15 Best Things to Do in Bartow (FL)

Bartow is located in Polk County in central Florida, about 40 miles east of Tampa and relatively equidistant between the state’s Atlantic and Gulf coasts.

Founded in the 1850s, Bartow is named after a Confederate officer who was one of the first Southerners killed in the Civil War.

The town and surrounding area is full of historic buildings, quaint Southern charm and classic architecture. While it might be a little slow for some, it’s close enough to many of the state’s most popular attractions to keep things interesting.

Here are 15 things to do in Bartow, FL.

1. Polk County History Center

Polk County History Center

Located on East Main Street in Bartow’s historic downtown, the Polk County History Center is the perfect first stop for anyone who doesn’t want to waste any time diving headfirst into the area’s interesting history.

The center is part museum and part visitor center. The knowledgeable and enthusiastic staff know a lot of interesting things about the establishment and development of the town and can help you find interesting things to do in the area. There is even an extensive genealogy library on site.

The center is closed on Sundays and Mondays, but is open every other day from 9 am to 5 pm.

2. LB Brown House and Museum

LB Brown House

LB Brown was a black man born into slavery in 1856. Through extraordinary dedication, perseverance, and some fascinating twists of fate, he became not only a free man, but one of the town’s most successful craftsmen.

Brown became a master carpenter, owner and builder. His private residence, the oldest of its kind in Bartow, is now a historic site open to the public.

The house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a tribute not only to Brown, but also to the contributions and plight of African Americans.

3. Annual SyFy Saturday

Annual SyFy Saturday

There’s hope for Doctor Who and Star Trek fans worried that a trip to Central Florida will be free of any science fiction-related events; for the past six years, the small town of Bartow has hosted a SyFy Saturday event.

Each year, the event features a different theme, filled with costumes, reenactments, replicated TV and movie props, and geek revellers who look like they’ve fallen out of a Jules Verne novel.

Costumes and makeup are optional, and even for those who don’t know the whole sci-fi thing, it’s a family-friendly activity with plenty of kid-friendly activities that are worth checking out.

4. Bartow’s Bloomin’ Festival

Batory's Blossom Festival

Spring in Central Florida is mild, sunny and relatively humidity-free. This is the best time of year to frolic outdoors.

The Bartow’s Bloomin’ Festival takes place every year in the first week of March and attracts artists, artisans and art lovers from all over the country.

Although it started small, it has grown into one of the top art-related attractions in the state, including hundreds of vendors and artists.

There’s a jury art competition, lots of delicious food and drinks, kids’ activities, and even a quilt, car and RV show.

This is a fun and iconic Bartow event not to be missed.

5. Bartow Municipal Airport Museum

Bartow Municipal Airport Museum

While Barstow Municipal Airport will never be confused with LaGuardia or Heathrow, it’s still one of those off-the-beaten-track spots worth checking out for history and aviation-minded travelers who have a little spare on their hands time.

Officially known as the Bartow Air Force Base Museum, the facility is located between Bartow and nearby Eagle Lake. When the airport served the Army Air Corps, it houses a small but impressive collection of memorabilia from the Second World War.

At the time, it was a cadet flight training facility. It is now a popular destination for ex-military personnel, pilots and aviation enthusiasts.

6. Bartow Golf Course

Bartow Golf Course

There are dozens of golf courses to choose from around Bartow, and the veritable Bartow Golf Course is one of the most popular, accessible, and affordable.

The course dates back a century when it was a solitary 9-hole facility, but in the mid-20s it was expanded to include 18 holes built in a similar way to the ever-popular groves in England Cox Stadium.

The par 72 course is between 5,200 and 6,600 yards – depending on your choice of tee and hole location on the green – so it’s suitable for most ages and skill levels.

7. Cookie Jar Bakery

Cookie Jar Bakery

Previous guests to the Cookie Jar Bakeshop have said that once they walk in the door, inhale the pleasant aroma of baked candies, and stare at the display case, they know they’ll gain a few pounds when they get home.

Offering fresh daily homemade cookies, cakes, pies and pastries, Cookie Jar Bakeshop has been around for over a decade and is a popular destination for locals and travelers desperate for something to satisfy their sweet tooth.

They serve hot and cold drinks and sandwiches as well as baked goods.

8. Alafia River State Park

Alafia River State Park

Located southwest of Bartow in Hillsborough County, Alafia River State Park covers more than 6,000 acres and offers a variety of recreational options for nature and outdoor lovers.

The park was once the property of a mining company that donated the land to the state when it was no longer commercially viable. Now, the heart of the park is Hurray Lake.

Fishing, swimming, hiking, mountain biking and picnicking are popular park activities. For those looking to spend a night or two under the stars, there are dozens of individual campgrounds, many of which include hydro.

9. National Land Heritage Park

National Land Heritage Park

Located in the nearby town of Homeland, Homeland Heritage Park is another regional historic attraction focused on promoting and preserving the area’s past.

Homeland Heritage Park is a historic settler-era community dating back to the mid-19th century. It includes school buildings, churches and cabins.

Raulerson House is the park’s main attraction, offering visitors a glimpse into the way of life of the warm-hearted souls who settled in the area when it was tough, dangerous and unforgiving.

The park regularly hosts a variety of special events and programs, so check their website before you travel.

10. Hollis Gardens

Hollis Gardens

At just over an acre, Hollis Gardens in Lakeland isn’t one of the largest botanical gardens in the state, but what it lacks in size more than makes up for in its splendor.

Areas of the garden include a variety of tropical and subtropical flowers, plants and trees, in addition to fountains, koi ponds, grottoes and a promenade that surrounds the picturesque lake.

The garden holds thousands of plant life and is named after the family who donated the land to the city.

Hollis Gardens is a free attraction that’s close enough to other attractions in Lakeland and Tampa to be easily visited as part of a multi-stop day trip.

11. Edward Medard Conservation Park

Edward Medard Conservation Park

Although its official name is Edward Medard Conservation Park, many locals call it Turkey Creek Park. Whatever you choose to call it, it has been a popular leisure destination for Central Florida residents for generations.

The park’s 700-acre reservoir is its crown jewel, created when an abandoned phosphate mine filled with water in the ’60s.

According to statistics, the park attracts nearly 500,000 tourists every year and is often overcrowded during peak hours.

Disc golf, beach volleyball, paddle boarding and fishing are popular activities, and there is a towering observation deck with stunning views of the reservoir.

12. Polk Museum of Art

Polk Art Museum

Polk County in central Florida is better known for its history museums than its art and galleries, but the Polk Museum of Art has a world-class collection and is part of the prestigious Smithsonian Institution.

The museum’s collection includes works by art giants such as Andy Warhol and Pablo Picasso, totaling more than 2,000 objects.

Not only is the museum’s staff another dreary repository for old art, but it offers many community outreach events and programs throughout the year. Many of these are geared towards children.

The museum is located on East Palm Street in Lakeland.

13. Busch Gardens Tampa

Busch Gardens Tampa

For traveling families who like to pass the time in a venue that offers multiple entertainment options, there is no better option than Busch Gardens Tampa on North Malcolm McKinley Avenue.

It’s one of those destinations that really needs no introduction, but suffice it to say, for those traveling with kids, it’s one of the Sunshine State’s main attractions.

Part zoo and part amusement park, it’s been known to keep families engaged for days on end.

From live entertainment and lodging to dining and shopping – there’s really nothing you can’t do at Busch Gardens Tampa.

14. Discovery V Children’s Museum

Explore V Children's Museum

Located on Northern Kentucky Avenue near Lakeland, the Explorations V Children’s Museum has wowed little kids and their parents since 1991. It’s a particularly popular attraction for those visiting during the stifling summer heat and humidity, to say the least.

The museum is filled with interactive exhibits that are not only entertaining but educational. They are spread over multiple floors, offering different areas for different age groups.

Activities at the museum include staff-led activities to promote teamwork, creativity, problem solving and the use of motor skills. They are held regularly, so check their schedule online before you go.

15. Florida Museum of Photographic Art

Florida Museum of Photographic Art

Although it is often overlooked as an art form, photography has been a distinct artistic expression for decades. The Florida Museum of Photographic Art is dedicated to preserving and promoting some of its finest examples.

Established in 2001, the museum is located in Tampa’s trendy waterfront arts district. It has historical and contemporary photography collections that tell a variety of stories.

Includes permanent and temporary collections from nationally and internationally renowned photographers. For those who view photography as a hobby, they offer a number of instructional and educational programs for children and adults.

Where to Stay: Best Hotels in Bartow, FL (FL)
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