The Christmas season can be a time of nervous energy and open tension. It is a time when if you live in Florida, you may get a lot of visitors, both families and friends.
It is also a time when as hosts you realize taking a large family of guests to amusement parks and Golden Spoon Florida restaurants can blow your bank account for months. In addition, the holidays have become so commercial and crowded, much of the joy is lessened.
My favorite holiday visit is Bok Towers and Gardens down US 27 in Lake Wales. The site is open 365 days of the year, but takes on a glowing appearance at Christmas without three million lights. This is nature and this time of year is a wonderful time to take a walk up 295-foot Iron Mountain, perhaps the highest spot in the Florida peninsular.
Bok Tower was the idea of Dutch immigrant Edward W. Bok, a Pulitzer Prize winning writer and successful magazine publisher, who recalled his grandmother’s plea for him “to make the world a bit better and more beautiful.” At Bok Tower, you are as close to nature as you can get in a man-made site.
He hired America’s most noted landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted Jr to turn a giant sand hill into Florida’s most romantic and relaxing garden. On top of the hill went a huge 60-bell carillion, which plays Christmas music during the afternoons of the holidays.
Over the years Bok Tower has added more all-natural attractions. I love sitting quietly behind the Window To the World, where you could see some of the garden’s 120 bird species or even a gopher tortoise or gopher frog, or a Florida field mouse. A recent addition is the delightful Hammock Hollow Children’s Garden, where your kids can walk a broadwalk, visit a music area, and go on a performance stage.
An addition tour attraction is the 1930’s Pinewood Estate, a 20-room “El Retiro” winter home for Bok’s friend, Charles Austin Buck, a Bethlehem Steel Vice President. Visiting the seven acre estate is a trip into Christmas in the 1930’s.
Most people want to spend the most time at the Reflection Pond with its swans at the top of the mountain next to the Carillion. The view of the area is unique in a state as flat as Florida.
There is a restaurant at Bok Gardens and downtown Lake Wales is a neat small town with shops and food. Giorgio’s (253 East Stuart Avenue) is a highly regarded spot.