top of page

Central Florida's 3 Best Botanical Gardens to Explore

Updated: Jan 14

Discover Botanical Gardens in Central Florida, where there is always something blooming!

Go see nature, spend some time with her, and when you return you will be peaceful.


Today’s Botanical Gardens are more like Nature’s play grounds winding through tunnels of oxygen bearing beings who simply want you to exist with them, than “gardens”. The gift of fresh air is freely given while painting a visual of flora to uplift your spirits. I’m going to tell you why it’s great to spend a little time at my top 3 (most centrally located) revival locations.


If you are anywhere in the vicinity of Harry P Leu Gardens, Bok Tower Gardens, or McKee Botanical Gardens, these are can’t miss spots. I will address each site and the can't miss exhibits here.


Let me point out the benefit of spending time in nature. The University of Michigan conducted a study that revealed students who regularly went for a nature walk actually had a better time retaining information. Nature has a calming effect on our brains and in today’s world of screens and demands, this is literally a breath of fresh air. Research has shown that going outdoors and getting enough sunlight can help boost the immune system. Not to mention time outdoors results in better sleep at night and reduced anxiety.


As a nature lover I align with all the natural world provides us with and walking through the trees to breathe with them lifts my spirits. Connecting with the network of nature is very empowering.


I never thought while my children were little that a botanical garden was an appropriate place to take them. We stuck more to play grounds and theme parks. However, I’ve already taken my grand daughter to two, and she is only 3 months old! A lovely place for wandering around yes, but I can't wait for her to be big enough to run and play. Something about pushing the stroller through the foliage that makes for both exercise and deep breathing quality time. Gardens create an atmosphere of variety in beauty, with vegetation and landscaping that captures all of the sences.

Let’s begin!


McKee Botanical Gardens – Vero Beach

350 US Highway 1

Vero Beach, Fl 32962

(772)794-0601

Tuesday – Saturday: 10:00am - 5:00pm Last admission at 4:00pm

Sunday: Noon - 5:00pm Last admission at 4:00pm

*Children's Garden closes at 4:30 pm daily


Admissions:

Adults $15.00

Seniors (65+) $13.00

Youth (13-17) $13.00

Child (2-12) $10.00

Under 2: FREE

Military (Active or Veteran. *ID required) $10.00

After you park, walk up to the admissions gate to pay and receive your map.

There is a café with a diverse menu reasonably priced



McKee Botanical Garden offers a variety of fun and enriching classes for all ages designed to let your inspiration grow. Way back in 1922 Arthur McKee and Waldo Sexton had envisioned growing citrus trees on this land, but determined it was too beautiful to develop. They opened McKee Jungle Gardens, which particularly showcased orchids and water lilies. Today, one of the largest collections of water lilies can still be found here. McKee and Sexton were forced to close in 1976, and acreage was sold to condo developers. Fortunately, in the 1990s, a group of volunteers saved the remaining 18 acres from development, and McKee Botanical Gardens was reborn. Never underestimate people with conviction!


While building this garden, the vision was to keep this a “wild place of natural beauty”, and this can be felt throughout your experience.

How to enjoy a day at McKee Botanical Gardens…. What to do there/ What not to miss


This 18-acre tropical hammock in Vero Beach, is filled with pathways that wander and return from a center zone. Each path takes you through a different area. Make sure to grab a map, it will be very helpful. Foliage is pretty well marked. When you walk through the entry tunnel you are immediately wisked into a new world.


These flower gardens double as habitats for local wildlife, such as butterflies and hummingbirds.


Our favorites:

The gardens are immaculately groomed and interesting, with art mixed in to the topography.

* Be sure to take a few minutes in the Hall of Giants for the story. The Spanish Kitchen is just outside waiting for your eyes to appreciate the workmanship

* Must see the world's largest mahogany table made out of one continuous piece of wood (35 feet)

* See the huge Amazonian lily pads in person

* Check out the Stick Work pavilion

* GO stand under the Giant Mushroom

* The bamboo trail and pavilion will transport you to another land!

* The Children’s Play area is State of the Art!


Bringing a child?

There is a newly built child nature play area complete with a pirate ship in the trees, a web for climbing, music maze, and fairy garden. Bring a bathing suit there is a splash pad to cool off! Being here as an adult will remind you why play is so crucial to brain development. Explore, create, and discover right here. The age range of those playing was vast! One two year old I know loved climbing and exploring and was 100% ready to take on the bridges and ladders, which had me working hard to keep up! I saw teenagers in there climbing also having an amazing time, it was great that older kids were also willing to wait for the younger ones to go through, parenting manners win! Really a fun place to play, and a child could be in this area for hours missing the rest of the gardens!

This little guy climbed, ran, and tired himself out (not to mention daddy and I). It was actually hard to keep up with him, he was leading the way through the play zone and just laughing the entire time. Such a fun place for kids, and not super crowded most days. Bring something they can get wet in, there is some fountain play for those hot Florida days, and it's a great way to cool off.

* On the way out, stop and grab a book! There is a little free library there for your pleasure! We brought some snacks so we found a shady spot to have some granola and fruit to enjoy. This day was a great time.


Bok Tower Botanical Gardens – Lake Wales

1151 Tower Blvd.

Lake Wales Fl. 33853

(863)676-1408

Open 365 Days/ year from 8:00 – 6:00, last admission at 5 pm.

Gardens open at 10 on Thanksgiving and Christmas.


Admission:

Adult: $16.00

Children 3 – 12: $5.00

Under 5: Free

Dogs: $5.00


Restrooms and drinking fountains are available throughout the gardens.

There is a café with a diverse menu reasonably priced.


Located one hour South of Orlando, this is a great place to escape the rush and touristy sites. As if 50 acres of gardens to explore is not sufficient, their 205 foot singing tower plays Carillion music throughout the day. Their website displays which songs are being played. While each hour there is a tune played, at 1:00 and 3:00 daily a full concert lasting 30 minutes rings out. At 3:30 daily you have the opportunity to meet the carillonist.

You will pay in your car, as you go through the parking kiosk.


How to enjoy a day at Bok Tower Botanical Gardens…. What to do there/ What not to miss


Designed by Frederick Law Olmstead (Central Park, Biltmore Estate Etc.) atop Iron Mountain, it is one of the highest points in Florida at 205'. The magnificent tower itself is made of marble from Georgia and pink coquina from St. Augustine. Bok, the philanthropist who created this space won awards for his mission of peace, and believed that: "The making of money, the accumulation of material power, is not all there is to living. Life is something more than these, and the man who misses this truth misses the greatest joy and satisfaction that can come into his life - service for others." And this place does just that, bring peace. The tower also stands at 205 feet.


The Lake Wales Ridge, upon which the Iron Mountain sits, is home to sand dunes and scrub jays. This was the location of Florida’s booming citrus industry that began in the early 1900s. The additional elevation was perfect for citrus crops. A series of freezes eventually caused growers to move the bulk of the citrus production further south along the ridge. The region around also been used for vineyards, and the famous Lakeridge Winery is just a few miles to the south. This is the view when you reach the top of the Gardens, by the over and look out across the land below.



Our favorites:

* Get as close as you can to the tower for the 1:00 or 3:00 concert. Bring a blanket and sit in the grass over looking the view down below the Iron Mountain. This is a great spot for a picnic lunch, or to sit in the nearby low hanging tress, which make some amazing photo ops.

* Go walk around the 20-room Pinewood Estate Mediterranean-style mansion, as the grounds are astonishing.

* Visit the Visitor Center where there is a brief orientation video. Grab your garden map, and look through the historical museum. Some great facts about the tower, endangered species, and the uniqueness of the terrain.

* Walk around the Oval to the Endangered Plant Garden; enjoy the Boardwalk, Window by the Pond and the unique Wild Garden ecosystems. Window by the Pond is a small indoor area with seating, with one big window for viewing the wildlife outside in the pond.

* Find the trailhead that begins the nature trails in the Wild Garden and hike through the Pine Ridge Preserve.

**** The Children’s Garden – Hammock Hallow, a wonderful place to play and learn!


Bringing a child?

Nature play is open-ended, free exploration and recreation without interruptive adult regulation

* Children under 2 will not be able to enjoy this area to the fullest extent, but anyone can stroll through and admire the ingenuity.

* Children may want a bathing suit for the splash pad area. Run through those water spouts and cool off!

* Created free of plastics or materials not found in nature, this entire area was created from the environment. Hobbit tunnels, bamboo arches, splash pad, music tree (chimes for playing), a person sized robins’ nest in the middle of a fairy garden, life sized stage, and even tree trunks for balancing – this is a state-of-the-art playground. Levels of play await. Climb, wander, explore and most of all see the world with wonder again.


Florida doesn't have much for "seasons" but we LOVED being here while it was holiday decorated. I beautiful place to get into the holiday spirit enjoying not just the nature but also the mixture of decor made it feel festive and uplifting.


Harry P Leu Gardens – Orlando (North)

1920 North Forest Avenue, Orlando Fl 32803

(407) 246 - 2620

Hours: 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. every day, closed December 25. No entrance after 4:00 p.m.


Admission:

Leu Members: Free

Adult: $15

Child (4-17): $10

Active Military and Veterans with ID: $10

Under 3: Free

Free Daytime Admission Days at Leu Gardens (admission is free all day, no entry after 4:00 p.m.):

March 12 & 13, 2022 – Plant Sale Weekend, April 4, 2022, May 2, 2022

Gardens will close early on the following dates:

Saturday, April 9, 2022 at 3:00 p.m. with last admission at 2:00 p.m.

Restrooms and drinking fountains are available throughout the gardens

Park and proceed to the Welcome House to get your admission ticket along with your map (you will need the map!)

Picnics, pets, blankets, bicycles, alcohol, and recreational activities not permitted. Picnics, blankets and alcohol are only permitted during special evening events, such as: movie nights, haunting tales and concerts.


The largest formal rose garden in Florida is found at the center, and contains old garden roses, those existing prior to 1867 and modern roses. There are surprises throughout the gardens: among them was a stunning display of hanging lanterns just outside the Rose Garden. 30-minute tours of the home are available Tuesday-Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. on the hour and half-hour.



How to enjoy a day at Leu Botanical Gardens…. What to do there/ What not to miss

No food services on property, so plan to bring something to drink.

Just North of downtown Orlando, 50-acres of beautiful gardens and historic home await. on Lake Rowena in the City of Orlando, featuring 13 distinct gardens and areas: The Garden House Welcome Center; Tropical Stream Garden; Idea Garden; Herb Garden; Butterfly Garden; Vegetable Garden; Rose Garden; Color Garden; Leu House Museum; Palms, Cycads & Bamboo; White Garden; Arid Garden; and, Camellias. "The mission of the gardens is to provide a cultural venue that promotes the awareness and understanding of plants, the environment and the garden's history." The Central Florida climate and soil allows for a diverse collection of plants.


Our favorites:

* Stop and smell the roses, the rose garden is stunning. Walk through and take your time seeing all the colors and varieties of beautiful roses.

* Walk through the bamboo garden, realizing these are an invasive species that we love.

* Wander through the Botanical library, the book selection is awesome!

* Enjoy the Art Gallery , which ends with a stunning view overlooking the gardens, screaming “this is art”.

* Admire both Butterfly and Vegetable garden, they are so close; the quaint but simple design will inspire you to run home and start your own!


Bringing a child?

While there are lots of natural spaces to see and explore, there is not a specific Children’s area here.

Children are welcome to explore the gardens, but there are not a lot of hands on activities specified for them. I believe having a child in nature, examining the different species of flora is great for brain development as well as connecting more with nature. Bring your children, it will be fun ! Our little one was pushed through in a stroller most of our visit. Ironically enough what we were looking for was a scenic and upbeat place to go for a walk, so this was prefect. For toddlers, there is still much to explore and discover with rich opportunities to boost language development.

When is a good time to go to these spots?

We went to all 3 of these Botanical gardens between Thanksgiving and New Year's (2021)

We found that in Florida there is always something blooming, the weather was amazing, and the fresh air felt so good. Being outside with all of the trees reminds us to take those deep breaths that directly infuse oxygen into our blood. While winter was mild this year, we also found there were barely any crowds, we could social distance outside, and go at our own pace.


During the hotter months, botanical gardens tend to be a few degrees cooler than the rest of the area as the shaded spaces and large trees provide some protection from the heat.

Of course, both Spring and Autumn are seasons of massive blooming.


Having access to such beauty it is important to take advantage of.

If these places are already local for you, be sure to take advantage.

If you are coming to visit the area, botanical gardens can provide a much-needed break from the crazy of the theme parks and typical Florida vacation. I also strongly recommend you visit some Springs while you are in the area! Native Florida is so under appreciated.


Affordabilty Meter: 7/10


On a scale of 1-10 how affordable is this day?

With 1 being utterly unaffordable and 10 being basically free, I rate this adventure a 7.

Variables: How far did you travel to get there/ food & drink choices/ Ways to budget


Entrance fees are minimal; however, you do pay per person (average $15/ per adult). Babies are free which is nice if you have really little ones still. I would love to see a family rate, as I well know traveling with a group can be a hard hit at an admission window. They do have yearly passes, which if you are really going often, is a good purchase. While they provide a unique and beautiful day, it is not a free adventure. However, if it is just your own ticket, or a small group, it is reasonable. On this excursion I took advantage of time off while my teenage boys had work obligations, as I felt it was something I wanted to do for myself. My teenagers will be back to Bok Tower as I am adding that to our family bucket list.


At Bok Tower Gardens my daughter and I did eat at the Café, and while the food isn't "cheap" you are paying for quality plates. I recommend packing a picnic lunch and road trip snacks if you are really minimizing costs.


I strongly recommend using the gardens as a photo op if you have any events you are promoting. And if there is no event, just have fun with the camera! These were taken at Bok Tower, and we really enjoyed some location yoga as well as being silly!! While these were a series of Momma Daughter Grandbaby days out, this could easily be a great place to go with your girlfriends.

At the mansion of Bok Tower we saw some wedding photos and even military photos being taken!

Such beautiful grounds for capturing a special moment, and natural lighting can work in your favor.

I know while we were there the decorated Christmas theme made an already gorgeous location really pop. They even set up photo ops!! Great place to bring your family and get that Christmas card moment.

Wherever your travels take you, be sure to keep your presence in the moment. Enjoy where you are at. Be a little flexible with people and their navigation of time. Let go of things you can't control and stop and smell the roses!

We greatly enjoyed our visits, which were all with in 90 minutes of our home in Brevard County. Wherever you live, be sure to enjoy the nearby attractions. Widen your circle a little every year as you are able and see this beautiful world we share.

Thank you for being a part of your journey, I invite you to leave a question or comment below.


Mz. Savvy