Lakeland, Florida Read Guide >
It also happens that there are a lot of people looking for a slice of quiet and peaceful in Florida, because Lakeland is growing faster than the Cuban restaurant industry in Miami. You won’t find a happening club scene or Michelin star restaurants here, but you will find Gator fans and country music, meaning this place and Miami are nothing alike. Costs of living in Lakeland are already gloriously reasonable, and the Florida real estate market is extremely renter-friendly right now, so finding affordable housing opportunities is pretty painless as long as you’re not shopping during hurricane season.
By far the most outstanding characteristic of Lakeland is its profusion of lakes – 38 at last count – so much of the city’s thinking is in terms of lakes. Be prepared for directions and mapping to be based on proximity to specific lakes and as in any area with waterfronts, be aware that housing closer to those delightful lake views will cost more than those without. Lake Hollingsworth is one of the larger and more popular lakes located just south of downtown in the historic part of the city. It offers plenty of bird-watching (including a large number of swans for some unknown reason) and recreational infrastructures, making the property here especially desirable. If you have a major case of hydrophobia or just don’t want to be seen wearing arm-floaties, you may want to consider some dryer areas of the country, but then again, what were you expecting from LAKEland? The city is very much a renter’s market, so haggling the price for properties outside the premium locations is sometimes an option.
If, perchance, you have plenty of cash to throw around on a suburban Florida pad, look to South Lakeland for new gated developments, planned communities with extra bedrooms for the expensive nannies and easy access to the Polk Parkway for that morning commute. Oakbridge and Grasslands are particularly affluent and popular, offering larger homes with all the newest and shiniest pads with the requisite golf courses and country clubs right around the corner. There aren’t nearly as many single family homes here for rent as for sale, but luxury apartment complexes, such as Willowbrooke Apartments, are available and start at $700 for a smaller 1BR up to $1000 for 3BR, nanny rooms not included. South Lakeland is admittedly a bit further removed from the town proper, but all of the new development is happening here, including Lakeside Village, the wildly popular new open-air mall with restaurants, movie theaters and shopping.
In addition to the country club set, Lakeside Village caters to young professionals wishing for a historic downtown living alternative. The brand new mall has created a vibrant and walkable commercial area, and new luxury apartment complexes near the affluent gated communities have thankfully followed suit with the development boom. The Alexa is a new complex within Lakeside Village with one to three bedroom bachelor (or bachelorette) pads starting at $850 and ranging up to $1200. It’s like a younger, hipper country club but with fewer gin and tonics and more soy milk lattes. Development is still going on and the area is expected to keep rising in value, so now would be a good time to snatch up a place in what may well become the most desirable new-downtown area of Lakeland.
For those who want a real downtown experience as opposed to a new-downtown one, Lakeland does also have an actual, historic downtown district. Unlike many towns, Lake Hollingsworth is right in the middle of it, but that’s neither here nor there. Opinions on downtown living vary, and while some prefer the zero-crime gated communities, there are those who vastly prefer the creaky, old historic homes from the 1920s and the available cultural activities. For single-family homes, the historic districts of Dixieland and South Lake Morton are most popular, as well as being walking distance to restaurants, the popular Polk Theater, art galleries, museums, the city library and Lake Mirror Promenade. Owing to its age, this area has become more architecturally diverse with a few high-rise condos, vintage studios, chic bungalows and renovated duplexes all available. Lake Mirror Tower is the largest purveyor of urban-sophisticate style living and high-end luxury 1BR and 2BR spaces will start at $700. Small studios in converted historic homes or garage apartments can be had for as little as $375, or $750 for a full 2BR single family home. Lakeland’s two colleges, Florida Southern College and Southeastern University are both in this area as well, so their combined total of 5,000 students looking to stretch student loan dollars should look towards larger historic homes to fill with lots of pizza-eating, laundry-challenged roommates.
We’ve all heard that knowledge is power and if you’ve got future generations in tow who you wish to educate in more than just palm trees and hurricane seasons, finding good schools in Lakeland will be a top priority. It turns out that Polk County schools do not enjoy a great reputation, but there are a number of private, charter and magnet schools in the city and surrounds that do. Adjacent communities of Auburndale and Winter Haven, though smaller, hold some good school systems and quiet neighborhoods, and they’re only a short distance from Lakeland. In short: Keep it on your list. Homes and rentals in Winter Haven and Auburndale are extremely reasonable, starting at $550 for 2BR apartments up to $1000 for an executive 4BR home, though Winter Haven’s reputation as a retiree-centric town is not undeserved, so you may want to brush up on your Parcheesi and shuffleboard skills.
Polk Parkway runs parallel on the south end of Lakeland and is a major local beltway that leads to Interstate 4, which runs between Tampa and Orlando. Like much of Florida, traffic can be unpleasant on a good day and violent-hate-crime-inducing on a bad one. On the bright side, a morning commute here is not nearly as bad as it could be in other parts of the state. Plans are also in the works for a high-speed rail system which may significantly reduce commuter traffic, but construction has yet to begin. Lakeland isn’t so big a town as to have extensive public transit options available, making cars a near necessity, but Citrus Connection does operate a local bus service that serves much of the city. We’re sure you’ll be able to manage with or without a set of wheels.
Though its glitzy southern neighbors may overshadow central Florida, Lakeland has a lot to offer those seeking the same good climate without the higher cost of living and plastic surgery requirements. Of course it struggles with some of the same major issues facing the rest of Florida, but residents here are typically pleased with the quality of life they enjoy and will be the first to tell you how nice it is to live somewhere with a small-town sense of community spirit (the year-round availability of water sports doesn’t hurt, either). Here, more than most places, has a greater likelihood of your neighbor to take pride in his trusty rowboat than multi-million dollar yacht. If that sounds like your dream town, then come on down!
All in all, Lakeland will give you some pretty good bargains in the Sunshine State, so get your hurricane insurance ready and those water-skis prepped. Happy hunting!
Lakeland, spring home of the Detroit Tigers baseball team in central Florida is located between Orlando and Tampa on Interstate 4 (founded in 1870). Its 94,000 residents enjoy the great Florida climate, which ranges between 60 and 80 degrees on average year round. This 67 square mile town has enjoyed tremendous growth since year 2000 (19% growth in population). It is now ranked as Florida's 2nd largest inland city. Lakeland apartments and single-family home developments have accelerated to accommodate the new residents. Resident choices are abundant in Lakeland's 52 neighborhoods. Local road, rail and bus lines have been expanded to continue the growth. Education is obviously emphasized with the nine local colleges/technical schools (7 more colleges within 50 miles). Architectural excellence abounds in Lakeland with the largest one-site collection of buildings created by world-renowned Frank Lloyd Wright (he built nine buildings in the 1930's). Florida's planned high-speed rail system that will pass through Lakeland will allow Lakeland to continue its growth economically in residential development.
Pros •New rail stop planned with High Speed Rail