Central Florida's 3 Best Botanical Gardens to Explore
Updated: Apr 8
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.
McKee Botanical Gardens – Vero Beach
350 US Highway 1
Vero Beach, Fl 32962
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
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.
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
Open 365 Days/ year from 8:00 – 6:00, last admission at 5 pm.
Gardens open at 10 on Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Children 3 – 12: $5.00
Under 5: Free
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 (who also designed Central Park and the Biltmore Estate) 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.
I think the reason this garden is so unique is that with so much of Florida being a flat peninsula this is a great perspective with so many winding pathways, shady sidewalks and a striking view from the top of the Iron Mountain. Great place to throw a frisbee or climb some of the low laying branches of the trees. Be a kid. Enjoy kids being kids. Along the bell tower is a coy pond where you can feed the fish which was a big hit with our little 16-month-old who loved seeing the orange fish come up to eat the pellets.
* 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. Each time we are here we seem to get lost on the walk from the tower to the estate. Bring your map!
* 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. This naturescape is a state-of-the-art playground where all materials come from nature, and this makes playing way more hands on!
* 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.
Leu Members: Free
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.<