How to Spend an Afternoon in Lakeland, Florida

After months of stir-craziness at home, I decided to take a socially distanced day trip to a place I’d never been before. I haven’t felt much like myself throughout the pandemic, so I knew that a quick trip would not only satisfy my wanderlust but also improve my mental health. I decided to keep the trip short, but stick to a place that I’d never been before. That’s how I ended up in Lakeland, Florida.

Located about halfway between Orlando and Tampa, Lakeland is an hour and fifteen minute drive from where I live in Sanford. I’ve passed the Lakeland exits countless times on I-4 when driving across the state, but other than a quick gas station stop, I’ve never stayed for long. Once I arrived, I was pleasantly surprised by how much there was to do.

Whether you’re a tourist visiting the theme parks in Orlando and Tampa, or you live in Central Florida and are up for an adventure, Lakeland just might be exactly what the doctor ordered. Not only is the weather beautiful around this time of year, but there is plenty to do without having to spend a dime. Plus, you can do it all safely in the midst of a pandemic.

Grab an early lunch at The Joinery.

The Joinery is an artisan food hall in Downtown Lakeland, just across from Lake Mirror. On weekends, the place can get pretty crowded, so try to arrive at 11 when they first open. The Joinery offers a variety of cuisines, including burgers, Mediterranean, street tacos, Neapolitan pizza and more. I stopped at Ato for a build-your-own Lil Poké bowl, where there were plenty of gluten-free and vegan options! The weather was perfect for outdoor seating.

Visit Hollis Garden.

Just a stone’s throw away from The Joinery, Hollis Garden is located along Lake Mirror and free to the public. Hollis Garden is a 1.2-acre botanical garden and home to more than 10,000 plants, as well as a koi pond, wedding venue and several sculptures. There was even an unexpected Venus of Willendorf sighting!

Replica of the Venus of Willendorf (left), one of the oldest surviving works of art and a Paleolithic fertility figure

The garden also plays host to weddings throughout the year. You may want to arrive early before the area is roped off completely.

Enjoy the local art.

I was first drawn to Lakeland because of the mural scene! As part of my 30 at 30 Bucket List, my plan has been to explore as much of the Florida Mural Trail as possible this year.

Facing Lake Mirror is the Catapult building, which is home to two murals: CREATE and CULTIVATE (pictured). The CULTIVATE mural is located in the outdoor seating area, while the CREATE one is in the parking lot next to the building. I love getting to experience the work of local artists, so these spots are an absolute must-see!

Surrounding Lake Mirror are several sculptures and installations, including a swan, the Spirit of Volunteerism statue, and more worth exploring.

Pfeiffer Chapel at Florida Southern College, designed by famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright

Check out the Frank Lloyd Wright architecture.

Drive over to Florida Southern College, where several of the buildings were designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, for a collection known as Child of the Sun. The name Child of the Sun was born from the idea that this innovative campus would “grow out of the ground and into the light, a child of the sun,” and I enjoyed experiencing a style totally different from any college campus I’ve ever visited. The College offers guided and self-guided tours in non-pandemic times, and you can learn more about those here.

What suggestions do you have for a day trip to Lakeland? Share your favorites in the comments below!

9 Replies to “How to Spend an Afternoon in Lakeland, Florida”

    1. Thank you so much – you will definitely have to check it out! It was hard to stick to just one place. Lots of good options!

    1. Thank you so much! I used to love doing these kinds of posts pre-pandemic – it’s nice to start getting out again! 🙂

  1. We lived in Lakeland for a year- neat place with lots of parks. Try Peterson Parkin South Lakeland- board walk trails over the lake and the ‘wilder’ trails at Circle B Bar Reserve.

    1. Thank you so much, Sally! I heard good things about the Circle B Bar Reserve. I’ll have to head over that way next time I’m in Lakeland!

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