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Take a quick trip to these cities near Lakeland

In need of a one-day getaway? We’re sharing our readers’ favorite things to do, see, and eat in towns within a quick drive of Swan City.

LAL-downtown-winter-haven-ritz-theater

Will your travels take you to downtown Winter Haven?

Photo provided by Winter Haven Chamber of Commerce

Table of Contents

If you’ve been reading LALtoday for a while now, you’re probably a Lakeland pro, but have you explored any of our nearby cities?

We’re planning day trip guides to your favorite towns near Swan City that you can reach without having to refill your gas tank. All we need is your favorite activities, restaurants, coffee shops, or attractions. Fill out our survey with your pro tips and can’t-miss attractions in your favorite cities — they might be featured in our guides.

Winter Haven, FL | Photo by @theclevision

Paddle, boat, or swim your way around Winter Haven’s Chain of Lakes.

Photo by @theclevision

Winter Haven

The first stop in our series is Winter Haven, the Chain of Lakes City. It’s home to Polk County’s only theme park and 50 lakes — that’s even more than Lakeland has.

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Winter Haven is known as the Water Ski Capital of the World.

Photo provided by Visit Central Florida

What to do

Winter Haven gets its nickname because of its lakes interconnected by canals, making it the perfect place for getting out on the water. Reader Katie D. recommends booking a tour with The Living Water Boat Cruises to learn the area’s history.

Looking for entertainment? The Cypress Gardens Water Ski Team has been impressing audiences for over 100 years and puts on monthly free shows on Lake Silver. Head downtown for classic movies and concerts at the Historic Ritz Theatre or comedy shows at Laugh Out Lounge.

If you’re visiting with little ones, LEGOLAND Florida is the place to be. Families can ride attractions, splash in the water park, or visit the Peppa Pig Theme Park.

A hand holding a very large hamburger

We also recommend a juicy burger from Adler’s.

Where to eat

You’ll work up an appetite after all that exploring. Reader Zack S. recommends starting the day with coffee from Haven Coffee Roasters and a bite from Honeycomb Bread Bakers.

Reader Sandi C. loves their casual lunch spot: Lucille’s American Café. Other readers recommended Arabellas Ristorante for dinner (Katie D. even called it the best Italian restaurant in Florida).

Toast to a successful day trip with a glass from Grove Roots Brewing or Obscure Wine Company. Winter Haven locals will recommend a visit to Andy’s Igloo for a milkshake or ice cream sundae to enjoy on your way back to Swan City.

A street sign reading "Bartow: City of Oaks and Azaleas" surrounded by fall leaves

Visit Bartow to get your fill of local history.

Photo by @bartowflo

Bartow

Our next day trip takes us to the City of Oaks and Azaleas: Bartow. You might know it as the county seat, but there’s so much more to do and see there, especially for local history buffs.

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The courthouse offers tours and ongoing exhibits.

Screenshot via Google Maps

What to do

There was one activity that our readers recommended more than any other: A stop at the Old Polk County Courthouse, which now serves as the Polk County History Center. Take a tour of its Greek Revival architecture every third Saturday of the month.

After your tour, stick around downtown to do some exploring. Reader Diane C. says, “Don’t miss the secondhand stores along Main Street,” and reader Jan S. loves the “quaint downtown atmosphere.”

There’s no place like home, but these historic houses are worth a visit. Add some mystery to your trip with a tour through reader Gretchen J.'s favorite, the Wonder House, or visit the L.B. Brown House Museum.

A table with four flights of beer at Front Page Brewing Co.

Take flight at Front Page Brewing Co.

Photo by LALtoday

What to eat

If history gets you hungry, our readers have you covered. Start the day off with a cup of coffee at Unfiltered Bartow. Sound familiar? You may have seen its Lakeland location at 801 E. Main St. For a sweet treat, reader Sophia V. recommends gluten-free baked goods at Patty’s Crumbs.

For lunch, reader Diane C. recommends Sweet Magnolia’s Café, where you can’t go wrong with a salad and sandwich combo. When dinner time rolls around, several readers have one spot in mind: Zest Bar and Grill. This new spot specializes in American food and cocktails.

Speaking of cocktails, there are plenty of places to grab a drink. Stop by Front Page Brewing Co. for beer, cocktails, ciders, and other drinks. Want something a little quieter? Head to The Wine Library for a nightcap of wine or sangria to end your Bartow trip.

The back of a downtown building painted with a mural depicting Plant City's history. The sun is setting in the background behind the building. Several benches face the mural, and a walking path in front of them includes a fountain and a sculpture.

Find this mural depicting Plant City’s history behind the Whistle Stop Cafe.

Photo by LALtoday

Plant City

Ready to take a bite out of the Winter Strawberry Capital of the World? Next we’re heading ~20 minutes west of downtown Lakeland to Plant City, a small town rooted in its agricultural history.

The Florida Strawberry Festival at night. Crowds walk between colorful, lit booths selling food like candy apples, lemonade, corndogs, and cotton candy.

Visit the Midway, catch a concert, or eat your favorite fair foods at the Florida Strawberry Festival.

Photo by LALtoday

What to do
The No. 1 thing every Lakelander must do in Plant City is visit the annual Florida Strawberry Festival. Mark your calendar for the 2024 festival happening Thursday, Feb. 29-Sunday, March 10 for world-renowned entertainment, all the strawberry-flavored food you can eat, and thrills on the Midway.

If you’re visiting during the rest of the year, there’s still plenty to explore. Reader Jackie S. says their favorite activity is taking a stroll around town. Reader Crystal P. also recommends going antique shopping — check out The Mercantile, an 18,000-sqft shop. Don’t forget this pro tip for shoppers from Reader Jennifer S. — stores tend to close early.

Plant City is named after railroad tycoon Henry B. Plant. Learn more about railroad history at the Robert W. Willaford Railroad Museum, and watch trains from the Train Viewing Platform.

A strawberry shortcake topped with whipped cream sits on a picnic table at Parkesdale Market. The market is filled with other picnic tables and plants for sale.

Plant City and strawberries go hand in hand.

Photo by LALtoday

What to eat
Get your dose of caffeine at Krazy Kup, a cozy coffee shop recommended by Reader Mark B. If you’re hungry, Mark also tells us to grab breakfast or lunch at Brick House Cafe.

Fans of Strawberry Hut in Lakeland will be pleased to know that it has a Plant City location too. Reader Mary P. suggests this casual spot with seven styles of Cuban sandwiches. Speaking of strawberries, several readers say you can’t leave Plant City without a visit to Parkesdale Market for a strawberry shortcake.

Save room for dinner. Reader Susan K. recommends Fred’s Market “for fresh vegetables and catfish.” Visit the Keel Farms taproom to taste locally made wine, beer, and cider along with upscale pub-style dishes. We also love the new Stage 201 for pizza, especially the deep dish Motown pizza with its cheesy edges.

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