Florida is full of beautiful places, I would know it I live here but Bok Tower Gardens is beyond that, it is more like a hidden gem.
While doing some research on things to do in Central Florida that were totally unrelated to Disney and theme parks, I came across Bok Tower Gardens which is a 600 acres of garden and architecture and considering it was my husbands birthday week, I knew it would be the perfect place to visit.
A little history on the Sanctuary and Singing Tower
We cannot talk about Bok Tower Gardens without talking about its history, after all, what is a 205 foot neo gothic singing tower surrounded by nature is doing in the middle of Lake Whales, Florida?
Well, everything started with Edward W Bok and his wishes to give the people of America a gift, a sanctuary.
Bok was born in the Netherlands but arrived in the United States when he was only six years old. He became to be an aspiring author but more importantly he was a leader in the art and crafts movement. It is thanks to Edward that we now call living room what used to then be called parlor rooms.
In his lifetime, the author wrote twelve books, one of them being his autobiography but anyone who reads his letters between friends and colleagues about the Bok Tower Garden can see it without a doubt that not only it was the work he was most proud of but also the one he saw it as most important of his life.
While browsing through the digital records of Bok Tower Gardens website, I came across an amazing rough draft letter that Mr Bok wrote about the four purposes why he founded the sanctuary.
Here's a little bit of what is in that letter:
" As a place of quiet and repose for the electrically-driven people of America. In the olden days, a sanctuary was a retired spot protected for those who were persecuted and who found there an asylum of safety. We have no persecutions in free America as in those days. But we do need the sanctuary as a place of quiet and refuge for those who are in the rapid whirl of modern life and can find repose and a place to think.
Man needs the quiet moment every once in a while to take as it were an inventory of himself. To consider where he is going and if the goal is worthy of the effort. Some place where he can think and sit among the beauties of nature and let the realization of the existence of a God come to him.
Man cannot live by bread alone; he must have the quiet moments where can withdrawn from the rush of life and try to understand himself. As John Burroughs has so beautifully put it, which is the motto of this Sanctuary: I come here to find myself. It is so easy to get lost in the world.
Men do lose themselves in our modern whirl and it is well and needful there should be such places of beauty and quiet in this fast going country of ours where human can find himself and be better and finer because of the quiet moment. It is pleasant to know that hundred of visitors who have visited this Sanctuary have said that a feel of supreme peace has come upon them upon the first step of their entrances into it."
The entire letter is composed of six pages and if you would like to know more about the founder's intention for the sanctuary, I highly encourage reading it.
The Singing Tower
As Edward Bok said, a tower is just a tower and a carillon is just a carillon but together they become a singing tower.
And to be quite frank with you, even though the property is filled with beautiful vegetation, rare plants and flowers, the singing tower has to be one of the most amazing things to see when visiting Bok Tower Gardens.
The tower consists of six levels, the top level being reserved for the carillon which is an instrument that consists of at least 21 bells. The one at Bok Tower contains 61 bells, and it happened to be the largest and heaviest, taking nearly a year to be completed and tuned at the time.
As you get to know the carillon, you start to have more appreciation for it, especially when you realize that there are only 186 carillons in the entire North America and we have one right here in Florida.
Another fun fact about the Tower is that the founder himself is buried at the very base of it.
So before going into the tips, here are some general information that is good to know before visiting the gardens.
Admission: $15 per adult, $5 per children (5 - 12), Free for children under 5
Hours of Operation: 365 days a year from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm
Pets: well behaved dogs are allowed but must be on a leash and picked up after.
Tips for visiting Bok Tower Garden
Now, let's talk about visiting the sanctuary, couple of things you should expect and things you definitely won't want to miss.
1 - Stop by Information Center
It may sound silly but definitely stop by the information center to pick up a map along with many other print outs available such as a list of seasonal plants and flower currently found at the gardens as well as membership information.
If you got some time in hand you can also opt to watch a eight minute video that tells the story of the gardens.
2 - Visit in the morning
If you are visiting the gardens anytime besides the months of January, February and March when the climate in Florida is mildly cold, I would totally recommend going during the day to avoid the extreme heat.
Although, the place is full of trees and there is plenty of shade, the heat doesn't forgive and it can get very hot and humid as midday approaches.
Also, if you are visiting during the summer months as we did, keep in mind that the tendency to rain in the afternoon is always very high so that's another reason why we visited in the morning.
3 - Wear comfortable clothes
There will be a lot of walking and exploring so you will want to wear light clothes and very comfortable shoes. Last thing you want is to cut your trip short because your feet hurts or your clothes aren't appropriate for the activity.
I would also recommend water shoes, at least for the kids as there is a wet activities in the playground area for children located the kids garden.
4 - Bring Water
Did I mention it gets hot and humid in Florida? Well, yes, it does even during the winter months so be sure to bring water bottles and stay hydrated during your visit.
There are water fountains throughout the property so you can just refill your water bottle instead of bringing a bunch of them with you. I brought two water bottles with filter and it worked out great for our family of five as there are four different water fountain stations conveniently located throughout the gardens.
5 - Shuttle Services
Shuttle services are available for persons with disability and they are available every 15 to 20 minutes. Just look for the shuttle stop signs located throughout the gardens, there are a total of four, one by the rain shelter, two of them by the visitor center and the last one is right around the Pinewood estates and garden area.
6 - Bring quarters
Although it is not permitted to feed or handle the wildlife that lives in the gardens, there are food machines that you can use quarters to buy food for the koi fishes and feed them at the pond that surrounds the tower. My kids loved this activity and I totally wish I knew about this because all we had was two quarters. Our family is not a big change carrier.
7 - Hammock Hollow Children's Garden
Considering we have three kids, Hammock Hollow Children's garden is where we spent most of our time when visiting Bok Tower gardens.
The playground area is an amazing entertainment for kids, and don't take it from us, take from my kids who were totally unhappy when it was time to leave.
Related post - 17 things to do with children while visiting Bok Tower Gardens.
8 - Reserve the Outdoor Kitchen
If you are looking for a unique location with a beautiful scenario surrounded by a delightful garden where you can receive guests or have a celebration then you may want to look into reserving the outdoor kitchen at the gardens.
Had I known this I could have rented this gorgeous 6,400 sf garden kitchen for myself and my family of five during our visit!
Just kidding, but it is a great idea for anyone who is looking for a venue for their next event or gathering.
9 - Eating at Bok Tower Gardens
If you plan to spend a full day at the Bok Tower Gardens you will certainly need some food in your system to keep up with all the walking and activities.
One of the cool things about the gardens is that picnicking is welcome anywhere on the property, but there are also designated picnic areas for your enjoyment, so choose as you please.
However, if you just aren't into picnics or want to take a break from the heat, Blue Palmetto Cafe will provide you with a full menu and refreshments at a decent cost. The diner is located right behind the information center.
10 - Carillon Concerts
Although the carillon is played every hour and half hour every day, during performance season at exactly 1pm and 3 pm you can not only enjoy the melody of the singing tower but you can also watch as the carillonneurs play the beautiful instrument.
11 - Geo catching at Bok Tower Gardens
Geocaching is a real world, outdoor treasure hunting game. Players try to locate hidden containers with little treats inside that can be located using GPS-enabled devices and then share their experiences online.
You can find the geo catching coordinates at Bok Tower Gardens right at their website.
12 - Free Strollers and wheelchairs for visitors
Bok Tower Gardens provide strollers and motorized wheelchairs at no cost for visitors.There are also mobility carts available for rent at $10 an hour or $30 for half day (4 hours).
Last but not least you may be very tempted to pluck a beautiful flower to take it home with you or poach one of the delicious fruits found in the gardens but remember that Bok Towers Gardens is a sanctuary built for the people to enjoy and appreciate the beauty of nature so don't take the chance of someone else seeing the same beauty you saw.
Want more ideas for places to visit in Florida?