Yes, many people who visit Orlando (the Central Florida area) usually only go to the parks. Whether it’s Disney World or Universal Studios or anything in between …
But here I tell you that there are much more activities and places! I promise you that you will have a great time if you want to take a break from the parks or just don’t want to visit them (and look, I love parks)
Here are some of the places you can visit while you are in Orlando (or near by):
Springs and rivers:
One of my favorite places to visit, during any time of the year, is Wekiva Island. This is located in the city of Apopka. There is a river where you can swim, rent a kayak while perhaps enjoying live music or the on-site bar. You can also rent a cabana for a more private time with your family and / or friends. The place is really fun and relaxing at the same time. The water temperature is always the same throughout the year, you just have to be on the lookout for alligators or turtles 🙂 Or … relax sunbathing on the edge of the river meeting fun people.
Another option very close, is to visit Wekiwa Springs. Where you can also relax in the spring, swim where you can see the bottom thanks to how clear the water is, as well as rent a kayak and maybe get to Wekiva Island from there.
There are many many Springs you can visit in Central Florida and depending on the time of the year, you might see manatees! You can also go tubbing in some of them.
This little town is super nice to visit. You have to get to the historic center of the place and walk around that area. Here you will find many restaurants (from Cuban to British), shops and bars. You can also visit the lake where there is a pier and maybe take a tour around the lake and learn more about the place. Again, pay attention as you can see alligators (this is Florida after all). The sunset from there is beautiful, and by the way, very romantic;). The city is dog friendly, as you can easily enter most restaurants and shops with dogs. But just in case, ask before entering with your dog.
The Winter Garden Historic District is beautiful and fun. Here you will find (more) restaurants and bars to visit, even a brewery! You can also bring your bike or rent one in the area to ride the main street of the historic center where part of the West Orange Trail passes by (a long bike or walk path that connects several cities for about 22 miles). In Winter Garden you will also find the Central Florida Train Museum. If you want to go shopping, do not hesitate to visit Winter Garden Village, an open mall, so pay attention to the weather in case it rains or is very hot.
The downtown area (near Winter Garden and Kissimmee) is another nice area for a walk. One of my favorite places to go for a morning walk is in front of Lake Minneola as it has a bike, jog or walk path and with nice views (this path becomes part of the West Orange Trail) Part of the lake has sand, so it could be called ‘Clermont beach’. In the city you can also visit Florida Citrus Tower, get to the top floor and see part of the city, even part of Disney World (although a little far) and next to the tower, a very interesting museum: Presidents Hall of Fame.
If you drive south on US27 (if you are in Clermont or on I4) you can reach 2 very interesting places. The 1st is Bok Tower Gardens, a place to relax, enjoy nature and even the music that comes out of the tower that is there. Nearby, there is ‘spook hill’ where you park on the white line of the street, put your car in neutral and you will see how your car moves backwards even though you are seeing the street going up. I’ve never done it, but if you do, let me know how it went 😉 All this is located 1 hour or so from Disney World.
In the past, this area was part of Walt Disney World, The Walt Disney Company built it. It is super close to the Disney parks. Many people, including myself, compare this small town to the town in the movie “The Stepford Wives”, yes, it all looks that perfect. But the truth is a nice place to visit if you are in the area. A nice walk across from a lake, shops, restaurants and even a movie theater. Spending a couple of hours at Celebration is a good option.
Apopka Wildlife Drive
This is not your typical car ride … here you will see lots of Florida alligators and birds of all kinds. Hopefully, maybe a little more. It is an activity that you need a car. Once you get to 2850 Lust Rd, Apopka, FL, you start to drive slowly, enjoying nature to the fullest. It is only open from Friday to Sunday from 7am to 5pm (usually). Here you can spend between 30min to 1 hour or more. There are places where you can park and enjoy a little walk. Just remember that you cannot feed the animals, if you are like me that mosquitoes love you, do not forget a repellent and put gasoline in your car before entering the park.
Of course, how can we forget IDrive. This long avenue is close to Universal Studios and is where you will find the “Orlando Eye” (a giant wheel from where you can see the city from above). Here you have many options for restaurants and bars, interesting museums, an aquarium, miniature golf, hotels, shops and you can even ‘fly’ on the iFly which is an indoor skydiving experience. There are so many activities that I haven’t done everything yet.
If you want to drive a little more (1-2 hours) you can visit the beaches of Daytona, Cocoa, Clearwater or St. Petersburg. Also downtown St. Petersburg is beautiful and there you will find a Dalí museum or in Tampa visit the aquarium. Ocala National Forest is also a good idea if you like camping or where you can visit another state park and springs like Alexander Springs.