During another very hot Miami Friday afternoon, my fiancé Matt and I were brainstorming about something new to do for the Labor Day weekend. The weekend snuck up on us (the entire month had flown by), and we were behind the ball on planning activities. He and I are not big fans of air travel during federal holidays because flights and hotels tend to be more expensive. The dive trips we were interested in were full, so we chose to go on a mini road trip instead. I began researching hidden gems in Florida and came across Bok Tower Gardens. I was immediately captivated by the images of the garden’s tower, lush plantings, and history. Matt and I agreed this would be a perfect two-day trip.

Bok Tower Gardens is a 250-acre garden and bird sanctuary located atop Iron Mountain, north of Lake Wales, and about a 3.5-hour drive from Miami Beach. We decided to drive up Saturday morning, stay overnight, and return on Sunday. That way, we could still have a day off at home to rest and prepare for the week ahead.

Bok Tower Museum

A model of the Bok Tower inside the museum

Bok Tower Garden was a gift to the American people.

The Tower at Bok Tower Gardens

What I packed and what people were wearing there

For overnight trips, I usually just pack a medium-sized duffle bag with two outfit options and my toiletries. This time, I packed pajamas, the dress I wanted to wear on Sunday, an extra dress in case I changed my mind, sneakers, an extra shirt, a sports bra, and exercise shorts in case we ended up going on a hike. Ultimately, this was a very leisurely trip, focused on walking around, but jogging is possible on the grounds. The majority of the visitors were dressed in athleisure wear. I knew I wanted to have a picnic there (outside food and drinks are allowed), so we also brought our picnic basket, picnic blanket, and utensils.

The hotel

On Saturday, we left at around 11:30 am and arrived at our hotel just in time for check-in at 3  pm. We stayed at the Royale Inn Lake Wales. It was as basic as a hotel could be, but it was clean, felt safe, and was close to the historic district and the gardens. The hotel’s price was also right, coming in at just under $100. The Bok Towers Garden website has a list of hotel recommendations here if you are interested in exploring hotel options.

Day 1

It was close to 4 pm by the time we finished getting settled. Since the garden closes at 6 pm, we decided to get the lay of the land in preparation for spending a full day there the next day. The tours wrap up, and the shops all close at 5 pm, so we decided to explore the children’s area called the Hammock Hollow Children’s Garden, which featured nature play-based landscape architecture and balances.

Map of Hammock Hollow Children’s Garden

A giant bird’s nest for children to play in.

The Fairy Garden features tiny fairy homes.

A fairy’s home, in case you have never seen one.

Day 2

We checked out of the hotel and headed to the garden early the following morning, equipped with our picnic basket and blanket. We ate a small breakfast at the café and then went off to explore the rest of the grounds. We decided to leave the basket and blanket in the car while we explored and come back for it when we were ready to have lunch. We explored for about two hours and took a tour of El Retiro. El Retiro (meaning “retreat” in Spanish) is a stunning 1930s 20-room, Mediterranean-style mansion built for Charles Austin Buck, a Bethlehem Steel executive. El Retiro was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1985. EL Retiro is a Mediterranean Revival style home with 12,900 square feet of living space, two apartments, a staff area, a laundry room, a basement, and a three-car garage.

Exterior of El Retiro. This was the winter residence of American Industrialist Charles Austin Buck from 1932 until his death in 1945.

The frog fountain. Mr. Buck saw this fountain when he traveled to Cuba and had it sent back to the states.

Sitting in the garden at the back of the house.

The stunning doorway with the family crest.

The upstairs hallway in El Retiro leads to the bedrooms and staff areas.

One of the original bathrooms upstairs.

Archways are a common characteristic of the Mediterranean Revival style.

This is the original built-in General Electric refrigerator in the butler’s pantry and kitchen.

The original butler’s pantry and kitchen area.

The dishes in the home were intentionally more casual than the traditional dishware of the time.

Interesting furniture in the formal living room.

Picture of the formal dining room in El Retiro. These are the original chairs, but they have been reupholstered.

Original lighting throughout the home.

These old books spoke to my soul.

Around 1 pm, we went to the car to grab our things and headed to the café to pick up lunch items. We then walked over to the back side of the tower, where we found a perfect spot underneath a gorgeous oak tree. It was a very relaxing picnic. Visit my IG page @angiebtravels for those photos.

A stroll through the beautiful grounds.

Views of the Bok Tower from the scenic path.

Giant lily pads

Bok Tower Gardens is located on one of the highest land points in Florida.

More giant lily pads

The gift store was lovely.

Wild flowers everywhere

Matt and I left at 4 pm feeling refreshed. It was a wonderful two days at Bok Tower Gardens. Visit my Instagram page @angiebtravels for other fun photos and videos.