A Solo Woman Traveler’s Guide: Must-See Things to Do in Lakeland, Florida

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Visit the Florida Southern College Water Dome in Lakeland FL.
Florida Southern College Water Dome. Photo credit: Julie Diebolt Price

The writer was hosted.

While Central Florida might be a place you pass through on your way to Orlando and Walt Disney World, or to the Palm Beaches on the East Coast of Florida, or Tampa, Clearwater, and St. Petersburg on the Gulf Coast, On a recent solo trip, I discovered why that would be a mistake!

It turns out Lakeland Florida and Polk County are a treasure trove of activities, dining options, and budget accommodations. Here, I list the top things to do in Lakeland but my top recommendations are:

  • Marveling at the Frank Lloyd Wright architecture of Florida Southern College
  • Seeing an alligator at Polk’s Nature Discovery Center
  • Hearing the carillon chimes of Bok Tower Gardens

Read More: 14 Central Florida Theme Parks (Not Including Disney World)

The Florida Southern College Sharp Family Tourism and Education Center in Lakeland FL.
Florida Southern College Sharp Family Tourism and Education Center. Photo credit: Julie Diebolt Price

Florida Southern College

Florida Southern College is home to the most extensive single-site collection of Frank Lloyd Wright architecture.

We began our 2.5-hour tour in the Sharp Family Tourism and Education Center. The campus houses 13 Wright structures, including the previously unbuilt Usonian Faculty House, Wright’s largest water feature, the Water Dome, and the iconic Annie Pfeiffer Chapel.

Frank Lloyd Wright thought of everything in his designs. From exterior building angles that cast graphic shadows and planter beds in the sidewalks to the china dishes a resident should use on their dining table, the constructions around the campus exhibit Wright’s trademark architectural elements.

Wright spent the last 20 years of his life working on this project, “Child of the Sun” is the most fully articulated collection of Wright’s work in the world.

Read More: Our Favorite Florida Vacation Ideas for Families

Visit the Bonnet Springs Park AgAmerica Heritage Gardens in Lakeland FL.
Bonnet Springs Park AgAmerica Heritage Gardens. Photo credit: Julie Diebolt Price

Bonnet Springs Park

Bonnet Springs Park is a 650-acre nature preserve and public park in Lakeland. It was established in the late 1990s to protect and preserve a significant area of natural wetlands and uplands threatened by residential and commercial development. Local environmental groups and concerned citizens recognized the area’s ecological value and advocated for its protection.

Polk County and the State of Florida jointly purchased over 600 acres of land in 1997 using funds from various sources, including the Florida Communities Trust program, which provides grants for conservation projects. Additional land acquisitions in subsequent years expanded the park to its current size of around 650 acres.

The park features diverse habitats, including wetlands, marshes, cypress domes, pine flatwoods, and oak hammocks. The park is home to many bird species, reptiles, amphibians, and various plant communities.

Check out the Bonnet Springs Park Nature Center when you visit Lakeland FL.
Bonnet Springs Park Nature Center. Photo credit: Julie Diebolt Price

Visitors (I was one of them) enjoy hiking on nature trails, bird watching, wildlife observation, and environmental education programs offered by the park staff and partner organizations.

The park’s primary purpose is to protect and conserve the natural ecosystems within its boundaries while providing limited public access for recreational and educational purposes.

The park is open from 6 a.m. and closes at dusk.


When I arrived, I had just missed the tram. I didn’t know how long I would have to wait for the next one, so I went to the Welcome Center, which was close to the parking lot. I discovered there are seven tram stops making the circuit frequently until closing.

Take a tram to Bonnet Springs Park Tram in Lakeland FL.
Bonnet Springs Park Tram. Photo credit: Julie Diebolt Price.

Refreshments at Bonnet Springs Park

The Roundhouse Coffee Shop at the Welcome Center is open daily from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and serves Starbucks beverages and breakfast items.

The Depot offers lunch options for the whole family. It opens at 11 a.m., closes at 4 p.m. during the week, and closes at 6 p.m. on weekends.

The Rooftop Garden Bar, located above The Depot, offers a wide selection of wine, beer, cocktails, and stunning sunset views. It’s open from noon until the park closes.

Highlights at Bonnet Springs Park

Tram stops serve these destinations in the Park.

  1. Welcome Center
  2. Florida Children’s Museum & Children’s Resource Center
  3. The Depot
  4. Playground
  5. Event Center
  6. Nature Center
Circle B Bar Reserve Spanish Moss in Banana Creek Marsh. Photo credit: Julie Diebolt Price.

Circle B Bar Reserve

On an early morning in February, I braved the unusually cool temperatures of Central Florida to visit the Circle B Bar Reserve, six miles from Downtown Lakeland. The giant oak trees, artistically draped with Spanish moss and resurrection ferns and backlit by the morning sun, were exquisite as I entered the property.

This 1,267-acre reserve, once a cattle ranch, is now being restored to its wetlands. The wetlands were drained in the 70 years since 1927 to make the land more productive for cattle ranching. In 2000, the Polk County Board of County Commissioners and Southwest Florida Water Management District purchased the property in order to restore the Banana Creek Marsh.

Visit the Polk Nature Discovery Center Boardwalk in Lakeland FL.
Polk Nature Discovery Center Boardwalk. Photo credit: Julie Diebolt Price.

The project is ongoing and has visible progress for visitors. Miles of nature trails through wildlife habitats bring the wilderness up close and personal. While there, I spotted two bald eagles and their nest high up in the trees. Countless waterfowl preened and stretched in the morning sun. I spied alligators and turtles in the water, American kestrels, and sandhill cranes. In 2008, the Reserve became part of the Great Florida Birding Trail.

Trails at Circle B Bar Reserve

  1. Acorn Pass – 0.2 mi
  2. Alligator Alley – 1.2 mi
  3. Longleaf Lane – 0.8 mi
  4. Eagle Roost – 0.7 mi
  5. Fort Fraser Connector Trail – 0.6 mi
  6. Heron Hideout – 0.3 mi
  7. Lake Trek – 0.5 mi
  8. Lost Bridge Trail – 0.7 mi
  9. Marsh Rabbit run – 0.7 mi
  10. Shady Oak – 0.7 mi
  11. Treefrog Trail – 0.6 mi
  12. Wading Bird Way – 0.7 mi
  13. Windmill Whisper – 0.4 mi
Amazing interiors of Polk’s Nature Discovery Center in Lakeland FL.
Polk’s Nature Discovery Center Interior. Photo credit: Julie Diebolt Price

Polk’s Nature Discovery Center

The exhibit hall at Polk’s Nature Discovery Center is an exciting, hands-on center with information about Polk County’s water and natural resources. Volunteer rangers are available to answer questions, and you can sign up for nature workshops and monthly activities here.

Dont end you visit to Lakeland FL without a visit to the Circle B Bar Reserve Alligator Alley.
Circle B Bar Reserve Alligator Alley. Photo credit: Julie Diebolt Price

No trip to Florida is complete with an alligator sighting or two.

Bok Tower and Gardens

If you are looking for day trips from Lakeland, Bok Tower and Gardens, located about 35 miles southeast of Lakeland in Lake Wales, should be on your itinerary. Make a day of it; there’s a restaurant serving delicious meals. If you’re traveling with family, you’ll find plenty of activities for kids.

Bok Tower Gardens was voted Florida’s best garden and is a National Historic Landmark.

The Bok Tower in Lakeland FL.
Bok Tower. Photo credit: Julie Diebolt Price

Attractions at Bok Tower Gardens

Hammock Hollow Children’s Garden

Cooling water features, vibrant plantings, a boardwalk, play areas with climbing features, a stage for child performers, and space to dig, build, create, and explore reside in Hammock Hollow.

The Pine Ridge Nature Preserve

One of the few remaining longleaf pine-turkey oak habitats is in the Pine Ridge Nature Preserve. Many of the plant species here are unique to the region.

Singing Tower Carillon

Remembering the carillon music from his childhood in the Netherlands, Founder Edward Bok commissioned the Singing Tower to be the focal point of the gardens. The Taylor Carillon has 60 bells that weigh from 16 pounds to nearly 12 tons. Carillon music fills the Gardens every 30 minutes; concerts are featured daily at 1 and 3 p.m.

When I was there, the magical sounds of the bells were captivating and followed me as I enjoyed the grounds. A sign at the locked gate to the Tower announced, “Meet the carillonneur here following the performance.”

Pinewood Estate

Pinewood Estate, a 20-room 1930s mansion with Mediterranean-style architecture, was originally built as the winter retreat of Bethlehem Steel executive C. Austin Buck. You can take a self-guided walking tour daily.

Blue Palmetto Café

The Blue Palmetto Café offers a wide selection of salads, sandwiches, wraps, paninis, Hebrew National hot dogs, PB&J sandwiches, and vegan options.

Enjoy some salad at Blue Palmetto Café in Lakeland FL.
Lunch Salad at Blue Palmetto Café. Photo credit: Julie Diebolt Price

The Gardens

Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. designed the historic landscape garden as a contemplative and informal woodland setting with romantic recesses, tranquil resting spots, and breathtaking views of the Tower.

Check out the Bok Tower and Gardens in Lakeland FL.
Bok Tower and Gardens. Photo credit: Julie Diebolt Price

Chain of Lakes

The Chain of Lakes is a group of 50 lakes; 24 of these lakes are connected by canals, forming a chain. The northern chain extends across Winter Haven, Lake Alfred, and Lake Hamilton. The southern chain is within Winter Haven.

Take cruises from the Living Water Boat Cruises Dock in Winter Haven in Lakeland FL.
The Living Water Boat Cruises Dock in Winter Haven. Photo credit: Julie Diebolt Price.

There’s no better way to experience the Chain of Lakes than on a pontoon boat cruising the canals and lakes. Living Water Boat Cruises, rated #1 in outdoor activities in Winter Haven by TripAdvisor, delivered a detailed cruise with interesting commentary at destinations along the way.

Check out the Lake Eloise Canal in Winter Haven in Lakeland FL.
Lake Eloise Canal in Winter Haven. Photo credit: Julie Diebolt Price

We saw ospreys, white ibis, otters, jet skis, boaters, fishermen, million-dollar homes, a Gilligan’s Island TV set, and alligators. We cruised in Lake Eloise, the biggest lake in Winter Haven, where water skiing became famous. Cypress Gardens, now home to Legoland, was where the Pope family entertained guests on the lake with their water-skiing prowess.

Visit the Legoland and Gilligan’s Island when you go to Lakeland FL.
Legoland and Gilligan’s Island. Photo credit: Julie Diebolt Price

Downtown Lakeland

While waiting for my dinner reservation at Nineteen 61, I strolled across the street to enjoy the fascinating lights displayed on the trees in Munn Park.

The amazing night life of the Downtown Lakeland Munn Park in Lakeland FL.
Downtown Lakeland Munn Park. Photo credit: Julie Diebolt Price

Munn Park Historic District, named for the city’s founder, Abraham Munn, is a United States historic district containing 48 historic buildings.

More Fun Things To Do in Lakeland

Florida Air Museum

The Florida Air Museum features a collection of airplanes that is a tribute to the history and joy of flight. The Museum provides year-round educational experiences for all ages.

Hollis Garden

Highly rated by TripAdvisor, Hollis Garden is a formal 1.2-acre public botanical garden in historic Lake Mirror Park. The manicured grounds are a photographer’s delight because of more than 10,000 flowers, gorgeous fountains, piped-in music, and a picturesque view of Lake Mirror.

Lake Morton

Another TripAdvisor top-rated activity is a visit to Lake Morton. A short walk from Lake Mirror, Hollis Garden, and the Polk Museum of Art, Lake Morton is home to the city’s iconic royal swans. The swans are descendants of the original pair obtained from Queen Elizabeth in 1957.

Lake Hollingsworth

Named after pioneer John Henry Hollingsworth, Lake Hollingsworth is a small 350-acre lake near the center of Lakeland. The Lake-to-Lake Trail is a favorite biking and walking path.

Polk Theatre

Built during the Golden Age, the historic Polk Theatre was home to vaudeville and movies in 1928.

The theatre was called “atmospheric” because it simulated a natural setting with twinkling stars and a sunrise and sunset effect.

The Historic Polk Theatre has survived the Depression, World War II, competition from television and entertainment centers, and even population growth in the downtown area. In 1982, a non-profit group was formed to save the Polk, and today, classic films and other performances keep it alive.

Fantasy of Flight

A large hangar filled with vintage aircraft from several aviation eras, Fantasy of Flight, is located in Polk City, only 20 minutes from Lakeland.

The Yard on Mass

Lakeland’s favorite backyard, The Yard on Mass, is open Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings. It offers gourmet food trucks, craft drinks, and live music by local bands. It’s a kid and pet-friendly place to eat, dance, and enjoy the night outdoors.

Safari Wilderness

The Safari Wilderness Ranch is not a zoo or an amusement park. Over 260 acres of pristine wilderness provide the setting for grazing animals within an 870 square mile watershed (The Green Swamp) and offer a unique safari experience.

You can choose your safari by vehicle, kayak, or camel. Optional extras include feeding lemurs, budgies, and guinea pigs.

TripAdvisor rated Safari Wilderness #1 in outdoor activities in Lakeland and “Top Ten” in Fodor’s Travel Safaris in the U.S., making it an exotic and wild adventure.

Lakeland Flying Tigers

If baseball is your thing, you can take in a home game of the Lakeland Flying Tigers baseball team at Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium.

A Minor League baseball team of the Florida State League, the Lakeland Flying Tigers are the Single-A affiliate of the Detroit Tigers.

For the 59th consecutive season in 2024, the Detroit Tigers returned to Lakeland for Spring Training at Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium.

Silver Moon Drive-In Theatre

For over 75 years, the Silver Moon Drive-In Theatre has served Lakeland with first-run movies, two screens, and double features all nights of the week.

You can listen to the movie through your FM car radio.

The Snack Bar serves all the popular concession foods like popcorn, pizza, jumbo hot dogs, corn dogs, mozzarella sticks, nachos, pickles, pretzels, ice cream, candy, and cotton candy. If you need your thirst quenched, the Snack Bar serves Pepsi, Gatorade, Bud/Bud Light beer, bottled water, Yoo Hoo, and coffee.

If you want to get comfortable, you can buy a short-sleeved T-shirt, mosquito wipes, and coils.

Where To Stay in Lakeland


When I visited Lakeland, I stayed at the Home2Suites by Hilton in Lakeside Village. It is located in the shopping center, where fine and casual dining is convenient. It is close to I-4 and Polk Parkway and 10 minutes to downtown. The RP Funding Center, Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium, Family Fun Center, and Sun ‘N Fun Air Museum are within six to 12 minutes away.

Dine and rest in Home2Suites by Hilton Accommodations when you are in Lakeland FL.
Home2Suites by Hilton Accommodations. Photo credit: Julie Diebolt Price.

I liked that Grillsmith Restaurant in Lakeside Village was a short walk from the hotel, and the washers and dryers in the laundry room were available for guests.

The Terrace Hotel

The Terrace Hotel Lakeland, Tapestry Collection by Hilton, is conveniently located within walking distance of many downtown Lakeland destinations. Lake Mirror is a three-minute walk, the Polk Museum of Art is a 15-minute walk, and Lakeland Station is a four-minute walk from the hotel.

Where To Eat in Lakeland


Grillsmith, located in the Lakeside Village Shopping Center, boasts an extensive craft cocktail menu my waiter walked me through in great detail. They had my favorite red wine, so I went no further.

Because I like to try a restaurant’s signature dish, I ordered the Port Wine Filet Mignon. We agreed to medium rare with the caveat that I could return it to the kitchen for the chef to grill it a little longer if necessary. When the filet was delivered to my table, a little too rare for me, they gladly took it back for more time on the grill. The meat came back done to perfection, and I enjoyed it along with the vegetables of the day.

Enjoy mouth watering delicacies from such as the Grillsmith Signature Dish–Filet Mignon and Sides in Lakeland FL.
Grillsmith Signature Dish–Filet Mignon and Sides. Photo credit: Julie Diebolt Price


Nineteen61, located in Downtown Lakeland across from Munn Park, is an upscale restaurant serving Latin American cuisine with a modern twist.

I ordered the signature dish–Seafood Paella—a traditional Spanish seafood paella with bay scallops, lobster, shrimp, clams, Calasparra rice, cantimpalo chorizo, bell pepper, onion, peas, saffron, sofrito, and cilantro. It was delicious and very pleasing to the eye.

Enjoy a Nineteen61 Signature Dish–Seafood Paella when you visit Lakeland FL.
Nineteen61 Signature Dish–Seafood Paella. Photo credit: Julie Diebolt Price

The dessert was a three-layer tower of Tres Leches cake. I love 3D dishes!

The Nineteen61 Tres Leches only in Lakeland FL.
Nineteen61 Tres Leches. Photo credit: Julie Diebolt Price


After my pontoon boat tour of the Chain of Lakes docked, I immediately went to dinner at the Harborside Restaurant. It has a terrific view of the lake and is an excellent destination for sunsets.

Dine at the Harborside Restaurant in Lakeland FL.
Harborside Restaurant. Photo credit: Julie Diebolt Price.

I ordered the Signature Crab Cake, a baked potato, and ColeSlaw. It was a fitting end to a wonderful water experience.

A Harborside Signature Dish–Crab Cake Dinner in Lakeland FL
Harborside Signature Dish–Crab Cake Dinner. Photo credit: Julie Diebolt Price.

Final Thoughts

Central Florida is a destination to visit for outdoor activities, history, and unique experiences for solo female travelers, baby boomers, and families alike.

Julie Diebolt Price is an award-winning professional photographer, educator, author, and travel writer. She writes about two things – photography and travel (along with a little food and beverage). Julie educates and mentors aspiring photographers. As a journalist who loves to travel, she creates memorable experiences and shares them with words and pictures.
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