A Day Trip to Bok Tower Gardens
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Situated between Tampa and Orlando in Lake Wales lies a special place that’s always worth the drive: Bok Tower Gardens. 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 from Tampa.

Set upon 50 acres, the gardens were founded by Edward W. Bok and designed by famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., who designed Central Park as well as the Biltmore.

This Central Florida sanctuary is perfect for an afternoon in nature. I visit on a regular basis anytime I’m itching to get out of the house and spend time outdoors in a beautiful setting. Plan your trip, after all, it’s only about an hour from Tampa Bay, with my expert tips.

Updated regularly, most recent update April 2024 by Meghan Roth

Walking Paths

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.

Mulched paths at Bok Tower Gardens
Mulched path at Bok Tower Gardens

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.

Peak bloom during azalea season

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).

Singing Tower

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 Singing Tower at Bok Tower Gardens
The Singing Tower

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 298 feet above sea level and numerous benches invite you to sit and enjoy the panoramic view.

“Secret” Spots

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.

While exploring, 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!).

After you’ve visited the Window By the Pond, exit and follow the mulched path on your left. Before reaching the Endangered Plant Garden, instead take the small mulched path on your left, which will lead you to this gorgeous little seating platform with two wooden chairs overlooking the Wild Garden.

One of my favorite secret spots at Bok Tower Gardens

I also love walking around to the back of the Pinewood Estate. Cross the green lawn and discover this tranquil little pond surrounded by a mulched path. There’s typically nobody else in this area and several benches are placed along the path offering a relaxing respite.

Get a little lost and see what you can find.

Cross the green lawn behind Pinewood Estate to find this secluded hideaway.

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.

The cafe can also package your meal to go, to be enjoyed anywhere on the grounds.

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.

Pinewood Estate

The huge Mediterranean estate home is hard to miss as you make your way toward the Singing Tower. Originally named “El Retiro,” meaning “retreat” in Spanish, the home was built for Charles Austin Buck, a Bethlehem Steel executive. To preserve this architectural, cultural, and historic landmark, El Retiro was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.

During the holidays, the home is decked out with Christmas decor and holiday home tours are offered.

Admission to El Retiro is $10 per adult ($5 children ages 6-17) and general admission to Bok Tower Gardens is required.

Pinewood Estate

Details + Know Before You Go

Bok Tower Gardens is open daily from 8am-6pm. The last car is admitted at 5pm. The Gardens are closed on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day.

Admission is $20/adult. General admission tickets do not include a tour of El Retiro. Combo admission is $30 for adults.

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 $10 entry fee applies.

Bok Tower Gardens
1151 Tower Blvd, Lake Wales

All images credit of Stephanie Patterson