Sometimes the best trips are off the beaten path. You know what I mean, right? Unexpected, quaint, one-of-a-kind? That’s the Town of Murals in Lake Placid, Florida, surrounded by freshwater lakes and rolling hills and known for its striking murals illustrating the town’s history.
You’ll find this tiny gem about 80 miles south of Orlando, off U.S. Route 27, nestled in the center of the state in Highlands County. Thanks to its central location, there are plenty of things to do in Lake Placid, and the Town of Murals is a perfect place for a break on your next road trip through the Sunshine State.
On an Orlando to Miami road trip, my husband and I stopped in Lake Placid for an afternoon and was left pleasantly surprised by this small town’s allure. The area’s charming appeal and welcoming vibe offer a lovely atmosphere for families, locals, or solo travelers.
Here’s what makes Lake Placid Town of Murals worth checking out:
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Lake Placid, Florida Town of Murals
History in Living Color
Unlike some places, the Town of Murals doesn’t keep its history contained in a traditional museum or a basement of archived folders. Instead, thanks to the work of two dedicated residents, it displays its history for all to see, be they, locals or tourists.
Over time, residents Harriet and Bob Porter commissioned more than 47 murals that are painted all over buildings throughout the town, creating an outdoor art gallery. These murals are detailed and vibrant in color and depict the region’s rich history and the prominent citizens who helped shape the town.
For example, you’ll see a colorful painting of Eddie Mae Henderson, who has been serving Christmas dinner to those in need for over 30 years.
Strolling through town, you’ll also see illustrations of Dr. Charles Akes, a physician who is credited with bringing the first Advanced Life Support ambulance service to the region, and educator Melvil Dewey, a resident of Lake Placid credited with inventing the Dewey Decimal system.
As a tribute to the Caladium Capital of the World (more on that later), you’ll see a striking mural of Lake Placid’s caladium fields, as well as a mural of the Cracker Trail Cattle Drive, a nod to Florida’s prominent cattle industry. The latter—which spans 175 feet—took six months to paint, reflected in its lifelike detail and striking colors.
First Stop: Greater Lake Placid Visitor Center
We started at the Greater Lake Placid Chamber of Commerce visitor center and recommend you do the same. You’ll get to see the original mural renderings and will also be able to view a short video presentation on the murals’ history.
While there, pick up the comprehensive “The Murals of Lake Placid” guidebook. It’s the perfect self-guided tour accompaniment, offering a brief description of each mural and the artists who have helped bring it to life.
As a bonus, the guide includes a scavenger hunt (of sorts) with clues to finding hidden or missing features in each mural. The guidebook can also be purchased at many local businesses throughout the town.
The Greater Lake Placid Chamber of Commerce welcome center is located at 18 North Oak Avenue, Lake Placid, Florida 33852.
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The Murals of Lake Placid, Florida
Things to Do in Lake Placid – Beyond the Murals
As you roam through town, you’ll also see unique decorative benches, clown cut-outs, trash containers, and bird plaques, which further add to the town’s artistic expression. The plaques illustrate birds native to the Lake Placid area.
The non-traditional trash receptacles, referred to as environmental streetscape containers, are often a relevant companion to a nearby mural. The trash bins are painted and designed to resemble items such as a clown, caladium and a school bus like the one pictured below.
The Art of Clowning
Another quirky fact about this central Florida town is that it is home to what is possibly the country’s only museum dedicated to clowns! Lake Placid is said to have more clowns per capita than any town in Florida, or possibly the country.
Those with clown phobias may want to stick to strolling along Main Street, but for those who appreciate a sense of whimsy, Toby’s American Clown Museum and School is like nothing you’ll find anywhere else.
Not only have 1,500 clowns graduated from Toby’s school (job seekers take note), but his museum features costumes, circus posters and figurines from almost every era. Traveling with small children? They’ll love the tiny circus, featuring all the characters you would expect under the big top. Admission is free.
Toby’s American Clown Museum and School is located at 109 West Interlake, Lake Placid, Florida 33852.
The Caladium Capital of the World
During my visit, I quickly learned Lake Placid’s status as the Caladium Capital of the World. In case you’re wondering, caladiums are a heart-shaped, flowering plant with lush leaves and varying color combinations.
The town proudly boasts that 95% of the world’s caladiums are grown in Lake Placid fields not far from Main Street. I found this fascinating considering the colorful landscaping plant isn’t even native to Florida. If you’ve come across this striking plant in your day-to-day life, chances are it was grown in Lake Placid.
If you’re in a position to plan your trip ahead of time, try scheduling it for late July, when the town’s annual Caladium Festival is on. Not only will you get to see the vibrant caladium fields in all their glory, but the festival features arts and craft booths, food stalls, entertainment and bus tours to local caladium farms. One of Lake Placid’s events that bring in visitors from all over.
Passing through Lake Placid, you’re also likely to be charmed by the area’s quaint, small-town feel. The downtown stretch is easily walkable and features antique stores, cafés, independent retailers and ample parking.
While strolling along Main Street, I came across the Good News Juice and Smoothie Café, a vegan-friendly eatery that features rustic wood seating and a variety of healthy eats, all fresh and made to order. They have an extensive menu selection of soups, salads, sandwiches, craft beer, and cold-pressed juices, perfect for fueling up after an afternoon of touring the murals!
I ordered a chicken sandwich along with a mango tango smoothie. They both were terrific: packed with fresh ingredients, flavorful and delicious.
For a day trip that speaks to America’s classic small-town charm, this is a perfect option. Not only does it celebrate the region’s rich history, but it has some surprising quirks that are as special for children as they are for the curious solo traveler.
From murals you won’t find anywhere else to a charming downtown strip and an actual clown school, the Town of Murals will delight you at every turn. The Town of Mural is incredibly unique, and a must-see on your drive through the state! Check it out and see for yourself why Reader’s Digest once voted Lake Placid “America’s Most Interesting Town.”
Things to know before a visit to Lake Placid, Florida:
- The town is one and a half square miles. You can see nearly all the murals by car, but it is easily walkable.
- Most local businesses are closed on Sunday; many are closed by 3 pm on Saturday.
- Narrated group tours can be arranged in coordination with the Lake Placid Mural Society.
- The mural guidebook is available for sale for $4; a mural CD is $10.
- There are many benches throughout the town to sit and rest if needed.
- A public restroom and a water fountain can be found at the visitor center.
- The Florida sun can be brutal. Don’t forget to bring water and stay hydrated!