Florida has some great destinations to visit: beaches along the coast, theme parks around Orlando, the nightlife of Miami, and the natural wonderland of the everglades. But in between it all is a lot of empty, flat, and somewhat boring space.
I wanted to go from Tampa to Miami. The fastest route would be Interstate 75, which goes down the west coast of the peninsula, then cuts across Alligator Alley to the east coast metropolis. Interstates aren’t terribly exciting, though, and I’d driven parts of this route before. So, I decided to plot another path, that cuts through the center of the state, following US 98 almost the entire way.
From Tampa, I took Interstate 4 to Lakeland, where I joined US 98 for the trip south. If you have a chance to spend a little time in Lakeland, check out its charming downtown which, as the name suggests, is situated amongst dozens of small lakes. The Polk County seat of Bartow, just down the road from Lakeland, is nice, too. But, it doesn’t take long before you leave everything behind…
… and begin a very long journey down a very flat road. I took this picture from inside the car, as I crested one of the biggest hills around — but probably only a few feet higher than everything else. This section of US 98 runs east-west, between Fort Meade (I didn’t stop there) and the Frostproof area.
The landscape alternates between ranchland (complete with grazing cows)…
… and citrus groves. This is most likely where this morning’s glass of orange juice spent its younger days.
[tmt_info =””]If you turned north at Frostproof, instead of south, you’d end up in the Lake Wales area, which is home to Bok Tower and Gardens, as well as Spook Hill. Further up the road is Florida’s oldest theme park, Cypress Gardens (which has been dramatically scaled back in recent years, and may only be opened seasonally). [/tmt_info]
I made my first stop of the day in Avon Park. About the only thing that stands out in the downtown district is the stately old Jacaranda Hotel, which surprisingly, is still in business and welcoming overnight guests.
The rest of Avon Park feels a bit worn down and tired. A few businesses on the downtown square seem to cater to folks on the lower end of the socioeconomic scale.
The town square is, more accurately, a stretch of green grass, dirt, and a few trees that runs for several blocks, in between a pair of one-way streets. A couple of war memorials have seen better days.
As far as I can remember, the only time Avon Park has made the news in the past few years, was in the summer of 2006, when some folks on the town council tried to pass an “English only” ordinance, that would have required all city business to be conducted in English, and would have fined anyone who rented a home or apartment to an illegal alien. The ordinance ultimately failed, but as I walked the streets (and heard only Spanish being spoken), I thought it was incredibly odd that anyone would try to pass such an ordinance here.
If Avon Park and Sebring are twin cities, Sebring definitely received all the good DNA. Sebring’s downtown roads stretch out like spokes on a wheel, from an oversized roundabout that surrounds a grassy, well manicured public square. Businesses surround the circle, and there are very few, if any, empty storefronts.
It’s the kind of place where you might be inclined to sit a while.
There was even some amateur entertainment while I was there — a man playing a red, white, and blue guitar, who later left his instrument leaning up against the granite memorial that stands at the center of the park.
Sebring’s downtown is just a few blocks away from the eastern shore of Lake Jackson. There’s a small beach…
… and a fishing pier on the lake.
Just before Fla. Rte. 17 rejoins US 98 (the highway encircles the western side of the lake, the town is on the east side), you’ll pass the historic Kenilworth Lodge, built by town founder George Sebring in 1916.
South of Sebring, US 98 heads southeast, towards the northern shore of the Big Lake, Okeechobee. Along the way you’ll pass through…
There really isn’t anything to see in Lorida, Florida. The tiny community offers a few businesses, catering to people who want to fish on Lake Istokpoga. The only reason I stopped was to admire the incredible amount of creativity that went into naming the town.
US 27 continues on the next page…