This Bok Tower Gardens review is not sponsored.
It took my whole life, but I finally made it to Bok Tower Gardens.
Well, my whole life minus three years.
My grandparents moved to Lake Wales, Florida a couple weeks before I turned three. And one of the biggest — well, I should say tallest — draws of Lake Wales is Bok Tower Gardens. Bok Tower is built on Iron Mountain, one of the highest points in peninsular Florida.
So, it’s tall.
And ever since my grandparents moved to Lake Wales, I always wanted to go. We never got to … until earlier this year.
What To Expect At Bok Tower Gardens In Lake Wales, Florida
Bok Tower Gardens (115 Tower Boulevard) is a 100-acre botanical garden with a large singing tower in the center.
Philadelphia residents Edward W. and his wife Mary Louise Curtis Bok were vacationing in the Lake Wales Ridge section of Florida and decided to create a bird sanctuary on the section’s largest hill.
So, as people with money back in the beginning of last century tended to do, they commissioned an architect (in this case, the Olmsted Brothers) to design their dream. Like Brookgreen Gardens.
The gardens were completed and dedicated by then-President Calvin Coolidge in 1929. Edward Bok passed away in 1930.
Let’s stop for a second there. We went to another garden in Florida on this trip, the Albin Polasek Museum & Sculpture Gardens In Winter Park, Florida. Polasek finally retired to the residence (which became the garden), and within months had a stroke.
I’m sure its a coincidence that these prominent men’s completed dreams were followed by catastrophe. But please, forgive me if I don’t finish anything monumental in my lifetime. It’s just for survival.
Bok Tower Gardens is broken into four main sections. There’s Hammock Hollow, a 2.5 acre children’s garden, the Pinewood Estate mansion, the singing tower carillon, and of course, the gardens themselves.
Hammock Hollow Children’s Garden
The Hammock Hollow Children’s Garden is separated into nearly 20 different sections, all of which are really fun for kids.
The Hammock Hollow Children’s Garden is really interactive for kids, which is a great way to hold their attention. It houses the Sabal Stage, which is a great section for kids to break out into impromptu plays, as kids do.
The Doodle Bug Art Place is also there, a section for kids to draw, paint, and create artwork.
And, there’s the Edward Bok word garden, which has a ton of word rocks. It’s fun to look through the section and find sentences that previous visitors have “written,” plus find word rocks to leave your own message behind.
Our favorite part of the Hammock Hollow Children’s Garden is the River Walk. There’s a “secret button” to press to display fountains, spray jets, misters, and foggers. Luckily my parents had been to Bok Tower Gardens a few times before and knew where it was so we could watch the water jump through the scene.
We also really loved the fairy garden trail in the Hammock Hollow Children’s Garden, mostly for its whimsy.
Pinewood Estate Mansion
The original Pinewood Estate mansion, called El Retiro, was a winter home for steel magnate Charles Buck.
Buck, who was also from Pennsylvania, had the home built by the same architects that designed Bok Tower Gardens. He vacationed there with his nine children and eight grandchildren.
The mansion was purchased by Nellie Lee Holt Bok, wife of one of Edward and Mary Louise’s children, and became part of Bok Tower Gardens in 1970.
You’re able to tour the Pinewood Estate mansion (with a separate fee). The Pinewood Estate is decorated for Christmas every year, so if you get to see the Mediterranean home then, I hear it’s incredible.
Singing Tower Carillon
The Singing Tower Carillon at Bok Tower Gardens is one of only 185 carillons in North America and only one of 600 in the world. So it’s definitely a treat to be able to see on in Lake Wales.
General admission does not allow you to enter the tower, but certain levels of Bok Tower Gardens membership allows you to tour the entire Singing Tower.
All guests can enjoy the beautiful craftsmanship of the tower. If you look closely, you’ll see flamingos carved onto it. That’s because when the Boks were starting the garden, the goal was to have flamingos grazing the property. Flamingos only do well in Southern Florida, not Central Florida, so the only flamingos are carved.
The Singing Tower clock music plays every 30 minutes from 9 am to 5:30 pm. And there are also readings at the base of the tour at specific times during specific days of the week.
Of course, Bok Tower Gardens is also a botanical garden. You’ll see azaleas, camellias, magnolias, longleaf pines, and more.
The Gardens are divided into sections, like the pollinator garden, endangered plant garden, outdoor kitchen, and wetland boardwalk.
My favorite part of all is the peace lantern, a Japanese stone lantern that was a gift from Japan’s Usaburo Tsujita who had worked in the Bok’s home in Pennsylvania. The lantern overlooks Edward Bok’s resting place.
The biggest draw of the Gardens is the Window By The Pond. It’s a large window with a seating area, overlooking a Florida bog. You just sit and watch “nature’s show.”
There are paved pathways in the Gardens, plus mulched secondary paths. So you’ll definitely want to wear walking shoes in the Garden. It can take hours if you go through slowly, looking at every path, observing the Singing Tower, and just enjoying the Florida sunshine.
Blue Palmetto Café
If you’re hungry when you’re at Bok Tower Gardens, you can stop and have lunch or dinner at the Blue Palmetto Café. There’s indoor and outdoor seating, both on a first come, first serve basis.
You can order salads, sandwiches, beverages, and alcohol at the café.
We went to Bok Tower Gardens on a Friday during Lent, so we weren’t able to have meat. So I ordered the Avocado Tuna Salad, my mom had the Chicken Blueberry Salad (but with tuna salad instead of chicken salad), Pete had the Smoked Salmon Salad, and my dad had the Fried Flounder Sandwich. The salads came with a side of naan bread and the sandwich came with a bag of chips on the side. We all really enjoyed our food. The portions were large and were really fresh tasting.
We had to try some ice cream, and we enjoyed that too. So if you’re at Bok Tower Gardens on a nice day, this was a delicious lunch.
Bok Tower Gardens Information
Bok Tower Gardens Address: 115 Tower Boulevard; Lake Wales, Florida 33853
Bok Tower Gardens Phone: (863) 676-1408
Bok Tower Gardens Hours: Daily 8 am to 6 pm, with the last admission at 5 pm. On Thanksgiving and Christmas, Bok Tower Gardens opens at 10 am. The Visitor Center, Blue Palmetto Café, and gift shop are open from 9 am to 5 pm.
Bok Tower Gardens Admission: Adults $15, Children (5 to 12) $5, Children under 5 are free. Dogs are $5. Admission is free with an American Horticultural Society reciprocal gardens pass.
Food at Bok Tower Gardens: The Blue Palmetto Café sells salads, sandwiches, alcohols, and more.
Other things to do in Lake Wales, Florida
If you’re visiting Bok Tower Gardens, it won’t take you all day. So be sure to visit these other attractions in Lake Wales, Florida:
- Florida’s Natural Grove House Visitor Center (20160 US-27)
- Lake Wales History Museum (325 S Scenic Hwy)
- Struthers’ Honey (8023 Eucalyptus Rd)
- Murals in downtown Lake Wales
Day trips from Lake Wales, Florida
Lake Wales, Florida is in central Florida, about an hour outside of Orlando and Tampa, without traffic. There are a few places worth checking out that are great day trips from Lake Wales, Florida.
Do you have any other questions after reading this Bok Tower Gardens review? Let us know in the comments and we’ll answer them for you.