One attraction that has been on my bucket list for a while is the Bok Tower Garden in Lake Wales, Florida. This stunning tower was built in 1929 and has impressed visitors ever since it’s impressive architecture and daily singing concerts. Though the tower is the main centerpiece, you an spend a full day at the Bok Tower Gardens with nature trails, an estate and the visitors center to explore.
We spent a day here in April 2021 and were extremely impressed by the entire experience. This post will walk through how we spent the day and everything to know before going! Hopefully you will learn a little about this Florida landmark and maybe it will entice you to visit the Bok Tower Gardens for yourself!
Where is Bok Tower Gardens in Florida?
The Bok Tower Gardens are located in Lake Wales, Florida, which is about sixty miles south of Orlando and east of Tampa. The closest city is Lakeland and the Winter Haven area, so it is understandable out of the way for many. Most parts of Central Florida should expect at least an hour and a half drive to get here, which does sound daunting, but it is definitely worth it!
For visitors and locals, I recommend experiencing the Bok Towers Gardens for a daytrip. This is because there aren’t a ton of great hotel options nearby and plenty of other places in Florida better for staying at. However, if you happen to be in Lakeland or LEGOLAND, I definitely recommend making a trip over while you are in the area. The Bok Tower Gardens are by far the main attraction in Lake Wales, Florida.
Highlights and History
Once you pass through the gate for the Bok Tower Gardens, you start your journey at the visitor’s center, complete with café and gift shop. This is a convenient spot to get a map and learn about the different parts of the Bok Tower Gardens. It was established by Edward W. Bok and designed by Frederick Law Olmstead Jr. as a gift to the American people in the late 1920’s.
The center point is of course the 205-foot marble and coquina singing tower. Every day at 1 and 3 PM the tower plays music with its 60-bell carillon and you can enjoy it throughout the garden. You will want to spend at least an hour walking around the tower and enjoying the koi pond and views. However, there are a few other attractions to check out too. I’ve included a map of the Bok Tower Gardens below!
How Long Does it Take to Tour the Bok Tower Gardens?
Because of the many areas to explore, you should plan to spend at least 4 hours here. It takes about 2 hours to fully tour the Bok Tower Gardens, but that would be at a fast pace. In addition to the singing tower, the Pinewood Estate and Gardens is another big highlight. I absolutely love the Mediterranean feel of this area which surprisingly works well here. There are also the Olmstead Landscape Garden, the Pollinator Garden and the Wild Garden to peruse. These each feature unique, native Florida plant life. And for those who like hiking, make sure you go for a walk on the ¾ of a mile Pine Ridge Preserve Trail.
If you are visiting with kids, make sure to spend a lot of time at the Hammock Hollow Children’s area. We did not check it out because dogs aren’t allowed, but it is a large area with structures to climb and play on and has a big sand box too. If you want food or a refreshment, you can visit the Palmetto Café at the front. You can see a picture of the Bok Tower Gardens café menu below!
Our Experience at the Bok Tower Gardens
We actually visited the Bok Tower Gardens for my birthday! It was a beautiful spring day and we were looking for something we could do with our puppy Kiwi. After some initial whining, he was pretty good for the two hours car ride and we made it to Lake Wales just before 11.
With the tower looming right past the entrance gate, we were eager to start our day seeing it up close. We first made our way up the main path to take in the view at the reflection pool vista. Quickly I realized that the incline is much steeper than I am used to in Florida and I was surprised to learn that the tower sits on Iron Mountain. This is 298 feet above sea level and apparently one of the highest points on the Florida peninsula is home to the Bok Tower! Not only do you get stunning views of the tower, but also some pretty views of the town below.
Once at the top, we enjoyed taking pictures and feeding the koi in the pond. It was especially fun to Kiwi’s reaction to these colorful creatures. You can’t go in the tower, but there is tons of room to sit and walk around it. We did not run into any issues with crowds luckily since Covid-19 is still rampant in Florida. I am not sure if this is because we went on a weekday or just by nature of the amount of space. Regardless, masks were required in the visitor’s center area and only in areas where one can’t be socially distant in the gardens. We found most people to be compliant.
After our initial walk through, it was time for our picnic lunch. There is the Palmetto Café here with food for purchase or you can use their tables and chairs for your own lunch. However, there is also a large grassy area with picnic tables near the parking lot. We sat here because the grass seemed better for Kiwi. We had a lovely picnic cheese plate and salad and could hear the Singing Tower carillon concert while we had lunch.
After our lunch, Andrew and I wanted to explore the other parts of the Bok Tower Gardens. Since Kiwi is still little, we put him in his K9 Sport Sack so he could relax. It was hilarious to see everyone’s reaction to our pup in his backpack! We walked through the endangered plant gardens, which included some rare Florida native plants and up to the Pine Ridge Preserve Nature Trail. This ¾ mile walk is perfect for bird watching and getting a workout, but I would not recommend taking this mini hike in the heat of the day like we did!
After that, we checked out the Pinewood Estate, A Mediterranean Revival Mansion where the Austin Buck, the vice president of Bethlehem Steel resides in the 1930’s. It is still kept to this design and is quite the trip back in time to see! Though, we could not enter the mansion due to Covid, the grounds alone were worth exploring, with many areas to peer into.
We ended the day relaxing on the Exedra and Sunset Overlook. Because of dinner plans we were not there for sunset, but it was a gorgeous view nonetheless. On the way out, I picked up a new flower pot from the garden focused gift shop. It was the perfect way to memorialize our day!
Events and More
A visit to the Bok Tower Gardens is an event in itself, but there are also a variety of unique events that take place here all year long. Their Facebook page is always shows the seasonal events that take place here. One item on my bucket list is to do yoga at the Bok Tower Gardens! This takes place at least once a month, along with other health focuses events such as a 5K, cooking classes and Nature Adventurer classes for kids. Concerts are another frequent occasion here that often occur on Friday evenings for a small admission fee.
The holidays are an extra special time here as well. Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, much of the garden is festively decorated with poinsettias, trees and a Christmas critter scavenger hunt. The singing tower carillon and the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra perform holiday classics as well!
If you want to hold your own event, this can be arranged with wedding and special event options for up to 200 guests. There are a variety of gorgeous settings for a ceremony, reception and of course photos. The exhibit hall and the outdoor kitchen are also great for parties and functions as well. Of course, if you want a simple Bok Tower Gardens birthday picnic like I had, you can bring as many friends as you want for only the price of admission!
Know Before You Go: Visiting the Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales, Florida
If you want a relaxing day in nature, the Bok Tower Gardens is an excellent spot for an Orlando daytrip. You can spend at least 5 hours here touring the gardens and estate, enjoying a picnic and taking pictures of and observing nature. I recommend visiting between October and May, when it isn’t so hot and rainy, although there is plenty of shade. Here are a few other tips to remember before your visit.
- The Bok Tower Gardens hours are 8 AM to 6 PM daily, with the exception of Thanksgiving and Christmas, when it opens at 10 AM.
- Admission to the Bok Tower Gardens currently costs $15 for adults, $5 for children 5-12 and $5 for dogs. There is no senior discount, but children under 5 and active-duty military receive free admission at the Bok Tower Gardens.
- Parking is free and plentiful at the Bok Tower Gardens.
- You can book private tours, field trips and weddings at the Bok Tower Gardens, as well as other special events.
- Food and drinks are available at the Blue Palmetto Café. You can also bring your own outside food and beverages. There are plenty of tables and grassy spots for picnics all around
- Applications for volunteers at the gardens are available if you would like to help.
Have you been to the Bok Tower Gardens before? Let me know what you thought if you have! For more ideas for things to do in Florida, check out my Ultimate Bucket List and my Favorite Vacation Spots Guide!