Some of Florida’s best places to visit are found in the heart of the state. And if you’re searching for a little peace and serenity, look no further than Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales.
The 250 acres of tranquility got their start in the 1920s when magazine editor Edward W. Bok decided to transform one of the highest hills in Florida into “a spot of beauty second to none in the country.” He commissioned famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., to design the rambling grounds. Hundreds of azaleas, live oaks, sabal palms, magnolias and fruit shrubs were planted as well as acres of ferns, pines and wetland plants. Most of the original grounds can be enjoyed by the public today. Well laid-out walking trails meander throughout the property, allowing visitors to enjoy nature just as Bok intended.
The crown jewel of the sanctuary is a 205-foot Gothic Revival tower constructed of pink marble and coquina stone. While not open to the public, the tower is something to behold. A massive brass door depicting the story of Creation can be viewed on the front side of the tower.
According to exhibits inside the Bok museum, the tower houses the largest carillon library in the world. But it’s at the top where the magic happens. A 60-bell carillon plays every hour and can be heard throughout the property. Longer recitals are often performed at least a couple times a day. If the weather cooperates, visitors can view what’s going on inside the playing room of the tower via a video monitor set up underneath a canopy of trees. For most who come to Bok Tower Gardens, this is the highlight of their visit.
Bok Tower Gardens is about a 35-minute drive from Kissimmee. Follow the signs from US Highway 27 once you get into Lake Wales. There is a nominal admission charge, but it’s well worth it, especially if you plan on spending the entire day. Many people bring their own picnic lunches and feast beneath the trees. There’s also a small cafe and gift shop on the premises.