While strolling through Central Florida’s many museums and art corridors, it becomes clear that culture is an important part of the area’s identity. Immersing yourself in the local culture will not only give your visit an authentic feeling, but also provide you with immense enjoyment and unforgettable experiences.
Town of Murals
Known as the “Town of Murals,” Lake Placid features more than 40 colorful murals within its historic outdoor art gallery. This small, Old Florida town is also known for its American Clown Museum and School. Soak in the culture in nearby Avon Park at the Museum of Florida Art and Culture and the Alan Jay Wildstein Center for the Performing Arts, both on the Avon campus of South Florida State College.
Standing tall on Iron Mountain, Bok Tower in Lake Wales has been a fan favorite since 1929. It boasts one of the greatest works of famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., and a 205-foot neo-Gothic and art-deco “singing tower” that houses one of the world’s finest carillons. Its 60 bells ring every half hour.
Tour Pinewood Estate, a 20-room Mediterranean-style home built in the 1930s, nestled among a spectacular collection of ferns, palms, camellias and magnolias. Follow the River of Stone—a mosaic pathway composed of more than 100,000 hand-selected pebbles—to the 2.7-acre hands-on Children’s Garden, an outdoor kitchen and a farm-to-table edible garden.Afterward, enjoy lunch at the Blue Palmetto Café.
Who would guess that the largest concentration of Frank Lloyd Wright designs in the world is in Lakeland, Florida? The legendary architect oversaw and designed the construction of 12 structures, including his only planetarium, on the campus of Florida Southern College.From September through June, the college also hosts the Festival of Fine Arts, featuring a calendar of musical, theatrical and dance performances as well as art exhibits.
A little-known fun culture stop in Lake County is the Presidents Hall of Fame in Clermont. Life-sized wax statues of Presidents George W. Bush, Franklin Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln greet visitors, who learn all about the 44 U.S. Presidents and their first ladies. The museum also features a miniature White House—the 10-ton replica was formerly on display at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. The intricate details of the Oval Office, Lincoln’s bedroom and other legendary rooms are incredible.
In Lakeland, Polk Museum of Art features a sculpture garden and a substantial collection of contemporary, African, American, Asian, European and pre-Columbian art.
The City of Orlando is now home to the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, which hosts Broadway shows, concerts and community events in the heart of downtown.
North of downtown, the Orlando Museum of Art, the Orlando Science Center, Orlando Shakespeare Theater, Orlando Repertory Theatre and Mennello Museum of American Art are all conveniently located in the same culture complex, the 45-acre Loch Haven Park. Nearby, Harry P. Leu Gardens and Leu House Museum are part of a 50-acre botanical park created as gardens in 1936. Stroll pathways past 50 varieties of azaleas, 50 species of bamboo, 2,000 camellia plants and 50 kinds of citrus trees. The house, built in 1858by Orlando pioneers Angeline and David W. Mizell, is open for daily tours.
Downtown Orlando’s Arts District is a hip little neighborhood housing a handful of art galleries, public art installations and shops. The Third Thursday Gallery Hop is an ideal time to wander through the district.The nearby Orange County Regional History Center provides a glimpse into the area’s colorful past.
Mad Cow Theatre, which has been one of Orlando’s best professional theater companies for more than a decade, recently moved to its new home in the Church Street District, making it all the more appealing for a night out on the town.
While in the area, visit the Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Garden, a lovely lakeside historical site featuring the work of Czech sculptor Albin Polasek, as well as a small collection of art in the gallery inside Polasek’s former home.
In artsy Winter Park, The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art is the world showcase for everything Tiffany, with the most comprehensive collection of works by Louis Comfort Tiffany, as well as a major collection of American art, pottery, painting, graphics and decorative art.For the oldest and most distinguished collections in Florida, the Cornell Fine Arts Museum at Rollins College is a must-see.
A visit to historic Winter Garden is a step back in time. Once the bustling center of Central Florida and the largest citrus shipping point in the world, artifacts found around Lake Apopka indicate that Native Americans inhabited the land for thousands of years before the colonization of Florida by Spanish explorers. The Garden Theatre, built in 1935, was restored to its true Mediterranean Revival style in 2008.
For a fun way to enjoy culture, join a pedal-powered party through historic Sanford on a 15-passenger Limo Cycle. Sit a spell in a rocker on the porch overlooking beautiful Lake Dora at The Lakeside Inn in Mount Dora, circa 1883. Enjoy the quiet while sipping iced tea, just as past visitors Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and U.S. Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and Calvin Coolidge have done.
At Kissimmee’s Pioneer Village & Museum, visitors explore late-1800s American homestead life. Exhibits include an authentic homestead and citrus packinghouse, a general store, a schoolhouse and a blacksmith shop(osceolahistory.org).
The Melon Patch Theatre in Leesburg openedin 1955 and continues to provide family-friendly theatrical musicals, comedies and plays.
Ocala Civic Theatre, the second largest theater in Florida, hosts musicals and dramas, while the city’s Appleton Museum of Art is one of the premier fine art repositories in the southern states.
As you can see, Central Florida is immersed in art and culture. Which spots will you visit first?
Now it’s your turn! Which places have you been? Where do you want to go? Please share your thoughts and experiences with us all!