Finding the Best Places to Retire Since 2006!
Nicknamed Swan City, Leafy Lakeland Has an Inviting Downtown, Somewhat Reasonable Prices and a Lot of Lakes
Situated between Tampa and Orlando in central Florida, Lakeland (population 116,000) is in the middle of the state's coastal plain. With 38 named lakes within its borders, the town possesses a soothing quality.
The city got its start in the 1880s when a man named Abraham Munn purchased 80 acres in what is now central Lakeland. He built a lavish hotel, the Tremont Hotel, and the railroad arrived soon after. By the mid-1890s, Lakeland was prospering as a transportation hub and agricultural center with strawberries and grapefruit becoming important local crops.
In the 1920s, the Florida land boom brought new residents and new construction. The Detroit Tigers made Lakeland their spring training home in the 1930s, and in 1938 architect Frank Lloyd Wright arrived at Florida Southern College to begin designing the "true American campus."
Today, Lakeland is a quiet, leafy town with the nickname Swan City because its downtown Lake Morton is home to 50 Mute Swans. The original pair was donated by Queen Elizabeth II in 1957 after a previous flock had dwindled. The swans are a particular point of pride and attract tourists year round.
Lakeland's cost of living is 15% below the national average, and the median home price is $335,000, reflecting a 1% increase since last year. Older tree-canopied areas have modest concrete block homes, some of which have seen better days. There are also sleek new neighborhoods with Mediterranean style homes and newly planted trees. Lake James is a comfortable 55+ community with a lake.
Forty-three percent of Lakeland residents are age 45 or better. The city has some racial diversity and has grown 15% during the last decade. The crime rate meets the national average, although the property crime rate is slightly above the national average. Twenty-five percent of locals hold at least a college degree, and politics lean to the right.
Lakeland's attractive downtown has lakes, tall trees, shaded brick sidewalks, cute, awning-draped shops, outdoor cafes and a restored promenade. Public art, much of it in the form of butterfly and swan sculptures, adds even more charm. Pretty Hollis Gardens near Mirror Lake has fountains and flower gardens.
Downtown is also the place for the weekly farmers' market. More than 50 vendors sell everything from jam and herbs to art and plants. Fresh fruit and vegetables are available, too.
First Friday happens happens once a month. Located near Munn Park, the event has a different theme each time, anything from Dog Days to Cookie Carnival. Vendors of all sorts participate, creating a festival atmoshphere.
Fun eateries and pubs include the Lakeland Brewing Company. It sits next to Lake Mirror, has an outdoor patio and soothing water views. Harry's Seafood Bar and Grille, a New Orleans style restuarant, exudes character and is known for its Jambalaya and Shrimp-N-Grits.
Cultural amenities are in good supply and include the Polk Museum of Art, the Imperial Symphony, the Florida Air Museum, and the Florida Dance Theatre. The city has more than 70 parks and recreation areas.
Florida Southern College is still here and now showcases Frank Lloyd Wright's unique architecture. The college also hosts the annual Festival of Fine Arts.
The Detroit Tigers still spend their spring training months here, too, playing at Joker Marchant Stadium. The city's professional indoor football team, the Florida Marine Raiders, play their games in Lakeland Center.
Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center is accredited by the Florida Medical Association and accepts Medicare patients. It has 864 beds and is the fifth largest hospital in Florida.
Lakeland Public Library has two branches. Each has classes, audio books, a book club and more. Both also mail books and other materials to residents' homes.
Citrus Connections is the local bus system. The regular fare is $1.50 but people age 65 or better ride for half price. Montly passes are available.
Summer temperatures are in the 80s and 90s with high humidity levels and frequent rainstorms. Winter temperatures are in the 60s and 70s.
It is also worth noting that Lakeland's lakes are home to all sorts of wildlife, including some alligators. A video of a 15-foot-long alligator strolling across a walking path in Circle B Park made national news a few years ago.
Recommended as a Retirement Spot? Yes
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