Archive For The “Florida Landmarks” Category

Matlacha Florida – A Tiny Artist Enclave


Leoma Lovegrove Outdoor Art Gallery in Colorful Matlacha Florida on Pine Island

Leoma Lovegrove Outdoor Art Gallery in Matlacha Florida


Matlacha — Man, You Gotta Love This Artsy Place!

If it’s a bustling, barefoot-on-the-beach kind of Florida vacation you’re looking for, you’ve made a wrong turn!  Matlacha (pronounced: MAT-la-shay) is a teeny tiny little town off the southwest coast of Florida, on Pine Island.  This awesome artist enclave is on a spit of land only 0.2 sq. miles; (I know, I know, my walk-in shower is almost that size!).  The population is a minuscule 735, during high season!

The name Matlacha comes from a Caloosa (Indian) word meaning “water to the chin,” and there are scrapbooks of local history all over the island.  In its former life Matlacha was a commercial fishery, but that ended in 1992 with a voter-led ban on net fishing.  Hence, the small shacks the fishermen once called home have been refurbished and are now occupied by a highly regarded artists community.



A Pee-wee Sized Place!
Every single day, as many people move into Florida as the entire population of Matlacha.


A Bright-Colored Bicycle On The Beach On Pine Island Florida

A Bright-Colored Bicycle On The Beach


A Matlacha Mindset: Island Time Begins Here!

I grew up in a tiny town in Central Pennsylvania — Amish country, where there were more farms than families.  Truth be told, I always thought my hometown was tiny… until I discovered Matlacha!

Matlacha is one of those rare “Old Florida” style spots — a quiet, secluded, off-the-beaten-path place that you visit on purpose.  There’s a sign at the Bridgewater Inn that says, “Island Time Begins Here.”  So true!  I noticed there were no traffic lights, no schools, nor any churches on this tiny isle.  And, the town-folk never seemed to be in a hurry.  In Matlacha, time changes more slowly than the Florida I have come to know.

Hubby and I discovered this tiny treasure in November, while staying in Cape Coral about 20 minutes away.  The longer I live in Florida, (18 years now), the less desire I have for those popular touristy towns. Oh sure, I still renew my Annual Disney Pass every year.  But at times I crave the simple, delightful pleasures of God’s handiwork more than man-made Disney magic.

In Matlacha, I’ve replaced monorails with mangroves, concrete and blacktop with island boutiques and bungalows, and skyscrapers with seawater and sailboats — secluded soul-searching at its best!  As a writer, if One can’t find inspiration and motivation here, they may as well give up the proverbial pen!  For example: I photographed the “Bicycle on the Beach” (photo above) on the road from Matlacha to Pine Island.  It perfectly captured the atmosphere of this tiny sub-tropical island oasis!  To me, the essence of Matlacha can be conveyed with just this single still image.  If a picture is worth a thousand words, here’s the first few that came to mind… slow, simplistic and sensational!  In fact, Matlacha Florida is one of those rare things that hasn’t been over-exposed in the Sunshine State.


The Many Colors of Matlacha!

The Many Colors of Matlacha!


A Funky, Colorful Artist Community

Matlacha is a tiny town with HUGE talent!  If fun and quirky is embedded in your DNA, and you have a flare for the unusual, this tiny quadrant of land is for you.  Most times, if you blink while passing through something this small you will miss it.  Not so with Matlacha.  This place is so bold and bright you could see it with your eyes tightly closed at night!  Southern Living Magazine says: “This colorful coastal village looks as if someone flew over South Florida and dropped a crayon box!”

The town of Matlacha may be tiny, but the creativity on display is humongous.  A multitude of authors, musicians, and artists call Matlacha home.  It didn’t take long to figure out this is Florida’s quintessential quaint spot for recharging your artistic batteries.  It didn’t surprise me then to hear that famous people like Jimmy Buffet are part-time residents.  (Yes, this place makes Key West look like a major metropolis.) Remember the Elvis Presley movie, “Follow That Dream?”  Well, numerous scenes were shot in Florida, including one around the Matlacha bridge.


Leoma Lovegrove Art Gallery in Matlacha Florida

Leoma Lovegrove Art Gallery in Matlacha


Wild Child Art Gallery on Matlacha Island in Florida

Wild Child Art Gallery on Matlacha Island


Frills Women's Boutique on Matlacha Island

Frills – My Favorite Women’s Boutique!


Gift Boutique on Matlacha Island

Take Home A Mermaid, If You Dare!


Lush Tropical Foliage on Matlacha Island on Florida's Gulf Coast

Lush Tropical Foliage on Matlacha Island



Lovegrove Gallery & Gardens — My Favorite Art Gallery on the Planet

The tiny town of Matlacha has six unique art galleries, but my hands-down favorite was Lovegrove Gallery & Gardens.  Hubby and I travel a lot, but I seriously have never seen anything like this.  The owner and artist is Leoma Lovegrove, and the building is a combination artist studio, island gift shop, and botanical garden in the rear.  This location in Matlacha serves as her international headquarters.  The exterior polka dotted walls (to me they looked like whimsy bubbles from champagne) and flamingo pink roof are just a small glimpse of what is inside.  Totally eccentric and so much to see, this tiny gem is jam-packed with Leoma’s art and crafts that are as colorful as her personality.

Leoma’s favorite rock band is the Beatles, and she devotes the entire front room of her gallery to this theme.  It felt like I was translated back to the 60s when bell-bottoms and peace-love tee-shirts were totally cool.  Two additional viewing areas are the “Florida Room” and her patriotic “Leoma Loves America Room.”  We purchased a unique wall plaque as a Christmas gift for our best friends up north, and of course Leoma was happy to sign it.

I have since learned that Ms. Lovegrove did a portrait of former President Jimmy Carter (which hangs in his presidential library), and former President George W. Bush includes her work in his private collection.  She has also done paintings for celebrities like Sharon Stone and Jesse Metcalf, as well as the City of Fort Myers.  Additional prominent places displaying her work are the Southwest Florida International Airport, and the Edison Ford Winter Estates Museum.  Once, she even painted in Claude Monet’s gardens during a visit to France!


“Your life should be a work of art!”

— Leoma Lovegrove


Eclectic and Psychedelic Creations by Matlacha Diva, Leoma Lovegrove



Leoma Lovegrove Gallery Rated #1 in TripAdvisor

If you’d like to visit Leoma’s technicolor-world of tropical artistic flair, her Gallery & Gardens is rated #1 of 20 Things To Do in Matlacha on TripAdvisor.  She has also received TripAdvisor’s Certificate of Excellence award.  You can access the reviews here.  A fun “island-y” activity is to paint your very own coconut postcard to keep or mail back home.  Or, release your own inner artist by painting your own masterpiece in the outdoor garden with the help of Vino’s Picasso (Seasonal Nov-April).  Stop by Sunday afternoon’s and you’ll hear live music in the gardens (free).  If you’re really serious about making happy memories in Matlacha, Leoma’s waterfront guest cottage is available to rent through Airbnb.  

In addition to her artwork, Leoma also designs a women’s and men’s clothing line for Bealls Department Store, colorful accessories, as well as gorgeous tropical-themed housewares.



Matlacha — Authentic Island Style Life

Matlacha is one of Florida’s most popular historic landmarks and destinations.  The next time you’re traveling Southwest Florida’s Gulf Coast, do yourself a favor and spend a few hours (or a day or two) in this small town treasure.  You won’t see the typical condos, retirement communities, or golf resorts that have come to represent Florida.  You’ll get a taste of rural Florida, the way it used to be, long before “the Mouse” came to town.  In fact, Matlacha is the perfect antidote for Disney overdose!  You can’t book a 5-star hotel here… not even close.  But if you crave old pine floors and “pocket doors” that slide into the walls, now you’re talking authentic island style life.

Until 1927, the only way to Matlacha was by water.  Lucky for us there are three bridges now, but not a lot else has changed.  Experience Old Florida at its finest, and that chill island vibe will cause you to wonder why you ever saw the need for e-mail!


Authentic Island Style Life in Matlacha on Florida's Gulf Coast

Authentic Island Style Life in Matlacha!


Have you been to Matlacha Island?  Or perhaps you’ve found your own little ‘Old Florida’ gem.  Please share in the comment box below.  Our reader’s would love to know!


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Celebrate the Holidays in Romantic St Augustine


Celebrate the Season in Saint Augustine

Celebrate the Season in Saint Augustine


St Augustine in December — The Perfect Time of Year!

As Floridians, one cannot presumptuously expect cooler temperatures simply because we’ve flipped the page on our calendars to December.  Grass is still green, flowers abundantly seen, palm trees remain queen, and yes… beach babes (lean and mean) are still applying that coconut sunscreen!  Sound like Christmas?  Not exactly!

Okay, so we may be seasonally challenged here in the Sunshine State, but annually my mind goes on a mission to somehow duplicate (or find a reasonable facsimile) of that ‘Northern’ Christmas spirit I took for granted for 42 years.  I’m happy to report the lost has been found in a charming little Southern City called Saint Augustine.


Welcome to the First Coast — The Oldest City in Our Nation

Located in Florida’s northeast corner, and just 45 minutes south of Jacksonville, is our nation’s oldest city — Saint Augustine.  It was founded in 1565 by the Spanish, and is also the oldest port in the continental United States.

St. Augustine’s narrow cobblestone streets are best explored by foot.  In fact, our vehicle was valet-parked in our hotel for 4 days and we didn’t need it until check-out!  Self-guided and ‘themed’ walking tours abound, everything from notable historic sites to ghostly tales.  The lodging of choice for many visitors to Saint Augustine is the plethora of charming and romantic bed and breakfast inns.  And, of course, the Spanish Colonial Architecture adds to the romantic atmosphere and is a photographers dream-come-true!



Spanish Colonial Architecture in St Augustine

Spanish Colonial Architecture


Historic Casa Monica Hotel — Romance Revisited!

Saint Augustine was the culmination of a 6-city east coast trek celebrating our 25th Wedding Anniversary. We love the Florida coast anytime of year, but as the weather plummeted from the mid-eighties to high-sixties St. Augustine became even more charming.  There, it was easy to lose ourselves in the history of the ‘Old City’ as we explored the enchanting, walkable neighborhoods.  Our hotel, The Casa Monica, was located in the center of the quaint historic district and only a few blocks away from fabulous fine-dining options, beautiful Matanzas Bay, art galleries, nightlife, and sensational little unique shops all decked out for the season.

At the historic Casa Monica Hotel you will experience Moorish-style grandeur in an 1888 property that was once owned by railroad tycoon Henry Flagler.  (Mr. Flagler developed much of Florida’s eastern coast.)  Here’s a link to view Casa Monica rates and availability.


Romantic Casa Monica Hotel in Historic Saint Augustine

Romantic Casa Monica Hotel


Photo Tour — Opulent Casa Monica Hotel

Here, romance can blossom at any old time!


Casa Monica During Nights of Lights




Vittles and Vino VIP Carriage Tour!

Eat, Drink, and Be Merry!

The Vittles and Vino VIP Carriage Tour is one of many tours offered by The Tasting Tours Company in St. Augustine.   What a fantastic gift for our 25th Wedding Anniversary!   I’m not surprised Travel and Leisure Magazine ranked The Tasting Tours #1 in the best activities to do in St. Augustine.  For the ‘foodie’ in your family, I highly recommend this award-winning tour as a unique special occasion gift that the recipient will fondly recall for a lifetime.  The selection of food and beverage outlets vary with each tour, but you can check out The Tasting Tours slideshow below to see what delectable morsels I had.

Our Tour Included:

3.5 hours of food and wine

5 food tasting venues (at 5 different restaurants in the historic district)

4 wine sample venues (including a wine tasting to begin the tour and a bottle to enjoy on the carriage ride or take home)

A fun and informative guided tour (Jennifer, our tour guide was the best!  And our carriage driver was a wealth of knowledge regarding all the historical facts of the city)

This was a delightful way to spend a Saturday afternoon, and we were not hungry again until very late that night.  No dinner was necessary, just a bedtime snack!

Okay, so we didn’t go dashing through the snow, but we were in a one-horse open carriage.  And, after the second or third stop on the tour, we were most certainly laughing all the way!  I don’t remember any bells on bob-tails ringing… but they could have been, by then our spirits were very bright!

TIP:  If you’re considering traveling to St. Augustine in the near future, check out the current available tasting tours here.  Book early, as they tend to fill up fast!


Vittles and Vino VIP Carriage Tour in St Augustine

Vittles and Vino VIP Carriage Tour


Tis the Season to Be Jolly — Food, New Friends & Folly on Our Tasting Tour!


Gourmet Popcorn



The Tasting Tours

Ranked in the Top 20 Best Overall Food Tours in the U.S.

by TripAdvisor


Annual Christmas Tour of Homes

Presented by The Garden Club of St. Augustine

One of my favorite things to do in any city is a Tour of Homes.  In St. Augustine the Christmas Tour of Homes is an annual tradition that typically sells out pretty fast.  Tickets go on sale in early October, and it’s best to purchase them well in advance, as we did.

Our Tour of Homes included six private residences.  Three of them were located in the Military District, along the beautiful Matanzas River.  We toured the homes of Major General Emmett Titshaw, Colonel Perry Hagaman, and Colonel Joseph Duren.  Another highlight for me was the former Kirkside Estate, winter home of Henry Flagler.  It was a special treat personally meeting the owners of each home who graciously paused for photos upon my request.  Our Tour of Homes concluded with Tea and Cookies, a Unique Boutique, and a Raffle at the Memorial Presbyterian Church, a St. Augustine historic landmark.  In fact, Henry Flagler and several relatives were laid to rest in a mausoleum on the church grounds.

For five fantastic hours on a Sunday afternoon in St. Augustine I felt like I was ‘home’ for Christmas.  Each home had their own version of snow, mistletoe, and presents under the tree.  Okay… so I wasn’t really home for Christmas — but I was in my dreams!


St. Augustine Annual Christmas Tour of Homes

St. Augustine Christmas Tour of Homes


St. Augustine Holiday Tour of Homes — Photo Tour



2017 St Augustine Holiday Tour of Homes



Top 10 in the World!

Saint Augustine’s Nights of Lights was named by National Geographic

as one of the Top 10 places in the world to see holiday lights!

View the Top 10 list here!



St. Augustine Nights of Lights

National Geographic magazine included Saint Augustine’s Nights of Lights in its list of the ten best places in the world to see holiday lighting displays.  That’s pretty impressive, considering they’re competing with places like Vienna, Copenhagen, Brussels, Callaway Gardens, Gothenburg, and Madrid.  If you only visit St. Augustine once in your life, make sure it’s during the annual Nights of Lights!

Like everything in St. Augustine, the Nights of Lights has its roots in history.  During the 250 years that St. Augustine served as the capital of Spanish Florida, residents would put a lighted candle in their window to commemorate the holiday season.  Real candles have turned to electric, but they’re still white, and just as dazzling to behold as they decorate the old buildings.  The entire historic district is lit with some three million white lights, an amazing holiday spectacle to see.

This year, you can view the Nights of Lights every night from November 18, 2017 to January 31, 2018. There are eight different ways to view the Nights of Lights display; a self-guided walking tour (free), Old Town Trolly Tours, Ripley’s Red Train, by boat with Florida Water Tours, St. Augustine Eco Tours, Gold Tours private small bus, and Helicopter Tours of St. Augustine.  Whether you choose to view this holiday tradition by land, air, or sea… you will not be disappointed!  Here’s a convenient link to make reservations for any of the tours — Nights of Lights advance reservations.

TIP:  I’ve saved the best for last.  One of the most romantic ways to see St. Augustine’s Nights of Lights is a private carriage ride.  You can view rates and availability here — Nights of Lights Private Carriage Tour.


Lightner Museum in St. Augustine During Nights of Lights

Lightner Museum During Nights of Lights


St Augustine During Nights of Lights

St. Augustine During Nights of Lights


Celebrate the Holiday Season in St. Augustine

St. Augustine ranks at the top of my list for romantic getaways.  And when you couple that with the annual Nights of Lights, there’s no better place in Florida to celebrate the holidays.  This sleepy little Spanish town (technically, it’s a city, but it has more of a small town feel) is dripping in romance.  What once was a winter playground for the rich and famous, can now be experienced by anyone with a passion for history, culture, and romance.  The spirit of the Flagler Golden Era can be felt in every nook and cranny of this place.  St. Augustine exudes a bygone era of grace and casual elegance that will forever be a part of this ancient city’s heritage.

St. Augustine is like the charm of Europe on the coast of Florida!  There’s no other place in America like it!  If you’re looking for a memorable romantic holiday, St. Augustine is sure to add another chapter to your never-ending love story.


Have you been to St. Augustine, America’s oldest city, during the holidays?  Please share your favorite memory with our readers in the “comment” box below!


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5 Florida Gardens with Rich Roots


Explore 5 Florida Botanical Gardens with Filthy Rich Roots!

Explore 5 Florida Botanical Gardens with Filthy Rich Roots!


Florida is synonymous with sunshine.  And one of the many benefits of living in the Sunshine State is the spectacular year-round beauty that our semi-tropical climate produces.  Something outstanding is blooming every month of the year.  It’s no surprise, then, that Florida is home to some of the most breathtaking botanical gardens in the United States.  Some are elegant and formal, others whimsical and amusing, still others aesthetically appealing with the addition of artistic elements and magnificent architectural components.  Each one has a uniqueness all its own.

But have you ever thought about who planted those botanical beauties?  Before they were drop-dead gorgeous gardens that delight you and I, they existed only in someone’s imagination.  It’s interesting, to me, that the visionaries behind all that awesomeness were filthy rich businessmen.  Yes, Florida’s most exquisite gardens have very, very rich roots!  Buried deep within our sandy soil lies DNA from some of the wealthiest families in American history.  I’ve chosen these 5 Florida Gardens with Rich Roots for you to add to your botanical bucket list.


Vizcaya Museum and Gardens on Biscayne Bay in Miami Florida

Vizcaya Museum and Gardens on Biscayne Bay in Miami Florida


Vizcaya Museum and Gardens — Miami Florida

When I say Miami, “Gardens” is not usually the first thing to pop into someone’s head.  Or the second, or third for that matter.  Miami is best known for points of interest like South Beach, Ocean Drive, Art Decor Tours, Little Havana, Lincoln Road Mall and Bayside.  But if you’ve been to this Southern Florida City and haven’t visited Vizcaya Museum and Gardens somewhere between your Cafe con Leche and Tostada Cubana, you’ve missed a botanical masterpiece!


Vizcaya’s Rich Roots

Vizcaya is a stunningly beautiful American Villa inspired by the palaces of Europe — a subtropical interpretation of an 18th-century Italian countryside villa.  It was built in the early 1900s as the winter home for northerner James Deering, a retired millionaire businessman, and one of America’s wealthiest families.  Mr. Deering was diagnosed with pernicious anemia, so his doctor recommended sunshine and a warm climate to lessen the effects of his affliction.  (Turns out his pain was our gain!)  As an avid sailor who owned three yachts, he also had quite a passion for landscaping and plant conservation.  All of these things combined to play a huge role in the location of his 180-acre winter estate.

Vizcaya’s old-world European-inspired gardens are among the most elaborate of any in the United States. The formal gardens of Florence, Venice, and Rome served as the inspiration for James Deering.  I absolutely love the use of sculptures, elaborate fountains, and other architectural structures strategically placed throughout the garden landscape.  There are statues, urns, busts, and vases reminiscent of the Renaissance, which I find remarkably romantic.  Apparently I’m not the only one that gets romantic vibes here, as Vizcaya Gardens is a popular wedding destination for multitudes of brides looking to create an enchanting fairy-tale backdrop for their special day.  There are tons of charming, picturesque spots to choose from.

The horticultural collections in Vizcaya’s Gardens are so extensive and diverse (it took almost eight years to create the Garden), they have to be catalogued in a plant database.  The Gardens include a subtropical forest, a mangrove forest, an exotic 2,000-specimen orchid collection, massive live oaks, Royal Palms imported from Cuba by boat, unusual plants such as Peach Palm and Giant Elephant Ear, and many endangered plants.  Some are so rare they only exist here and in one or two other places in the world!

Vizcaya still remains an outstanding garden oasis for the rich and famous.  It’s not unusual for Hollywood to come here for film shoots.  They’ve recognized what we Floridians have known all along: Vizcaya showcases the history of the Mediterranean, the glamour of the Jazz Age, and the heat of the tropics!  For hours, admission, calendar of events, and frequently asked questions, visit the Vizcaya website.


One of the Incredible "Secret" Alcoves at Vizcaya Gardens in Miami with Tropical Pink Hibiscus

One of the Incredible “Secret” Alcoves at Vizcaya Gardens in Miami


Vizcaya Museun and Gardens on Biscayne Bay, Miami Florida

Vizcaya Museum and Gardens on Biscayne Bay, Miami Florida


Bok Tower Gardens and Pinewood Estate — Lake Wales Florida

Tranquil and serene.  Bok Tower Gardens gets my vote for the most peaceful place in Central Florida.  It’s the ultimate great escape from Orlando’s thrilling [and sometimes over-crowded] tourist attractions.  Since it’s one of my favorite places, Hubby and I have an annual membership to the Gardens.  One of the great perk’s of membership is that we receive reciprocal benefits (including free admission) to many other spectacular gardens in Florida and around the country — places like Harry P. Leu Gardens and Museum in Orlando.  Bok Tower Gardens is a mere 30-minutes from my home, so we visit frequently.  There’s always something new blooming!

And with the recent addition of Hammock Hollow Children’s Garden, an educational and fun children’s learning area, I can introduce my toddler grandson to the beauty of “natural” Florida.  Part of the expansion project also included an Edible Garden & Outdoor Kitchen.  The Bok Tower Gardens special event calendar now includes various chef demonstrations and other culinary activities.  This area also hosts after-dark soirées perfect for intimate gatherings.  A favorite of visitors to Bok Tower Gardens is the infamous 205-foot-tall Singing Tower which houses one of the world’s finest carillons.  Concerts occur twice daily, with additional live performances during peak periods.


Pinewood Estate’s Rich Roots

Pinewood Estate is a 20-room Mediterranean-style mansion from the 1930s.  The Estate is open for self-guided tours throughout the year, with docents on hand to answer questions.  The holidays are my favorite time to tour the mansion which features one of the best Christmas Home Tours in all of Florida. Each year, the local Garden Club creates a holiday “theme” and decorates each room of the mansion accordingly — truly spectacular!  Charles Austin Buck, a Bethlehem Steel vice president was the original owner of this elaborate residence.  And, like so many other historical homes in Florida,  this was only a winter retreat.  Can you imagine having a 20-room mansion that you occupied a mere 6-weeks out of the year?  Mr. Buck was so wealthy that he brought 7 – 9 servants from his home in Pennsylvania with him each winter.  He hired a manager to live in the house and take care of it the rest of the time.

For a glimpse of Pinewood Estates at Christmastime, read my article about Bok Tower Gardens during December.

TIP: Wear comfortable shoes… it’s easy to spend an entire day at this National Historic Landmark!


Beautiful Winter Blooms at Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales Florida

Beautiful Winter Blooms at Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales Florida


Bok Tower Gardens - National Register of Historic Places

Bok Tower Gardens – National Register of Historic Places


Pinewood Estate - Former Winter Home of Charles Austin Buck

Pinewood Estate – Former Winter Home of Charles Austin Buck



Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Gardens — Winter Park Florida

The Albin Polasek Sculpture Garden is located just a short drive from Orlando, the theme park capital of the world, in beautiful Winter Park, Florida.  I’ve always loved everything about Winter Park — the architecture, casually elegant restaurants, shopping on Park Avenue, the yummy Winter Park food tours, museums, art festivals, and relaxing Central Park with its inspirational Peacock Fountain.  But of all my visits to this wonderful place, only recently did I discover the Albin Polasek Museum & Sculpture Gardens. Hubby and I spent several hours here, and had we packed a lunch we could have lingered longer.

Mr. Polasek was a world-renowned Czech sculptor.  In 1950 he retired to Winter Park, at the age of 70. Prior to that, he headed the Depart­ment of Sculp­ture at the Art Insti­tute of Chicago for nearly three decades.  The Polasek Museum is the actual home and art studio where Albin Polasek lived and worked. Many original paintings, drawings and small clay sculptures are on display here.  While touring the Museum, I learned about the history of this incredibly talented man.  But no amount of reading could have prepared me for what I was about to see in the Polasek Sculpture Gardens located on the property behind the Museum, right along the edge of scenic and serene Lake Osceola.

My goodness, these sculptures are absolutely amazing!  When intermingled with many native Florida and subtropical garden species, it becomes a botanical utopia; simply perfect!  I was blown away by both the created and natural beauty represented in this three-acre Garden.  Not withholding the fact that some of Albin Polasek’s greatest artistic achievements came as a severely disabled person.  Wow… if only these sculptures could speak!  (You may be interested in a more comprehensive article on the life and legacy of Albin Polasek here.)  This is truly a “not to miss” attraction if you appreciate outstanding outdoor gardens and are ever in the Central Florida area.


Winter Park’s Rich Roots

The entire town of Winter Park was founded by wealthy Northern industrialists as a winter getaway. This classy place might be geographically close to Disney and other Central Florida tourist attractions, but it’s a world apart in almost every sense.  Its got style and substance!  Winter Park has never lost its late-19th-century charm — brick-paved streets, stately turn-of-the-last century historic homes, 200-year-old live oaks with Spanish moss, and meandering canals once used for logging.  And because money begets money, Winter Park still attracts multimillionaires today.  Don’t be surprised if you rub elbows with a member of the Orlando Magic or see a movie star at a Park Avenue sidewalk cafe…



Two Popular Sculptures on Display at Albin Polasek Sculpture Gardens in Winter Park Florida

Albin Polasek Sculpture Gardens in Winter Park Florida


Pilgrim at the Eternal Gate Sculpture by Albin Polasek

Pilgrim at the Eternal Gate Sculpture by Albin Polasek


Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Gardens in Winter Park Florida

Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Gardens


Edison & Ford Winter Estates and Botanical Garden — Fort Myers Florida

Did you know Thomas Edison (the innovative inventor) and Henry Ford (the Ford Motors car mogul) were very good friends?  Yes, indeed.  Such great friends that they purchased adjoining properties in southwest Florida in the early 1900s as their winter estates.  The 21-acre estate features the former homes of the two men, a research laboratory, museum, and botanical gardens.

It’s a lovely waterfront location right alongside the Caloosahatchee River in Ft. Myers.  Here, you’ll get a taste of what tropical, “old-Florida” used to be like.  Whether you choose the guided or self-guided tour, you’ll receive so much historical information you’ll feel like you’ve been transported back in time.  In the Gardens, it’s hard to believe that a few of the original trees planted during Edison’s time are still standing. Hint: check out that famous banyan tree!  Good golly miss molly, wait till you see the size of that thing.  I won’t give away all the fascinating facts, but you practically need a wide-angle lens to capture the whole thing.  Additionally, there are 1700 plants representing 400 species from six continents on display.  Hard to find a more diverse horticultural collection anywhere!  To get a heads-up of what’s blooming in any given month, check out the Edison Ford Gardens “what’s blooming” page on their website.


Edison & Ford Winter Estates’ Rich Roots

Of course we’re talking about Henry Ford and Thomas Edison here.  This popular Florida attraction represents some serious wealth.  The net worth of these two men individually is massive, with a capital “M!”  When combined, it’s mind-boggling.  By the mid-1920s, Henry Ford’s net worth was estimated around $1.2 billion.  That’s billion, with a “b!”  At age 57 he was worth $188 billion, making him one of the 10 richest people of all time!  When Thomas Edison was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 1928 Congress valued his work at nearly $15.6 billion.  Imagine the good times they had together on that property in Fort Myers that you and I get to visit…


Largest Banyan Tree in the Continental U. S. at Edison & Ford Winter Estate

Largest Banyan Tree in the Continental U. S. at Edison & Ford Winter Estate


Gorgeous Bamboo at the Edison Ford Winter Estate in Ft Myers Florida

Gorgeous Bamboo at the Edison Ford Winter Estate in Ft Myers Florida


Botanical Beauty at Edison Ford Winter Estate

Botanical Beauty at Edison Ford Winter Estate


Harry P. Leu Gardens and Museum — Orlando Florida

Leu Gardens is vintage Florida at its best!  It’s easy to imagine Florida the way it used to be while strolling this massive Garden comprising nearly 50 acres.  It’s nicely divided into 14 distinctly different areas (you’ll need a map).  A few of them are formal, like the Rose Garden, but most sections appear more “natural.” While meandering through the landscape that contained the Palms, Cycads & Bamboo, I envisioned old-Florida — the way the Sunshine State looked pre-Disney.  I was waiting for a gator to emerge at any moment from the dense subtropical terrain.  Stand still long enough on Lake Rowena Overlook and in your minds-eye you’ll see the logging of humongous cypress trees that were transported via steamboat through Florida’s chain of lakes and canals.

Yes, old-Florida is becoming extinct.  Vanishing.  Endangered as our beloved manatees.  But there are remnants, if you know where to look.  Thank goodness Harry P. Leu Gardens is doing their part to preserve Florida’s cultural identity, for many generations to come, I hope.  You’ll notice Leu Gardens has a personality all her own; it’s old Florida today!

Make sure you save time to tour the Leu House Museum; it’s included in the entry fee.  A restored 19th century Victorian-style home, it’s one of the oldest buildings in Central Florida.  Some of the architectural details include a tin roof and pine floors.  Before it opened to the public in 1961, four different families resided there.  The stories told by our docent about these wealthy owners were captivating.  If you want a sense of what turn-of-the-century Florida living was like for affluent landowners, take this guided tour!


Harry P. Leu House’s Rich Roots

From a cotton farmer (1st owner) to an actress (2nd owner) to a steel manufacturer (third owner) to the Leu Family (4th and final owner), this house-turned-Museum has had quite a rich history.  The most intriguing of the occupants was Duncan Pell, a prominent New York businessman who divorced his first wife in order to marry actress Helen Gardner.  Ms. Gardner went on to create her own film company (a first for a woman) and became very well known throughout Orlando.  Joseph and Martha Woodward were the 3rd owners; wealthy industrialists who only used the home as a winter residence.  Mr. Leu, the last resident, owned a very successful industrial supply company.  He and his wife traveled the world and brought back seeds and plants for their gorgeous gardens.


Lake Rowena Overlook at Harry P. Leu Gardens in Orlando

Lake Rowena Overlook at Harry P. Leu Gardens


The Formal Rose Garden at Harry P. Leu Gardens

The Formal Rose Garden at Harry P. Leu Gardens


Tropical Plants at Harry P. Leu Gardens

Tropical Plants at Harry P. Leu Gardens


Harry P. Leu Gardens - National Register of Historic Places

Harry P. Leu Gardens – National Register of Historic Places


Have you been to any of the 5 Florida Gardens with Rich Roots?  Or perhaps you know of another garden here in the Sunshine State with roots back to the rich and famous.  Please share with our readers via the comment box below!


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Bok Tower Gardens National Historic Landmark – Photo Tour


Bok Gardens is lush with beautiful blooms, even in February

Bok Gardens ~ Year-Round Beauty!


Bok Tower and Gardens ~ National Register of Historic Places

Bok Tower Gardens is a 50-acre garden located in Lake Wales, Florida.  It’s perfectly positioned on Iron Mountain within the Lake Wales Ridge, one of the highest elevations in peninsular Florida.  Rising 295 feet above sea level, for me it’s the most peaceful place in all of Central Florida.  As a Florida resident looking to take a break from the craziness of Orlando’s theme parks and myriad of other touristy places, Bok Tower Gardens provides a place of solitude, and seemingly shelters me from the over-crowded venues synonymous with the Sunshine State.  Even when the parking lot is full, I feel like I’m all alone; just me nestled amongst nature’s finest.

Bok Tower Gardens has been inspiring locals and visitors for the past 88 years!  It was established almost 9 decades ago by Edward W. Bok as a gift to the American people.  Mr. Bok spared no expense in creating this garden oasis, hiring famous landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. as the designer.  After 5+ years in construction, Bok Gardens was dedicated on February 1, 1929, by President Calvin Coolidge.  It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972 and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1993.  The history of Bok Tower Gardens is truly fascinating!



Edward W. Bok was the editor of the women’s magazine Ladies Home Journal!

National Register of Historic Places Plaque is Displayed on Garden Post

National Register of Historic Places


Entrance to Bok Tower Gardens with Beautiful Potted Plants

Entrance to Bok Tower Gardens


Bok Tower Gardens ~ 7 Distinct Areas

Bok Tower Gardens consists of 7 distinct focal points:

  • Olmsted Landscape Gardens
  • Wild Garden
  • Singing Tower
  • Hammock Hollow Children’s Garden
  • Edible Garden & Outdoor Kitchen
  • Pine Ridge Nature Preserve
  • Pinewood Estate & Gardens

Each one is unique and provides for leisurely strolls, enlightening moments, or engaging activities.  There are a multitude of meandering paths and strategically placed benches perfect for reading, journaling, reflecting, meditation, or praying.  The informal woodland setting is also a haven for bird-watchers, butterfly fanatics, nature lovers, and photographers.  Keep your camera handy — in addition to songbirds, wildlife may include turkeys, raptors, lizards, or the rare gopher tortoise listed as “threatened” and thereby protected under Florida State law.

If you plan on thoroughly investigating all 7 areas in one day, it’s a good idea to arrive when they open at 8 a.m.  Pack a picnic lunch or stop by the Blue Palmetto Cafe, their on-site spot for breakfast, lunch, and snacks.  (You have got to try the Beer-batterd French Fries!  They were even better than my beloved Sweet Potato Fries.)  Here’s a peek at the Blue Palmetto Cafe menu and prices.

Begin your visit at the Visitor’s Center & Museum with a brief orientation film.  Here, you can also learn about the history of the Gardens and view changing art exhibits.  Be sure to pick up a brochure with photos of some of the plants that will be blooming during your visit; these change on a monthly basis. Additionally, there is a table right outside the Visitor’s Center with a sampling of what’s currently in bloom. Take a look, and then see how many you can locate!  Save some time to explore the Tower & Garden Gift Shop with unique treasures (and a live plant shop for your own garden) to commemorate your visit.

Bok Tower Gardens is open 365 days a year, from 8 – 6.  Visit their website at for visitor guidelines and frequently asked questions.


Bok Tower Gardens List of Flowers That Are Currently Blooming

Flowers That Are Currently Blooming


Order Area at the Blue Palmetto Cafe

Lunch at the Blue Palmetto Cafe


Sandwich & Fries Lunch at the Blue Palmetto Cafe

Lunch at the Blue Palmetto Cafe


Bok Tower & Garden Gift Shop Interior

Tower & Garden Gift Shop


Bok Tower Gardens ~ Colorful Creations 365 Days a Year!

Regardless of which month you visit Bok Tower Gardens you’ll find a variety of flowers and plants in bloom.  That’s the beauty of having a botanical garden right in the middle of the Sunshine State!  During every season (and yes, Florida has them!) color abounds.  For example, when I went in December there was Plumbago, Tropical Gardenia, Chinese Hat, Popcorn Senna, Beautyberry, Brazilian Red Cloak, and Camellias, just to name a few.  The citrus trees were at the height of their growing season, and poinsettias were everywhere.  And the mansion at Pinewood Estate was decked out in all its holiday splendor. Christmastime is truly one of my favorite times at Bok Tower Gardens.


Bok Gardens Red & Green Bromeliad Tree at Christmastime

Bok Gardens Bromeliad Tree at Christmastime


Bok Gardens Pink Powder Puff, Pink Camellia and Beautyberry in December

Outstanding Colorful Blooms in December at Bok Gardens


Orange Trees in Bloom at Bok Gardens During December

Orange Trees at Bok Gardens During December


Red Poinsettias Near the Entrance at Bok Gardens

Poinsettias are Everywhere During the Holidays at Bok Gardens


Inside Pinewood Estate Mansion at Christmas

Mansion at Christmas ~ Pinewood Estate


Bok Gardens in February

My most recent visit was a few days ago in February.  I didn’t expect to see much midway through winter, but Mother Nature proved me wrong.  The Gardens were remarkable!  Sensational Snapdragons were blooming in a variety of bright colors and ranged in height from dwarf to medium to tall.  Their showy slender stalks appeared throughout the Gardens, from potted containers at the entrance to Pinewood Estate, and places in-between.

And speaking of “showy,” the Camellias were the crème de la crème!  They were found in various sections and provided breathtaking eye-candy for anyone with a passion for botanical beauty.  The red, white, and pink flowers (oftentimes mistaken for a rose) were in full bloom during my February visit.  Bird of Paradise, one of my all-time favorite tropical flowers, were also blooming.  The Azaleas… oh my goodness, those Azaleas!  Even though they’re quite common compared to a lot of the offerings here, were extraordinarily beautiful.  It seemed like there were acres of them, in so many varieties — such as Amelia Rose, Gloria, Mardi Gras, Southern Charm, Kissimmee, Edward Bok, and Eugenie.


Bok Gardens Colorful Yellow and Orange Snapdragons

Stunning Snapdragons at Bok Gardens


Hot Pink Aster at Bok Gardens in Lake Wales Florida

“Pretty in Pink” Aster at Bok Gardens in Lake Wales


Bok Gardens Beautiful Pink Bromeliad Blooms in Winter

Beautiful Bromeliad Blooms in Winter


Bok Tower Gardens Red Plumes at Pinewood Estate During Christmas

Red Plumes at Pinewood Estate


Colorful Cacti & Potted Plants at Bok Gardens in February

Colorful Cacti & Potted Plants at Bok Gardens


Pinewood Estate ~ Mediterranean Revival Architecture

A trip to Bok Tower Gardens is not complete without a leisurely stroll around the grounds of Pinewood Estate.  The enchanting 20-room mansion is Mediterranean Revival Architecture, and just under 13,000 square feet.  This area is comprised of nearly 8 acres and was built in the early 1930s for Charles Austin Buck, the vice president of Bethlehem Steel.  “El Retiro” was the original name, which means “retreat” in Spanish.  I purchased a book with the history of Pinewood Estate and Bok Tower Gardens in the gift shop, which I highly recommend.  It was fascinating!

General Admission to the Gardens is $14, and a combo ticket that includes the Pinewood Estate tour is $20. It’s well worth the $6 up-charge which includes the home’s history, and docents are available throughout the mansion to answer questions about the Estate and its furnishings.  Even if you don’t purchase the interior tour of the mansion, do yourself a favor and peruse the immaculate grounds.  You’ll be able to see the formal Mediterranean-style garden, the Spanish frog fountain, an enchanting stone grotto at the front of the house, an Oriental moon gate fountain, and an English-style country garden with a rolling lawn and reflective pond.


Pinewood Estate Exterior at Bok Gardens in Lake Wales Florida

Pinewood Estate at Bok Gardens, Lake Wales Florida


Pinewood Estate Statuary in Lake Wales Florida

Grounds of Pinewood Estate, Lake Wales Florida


Pinewood Estate Mansion Colorful Tiles Provide Latin Influences

Latin Influences at Pinewood Estate ~ Colorful Tiles


Pinewood Estate Mansion and Gardens

Pinewood Estate Mansion and Gardens


Pinewood Estate Oriental Moon Gate Fountain and Gardens

Oriental Moon Gate Fountain and Gardens at Pinewood Estate


Pinewood Estate Colorful Blooms in February

Pinewood Estate in February


Pinewood Estate Mansion with Red Colorful Blooms in February

Pinewood Estate Mansion with Colorful February Blooms


Bamboo and Palm Trees at Pinewood Estate Mansion Lake Wales Florida

Bamboo and Palms at Pinewood Estate Mansion, Bok Gardens


The Singing Tower at Bok Gardens

Towering 205 feet above the Gardens is the neo-Gothic Singing Tower.  It houses one of the world’s finest carillons with 60 bells.  The Art Deco style is made up of stone native to the Southeast, ironwork, tile mosaics, and the infamous sun dial and brass door.  Unfortunately, few people will get to tour the inside of the Singing Tower and see what’s behind the brass door.  To receive a private tour invitation you must hold a Sustainer Level Membership or above.  Even so, the outside of the Tower is worth seeing; it was awarded the grand prize for design in 1930 by the American Institute of Architects.  Carillon concerts occur at 1 & 3 p.m. daily.  They can usually be heard almost anywhere on the grounds of the Gardens.

The carillon musical instrument was designed and built in England, in 1928.  There are only 4 in Florida and 600 worldwide.  Bok Tower Gardens will be hosting the 23rd International Carillon Festival March 4-12. Daily concerts and special events will be performed by world-renowned carillonneurs.  This world-famous music festival only happens twice every 5 years!


Singing Tower with Reflection in Pond at Bok Gardens in Lake Wales Florida

The Singing Tower at Bok Gardens, Lake Wales Florida


The Singing Tower Collage

The Singing Tower Collage


Hammock Hollow Children’s Garden ~ New at Bok Tower Gardens

One of the new additions to Bok Tower Gardens is the children’s play area called Hammock Hollow. What a fantastic idea!  Young children are generally not as interested or impressed by botanical gardens as adults are, therefore, this add-on was a win-win for everyone in the family.  Mom and Dad no longer have to fight with the little ones to go to the Gardens.  In fact, with an activities area like this one, the only battle will be getting the kids to leave.

At 2.7 acres it’s much larger than I envisioned.  The children can enter through the pint-sized keystone gate, where the adventure begins.  There are rocks to climb (careful… you may get wet!), a gigantic spiderweb to maneuver, logs to climb, a painting area for the next Van Gogh to be discovered, sand play area complete with sand pails and water, a stick stack for building forts and other structures, a chickee hut with an outdoor kitchen, frog hop for jumpers, acoustic musical instruments, bird feeding stations, and lots more.  There’s a decent amount of shady areas to escape the hot Florida sun with places to rest and cool down; rope hammocks, secret nap benches, fountains, spray jets, misters, and foggers.  You can read Florida Fun And Fork’s complete review of Hammock Hollow Children’s Garden here.

***Note:  This is not a babysitting service.  The children must be supervised at all times.


Hammock Hollow Keystone Entry for New Children's Play Area at Bok Gardens

Hammock Hollow Keystone Entry for Children’s Play Area at Bok Gardens


Bok Gardens New Hammock Hollow Children's Play Area

Children’s Play Areas at Bok Gardens


Children's Painting Area at the New Hammock Hollow Bok Gardens

Children’s Painting Area at Hammock Hollow


Edible Garden and Outdoor Kitchen ~ New to Bok Tower Gardens

Another upgrade to Bok Tower Gardens is the addition of an Edible Garden & Outdoor Kitchen. Developed by the University of Florida and other growers, it features fruits, herbs, and vegetables.  Of course, the varieties planted are those well suited for Central Florida weather.  This area hosts special events and culinary classes such as Grilling with a Twist, Sippin’ & Suppin’ Under the Stars with Celebrity Chefs, Kids in the Kitchen, Fermentation Festival, Craft Beer & Cuisine, and Brining & Pickling.


Bok Tower Gardens New Outdoor Kitchen Area

Outdoor Kitchen at Bok Tower Gardens


Edible Garden with Swiss Chard and Hot Peppers at Bok Botanical Gardens

Edible Garden at Bok Tower Gardens


A Slice of Old Florida

Bok Tower Gardens gives me a sense of Old Florida — the way our great state used to be before scores of people discovered our little secret.  It’s off-the-beaten-path, yet so easy to access from almost anywhere within Central Florida.  I highly recommend this peaceful piece of paradise.  And even though there’s been a noticeable increase in attendance since the new spaces have premiered, you won’t have tons of tourists stepping on your toes.  The serenity is addictive.


Huge Floating Water Lily Pads at Bok Tower Botanical Gardens in Florida

A Slice of Old Florida at Bok Tower Gardens


Bok Botanical Gardens Wooden Boardwalk Path with Bench in Lake Wales

An Old Florida Attraction at Bok Gardens , Lake Wales


Bok Botanical Gardens Driftwood

Nature at its Best!


Gigantic Palm Leaf at Bok Botanical Gardens in Lake Wales Florida

Gigantic Palm Leaf at Bok Gardens


White Swan in the Reflecting Pond at Bok Tower Botanical Gardens

Swan in the Reflecting Pond at Bok Tower Gardens


Bok Tower Gardens Membership and Reciprocal Program

If you’re in a geographical area that will allow you to return again and again, consider purchasing a Membership.  With 11 different Membership Levels, there’s one that fits most budgets.  Hubby and I purchased the “Duo” right before the price increase (we paid $55).  But even at $70 for 2 people it’s a bargain.  Not only do you get unlimited visits to Bok Tower Gardens and discounts at the Blue Palmetto Cafe and Tower Garden Gift Shop, it also includes a reciprocal admission program that allows free or greatly reduced entry prices for other select botanical gardens and museums in Florida and throughout the country.

For example, Harry P. Leu Gardens in Orlando offers free admission simply by showing your Bok Tower Gardens Membership Card (and photo ID).  Here’s my Leu Gardens Review and Photo Tour from a recent visit.  This is another gorgeous botanical garden and museum that is also on the National Register of Historic Places.  Additionally, The Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Garden in Winter Park has free reciprocal admission.  The sculptures in this outdoor sculpture garden are amazing!  To me, if a facility is on the National Register, it’s usually worth seeing.  In total, there are 47 botanical gardens and/or museums in the state of Florida alone that participate in this program.

You can check out the Membership Application for Bok Gardens on their website.


Bok Tower Gardens Map and Directions




5 Florida Botanical Gardens with Rich Roots!

What do you get when you combine a passion for botanical beauty with America’s wealthiest families? You get 5 Florida Gardens with Rich Roots!  It’s a fascinating article revealing the connection between the richest people in America and their winter homes here in Florida!



WHERE:  Bok Tower Gardens, 1151 Tower Blvd, Lake Wales, FL 33853

WHEN:  April 1, 2018, 7:00 am — Gate opens at 6:00 a.m

COST:  Complimentary Admission until 8:00 a.m

In addition to an inspiring Easter message, enjoy a carillon performance by Geert D’hollander

For an additional fee a buffet breakfast will be served in the Blue Palmetto Café following the service


Have you been to Bok Tower Gardens?  Please share your experience or any questions about this National Historic Landmark in the Comment box below!

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The Back Porch Restaurant in Lake Alfred – Review and Photos


The Main Dining Room at The Back Porch Restaurant

The Main Dining Room at The Back Porch Restaurant


The Back Porch — A Unique Dining Experience

As a Florida resident living in Disney’s backyard (well, not literally, but a mere 30 minutes away!), I’m perpetually searching for off-the-beaten-path non-touristy eateries and attractions.  Alas… I found a hidden little gem that many Central Florida residents don’t even know exists.  The Back Porch restaurant is a one-of-a-kind, unusual dining experience.  The concept is one I had previously never seen.  I’ve had lunch there about a half-dozen times, and it never disappoints.

So, what makes The Back Porch so uniquely different from most other restaurants?  The following Restaurant Review shows why it’s distinct and noteworthy.


The Back Porch Restaurant

The Back Porch Restaurant


The Back Porch — Along Florida’s Antique Trail

The Back Porch is located in The Barn Antiques and shopping complex in Lake Alfred, Florida.  It’s in an area of Central Florida known as The Antique Trail whereby serious antique buffs spend 3-4 days making a loop from Lakeland to Winter Haven to Lake Alfred to Plant City and Lake Wales to find that one priceless treasure they hope The Antique Road Show will appraise exponentially higher than what they paid for it.  (You know… the trash to treasure kinda thing!)

The Barn Antiques is a family owned business selling high-end antiques since 1969.  But what began five decades ago as an antique store on a family ranch has grown into a magnet for shoppers.  It’s now a sprawling complex of shops.  Right next to the antiques store is The Stable Home Decor which sells moderate to high-end home furnishings and women’s accessories.  On the opposite end is The Season’s Gift Shop, overflowing with holiday and seasonal decorations.  Across from that is The Back Yard Garden Shop, an outdoor shopping experience under a canopy of native shade trees.  All four shops and the restaurant have been managed and run by members of the Wales family for the past 48 years.  (Here’s my article and photos of the four retail shops.)  The Back Porch was created for a delicious break for hungry shoppers who tend to spend hours browsing the ever-changing jammed-packed shops in this complex.


The Back Porch Restaurant Menu

The Back Porch Restaurant Menu


The Back Porch — A Picnic Lunch

The unique thing about The Back Porch is that it’s a picnic-style lunch that’s mostly self-service.  Here’s how it works…

  • Upon entering, pick up a paper menu (photo above) and seat yourself
  • Fill out your menu with the pencils provided on the table
  • Put your name and table number on the little yellow sticky tab
  • Take your menu to one of the registers to pay
  • Help yourself to a soda, spiced raspberry tea, or coffee (beer & wine available on the deck)
  • Your lunch is delivered in a quaint wooden picnic basket



Table #26 at The Back Porch Restaurant

Table #26 at The Back Porch Restaurant


Hubby's Picnic Lunch at The Back Porch Restaurant

Hubby’s Picnic Lunch at The Back Porch Restaurant


Country Flare Meets Shabby Chic

I really like this place.  Even when busy (which is most of the time), it’s relaxing.  It has a comfortable atmosphere and the decor is a cross between country flare and shabby chic.  The ambience, like the restaurant concept itself, is truly unique.  There are large stained glass windows in the main dining room, and the table tops are hand painted with wild flowers by Jan Wales (this whole family is so darn creative and talented!).  Off of the main dining room is a smaller private room that can be reserved for special events such as birthdays, showers, or a women’s luncheon.  Another seating option is the wrap-around covered deck, called The Shady Deck.  This is a great opportunity to enjoy the year-round warm Central Florida weather.  The deck overlooks a beautiful nature pond and has its own outside entrance.  The Shady Deck serves ice cream and refreshing beverages including beer, wine, frozen sangrias, frozen mimosas, frozen lemonade, and soda (with free refills).


Beautiful Stained Glass Windows

Beautiful Stained Glass Windows


Beverage Station for The Shady Deck

Beverage Station for The Shady Deck


The Shady Deck Separate Entrance

The Shady Deck Separate Entrance



Charming Spot for Inexpensive Casual American Eats

At The Back Porch you won’t find escargot, oysters Rockefeller, pub burgers, trendy flatbreads, creme brûlée or any other gourmet fare.  Nope.  This is good old fashioned American casual eats!  Choices like creamy vegetable soup, potato salad, blue cheese slaw, chicken salad on a croissant, ham bar-b-cue, and Florida strawberry cream cake.  And they always offer specials-of-the-day.  The best value is to choose one item from each of four categories — soup, salad, sandwich, and dessert for $8.52, a good deal in which owner Drew Wales says there has not been a price increase in 7 years, even though the price of doing business has gone up considerably.  If you have little tikes, they can have their own “Teddy Bear Picnic Basket” with at least 3 choices, all under five dollars.

Now typically, a four-course lunch would be a little much for the middle of the day, but not at The Back Porch.  Portions are not huge, but I always leave comfortably satisfied.  This is not the kind of lunch that will cause you to forfeit dinner, and I’ve never seen anyone asking for a doggie bag.  You won’t feel stuffed and lethargic, just pleasantly full and energized for more shopping.  Even men with larger appetites seem to enjoy the lunches here.  As long as you realize it’s a lovely place for a “light” lunch, you won’t be disappointed.  After all, it is a picnic-style lunch, not the likes of an Olive Garden with all-you-can-eat soup, salad and breadsticks.  But that’s the beauty of The Back Porch!

Even though the food is simple, many of the items have a unique twist to them, like the Slaw for example, made with their own Blue Cheese Dressing (an excellent choice!).  Everything is homemade, with recipes that have been in the Wales family since opening 45+ years ago.  I also appreciate the seasonal options they incorporate into the menu.  When I was there right before Christmas, I had the red velvet cake with red and green sprinkles for dessert.  Quite yummy, and very festive looking!  And, in keeping with the picnic theme, everything served in the individual wooden picnic baskets is eaten from disposable containers… just as if you were on a real picnic!

***TIP… It’s not unusual for The Back Porch to serve up to 500 meals a day, therefore, a late lunch between 1:30-2:00 seems to be less busy.

***TIP… The restrooms in The Back Porch also serve the rest of the shopping complex.  As a result, there is typically a bit of a wait; plan accordingly.  The good news: While you’re waiting feel free to browse the great selection of food items offered for sale.  There are jams, sauces, dip mixes, soup mixes, etc. along with cute little sessional gift items.


My Picnic Lunch at The Back Porch Restaurant

My Picnic Lunch at The Back Porch Restaurant


Gift Items at The Back Porch Restaurant

Gift Items at The Back Porch Restaurant


The Back Porch… A Slice of “Old Florida!”

The Back Porch is a refreshing change of pace for locals looking to get away from the touristy hustle and bustle that is synonymous with Central Florida.  I’m always amazed that despite being in the middle of nowhere, business is bustling here.  Nevertheless, people are not in a hurry, no one is stepping on my toes, and any wait time is spent chatting with like-minded souls yearning for a slice of “Old Florida.”  There are no billboards or other advertising means, simply word-of-mouth.  But as they say, “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it!”


The Back Porch "Rules!"

The Back Porch “Rules!”


The Back Porch — Directions and Hours

Like me, you may have driven near The Back Porch a thousand times with no idea it existed.  It can be somewhat difficult to find unless someone tells you about it.  Years ago, my girlfriend told me about this special little spot — and now, I’m passing my little secret on to you…

From Interstate 4

Take Exit 48, Hwy. 557, 3 miles South

From Hwy. 17/92 in Lake Alfred

At the intersection of Hwy. 17/92 and E. Pomelo follow signs to Interstate 4 on Hwy. 557 – 4 miles


Lunch served from 11 to 3, Tuesday though Saturday (closed Sundays and Mondays)


Have you been to The Back Porch restaurant for a picnic lunch? Please share your experience.  Or, perhaps you have a little-known secret dining spot of your own.  Our readers would love to hear about it.  Simply post a comment in the reply box below!


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The Barn Antiques & Shopping Complex in Lake Alfred Florida


Antiques from Florida and Around the World

Antiques from Florida and Around the World


Central Florida — So Much More than Theme Parks

Typically, when One thinks of Central Florida, antiquing isn’t the first thing that comes to mind… or the second or third, for that matter.  But among the many reasons to take a theme park break is the plethora of fine antique shops throughout the Sunshine State.  Florida’s Antiques Loop (as we Floridians affectionately call it) includes Lakeland, Winter Haven, Lake Alfred, Plant City, and Lake Wales.  But even if you’re not an antique freak, it’s worth a visit to The Barn Antiques in Lake Alfred.  As you’ll soon see, this little gem located just 5 minutes from Interstate 4 (exit 48 in Lake Alfred) is a quaint little complex consisting of multiple shops and even a restaurant for hungry shoppers to take a delicious reprieve.


The Barn Antiques - Lake Alfred Florida

The Barn Antiques – Lake Alfred Florida


The Barn Antiques — A Family Affair

Ednamay Wales dreamt of opening an antique shop, and in 1969 her dream became a reality.  It was located on the family ranch in rural Polk County, in a small, tin-roofed building.  She called it The Barn Antiques.  But Ednamay wasn’t the only visionary in the family.  Today, in its 6th decade, The Barn Antiques has expanded into much larger quarters and involves all of the Wales family.  In fact, it’s one of Florida’s most popular destinations for quality antiques.  Some of the collector’s items come from extensive local buying, but many of the hand-picked treasures come from their frequent trips abroad.

The collectible heirlooms include dining room and bedroom pieces, armoires, sideboards, chairs, bookcases, desks, stained glass windows, and so much more.  You don’t have to be particularly fond of period pieces to enjoy browsing this shop.  I’m not an antiques aficionado, and yet, it’s fun just looking at all the classics.  As the owners like to say, “Heaven’s a little closer at The Barn!”


Heaven's a Little Closer at The Barn!

Heaven’s a Little Closer at The Barn!



The Stable Home Decor

Ten years (or so) after successfully launching The Barn Antiques another expansion project took form.  Right alongside the antique shop the Wales Family opened a home decor and gift shop called The Stable Home Decor.  Oh my gosh… this place is packed with goodies!  From floor to ceiling, I don’t think there’s a foot of spare space.  The Wales Family certainly are gifted designers.  I have purchased a few of their floral arrangements and wreaths, but they also have framed prints, candles, bath and body items, very unique women’s fashion accessories, and so much more.  I like the way everything is displayed in vignettes, so it looks more like a designer home than a retail shop.  They also do a great job of balancing traditional home decor with the latest trends.  So pretty much whatever your taste, you’ll likely find something you just can’t resist at The Stable!


The Stable Home Decor

The Stable Home Decor


The Stable Home Decor

The Stable Home Decor


The Stable Home Decor

The Stable Home Decor


The Seasons Gift Shop

A short stroll down the sidewalk from The Stable is The Seasons.  Another gift shop, but this one features holiday and seasonal (hence the name) decorations for the home.  Another jammed-packed shop that requires a few trips around the store in order to see everything.  The displays at The Seasons are ever-changing.  Depending on the calendar month in which you attend, you may see Valentine’s, St. Patrick’s, Spring, Easter, Summer, 4th of July, Fall, Halloween, Thanksgiving, or Christmas decorations and home accents.  It’s fun here, because I never see the same things twice.  Even when I don’t purchase anything (a rare occasion) at The Seasons, I leave with tons of decorating ideas!  On my last visit they were all decked out for Christmas.  The entire shop transforms into a winter wonderland filled with holiday decorations in a variety of styles and themes — traditional, trendy, whimsical, and everything in between.  I absolutely love this place at Christmastime!  Who says you can’t get into the Christmas spirit in Florida?


The Seasons Gift Shop

The Seasons Gift Shop


Christmas at The Seasons Gift Shop

Christmas at The Seasons Gift Shop


Christmas at The Seasons Gift Shop

Christmas at The Seasons Gift Shop


Christmas at The Seasons Gift Shop

Christmas at The Seasons Gift Shop


The Children's Department at The Seasons Gift Shop

The Children’s Department at The Seasons Gift Shop


Hanukkah Decorations and Gifts

Hanukkah Decorations and Gifts


Gifts for Florida Gator Fans!

Gifts for Florida Gator Fans!


Scent-sational Swan Creek Candles and Melts

Scent-sational Swan Creek Candles and Melts


The Back Yard Garden Shop

Of course no well-dressed home is complete without taking care of the front porch and back yard… kinda like getting all decked out in your fanciest 5th Avenue attire and forgetting your shoes or jewelry.  But alas, the Wales Family has you covered with that too.  Adjacent to The Seasons Gift Shop is The Back Yard Garden Shop.  It’s a really cool outdoor shopping area underneath a canopy of shade trees.  In keeping with “the barn” theme, it has rustic wooden rafters for the ceiling, a straw floor, and bales of hay that double as display cases.

Just like the other shops in this complex, every nook and cranny is crammed with merchandise.  Here, you’ll find decorative garden accessories including fountains, arbors, birdhouses, flags, colorful pots, garden statuary, wind chimes, outdoor pillows, plaques, and many more unique items.  And, if you’re in the market for some Florida-friendly native plants, you’ll find a wide variety that changes often. There are seasonally appropriate selections as well.

Make sure you walk through The Back Yard Garden Shop at least once.  Because, well, how many gift shops have a live tree growing right through the center of it?


The Back Yard Garden Shop

The Back Yard Garden Shop


The Back Yard Garden Shop

The Back Yard Garden Shop


The Back Yard Garden Shop

The Back Yard Garden Shop


The Back Yard Garden Shop

The Back Yard Garden Shop


The Back Yard Garden Shop

The Back Yard Garden Shop


The Back Yard Garden Shop at Christmas

The Back Yard Garden Shop at Christmas



The Back Porch Restaurant

It’s quite easy spending several hours browsing through all the antiques and home decor awesomeness this complex has to offer.  Hubby and I usually allow 2-3 hours every time we visit.  I’ve noticed that even men that don’t like to shop do not have a problem coming here.  Perhaps it’s because of the strategically placed benches along the walkway where the men seem to gather.  Perhaps.  But I’m more inclined to believe it’s the promise of a relaxing lunch at The Back Porch Restaurant.  Nestled nicely between The Seasons and The Stable, this cozy little luncheon spot has a unique twist compared to most restaurants.  It’s actually a picnic lunch.  Everything is served in individual wooden picnic baskets and eaten from disposable plates, just as if you were on a picnic.

The Back Porch serves casual American eats in a very comfortable atmosphere.  You get to choose between indoor or patio dining.  And, did I mention how inexpensive it is?  It’s a wonderful change of pace from the typical stereotype restaurant concept.  After reading my Back Porch Restaurant Review here, I think you’ll agree!


Picnic Lunch at The Back Porch Restaurant

Picnic Lunch at The Back Porch Restaurant


The Barn Antiques & Shops — Directions and Store Hours

Whether you’re a local who was born and raised in Florida or a visiting tourist, The Barn Antiques and shopping complex is worth a few hours of your time.  The inventory is constantly changing; and, quite honestly, you never know what you’ll find!  It’s an off-the-beaten-path kind of place which can be difficult to find unless someone tells you about it.  It’s a short 25 minute drive from Disney’s Magic Kingdom theme park, 50 minutes from Tampa’s Riverwalk (longer if you take the back roads, which I recommend).  If you’re using GPS, simply input The Barn Antiques, Lake Alfred as your destination.  Here are the directions and store hours…


From Interstate 4

Take Exit 48, Hwy. 557, 3 miles South


From Hwy. 17/92 in Lake Alfred

At the intersection of Hwy. 17/92 and E. Pomelo follow signs to Interstate 4, on Hwy. 557 – 4 miles


  • The Stable, The Seasons, The Back Porch, and The Back Yard are open all year.  The Barn Antiques is open seasonally, from the first Saturday in October through the last Saturday in May
  • Store Hours — 10 to 4, Tuesday through Saturday (the shops are closed on Sundays and Mondays)
  • The Back Porch serves lunch from 11 to 3


Have you been to The Barn Antiques and shopping complex?  Or maybe you’ve stumbled across a unique and quaint shopping/dining experience of your own.  Please share with our readers in the comment box below!

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Leu Gardens & Museum – National Register Of Historic Places


Harry P. Leu Gardens - An 'Old Florida' Attraction

Harry P. Leu Gardens – An ‘Old Florida’ Attraction


Leu Gardens — Vintage Florida!

As a 16-year Florida resident, I’m always searching for little hidden gems off-the-beaten-path from the hustle and bustle of Central Florida theme parks and other tourist-driven attractions.  Amazingly, I’ve found one in the most unexpected place… 2 miles from downtown Orlando!  So close to ‘the Mouse’ and his house at Walt Disney World, yet a million miles away (at least that’s what it seemed like to me).  Don’t get me wrong, I’m one of Mickey’s fondest fans, but every now and then I crave some of God’s handiwork more than man-made Disney magic.  The Harry P. Leu Gardens satisfied my appetite for an authentic “Old Florida” respite.  They have perfectly preserved the beauty, culture, history, and environment of vintage Florida.


Harry P. Leu Gardens - Celebrating 55 Years!

Harry P. Leu Gardens – Celebrating 55 Years!


Harry P. Leu Gardens — Celebrating 55 Years!

In 1961, 55 years ago, the City of Orlando was given a grandiose gift.  Harry Leu and his wife Mary Jane donated their home and gardens to the “City Beautiful.”  The restored 19th century home has become the historic Leu House Museum and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  The botanical gardens contain nearly 50 acres of cultivated tropical and semi-tropical plant collections from around the world, thanks to the extensive international travels of Mr. and Mrs. Leu.  [Of course, that was prior to governmental regulations that restrict bringing certain agricultural products into the United States.]  Their passion for horticulture is what transformed their estate into the botanical oasis that we enjoy today.

Leu Gardens — 14 Dedicated Areas

Leu Gardens is strategically divided into 14 different areas to better appreciate the offerings.  Interpretive signs, QR Codes, and plant labels can be found throughout the gardens.  I did, however, think the signage could have been better.  Even with a map, my hubby and I found the navigational aides to be sparse for such a vast property.  Although, we did encounter several staff members in golf carts who were more than willing to help with directions and any questions we had.

Following is a listing of the 14 dedicated areas within Leu gardens:

  1. Garden House Welcome Center
  2. Tropical Stream Garden
  3. Idea Garden
  4. Herb Garden
  5. Butterfly Garden
  6. Vegetable Garden
  7. Rose Garden
  8. Color Garden
  9. Leu House Museum
  10. Palms, Cycads & Bamboo
  11. Floral Clock
  12. White Garden
  13. Arid Garden
  14. Camellias


Leu Gardens — Free Admission The First Monday Of Every Month

My husband and I visited Leu Gardens in early October.  We happened to be there on the first Monday of the month, and received free entry, as is their policy every month (excludes special events).  Although adult admission is a modest $10 (parking included), the “freebie” was greatly appreciated.

Additionally, if you have a Membership in any of the American Horticultural Society (AHS) Gardens throughout the country, you can take advantage of the reciprocal admission program and receive free admission to Leu Gardens simply by showing your Membership Card and photo ID.  Florida has some outstanding botanical gardens and museums that participate such as Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales, and Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Garden in Winter Park.  With nearly 50 reciprocal partners in the Sunshine State, the cost of Membership will certainly pay for itself many times over!  Here’s a link with additional information on a Leu Gardens Membership, including pricing and benefits.


Leu Gardens Self-Guided Walking Tour

Our tour at Leu Gardens began at the Garden House Welcome Center where we picked up a map for our self-guided walking tour.  This building also provides space for business meetings, receptions, retreats, art exhibits, and plant groups.  Classes are offered year-round for gardening, landscaping, history, wildlife, art, photography, and cooking.

For the plant enthusiast, be sure to stop by the botanic library.  The Gift Shop was small but had some unique items to memorialize your visit or suitable for gift giving.  A practical purchase would be the all natural botanical herbal insect repellent for your leisurely stroll amidst the gardens.


Leu Gardens Gift Shop

Leu Gardens Gift Shop


All Natural Botanical Herbal Insect Repellent

All Natural Botanical Herbal Insect Repellent


Leu Gardens In The Fall

As previously mentioned, I visited Leu Gardens in early October.  Since the climate of Central Florida is conducive for year-round plantings, I was expecting much more color.  There were a few pockets of gorgeous autumn hues in the Color Garden, but generally speaking, flowering plants were not plentiful. This was my greatest disappointment.  I enjoyed the gardens enough to return, but will choose a different season when I do.


Entrance To The Color Garden

Entrance To The Color Garden


Leu Gardens In The Fall

Leu Gardens In The Fall


Autumn At Leu Gardens

Autumn At Leu Gardens


Leu Gardens In The Fall - Color Garden

Leu Gardens In The Fall – Color Garden


Leu House Museum — National Register Of Historic Places

The Leu House Museum is included in the entry fee, and should not be missed.  I truly enjoyed my guided tour through this restored 19th century home.  It was fascinating to see and hear about turn-of-the-century Florida living.  Four families owned the property before it opened to the public in 1961, and each story was captivating.  Our docent was extremely knowledgeable and answered questions without hesitation.  Many of the furnishings in this historic home were originals left by Mrs. Leu; others are period reproductions.

Tours last about 25 minutes and are available on the hour and half hour.  From November 13 – January 2 you can see the Leu House Museum decorated for the holidays.  Creative juices flow as 9 local interior designers work their magic in each of the 11 rooms of this estate — everything from Christmas trees, tablescapes, wreaths, vintage ornaments, and much more.  You’ll go home with a few decorating tips, for sure!


Leu House Museum

Leu House Museum – National Register Of Historic Places


Leu House Museum Photo Tour




The Majestic Rose Garden — In Memory Of Mary Jane Leu

The Rose Garden at Harry P. Leu Gardens is nothing short of spectacular!  The fact that Mary Jane Leu loved roses is quite evident here.  She created it as a place of beauty and education for future generations. It contains some very old garden roses; those existing prior to 1867, as well as more modern varieties. This is the largest formal rose garden in the state of Florida!  No wonder Leu Gardens is a favorite wedding destination that hosts over 300 weddings every year.  It has been voted as one of the best wedding venues in Orlando.


Formal Rose Garden At Harry P. Leu Gardens

Formal Rose Garden At Harry P. Leu Gardens


Formal Rose Garden

Formal Rose Garden


Largest Formal Rose Garden In Florida

Largest Formal Rose Garden In Florida


The Floral Clock At Leu Gardens

There are certain not-to-be-missed sections of Leu Gardens, and the Floral Clock is one of them.  This feature was inspired by the famous floral clock of Edinburgh, Scotland.  The Scottish version was commissioned in 1903, and was the first of its kind in the world. This one was donated by the Kiwanis Club of Orlando in 1975.  The unique and stunning display is an actual working clock and the floral designs that fill the face of the clock are changed seasonally.  Although not as intricate and well-groomed as I had expected (it appeared somewhat overgrown and the hands of the clock were difficult to see), it is worth a few minutes of your time.


Leu Gardens Floral Clock

Leu Gardens Floral Clock


The Landing With Floral Clock In Background

The Landing With Floral Clock In Background – A Popular Wedding Location


The Landing At Leu Gardens

The Landing At Leu Gardens


Palms, Cycads, And Bamboo

This specialty garden is sometimes referred to as “the dinosaur garden” because it contains many plants dating back to the prehistoric age.  For example, Cycads are primitive plants that existed for nearly 200 million years.  During the Cretaceous Period when dinosaurs ruled the Earth they were the main plant life. Even though they are palm-like in appearance, they are cone bearing plants and have no relation to palms.

The Palms in this collection rank among the most extensive in the United States.  It is vast with nearly 400 species that are well suited for our Central Florida climate.  Palms are useful for providing food, furniture, and even wax for surfboards (Carnauba Wax Palm).  While strolling the Palm Garden, take a moment to read the plant labels that identify the common name, botanical name, plant family, and origin of each specie.  They’re quite interesting.

If you’re a lover of Bamboo like I am, you will be fascinated with nearly 50 varieties in this garden. Bamboo is a woody-stemmed plant in the grass family.  Some grow only a few inches tall, while others reach over 70 feet with canes 5 inches in diameter.  If you’re considering planting Bamboo in your Central Florida backyard (or even in a controlled indoor environment) I highly recommend visiting Leu Gardens first, where you can check out tons of different species.  Some of them have been growing for more than 30 years.  When you’re ready to buy, Beautiful Bamboo in Groveland, Florida is a nursery that specializes in Bamboo, about 30 minutes from Orlando.


Dinosaurs And Cycads

Dinosaurs And Cycads


Cone Bearing Cycads

Cone Bearing Cycads


Spectacular Towering Palms

Spectacular Towering Palms


Exotic Striped Bamboo Canes At Leu Gardens

Exotic Striped Bamboo Canes At Leu Gardens


Beautiful Clumping Bamboo At Leu Gardens

Beautiful Clumping Bamboo At Leu Gardens


The Butterfly Garden

Always a favorite of mine is the Butterfly Garden.  I’ve been to many in Florida; some were pretty awesome, other’s not so much!  The one at Leu Gardens is worth a few minutes of your time.  There’s just something about this flying insect that puts a smile on my face every time I see one.  To me, this gentle creature that floats in the wind is the epitome of beauty and grace.  In this specialty garden, a wide variety of annuals, perennials, shrubs and trees are planted to attract different types of butterflies.  Some of them are nectar plants, others are larval plants that caterpillars eat.  Many also attract hummingbirds and night-flying moths.

While in the Butterfly Garden, another visitor pointed out the presence of a snake that was trying hard to go un-noticed.  Obviously, he got busted!  I didn’t stick around long enough to see what kind it was, for even the harmless ones freak me out.  Because of my speedy departure from this area, I didn’t spend any time looking at the Herb Garden which displays both culinary and medicinal herbs.  The fragrant aroma, however, was proof enough that it existed!  The Vegetable Garden area seemed barren.  The fenced-in plot of land didn’t have any visible crops.  Perhaps they were in-between the summer and fall plantings.

*TIP…  Although Leu Gardens is impeccably manicured and maintained, be aware that it is a vast, open area with dense, lush plantings that may be desirable to wandering animals and critters like the one mentioned above.  I highly recommend staying on the dedicated walkways.  Be vigilant and keep your adventurous spirit in check!


Entrance To Butterfly Garden

Entrance To Butterfly Garden


Butterfly Garden

Butterfly Garden


Butterfly Garden

Butterfly Garden


Lake Rowena Overlook

The Tropical Stream Garden is appropriately named.  There’s a variety of tropical and subtropical plants throughout this garden that create the atmosphere of a tropical rainforest.  This is where you’ll see bird-of-paradise, bananas, bromeliads, heliconias, and other tropical beauties.  If you’re looking to momentarily escape the Florida heat you’ll want to linger the peaceful paths here.  There’s an abundance of shade in this garden.  There’s also a sparkling little stream that winds its way into Lake Rowena.

The Lake Rowena overlook was beautiful and relaxing.  The boardwalk and gazebo are named for John Wyckoff, one of Leu Gardens original board members.  This is one of the newer additions to the Gardens. Take a walking break and enjoy the stunning vistas here.  An aquatic wetland garden contains mostly native plants.  And… have your camera ready — I’d be surprised if you don’t see heron, turtles, and an occasional alligator!


Lake Rowena Overlook

Lake Rowena Overlook


Peak Season Pops — A Refreshing Respite

Although Leu Gardens does not currently have a cafe on site, frequently there are visiting approved vendors that offer sandwiches or snacks.  Hubby was hoping for a hot dog stand, but got to try some popular popsicles instead.  Peak Season Pops are gourmet ice pops that are all-natural and handmade with local seasonal ingredients.  We met the owners who are an awesome husband and wife team.  Honestly… they were the best ice pops I’ve ever had!  I’m not usually a popsicle person, but it was very hot and they looked so refreshing.  I had the Autumn Roasted Peach and hubby had the Pineapple Lemongrass.  Both were outstanding.  If you’re in the Orlando area, check out Peak Season Pops for delivery options, special events, birthdays, etc.  I highly recommend them.  Brooke Chen (owner) was telling us they just did a wedding wherein the bride and groom opted to serve gourmet popsicles instead of traditional wedding cake!  Apparently this trend is catching on here in the Sunshine State.  For additional information visit the Peak Season Pops website.

*TIP…  If you’re planning to be at Leu Gardens for a while, small bag lunches are allowed on the patio of the Garden House Welcome Center.  Beverage vending machines are also available in the lobby of the Welcome Center.  


Brooke and Danny Chen - Owners Of Peak Season Pops

Brooke and Danny Chen – Owners Of Peak Season Pops


Gourmet Ice Pops In Seasonal Flavors

Gourmet Ice Pops In Seasonal Flavors


Beyond The Gardens — Educational Classes And Workshops

It’s very difficult to see the entire 50-acre botanical Garden in less than 2 hours.  We did a leisurely stroll for more than that, yet still managed to miss a few key points of interest.  We did not view the Mizell Cemetery or the Idea Garden.  The world famous Camellias (largest documented collection in Eastern North America) were not in bloom so we didn’t spend much time in those areas.  A 2 hour window is recommended for adequate viewing of the Gardens.  We’re planning a return trip, but possibly in the spring, hoping for significantly more color.

Visit the Leu Gardens website for a calendar showing what plants are in bloom in any given month. There’s also information on upcoming events and classes — things like monthly outdoor movie night, monthly storytelling for young children, seasonal concerts, annual plant sale, seed swaps, gardening for honey bees, aroma therapy for intestinal health, bats of Florida, the Leu House holiday lecture, wreath making, mini gardening and fairy gardens, casual Tuscan cooking, and on and on and on!  The diverse educational offerings are impressive at Leu Gardens.

*TIP…  Bring (or purchase) bottled water, apply insect repellant, and wear comfortable shoes!



Nature Connects® Art with LEGO® Bricks: January 6 – April 22

A one-of-a-kind, outdoor exhibit featuring many larger-than-life sculptures built with LEGO® bricks.  Over 450,000 bricks were used in this exhibit to bring nature to life throughout the 50-acre botanical gardens.

Price: Included in the daytime Garden admission of $10 (adult)


Hummingbird from Nature Connects Art with LEGO Bricks at Leu Gardens

Hummingbird from Nature Connects Art with LEGO Bricks!



In Conclusion

Leu Gardens is an urban display of botanical beauty just a short drive from the “happiest place on earth!” It’s not nearly as magical, mind-blowing, or mesmerizing as ‘the Mouse,’ yet memorable in many ways. You’ll experience a sense of serenity that is instantly calming as you intentionally distance yourself from the insanity that sometimes exists in Central Florida tourist areas.  Wildly tropical with formal gardens.  I know, sounds like an oxymoron, but at Leu Gardens they co-exist in perfect harmony.  So go ahead and do your crazy theme park thing, then swing by here for a perfect portrait of what Florida used to be!


Vintage Florida - The Way It Used To Be!

Vintage Florida – The Way It Used To Be!


Question: Have you been to Leu Gardens?  If you have visited this Central Florida attraction, please share your experience & helpful information with our readers by replying in the comment section below!


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Davidson Of Dundee – An Old Florida Landmark


Davidson of Dundee Road Sign

Davidson of Dundee Road Sign


Davidson of Dundee — A Taste Of Old Florida

Davidson of Dundee is one of those “Old Florida” icons.  The company has been featured on the Food Network, Fox, CBS, ABC, and has also been featured in Smart Money and Southern Living magazines.  The citrus candy factory and retail store is located in Central Florida right on busy Highway 27, in Dundee (about a 30 minute drive from Kissimmee).  The Florida landmark is a family owned business and has been operated by members of the Davidson family for three generations.  There’s a short video about the history of the company that is worth watching if it’s your first visit. Back in the early 1900s T. W.  Davidson grew oranges, grapefruit, and tangerines near Dundee.  In the 1960s his son, Glen, planted his own citrus groves.

When Glen was a child his mother made a delicious confection from citrus juice and sugar cane from the Florida Everglades.  Later, Glen created his own version of the citrus candy, using the fresh juices from his groves.  The candy had a sweet-tart flavor along with a unique jellied texture and instantly became a hit with friends and family.  Back-in-the-day there was no social media marketing, but through old fashioned word of mouth people from all over began asking for a taste of the Florida citrus candy.


Florida Citrus Candy - Made By Hand In Small Batches

Florida Citrus Candy – Made By Hand In Small Batches


Florida Citrus Candy — Yummy Free Samples

Today Glen’s son, Tom Davidson, runs the family business.  Tom still produces the same beloved flavors that his father did for the very popular jelly citrus candies, but has also enjoyed creating new flavors.  A few additions have been the Fuzzy Navel, Margarita, Sunset Jelly, and [of course] Florida Hurricane.  The store encourages visitors to try the plethora of flavors by offering free samples.  Since this is my hubby’s favorite candy, I can assure you he has tried every single flavor.  Even so, he usually sticks to the more traditional flavors like Orange, Key Lime, Orange-Pineapple, Cherry, Blueberry, and Grapefruit.  The citrus candy is available for purchase in various size packages, but hubby buys 10-12 of the small bags so he can mix and match all of his favorites.

While they do advertise a tour of the candy factory, it isn’t much of a tour — only glass windows to peer into the operations from the gift shop.  But, the real attraction here is the fresh fruit, jams, and citrus candy.  As you can see from the photo above, the Florida citrus candies are made by hand, one small batch at a time.  And, (very important to me), I’m always impressed with the cleanliness of this facility.  I guarantee once you try Davidson’s citrus candies, you will never go back to buying those mass-produced artificially flavored cheap imitations sold in drugstores around the country.  (Prior to discovering Davidson’s that’s where hubby used to get his!)  There’s no comparison… plus, you’re getting a healthy dose of vitamin C in every bite!


Creamy Coconut Spread

Creamy Coconut Spread


Davidson’s Creamy Coconut Spread — It’s Not Just For Toast!

Davidson of Dundee also has a wide variety of homemade jams, jellies, marmalades, and spreads.  Hubby loves anything coconut, so the Creamy Coconut Spread certainly caught his eye.  Not only is it great on toast but you can get a little creative with this product.  For example, it makes a delicious and super easy icing on chocolate cupcakes, or use it to fill the hollow center of chocolate thumbprint cookies!  Think outside the box… spread a bit of this coconuty-goodness on some good quality dark chocolate and be prepared for it to melt in your mouth.  Or, try stuffing a fresh date with Creamy Coconut Spread.  Simply yummy.  I bet you’ve come up with a few suggestions of your own just now…


Alligator Chocolate Candy

Alligator Chocolate Candy


Davidson’s Choc-o-gator — The Perfect Florida Souvenir

One of the most popular gift items and souvenirs is Davidson’s chocolate candy in the shape of an alligator. After all, alligators are synonymous with the Sunshine State.  Take a few of these back home for your jealous friends that couldn’t come to Florida with you.  But be warned… chocolate melts very quickly in the Florida heat, especially when kept in a hot vehicle.  While the chocolate gator will not spoil in hot weather, it will become a discolored and unrecognizable thingamabob!  If you’re driving, I’d suggest keeping the chocolate alligators in a small cooler or some sort of reusable cold pack.


Florida Map Citrus Candy Basket

Florida Map Citrus Candy Basket


A Sweet Treat From Florida

Eat your way through Florida — literally!  Another one of Davidson’s best-selling candy items is this assortment of citrus delicacies in a basket shaped like a Florida map.  It includes pecan log slices (another of hubby’s favorites!), pecan orangettes, and your choice of a solid chocolate (or white chocolate) alligator.  Florida souvenirs don’t have to be boring or typical anymore!


Fresh Florida Citrus Fruit

Fresh Florida Citrus Fruit


Bag Your Own Citrus Fruit

Bag Your Own Citrus Fruit


Bag Your Own Citrus Fruit at Davidson of Dundee

Another popular draw to Davidson’s is the ability to bag your own fruit.  They are flat out fresh from the citrus groves and put in large bins like the one in my photo above.  Sometimes they’re not the prettiest looking — there’s no waxing or shining of the citrus peels like in the traditional grocery stores — but the sweet just-picked taste more than makes up for their blemishes and outward appearance.  The bags are sold in various sizes, and once you make your selections, you can choose to take them with you or have them shipped (additional fees apply) to addresses within the United States and Canada.  The latter is extremely popular during the holidays.

I can remember living up north and receiving shipments of Indian River citrus in the middle of winter. There was no better antidote for the wintertime blues than some fresh Florida citrus showing up at my front door!  We would always order a mixture of the “fab 4” — Tangelos, Navel Oranges, Ruby Red Grapefruit, and White Grapefruit, all of which are available (seasonally) at Davidson of Dundee.


Florida-themed Gifts

Florida-themed Gifts


Pick Up Some Florida-themed Gifts At Davidson’s

Although the main attraction at Davidson of Dundee is the fresh fruit, citrus candies, jams and jellies, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the assortment of Florida-themed gifts available in the retail store.  In the photo above, my best friend from Pennsylvania is agonizing over which floppy hat to buy.  She also purchased a tiny little bottle of Orange Blossom Perfume which made a great long-lasting Florida souvenir for her.  Most of the gift products are not actually made in Davidson’s, but many are manufactured right here in Florida, like the Orange Blossom Perfume.


Orange Blossom Perfume Made in Florida

Orange Blossom Perfume Made in Florida


I was also introduced to Citrus Magic at Davidson of Dundee.  This amazing product is not simply an air freshener but the best all-natural odor eliminating product I have found.  In other words, it doesn’t simply cover up that “fishy” smell in your kitchen, it eliminates it.  It works so well because it’s made with organic citrus oil, specifically oils from citrus peels.

***TIP:  If you’re interested in trying Citrus Magic I highly recommend purchasing it through an online outlet like Amazon.  After my first purchase at Davidson’s I found it much cheaper online.


Citrus Magic

Citrus Magic Odor Eliminating Spray


Davidson of Dundee — An Old-Florida Landmark!

In all honesty, Davidson’s is not the type of Florida Attraction I would go too far out of my way to visit. However, don’t pass this place up if you’re on your way to popular destinations like Legoland, Bok Tower and Gardens, antique shopping at The Barn in Lake Alfred, and points south of Orlando.  It’s a great piece of Old Florida history if you happen to be “passing through!”  (Note: The parking lot is large enough to accommodate buses and RV’s.)  And… even if you’re a million miles away from this little Central Florida town called Dundee, many of the goodies I mentioned in this article are available through the Davidson of Dundee website!


Here’s A Great COUPON for Davidson of Dundee!

$5.00 OFF EVERY ORDER! (excluding fruit) USE CODE: sunshine5


Have you been to Davidson of Dundee?  Or perhaps you have a favorite old-Florida landmark you’d like to share with our readers. Please reply in the “comment” box below!


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River Lily Inn Bed and Breakfast – Excellency in Daytona Beach Florida!


River Lily Inn - A Luxury Bed & Breakfast in Daytona Beach Florida

River Lily Inn – Excellency in Daytona Beach Florida


River Lily Inn: A Deliciously Different Destination in Daytona Beach

While planning my hubby’s 75th birthday celebration I stumbled upon the River Lily Inn.  This milestone event had to be special, so an ordinary hotel hiatus was out of the question.  Don’t get me wrong, we’ve been to a multitude of fantastic upscale resort hotels but I wanted this occasion to be unlike any getaway we’ve ever done.  I was searching for something new, fresh and unfamiliar; something deliciously different. My preference was something small and quaint, without the hustle and hurriedness of a large hotel or busy resort.  Perhaps because we’re getting older, I don’t know, but I didn’t want to be required to move rapidly to catch an elevator or rush through long lobby lines to catch a valet.  My thoughts turned toward a small boutique hotel or better yet, a B&B, something we hadn’t done in decades.

For days I foraged the internet for the finest B&B’s in the entire State of Florida, and was flat out amazed to find one of the highest rated ones right in my own back yard.  The River Lily Inn was only a short 90 minute drive, and in the most unexpected place… Daytona Beach!  Daytona Beach?  Yep, right there in the middle of the Spring Break/Party Capital of the World, was a tranquil retreat that felt like we were a million miles away from the high-energy vibe and sardine-packed beaches that Daytona is famous for.

***TIP for Booking Any Bed and Breakfast Inn

We spent four fantastic nights at River Lily.  I booked my reservation over the phone, speaking directly with the Innkeeper.  As with all Bed and Breakfast reservations, it’s beneficial to discuss the booking with someone even if you have the option to book it online.  The reason?  Based on the occupancy levels, the Innkeepers may offer special unadvertised incentives for additional nights.  For example… when I spoke with Polly (the Innkeeper) on the phone, I asked if there were any current promotions.  At first she said no, but then changed her mind and offered me a “buy 3, get the 4th night free” deal.  Wow!  For me, that was a major blessing since I was about to reserve the ‘best’ (and priciest) room in the house.  [She didn’t know it, but I had intended to book 3 nights anyhow.]  Had I booked online, I would have missed out on that deal. Making a phone call saved me $215 + tax!

River Lily Inn — Home Sweet Home

The Innkeepers at River Lily Inn, Art and Polly Cappuccio, offer outstanding personal service.  Once you walk through the front door of the Inn, you are no longer a stranger, as they immediately adopt you as part of their family.  Polly is usually waiting at the door to give you one of her ‘signature’ hugs and a personal tour of each room of the Inn before escorting you to your reserved room.  Art and Polly are masters at making you feel as if their home is your home, not simply a hotel to lay your head at night.  In a word, the welcome mat on the front porch said it all: “Home!”


Welcome mat at the front door of River Lily Inn

Welcome mat at the front door of River Lily Inn


Breakfast at River Lily Inn — A Gastronomical Delight!

To me, one of the best things of a Bed and Breakfast Inn is, of course, the breakfast!  When choosing a B&B, I automatically eliminate those which include a light ‘continental’ breakfast.  Come on, if I wanted that I would have booked a Fairfield Inn for the night.  Part of the ambiance of a B&B is the full, hot, more-than-you-can-eat, over-the-top, gourmet breakfast.  Oftentimes, as in this case, sharing a table with other guests staying at the Inn.  Sharing a meal is a great way to get to know people and an added benefit is the exchanging of vacation stories along with travel tips, recommendations and advice.  (Traveling the world, after all, can be full of pitfalls!  One wrong step and your vacation could be ruined.)  During breakfast, we made new friends and even exchanged emails in an attempt to keep in touch long after our stint at River Lily had ended.

Even before breakfast, which was served daily at 9:00am, we awoke to the aroma of freshly brewed coffee that was placed conveniently in the hallway right outside our room at 7:00am for early risers — or, for those like me, who are not coherent until after a generous jolt of java.


Freshly brewed coffee right outside our door!

Freshly brewed coffee right outside our door!


Each morning of our stay, Art prepared a true gastronomical delight.  Breakfast was served with a smile by Polly (and sometimes Jennifer, the Assistant Innkeeper).  The selections varied every day and attention to detail was evident.  The hot entree was always accompanied by coffee/tea, juice, fresh fruit, and sometimes an additional pastry item.  It was always more-than-enough (but I don’t remember leaving anything on my plate).   Breakfast was so plentiful it carried us through until dinner each day.


Our 1st Breakfast

Our 1st Breakfast

Our 2nd Breakfast

Our 2nd Breakfast

Our 3rd Breakfast

Our 3rd Breakfast

Our 4th Breakfast

Our 4th Breakfast


Art the Artist!

Art not only excels in the kitchen, but as breakfast is being served, he serenades the guests with subtle background music as he plays piano and guitar and sings from an adjacent room.  You see, ‘back in the day,’ Art was a session musician who played with Billy Joel and other well-known rock stars of the 60’s and 70’s.  As if that were not enough, Art is also an artist.  (Why is it that some people have more than their fair share of talent?)  Virtually every room in the Inn includes original artwork painted by Art.



Painting of Billy Joel Artist: Art Cappuccio

Painting of Billy Joel on display at River Lily Inn Artist: Art Cappuccio


Painting on display at River Lily Inn Artist: Art Cappuccio

Painting on display at River Lily Inn
Artist: Art Cappuccio


Artist Art Cappuccio draws inspiration from his former "rocker" days!

Artist Art Cappuccio draws inspiration from his former “rocker” days!


Painting by Art Cappuccio on display in our room at the River Lily Inn

Painting by Art Cappuccio on display in our room at the River Lily Inn


Painting by Art Cappuccio on display at River Lily Inn

Painting by Art Cappuccio on display at River Lily Inn


Original artwork by Innkeeper/Artist Art Cappuccio on display at River Lily Inn

Original artwork by Innkeeper/Artist Art Cappuccio on display at River Lily Inn



Polly’s Tea Room

During our stay Polly hosted one of her very popular ‘Afternoon Tea’s.’  The Tea’s which occur several times a month consistently receive rave reviews from guests of the Inn as well as locals from Daytona Beach and surrounding areas.  Polly spent two days in the kitchen preparing pastries and mouth-watering little morsels for the event.  Oh my goodness, words cannot describe the sweet aroma that penetrated our upstairs room and every nook and cranny of the Inn.  We were not able to attend due to a previously scheduled day-trip, but hopefully we’ll have the opportunity during our next visit.


Upon check-in we received this advertisement for Polly's Tea Room

Upon check-in we received this advertisement for Polly’s Tea Room


The tables were elegantly set for the Afternoon Tea

The tables were elegantly set for the Afternoon Tea


Polly hard at work in the kitchen making the blueberry scones and lemon curd for Polly's Tea Room

Polly hard at work in the kitchen making the blueberry scones and lemon curd for Polly’s Tea Room


River Lily Inn — A Holly Hill Historic Landmark

The River Lily Inn is located on the Intracoastal Halifax River in a section of Daytona known as Holly Hill. The Inn dates back to 1888 and is a Historic Landmark.  It is almost 3800 square feet with an adjacent 2-story carriage house.  The one and a half acre property is adorned with ancient oak trees (hundreds of years old) and Florida’s signature palm trees.  It has a unique oversized heart-shaped pool that was built in the 1950s and modeled after Hollywood actress Jayne Mansfield’s pool.


River Lily Inn - A Holly Hill Historic Landmark

River Lily Inn – A Holly Hill Historic Landmark


Heart-shaped pool at the River Lily Inn

Heart-shaped pool at the River Lily Inn


Art and Polly purchased the old plantation style home in September of 2007 and after major renovation (that they did themselves) opened the doors in Spring of 2008 as a Bed and Breakfast Inn.  There are six guest rooms each with a private bath that vary in size and price.  During our first night the other rooms were not occupied thus allowing us to peek inside.  After touring each room, I’m confident I would be happy and comfortable in any one of them.



The River Lily Room — Elegance Redefined

Our accommodations were in the premiere room, named after the Inn itself — The River Lily Room. Simply stunning!  Every aspect of the spacious room projected an aire of elegance, from the twin chandeliers right down to the luxury linens and bedding (cozy, comfortable, upscale bedding is a mandate when we travel). The soaring vaulted ceilings made our special space truly ethereal and the dual skylights provided an extra measure of brightness.  We enjoyed our morning coffee in the sitting area perfectly positioned in front of the extra-large palladium windows, characteristic of neoclassic styles.  Watching the sunrise over the Halifax River was a breathtaking display of radiant colors.  I’m not typically a morning person, but it was worth waking up early to witness the sun’s brilliant rays glistening off the golden accents in our room!



River Lily Inn — The Ritz Carlton of B & B’s!

As an amateur photographer, I was in my glory!  Inspiration is one of the most important aspects of my photography, and at the River Lily Inn it was easy to be inspired.  Since architectural photography is one of my favorites, I found this Historic Inn to be extremely photogenic.  Even on a rainy day, she smiled! Needless to say, our stay at the River Lily Inn both met and exceeded our expectations.  In fact, I’ve nicknamed it “the Ritz Carlton of B & B’s!”  This Florida find was a real gem and we’re already planning a return trip.  River Lily had everything we were looking for; beautiful property, excellent location, and something you will not find in any other Bed and Breakfast Inn… Art and Polly, the Grand Poohbah of Host’s!


Art and Polly Cappuccio - The Grand Poohbah of Host's!

Art and Polly – The Grand Poohbah of Host’s!


River Lily Inn — Daytona Beach — Photo Tour


Art and Polly Cappuccio, Innkeepers / Owners
558 Riverside Drive, Daytona Beach, FL 32117
Telephone: (386) 253-5002

The River Lily Inn Has Received the Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence!

Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence!


Calling All B & B Enthusiasts…

Please share your thoughts or questions regarding the River Lily Inn in the “comment” box below.  Or, perhaps you have a favorite Florida Bed and Breakfast Inn (name and location) that you can share with our readers!  


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