Situated between Orlando and Tampa in Lake Wales lies a special place that’s always worth the drive: Bok Tower Gardens. Set upon 50 acres, the gardens were founded by Edward W. Bok and designed by famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. The iconic 205-foot Singing Tower, winding paths lined with flowers and lush greenery, secret hideaways, Mediterranean estate, and the cute on-site café combine to make Bok Tower Gardens the perfect destination for a date day trip.
I recently revisited this Central Florida sanctuary for a social distanced afternoon in nature. Visiting late morning on a weekday, the parking lot was nearly empty and my companions and I only passed by a few other visitors. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend a visit if you’re itching to get out of the house and spend some time outdoors in a beautiful setting. Plan your own trip with the highlights and tips below.
Note: Face coverings are required when entering the gardens, interacting with staff, and when indoors. For a contactless visit, purchase admission online in advance.
Each time I visit Bok Tower Gardens, I meander from the main paved pathways to explore side trails. Ditching the pavement for a mulched trail typically means less people in sight and discovering neat places. Making a right at the large oval path past the Visitor’s Center and following side trails from there will lead you to spots like the whimsical Hammock Hollow Children’s Garden, Wild Garden (full of native Florida plants), and a boardwalk through wetlands.
While you could certainly ask for a map, I think it’s more fun to just follow random paths and see where you end up. All paths will eventually lead to the garden’s stunning Singing Tower.
While there’s always something in bloom no matter the time of year, the gardens are especially magical during the peak bloom of azalea season. February and March are typically the best time to visit if you want to see hundreds of colorful azaleas and camellias.
Besides the main paved and mulch paths, you’re also free to explore two hiking trails. The Preserve Trail is 1.5 miles long and stretches from the Visitor’s Center to near the entrance gate. The Pine Ridge Trail is shorter at 3/4-mile; you’ll find the trailhead near the Window By the Pond (more on that later).
Standing over 200 feet tall and made of marble and coquina, the Singing Tower, features neo-Gothic and art deco details as well as a captivating brass door at its base. No, you can’t climb to the top, but you can admire the view from various points throughout the gardens. The most popular and photo-worthy view is found at the Reflection Pond, but I also enjoy the view from the back of the tower, flanked with oak trees dripping in Spanish moss.
The tower is also home to a 60-bell carillon, with concerts daily at 1pm and 3pm. You can hear the other-worldly music all throughout the gardens. If you’re visiting between October and May, the concerts are performed live versus recordings.
As you travel to the rear of the tower, you’ll be rewarded with sweeping views of Central Florida. The gardens are located on a hill well above sea level and numerous benches invite you to sit and enjoy the panoramic view.
Most of my favorite “secret” spots throughout Bok Tower Gardens can easily be found on a map of the grounds. But if you ditch the map and follow random paths, you’re likely to stumble upon hidden corners and hideaways you’ll have all to yourself. You may come across a little cabin, entering the threshold to find a picture-perfect view of a quiet pond (if so, you’ve found the Window By the Pond–one of my favorite spots!).
On my most recent visit, I walked around to the back of the Pinewood Estate and crossed the green lawn only to discover a new-to-me spot with a little pond surrounded by a mulched path. There was nobody else in sight, and several benches were placed along the path and by the pond.
Get a little lost and see what you can find.
Blue Palmetto Cafe + Picnicking
Feeling hungry? The on-site Blue Palmetto Cafe is open daily from 9am-5pm. The menu includes hearty options for breakfast and lunch, including breakfast bowls and bagels, yummy salads and sandwiches. Beer and wine are also served and there’s plenty of seating on the outdoor patio. Online ordering is available.
If you’d rather bring your own food and drinks, pack a romantic picnic and a blanket and set up at a picnic at one of the designated picnic areas. You can also set up your picnic anywhere on the grounds, just be respectful of other visitors.
The huge Mediterranean estate home is hard to miss as you make your way towards the Singing Tower. While the estate is currently closed (you can usually add on a self-guided tour for $6/person), you’re free to roam the grounds. Check out the colorful mosaic tiles, paved pathways, and the lush green lawn behind the estate.
During the holidays, the home is decked out with Christmas decor and holiday home tours are offered.
Details + Know Before You Go
Bok Tower Gardens is open daily from 8am-6pm. The last car is admitted at 5pm.
Admission is $15/adult. If you have a Leu Gardens membership, it has reciprocal benefits that grant you free admission to Bok Tower Gardens.
Have a dog? Leashed pups are welcome but an additional $5 entry fee applies.
Bok Tower Gardens
1151 Tower Blvd, Lake Wales
About the Author/Photographer:
Stephanie Patterson is the editor of Orlando Date Night Guide. She’s a talented professional food and travel photographer and writer with a passion for creativity, the beach and great eats. When she’s not taking photos or writing, you can find her exploring the state for her Florida travel blog, Travel Taste Click. Find her online at spattersoncreative.com and traveltasteclick.com.
All images by Stephanie Patterson