramp. 

On the opposite southeast end of the county, find an ecosystem of a different type at Bok Tower Gardens, a national historic landmark and one of Central Florida’s must-see destinations in 1929. For nearly a century, visitors have been taking in the picturesque space that now has two hiking trails, 50 acres of gardens, the 20-room El Retiro Estate and the 205-foot art deco and neo-Gothic Singing Tower carillon (one of 185 of these instruments left in North America). Among the rolling hills of citrus in Lake Wales, Bok Tower Gardens is a historic place of beauty and serenity, where visitors can spend hours relishing in the majesty. 

Central Florida has a restaurant or cafe for every taste, from BBQ joints to vegetarian hotspots to craft cocktail bars and sweet spots. Photography courtesy of Visit Central Florida.

Another outdoorsy favorite in Central Florida is Circle B Bar Reserve. The former cattle ranch now serves as a reserve that boasts a variety of plants and animals on its remarkable ecosystem of over 1,267 acres. Alligators have been known to frequent Lake Hancock, which is locally famous for its fiery red and orange sunrises. Be camera-ready while walking on the many well-maintained hiking trails where a variety of wading birds, waterfowl, ospreys and bald eagles are found in the air, ground and nesting in trees. Not interested in walking? No problem. There’s a free tram tour that takes place periodically each month offering enjoyable ways to observe the beautiful reserve. 

When hunger strikes, rest assured that your taste buds will be satisfied with Central Florida’s diverse and flavorful selections. As Florida’s unofficial barbecue capital, Polk County is home to 20 distinct barbecue joints, making the area one of the most barbecue-dense restaurant scenes, per resident, in the state. Polk County’s grilled legacy is built around long-standing restaurants, such as Peebles Bar-B-Q in Auburndale, with impressive pit masters. Other standouts include the family-run Jimbo’s Pit Bar B-Q, the North Carolina-style Low and Slow Smokehouse and the award-winning Blackburn’s BBQ. While the area may be known for its barbecue, don’t sleep on its other highlights, including vegetarian hotspots, craft cocktails and sweet treats.

Take in the golden skies reflecting over the waterfront as you dine on delicious steak and seafood entrees at Harborside Restaurant in Winter Haven. Photography courtesy of Visit Central Florida.

It’s impossible to not take in the scene when dining in Polk County, which is home to over 550 lakes. Enjoy lakeside dining at Harborside Restaurant, known for its delicious seafood and freshly caught oysters. No matter where you’re dining, there’s always an ease and beauty surrounding Central Florida. And to think all this beauty and adventure is just a short drive away. 

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