In the heart of central Florida between Tampa Bay and Orlando, Polk County doesn’t have the major theme parks or the beaches that make tourists flock to its neighbors. What it does have is a quiet charm and an unspoiled Florida landscape.
Polk County used to be the home of Cypress Gardens, a theme park that celebrated Florida’s natural beauty. It opened in 1936 as a botanical garden and grew to become one of Florida’s major attractions. It contained Southern Belles, water ski shows, roller coasters, and water rides. It closed in 2009. Legoland Florida, the world’s largest Legoland park, opened in 2011 on the Cypress Gardens site.
One of the most beautiful locations in Polk County is Bok Tower Gardens. Lush gardens, reflecting pools, swans, winding pathways to hidden nooks, and a magnificent carillon make this historic landmark a lovely place to spend the day. Bok Tower is located in Lake Wales, which is also home to the famous Chalet Suzanne, a famous inn that opened in 1931. Catering to its wealthy and famous clientele, the chalet has its own airstrip and a five-star restaurant that is famous for its soup.
The largest city in Polk County is Lakeland and the county seat is Bartow. Aptly named Lakeland is home to 38 named lakes and several others that are unnamed. Lakeland is the headquarters for Publix supermarkets. Other industries include citrus, cattle, transportation, phosphate mining, and tourism. Bartow was settled in the late 1800s and contains three districts on the National Register of Historic Places. Bartow also contains several historic districts. Bartow’s economy is based in government. Tourism, phosphate mining, and agriculture are also major industries.
Universities and colleges in Polk County include the University of South Florida Polytechnic, Polk State College, Florida Southern College, and Southeastern University.