Yes, most of the people that visit Orlando (Central Florida) are going to the theme parks. Either Disney or Universal or anything in between…
But let me tell you something… there’s SO MUCH MORE than that! I promise you will have a great time even if you just want to take a break from the theme parks (and hey! I love the theme parks)
Here are few of great and fun places you can visit while in Orlando (or very close to it):
Springs to swim or a river
One of my favorite places to visit, any time of the year, it’s Wekiva Island. This place is located in Apopka. There’s a river where you can swim, you can rent a kayak, while maybe listening to a live band playing every other time, enjoy the bar or restaurant and you can even rent a cabana to hang out with friends and/or family. This place is really fun, every time we go we get to meet great people, while enjoying some beers in front of the river… it is so relaxing! If you have dogs, they are more than welcome to be there! Hopefully they are friendly of course 🙂 The temperature in the water is usually about the same all year long, so it doesn’t matter if it’s cold outside… just pay attention to turtles and maybe alligators…
You can also visit Wekiwa Springs, few steps away, where you can relax by the Springs or rent a kayak there. This is not pet friendly.
This is a beautiful town. You need to visit the downtown, find a place to park and walk around the area. There are a lot of restaurants and bars (everything… from Cuban to British). Within few steps you can reach the lake where there’s a pier and they even offer boat rides or even . Again, pay attention to alligators in the area 😉 (remember this is Florida). The sunset from here it’s beautiful by the way, very romantic ;). This city is dog friendly, most of restaurants, bars and even stores are dog friendly (although, remember to ask just to make sure)
Winter Garden Historic District it’s beautiful and fun. Various restaurants and bars, even a Brewing Company to visit. You can also bring your own bike or rent one and go around the area, there’s part of the West Orange Trail that has 22 miles for biking or walking. Here, you can also find the Central Florida Railroad Museum. If feeling like shopping, Winter Garden Village it’s a great place to go, it’s open so be prepare if it’s raining or very sunny.
The area of downtown is another spot to go for a walk, part of it it’s in front of Lake Minneola where you’ll find a trail for jogging, walking or biking with a beautiful view. Part of the lake has a small area with sand… so in a way it’s Clermont Beach. Here you can also visit Florida Citrus Tower and see part of the city (you can even see part of Disney World – far away) and next to it, a very interesting museum: Presidents Hall of Fame.
If you take US27 to the South (if by I4 or in Clermont), you can visit 2 interesting places. The first one is Bok Tower Gardens, a good place to relax, enjoy the nature and the music from the tower.. yes, a singing tower! And close to it, there’s ‘spook hill’, where you stop by a white line in the road, put your car in neutral and even when you see the hill going up, your car actually goes back… I’ve never done it, but when you try it let me know 😉 This is about 1 hour away from Disney World.
In the past, this area was part of Disney World, The Walt Disney Company actually built it. However it is super close to the parks. Lot of people, including me, compare this town to “The Stepford Wives”, yes, it looks that perfect. But it’s a beautiful area to visit if you are nearby. A nice view in front of a lake with stores, restaurants and even a movie theater. Spending few hours around here it’s a good option.
Apopka Wildlife Drive
This is not a typical drive… you will see a lot of alligators and birds, maybe with luck a bit more than that. This is something that you need a car. Once you get to 2850 Lust Rd, Apopka, FL, you start driving, very slow, enjoying the nature to the maximum. It is only open from Friday to Sunday (7am-5pm usually). You might spend between 30min or 1hr or more. There are some areas where you can park and walk nearby. Just remember not to feed the wildlife, if like me that mosquitoes love you wear repellent, and put gas on your car before going in.
Of course, the popular Idrive. This is very close to Universal Studios and it’s where you’ll fine the Orlando Eye. Plus, lot of restaurants and bars, interesting museums, an aquarium, more restaurants and bars, mini golf, hotels, stores and you can even fly at iFLY an indoor skydiving. And I forgot to mention, restaurants and bars 😉 There’s so many activities to do that I still haven’t done all of them yet.
There are so many things you can do in Orlando and places to visit besides Disney or Universal… What would you add to this list?
If feel like driving a little bit more (1-2hours) visit beaches in Daytona Beach, Cocoa Beach, Clearwater or St. Petersburg (and St. Pete Beach of course). Also in St. Petersburg (Tampa Bay area), downtown is beautiful! You can also visit Dali Museum (which it’s one of my favorites) or the Aquarium in Tampa. Ocala National Forest can also be a good idea if you feel like camping or visiting another State Park like Alexander Springs.