The park picnic is tired. Elevate your outdoor dining to a garden party.
Bok Tower Gardens, about an hour’s drive south of Orlando, is the ideal spot to lay out a blanket and enjoy a fresh bite with a view. Situated at one of the highest elevations in Central Florida, this spot offers ample green space — with the shade of the moss-draped oak trees — overlooking rolling citrus hills.
The best part? You don’t need to worry about packing your own food. The onsite Blue Palmetto Cafe serves salads, sandwiches, and snacks. There’s even ice cream if you need to cool off under the Florida sun.
Admission to the Gardens is $15 for adults, $5 for children.
After you park, head to the area with the Visitor’s Center to order food at the cafe. I opted for the avocado BLT ($11), served on toasted sourdough with smashed avocado, lemon herb mayo, bacon, fresh lettuce, and tomato. You can add chicken or salmon if you want something heartier. And…it comes with a pickle on the side, which is the only way to serve a sandwich.
In addition to the avocado BLT, there’s a fried flounder sandwich, avocado tuna wrap, turkey cranberry wrap, turkey and smoked gouda, black bean veggie burger, hot dog, and more. The Asian Noodle Salad is a crowd favorite, and comes with soba noodles, carrots, bell peppers, cucumbers, pickled red onions, cilantro, peanut dressing. If you get there early, there are breakfast sandwiches as well. Dishes are $5+.
TIP: As you pass by the cafe on your way out, stop back in to stock up on grab-and-go items to bring home, including assorted local honey and snack cups.
I recommend asking for your food to go, so you can enjoy it under the oak trees on the hill near the main attraction: Bok Tower. It’s a short, scenic 8-minute walk from the cafe to the tower, and it’s worth the wait to dig in. Once there, you’ll find plenty of green space to set up a blanket and enjoy a breezy afternoon.
HISTORY OF THE GARDENS
Edward W. Bok, an immigrant that ventured from the Netherlands at age six, became enchanted by the beauty of the Iron Mountain near Lake Wales, Florida. Here, at 295 feet above sea level, Bok found inspiration in the glorious sunsets, and decided to create a space that would “touch the soul with beauty and quiet.”
The centerpiece of the Gardens — a 205-foot tower with a 60-bell carillon — took two years to build, and was dedicated to the American people on Feb. 1, 1929. The incredible sight transports visitors to a different time and place, featuring artwork inspired by Aesop’s fables, including The Fox and the Stork and The Tortoise and the Hare.
First establushed as a setting for a bird sanctuary, the land was to become lush, enduring gardens. Bok enlisted the expertise of celebrated landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead Jr. to create one of the nation’s most beautiful gardens. In addition to native and exotic plants, Olmstead planted trees (which now house 126 species of birds) and created the Reflection Pool to entice wildlife to come to the area.
The 50 acres of gardens surrounding the Tower and Pinewood Estate have welcomed over 23 million visitors since 1929. And hopefully, they’ll welcome you for a memorable picnic.