Plan a quick day trip to Lake Wales, an old Florida town surrounded by rolling hills of citrus trees and filled with charming diversions. Less than an hour from downtown Orlando, Lake Wales is accessible by exiting I4 at exit 55 and traveling south on US Hwy 27 for about 20 miles. There isn’t a lot to take note of on route — a few citrus stands, antique/flea markets and the Davidson of Dundee candy and citrus store — but the journey along the two, sometimes three-lane highway is quick.
Make your first stop off Hwy 27 at Chalet Suzanne, a world-famous inn and restaurant that opened in 1931 and still thrives today. Make a left at Chalet Suzanne Road and travel just one mile to Chalet Suzanne Drive, a winding path that drops you at the foot of this 100-acre estate. 26 whimsical cottages and rooms dot the landscape, each with its own name on the colorful door and its own distinctive decor. Stay the night, if you can, or just stop in for breakfast, lunch or dinner at the quaint restaurant perched on the shores of a pretty little lake. Chalet Suzanne’s infamous Romaine Soup has been served in all the Governors’ Mansions and has traveled to the moon on three different missions during the 1970′s as an astronaut favorite. The soup is canned on-site (make sure to visit the cannery) and souvenir cans of several soup varieties are available in the gift shop for you to take home.
Next, hop back on Hwy 27 and drive south for another 3 miles until you see the gargantuan Florida Naturals orange juice plant on your left. On your right, there is a great little visitor’s center which offers free grove tours, juice tastings, and a short little film about the history of orange production in the Lake Wales area. Polk County is the largest citrus producing region in Florida shipping more than 27.9 million boxes of oranges, grapefruit and tangerines around the country and the world during the 2009-10 season. Each citrus fruit that goes into every bottle and carton of Florida Naturals’ juice is grown in the Lake Wales area. The visitor center is opened every day but Sunday. Call ahead because it closes seasonally on Saturdays too.
Just a few miles away, your next stop is Bok Tower Gardens (formerly Historic Bok Sanctuary), which is open every day from 8am until 5pm. The site’s main focal point is the 205 foot Singing Tower that stands at the center of acres of gardens. 60 bronze bells at the top of the tower play the tunes heard through this peaceful locale. Listen to the concert every thirty minutes as you meander through the picturesque gardens filled with hundreds of varieties of Florida flora. No matter what time of year you visit, there is always something beautiful in bloom.
Before you head back on the highway, make a quick stop at Lake Wales’ historic downtown home to 32 stores and 10 restaurants. Getting around Lake Wales is way — almost everything is off Hwy 27 and the entire town has handy little signs everywhere guiding visitors to its main attractions. Plan to spend about six hours exploring one of Florida’s best old towns.