The Sebring area is one of Florida’s best-kept secrets. When you vacation here, there are surprises at every turn in the road. You can tread through the realm of the Florida panther and black bear in one of the state’s oldest parks one day and carve a wake in this land of many lakes the next. For art lovers and foodies, local discoveries delight, too, with larger-than-life murals and romantic lakeside restaurants. Read on for 14 ways to surprise yourself in Sebring.
Whether you plan to put up a tent and spend a night or two under a star-filled sky or you come for a day of off-the-beaten-path exploring, Highlands Hammock State Park offers a window into the real Florida. One of the oldest and largest parks in the state, it’s home to thousand-year-old oak trees, Florida black bears and the rare Florida panther, too. Tread with stealth atop the elevated boardwalk through the old-growth hammock for the best shot at seeing animals, and tune your senses to a wilder side of the state.
The Gulf of Mexico gets the bulk of the Florida sunset glory, but that makes it all the more special to bask in a breathtaking lakefront sunset in Sebring’s watery wonderlands. There are nearly 100 freshwater lakes in the area that turn golden with the setting sun. Relax with a cocktail at the Sunset Bar & Grille while catching the sunset over Lake Jackson, or linger late in the day while casting a line out on Lake Istokpoga, a largemouth bass-fishing paradise. There’s a waterfront sunset view at every angle in these parts.
Quality arts and culture offerings in an intimate setting? Yes, the Sebring area has that, too. Head to nearby Avon Park to join the enthusiastic crowds of locals and visitors at this 1,460-seat theater—the largest stage in the area—to see touring Broadway shows, international ballet companies, pop and country music performers and world-class jazz.
Don’t be surprised if you want to reach out and touch one of the 3D murals in downtown Lake Placid, where the streets are home to an outdoor art gallery started by the Lake Placid Mural Society in 1992. The Town of Murals is home to nearly 50 of them, with Lake Placid’s history brought to life through colorful renderings of Florida cracker cowboys, airboat scenes, famous residents and more. There are hidden items within many of the murals, too, and admiring them can feel like a treasure hunt.
Park your car and stay awhile! Walking is a pleasure in the quaint historic downtowns of Sebring, Avon Park and Lake Placid. The circular historic district of Sebring earned the town its nickname, The City on the Circle, and all roads here lead to the town’s cute collection of boutiques, galleries, parks and eateries. Just off atmospheric Main Street in Avon Park, grab a fresh orange juice or ice cream at the country store, Maxwell Groves. In Lake Placid—the Caladium capital of the world—you can delve into the town’s history at the Depot Museum, housed within a 1926 railroad depot.
Lake Placid is the home of Florida’s only estate-grown sugarcane distillery, Sugar Sand Distillery. Come for the bespoke rum, vodka, whiskey and moonshine or a non-alcoholic, fresh-squeezed sugarcane juice—all made from sugarcane harvested under the Florida sun.
Zebras, wallabies and spotted llamas—oh, my! They all roam the wide Florida grasslands at LaLa Land, a fascinating private farm set on 50 acres. Kids gravitate to the potbelly pigs and miniature horses. You can scout for native Florida wildlife here, too, including red-shouldered hawks, pileated woodpeckers, white-tailed deer and Osceola turkeys. Visits are by appointment only and catered to individual interests. How’s that for exotic?
Visitors are welcome to explore the hiking trails, exhibits and outdoor displays at the Archbold Biological Station, an important research institute for ecological studies. Catch the sunset from Scrub Lookout or wander pathways through the landscaping to learn about the benefits of cultivating native Florida grasses and plants.
A museum inside a mall? It’s just another Sebring surprise. The Children’s Museum of the Highlands is geared for young explorers ages 1 to 12, with a fire tower, grocery store, airplane, mini restaurant and more where they can cut their imaginations loose.
A true city of speed, Sebring is home to Sebring International Raceway, one of the oldest and foremost racetracks in the country. Since 1950, the track has been home to an infamous, 12-hour endurance competition, now called the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Endurance Race. Other events throughout the year include the ChampCar Sebring 14, a 14-hour endurance race, and the Sebring Classic Pistons and Props, where visitors can observe vintage race cars and aircraft.
If you can’t be one of the speed demons behind the wheel of a Ferrari or Porsche, there’s another, more accessible option. Hit Sebring Kart Racing to cruise in a high-speed, electric kart with friends on an outdoor track that mimics the raceway original.
Water-based fun is in high supply in this beautiful land of lakes. Head out on an airboat adventure on Lake Istokpoga or carve up a mean wake while water skiing on Lake June (aka Lake June-in-Winter), home to ospreys and eagles. For a quieter way to get out on the water, raise a paddle with Sebring Kayak Tours during a relaxing excursion through the cypress strands of Arbuckle Creek and out onto Lake Istokpoga.
Looking to get your pulse pounding? Swim, bike, run is the name of the game during the Heartland Triathlon. Held every summer in Sebring, the race includes an Olympic and sprint-distance duathlon and triathlon in addition to a youth triathlon. Your stage for sweating it out is a scenic one, in and around the clear waters of Lake Jackson. Cyclists should also gear up for the Tour of Sebring, a three-day cycling event that rolls through the hills of Sebring each Labor Day weekend. Participants can choose between one-, two- and three-day rides that pass through scenic citrus groves, cattle ranches and Highlands Hammock State Park.
Waterfront views along Lake Jackson go down deliciously at romantic Chicanes Restaurant & Bar, where the grouper Reuben and crab cake salad are favorites. For something more countrified, head to Wild Turkey Tavern, which serves green tomatoes, pork cracklings and gator tail with camouflage as a dominant decor theme. Good News Juice and Smoothie Café offers flavorful smoothies, sandwiches and coffee. Try the cauliflower quinoa burger and wash it down with a Bahama Breeze smoothie, made with fresh pineapple, mango, banana, peaches and Greek yogurt.