Sebring, in Highlands County, is Florida’s heart and known best for world-class racing, freshwater lakes, and a dose of Old Florida. I recommend getting there via road trip though you can arrive by Greyhound bus or Amtrak. If you visit Tampa, Orlando, Fort Myers, or Fort Pierce, Sebring is less than 100 miles away. I love coming to Sebring because it’s so different from Florida’s crowded tourist towns but is equally inviting and wonderful. It also has favorable year-round temperatures.
From the yummy, affordable food to the upscale lodging at Inn on the Lakes, world-class racing to a state park with picture-perfect backgrounds, here are 11 fantastic things to do in beautiful Sebring, Florida. I recommend Sebring to others often and include recommendations I have experienced on both a hosted press trip and my own visits.
1. International Racing
In a state known for NASCAR, many do not know that NASCAR owns Sebring International Racetrack, but the races here are far different from Daytona’s. Sebring International Racetrack is home to the 12 Hours of Sebring, the American Le Mans, with the world’s leading drivers and manufacturers. This race has been going for more than 60 years.
Imported foreign cars arrive for unique races, such as the Ferrari Challenge with gentleman drivers and vehicles from all over the world, which I had the chance to attend. I’ve found that this world-class track, with high-speed endurance racing for luxury cars, is known by Europeans more so than Americans.
2. Freshwater Lakes
There are many choices to get on or in the water in and around Sebring. It is filled with lakes that make for excellent recreational and tournament fishing and boating opportunities. Head over to Lake Istokpoga (the fifth largest in Florida) for trophy bass or Lake Huntley for catfish and crappie. Sebring has several chartered fishing excursions to choose from, or you can bring your own boat and design your own fishing trip. I can’t think of anywhere better to go boating in Florida than right here.
Other popular water activities range from kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding to scuba diving and water skiing.
3. Try Unique Dishes
If you are in the mood for a sandwich and salad, Nutmeg’s Cafe is my top pick, with (get this!) a peanut butter, honey, and bacon panini. Even more popular is The Mousetrap panini, with artichoke hearts, spices, and five kinds of cheese, which I paired with the English pea salad. This simple side dish rekindles childhood memories and pleases the taste buds.
I shouldn’t single out the sandwiches and salads because truly Nutmeg’s Cafe is equally known for its sweet treats, ice cream, and coffee. They serve hand-dipped ice-cream in a dozen flavors, and the dessert counter is a thing of joy. From cake balls to cupcakes, cookies to muffins, they have a jaw-dropping display.
4. Taste The Hookiemelt
You’ll find this dish at Jaxson’s on the Lake, a local eatery in neighboring Lake Placid that sits on the water with a screened-in porch and plenty of indoor space for eating, live music, and games. The Hookiemelt is Jaxson’s signature dish, starting with a fajita skillet (I know you all know what that is) topped with your choice of grilled, fried, or blackened chicken, then topped with fistfuls of cheese, buffalo sauce, onions, and sour cream. The skillet is broiled until melty and gooey, then served with tortilla chips and plenty of napkins. It’s simple but delicious, filling, and fun.
Fun Fact: Also in Lake Placid are nearly 50 murals that depict the town’s colorful history. It’s a fun way to experience street art years before it was the in-thing to do. Pop into the American Clown Museum and School, founded by the Toby the Clown Foundation, for riveting stories and circus memorabilia history.
5. Experience Spirits
And by spirits, I do mean the alcoholic beverage kind. Sebring has the only open-air distillery in the country, which is pretty cool. Sample rum, whiskey, vodka, and moonshine made from estate-grown sugarcane at Sugar Sand Distillery’s gorgeous tasting room and learn how these fine adult libations are made during a short tour.
For wine lovers, Mon Cirque Wine Bar may be more your speed. This eclectic circus-themed bar (which also serves beer) is so whimsical and cute that you’ll forget the real reason you are there -- the wine.
6. Florida’s First State Park
You’ll find Highlands Hammock State Park, Florida’s oldest and first state park, in Sebring. Here, canopied live oaks frame the road as you drive through cypress swamps and get a glimpse of Florida many will never experience. Hiking and biking are the top experiences at Highlands Hammock, though birding (scrub jays, bald eagles, osprey, sandhill cranes) is extremely popular, too. I’ve seen naturalists watching nests and spotting rare birds, and they are eager to share with anyone interested. Highlands Hammock offers nearly 150 campsites amidst the beautiful scenery and 9,000 acres.
7. Outdoor Dining Bliss
Faded Bistro and Beer Garden is an upscale eatery with sprawling outdoor seating arrangements amidst jaw-dropping flower gardens and garden treasures. I recommend the Irish Nachos with house-made stout cheese sauce, smoked bacon, and green onions atop homemade chips. Faded Bistro’s Cheese and Charcuterie Boards are to die for, piled high with cured meats, artisanal cheeses, local honey, and olives. Don’t miss seeing the gorgeous pre-Civil War mahogany bar inside the restaurant.
8. A Second-To-None Inn
I am in love with Inn on the Lakes, a charming 155-room inn on beautiful Lake Jackson. I’m not sure if it’s the hospitality or spacious and stylish rooms, the enticing swimming pool surrounded by lush tropical plants and flowers, or the shared public spaces to sit and read, play cards, or nap that attracts me. But I can’t imagine staying anywhere else.
My husband and I rang in New Years’ here on my second visit, and we are already planning another. Our suite had a chicly designed living room, kitchenette, and dining nook overlooking the lake, where we watched the shorebirds migrate to and sleep by night. The bedrooms are simple but have high-end, elegant touches like leather-tinged pillows, contemporary light fixtures and lamps, and premium linens. Inn on the Lakes offers free parking and Wi-Fi and is pet-friendly.
Inn on the Lakes is home to one of the finest dining establishments in Sebring: Chicane’s. I’ve had the pleasure of eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner at Chicane’s, and every dish has been excellent or even over-the-top incredible when it comes to the rollovers (a signature filet mignon wrapped in bacon appetizer) and stone crab claws. Chicane’s atmosphere is casual, though the restaurant itself is swanky, so you’ll feel relaxed and welcome first and foremost.
9. A Golf Gem
Sebring has a reputation for being a hidden gem in Florida’s golfing community and is known as the Value Golf Capital of America. There are 10 courses to choose from, and many hotels offer golfer packages that will help you save a few bucks. You will find the professionally designed (think Dyer and Ross) local courses on the Florida Citrus Golf Trail. A few golf course choices are Golf Hammock Country Club, Sun ‘N Lake Golf Club, and Harder Hall Country Club. Sebring is home to two PGA qualifier tournaments, too.
10. Steaks And Seafood
One of the most popular restaurants in Sebring is the Cowpoke Watering Hole, an enormous eatery (295 seats) with many different dining areas and a tiki bar, perfect for social distancing. The Fried Green Tomatoes are an excellent starter, and the Florida Orange Cake is my recommended dessert, and the rest is yours to fill in the blank with your favorite entree.
Cowpoke’s signature steaks are juicy and flavorful, topped with garlic butter. I had the sauteed mushrooms with my steak, which were so good that I could have eaten my weight in them. Most meals come with a bottomless salad option. The Cowpoke has several exciting events such as line-dancing, karaoke, and live music.
11. A Super Cute Downtown
My name is Melody, and I have a confession to make: I am addicted to cute small-city downtowns and find solace, glorious coffee, local shopping, and great photo-taking opportunities in them. Sebring’s is one of the best. Several spokes in the circular downtown pattern have benches for sitting and attractive murals and buildings. Pop into Top Hat Coffee to grab a beverage for your stroll, or belly up to the counter at Sebring Soda and Ice Cream Works for a craft soda or ice cream sundae.
A special event that takes place in downtown Sebring is the Sebring Soda Festival. Attendees purchase tickets to sample the craft sodas, over 200 in total, from various stands that also offer a product or service, an excellent way to get the community involved. I loved getting my card punched for sampling the sodas -- Sprecher, Avery, A and W, Nehi, and Gene Simmons’ popular Moneybag, to name a few. Sebring Soda Festival was very fun, and I got some exercise walking from stand to stand.
Live music is a big hit at the Sebring Soda Festival, and the year I was there, they offered a classic car show. The annual event takes place April 2-3, 2021, and this year adds a craft beer garden and food trucks. For more Florida fun, consider