By Mike Miller Updated April 18, 2023
Winter Haven is like many other Florida towns: you have to get off the main highway to see the real town.
In this case the main Highway is US-17 that meanders across Florida from the Georgia border near Jacksonville to Punta Gorda in Southwest Florida on the Gulf of Mexico.
Winter Haven is about 48 miles southwest of Orlando.
The town began to develop in the early 1880s in the days before highways when the Plant System built the first railroad across Polk County.
The railroad passed just north of current day Winter Haven.
The town was first called Harris Corners but was incorporated as Winter Haven in 1911.
The canals connecting the chain of lakes were started in 1915, and the town boomed in the 1920s along with many other Florida places.
The 1920s saw many homes built in the colonial revival style, and more than 50 of these homes are on the National Register of Historic Places today.
There are four historic districts in Winter Haven including the downtown area.
The first Publix supermarket was opened in 1930 by George W. Jenkins.
His second store, the first stand-alone Publix, opened in 1935 at 199 West Central Avenue. The building still stands but is no longer used as a grocery store.
During the 1930s and 1940s, citrus pioneer John A. Snively operated one of the largest fruit packing plants in the world in Winter Haven.
At its peak, Snively Groves Inc. employed more than 1,500 people. The town is still the center of a major citrus industry.
Mr. Snively was the maternal grandfather of musician Gram Parsons.
The Snively mansion, known as Magnolia Plantation, is now part of the Legoland property and is open for special occasions.
In the years before Walt Disney World opened in 1971, Winter Haven was the destination for more tourists than just about any other place in Florida.
This is because of Cypress Gardens, known as the "Water Ski Capital of the World", that opened in 1936.
Many movies were filmed at Cypress Gardens and thousands enjoyed the Southern Belles and water ski shows until the park finally closed its doors in 2009.
It was reborn under different owners as LEGOLAND in 2011, and the new owners have preserved key elements of the beloved old Cypress Gardens attraction.
The numerous lakes in this city do not allow a strict north-south and east-west street layout.
The canopied residential streets meander throughout the town around the lakes and offer lots of great scenery.
Many of the lakes have streets around their entire shoreline and these make for great scenic drives.
Several neighborhoods, including the downtown area, have been designated as historic districts and you will see many historic buildings and houses on your drives.
Winter Haven's nickname - "Chain of Lakes City" - has been earned because of its location among more than 50 lakes ranging in size from tiny to large.
24 of these lakes are connected by canals in the Winter Haven area, making Winter Haven a boater's paradise.
Visitors can rent boats, kayaks, paddle boards, and pontoon boats and spend hours fishing or just enjoying the water.
Winter Haven is also close to many other Florida attractions such as Bok Tower Gardens and Spook Hill in Lake Wales.
Winter Haven has always been a unique Florida town, with or without Cypress Gardens and Legoland.
The town is off the interstate highways in the rolling Central Florida land between Orlando and Tampa. Many tourists miss Winter Haven because it is not on the interstate route.
A scenic Florida back roads travel route is to exit I-4 a few miles west of US-27 and go south on County Road 557 through Lake Alfred. Then catch US-17 and go south all the way to Winter Haven.
The town is about 11 miles south of I-4. That is far enough to have allowed it to keep its small town charm.
LEGOLAND Florida Resort - 1 Legoland Way, Winter Haven, FL 33884 - A theme park with more than 50 rides, shows, and attractions made from LEGO bricks.
Chain of Lakes Park - 210 Cypress Gardens Blvd, Winter Haven, FL 33880 - A baseball stadium that hosts the spring training for the Detroit Tigers and other events.
The Ritz Theatre - 263 W Central Ave, Winter Haven, FL 33880 - A restored 1920s movie theatre that hosts live performances and events.
The Winter Haven Public Library - 325 Avenue A NW, Winter Haven, FL 33881 - A library with a large collection of books and other media for all ages.
Winter Haven Farmers Market - 41 5th St NW, Winter Haven, FL 33881 - A market with local produce, artisanal crafts, and other goods.
Winter Haven Chain of Lakes Trail - 501 6th St NW, Winter Haven, FL 33881 - A scenic trail that runs along several of the city's lakes.
Lake Eva Park - 555 Ledwith Ave, Haines City, FL 33844 - A park with a playground, splash pad, and picnic areas.
Cypress Gardens Water Ski Team Show - 3030 Cypress Gardens Rd, Winter Haven, FL 33884 - A water ski show performed by a local team on the lake in the former Cypress Gardens theme park.
Bok Tower Gardens - 1151 Tower Blvd, Lake Wales, FL 33853 - A historic garden with a carillon tower and nature trails.
The Ridge Cinema 8 - 3125 US-27, Winter Haven, FL 33881 - A movie theater with multiple screens showing the latest releases.
Harry's Old Place
3751 Cypress Gardens Road
Winter Haven, Florida 33884
Harry's Old Place has been a Winter Haven tradition for almost 25 years. During the winter season you can expect to wait 45 minutes or so to get a table. The wait is worth it because of the quality and taste of the food and the good drinks you can sip while you wait.
Harry specializes in seafood, and the menu changes every day. The modest building sits on the shore of Lake Ned and many of the windows have views of the peaceful water.
READ MORE ABOUT HARRY'S OLD PLACE
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By Mike Miller, Copyright 2009-2023
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