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Tampa Bay residents may think of Lakeland as little more than a rest stop on the way to Orlando’s massive attractions. However, Lakeland has plenty to offer someone looking for a wide variety of entertainment and educational diversions ranging from aviation history to a theme park built around a popular children’s toy to a treasure trove of works from the world’s most famous architect. Lakeland is less than 40 miles away from downtown Tampa and it’s less than an hour’s drive on I-4 to exit 32, where a surprising variety of treats await.

Getting ThereHead east on I-4. During non-peak hours, the estimated time to exit 32, which merges into Lakeland’s main drag of US 98 south, is only about 30 minutes. After driving on US 98 for about three miles, you should turn left on Bartow Road. This will bring you right up to Main Street in Lakeland.
What To DoThe Frank Lloyd Wright Collection
Florida Southern College
111 Lake Hollingsworth Drive
Lakeland, FL 33801
(863) 680-4597
flsouthern.eduFlorida Southern College President Dr. Ludd Myrl Spivey had the audacity to seek out Frank Lloyd Wright at the height of his fame in 1939 and propose that Wright design a campus in a spot that was currently occupied by orange groves. Wright designed 20 buildings that would rise out of the land which he dubbed “child of the sun.” While only 12 of the structures were built, the Florida Southern Campus remains to be the largest collection of Wright’s work in any one place. It’s also one of Florida’s best-kept secrets.

Florida Air Museum at Sun ‘n Fun
4175 Medulla Road
Lakeland, FL 33811
(863) 644-2431

After taking possession of more than 180 crates of documents and memorabilia related to Howard Hughes, the Florida Aviation Museum became one of the best places in the world to learn about the dashing millionaire who made headlines with his flying and radical aircraft designs in the 1930s. The collection includes artifacts from some of his most famous aircrafts and memorabilia from the dozens of movies he produced and/or directed. The museum also features an impressive collection of air racers, military aircraft and aerobatic aircraft from all of aviation’s great eras. Be sure not to mistake the Florida Air Museum for Fantasy of Flight which is just a bit further up the road on I-4. They are completely separate, presenting their own unique experiences.

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Explorations V Children’s Museum
109 N Kentucky Ave
Lakeland, FL 33801
(863) 687-3869

Explorations V is a description as well as a name for this interactive children’s museum. The “V” stands for the Roman numeral that denotes the number five. In this context, it refers to the five senses. This three-story museum seeks to engage all five senses on exhibits designed to help visitors better understand subjects such as arts, science and history. The exhibits are not only designed to help children learn, they’re designed to help children learn by doing and seeing fun things. This is a sure-fire combination to stimulate and entertain even the most active kids.

Hollis Gardens
702 E Orange St
Lakeland, FL 33801
(863) 834-2280

Hollis Gardens was a gift from the Hollis family to the city of Lakeland, but it’s truly a gift to anyone seeking a tranquil escape from the frenetic, always-connected modern lifestyle. Hollis Gardens is home to 10,000 plants, shrubs and flower varieties. It’s a perfect place for unhurried wandering, but guided tours are available for a small fee. It’s also a perfect location for weddings.

Thomas W. Bryant Stadium
726 Hollingsworth Road
Lakeland, FL 33801
(863) 499-2900

Named after a prominent Lakeland attorney and staunch supporter of Lakeland High School’s football program, Bryant Stadium provides a high-school football experience unmatched in Florida and perhaps the nation. The stadium seats about 7,000, has a massive scoreboard complete with Jumbotron TV and other unique features such as the “Runway to Victory” formed by members of the school’s Army Junior ROTC units. The play on the field matches the setting as the Dreadnaughts have won multiple state championships as well as national championships in 2005 and 2006. If you haven’t been to a Dreadnaughts’ home game, you only think you’ve experienced high school football.

Where To EatGranger and Sons BBQ
8121 US Highway 98 N
Lakeland, FL 33809
(863) 858-7572
grangerandsonsbbq.comIf you need to fortify yourself for a hard day of playing tourist, there’s nothing like a plate full of barbecue to keep your stomach from growling while you’re prowling. Granger Noles and his sons James and Graham have been stuffing patrons with everything from baby-back ribs to Porterhouse steaks for 17 years. They make everything from scratch and promise that, while you may come in as a customer, you’ll leave as a friend.

101 N Kentucky Ave
Lakeland, FL 33801
(863) 686-2228

Lakeland is indeed in the heart of central Florida, but it’s still close enough to have restaurants offering terrific seafood in what is called a “New Orleans Style Restaurant.” If you want to finish off the day with a pleasant dinner stop, Harry’s has been making it happen for 25 years. Harry’s has a full menu and even offers a kid zone if the youngsters have some excess energy to burn while you’re recharging your batteries. They promise you’ll be “hooked on Harry’s” before you head for home.

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Mike Hennessy is a veteran news man who has won Florida AP awards for feature reporting and covered almost every kind of story imaginable from on-the-scene coverage of Hurricane Andrew, to some of the highest profile murder and corruption trials in Florida history. Mike is versatile and has the curiosity it takes to get to the bottom line of any story. His work can be found at Examiner.com.