Our family was ready for a reprieve from the hustle and bustle of work and school life, so we decided to take a mini Spring Break to Sebring. We invited my folks to meet us there, as it was just a short drive from their winter home. They could spend some time with the grandkids and we could all enjoy some nature and outdoor activities. We timed our trip to coincide with the Sebring Soda Festival a new event that we heard about and thought the kids and my parents would enjoy.
Our first morning, we headed to Highlands Hammock State Park. Tall, mossed draped trees formed a cool canopy over the road into the park. The park is one of Florida’s oldest, and one of eight Florida state parks built by the Civilian Conservation Corps. The kids loved the museum and exhibits showing the CCC barracks, uniforms, camp schedule, and artifacts.
We started with the one-hour tram ride, which took us behind the scenes to areas not accessible to the public. We were glad we got there early as we learned it typically sells out. The ranger giving the tour was knowledgeable and entertaining. The kids loved learning about the Cypress “knees” — the roots of the tree pushing up through the ground — and spotting all the wildlife like tortoises, armadillo, deer, and, of course, ‘gators.
After the tour, we walked along the boardwalks that zig zag across the Cypress Swamps and saw a beautiful Snowy Egret and White Ibis, more gators sunning themselves, and red bellied woodpeckers and bright red cardinals making noise in the trees overhead. Water lilies were blooming in the swamp and butterflies flitted around our heads. It was so peaceful walking among the lush greenery that we didn’t want to leave. The kids posed for pictures in the giant opening at the base of a burley thousand-year-old oak. We learned that Highlands Hammock even offered bike rentals, and with the flat roads, it would be a breeze for all of us to ride the three-mile loop. We decided to save that for next time and headed to the park store for cool slices of key lime and sour orange pie — YUM!
That evening, we had dinner at Cowpoke’s Watering Hole where we soaked up the cowboy culture with the cattle and ranch adornments all around. We shared an order of Bully Bites — their name for fried gator tail, and Dad and my husband opted for the Cowpoke’s ribeye while Mom and I choose seafood. I had the grilled shrimp and mom ordered catfish. Carlo enjoyed his burger and Anna loved her fish tacos. Everything was delicious and we were all happy and stuffed by the end of our meal.
The next morning, we headed to Lake Placid for some sightseeing. Sebring, Lake Placid, and Avon Park are known for the more than 50 murals depicting the region’s history. We took a group selfie in front of the Lake Placid Postcard Mural on our way to breakfast at Morty and Edna’s Craft Kitchen, a cute little restaurant we heard about that had delicious home cooking.
The kids couldn’t resist The Edna — a croissant with hazelnut spread and mixed berries —while I loved my Frittata Sounds Dirty and my husband dug into the Morty — homemade biscuits and sausage gravy with rosemary roasted potatoes. Dad opted for the Sloppy BLT (BLT with an egg) and mom went traditional with eggs, home fries and side of delicious candied bacon. After breakfast, Mom and I browsed The Blueberry Patch, a gift shop next door, for souvenirs to take home.
Then we headed off for our airboat ride on Lake Istokpoga with Airboat Wildlife Adventures. It was so much fun! We took the “Spring Break” Tour and the kids loved it. Captain John hit the wakes and did some “land surfing,” and rode up the creek. He made the kids laugh, and we saw lots more wildlife, including plenty of gators.
That afternoon, we visited Sugar Sand Distillery, a gem of a find. The distillery grows its own sugar cane to use in the liquors it distills on site. We took the tour, which included samples of their spirits. My favorite was the sweet Apple Pie Moonshine. My husband, a whiskey drinker, preferred the 12 Hour Shine. The kids got to sample fresh pressed cane juice, and mom and dad enjoyed sips of the spiced rum. We picked up a couple of bottles to take home and enjoy.
The next morning, we started at the Children’s Museum of the Highlands, where Carlo got his photo taken in a racecar and Anna pretended to milk a cow. Then it was off to the Sebring Soda Festival, held in historic downtown Sebring. We opted for the $10 Tasting Punch Cards, which included samples of 18 different sodas, and since we bought them online earlier, we got four for the price of three! Mom and Dad got the $5 punch cards that offered eight tastings each. We strolled around and sampled some of the 100 different sodas featured that day. There was everything from cream sodas, root beers and ginger beers to prickly pear — my favorite — peach cobbler and candied bacon flavored soda.
As a mom, it was nice to know that most of the sodas weren’t made with high-fructose corn syrup, although that wasn’t important to the kids. They were just happy they got to try lots of different sodas. Dad loved the Cheerwine and the nostalgia of it all, and mom just loved spending time with the kids as they dragged her by the hand from booth to booth.
We stopped at Sebring Soda and Ice Cream Works, which looked like a soda museum, with hundreds of different bottles on display. We heard about their legendary ice cream but had trouble choosing from the more than 40 different flavors! The kids got mini-sundaes and we ordered several of their gourmet hot dogs — a Chicago, Coney, and a Chili Cheese Dog. We stayed into the evening and took in the Block Party Concert and ate festival food from the food trucks on site. By the end of the evening, we were a stuffed but happy crew.
We couldn’t leave the Sebring area without a visit to Maxwell Groves, so on our way home, we pulled up to the country store in Avon Park that’s been run by the same family for decades. We sat in the orange rocking chairs on the wooden porch out front and sipped fresh squeezed orange juice while the kids enjoyed creamsicle twists for breakfast — cups of vanilla soft-serve swirled with Maxwell Groves’ homemade orange ice cream. I picked up a bag of juicy oranges and some local honey to take home.
Our sojourn to Sebring was exactly what I hoped for. We enjoyed family time while getting to know bucolic Old Florida and got to try lots of delicious food. It was a stress-free way to celebrate family and all things soda!