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Odds are you’re planning or thinking about a trip to Orlando. The most visited tourist destination in America draws 75 million people a year. Despite being known as the theme park capital of the world, there are many other things to do in Florida in and around Orlando. So whether you’re completely over theme parks or looking to add variety to your next Orlando vacation, consider one of these 25 day trips to Florida’s beaches, parks, historical sites, museums, and nearby towns.
Wildlife Parks and Springs
Florida is known for its subtropical climates and variety of habitats along its peninsula. Stay in your Orlando resort and explore diverse habitats along coastal dunes and iconic Florida salt marshes in these back-to-nature day trips.
1. Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge
A unique and bucket-worthy experience is visiting the Crystal River National Refuge, especially during the winter months. From November to April, the water is cool enough for Florida Manatees to seek refuge. Visitors can swim with nearly 500 manatees in the crystal clear freshwater.
2. De Leon Springs
Cool off in clear waters or roam through the lush trails within De Leon Springs. Located between Orlando and Daytona Beach, visitors commonly go bird watching to catch glimpses of bald eagles and wading birds.
3. Weeki Wachee Springs
Weeki Wachee Springs famously features underwater performances by live “mermaids.” The natural spring is also home to the deepest freshwater cave system in the entire country. See the show, go swimming in the springs, or go on a boat tour with a captain that will share the history of Weeki Wachee and point out all of the wildlife guests can see.
4. Wekiwa Springs State Park
Wekiwa Springs State Park is less than one hour drive from Orlando. Wekiwa provides some of the best hiking in Orlando, with over twenty miles of trails. It’s perfect for hot summer days when you want to take a dip in the spring to cool down.
5. Bioluminescent Kayaking at Cape Canaveral
Something you may not have considered on a day trip from Orlando is taking a bioluminescent tour along Florida’s beaches. From May to November, creatures known as Dinoflagellates take over the coastline at night and illuminate neon blue for visitors to witness. Take a kayaking or boating tour to get an up-close view.
6. Snorkeling at Devil’s Den
This privately owned scuba diving training center is one of Florida’s premier pre-historic springs. Unfortunately, the natural spring is not open for casual swimming, so be prepared to bring diving/snorkeling equipment or rent gear from the facility.
7. Leu Gardens
Located near Winter Park, Harry P. Leu Gardens is the perfect way to spend an afternoon outdoors with some peace and quiet within Orlando. Venture through 50 acres of botanical gardens with hundreds of native Floridian flora and fauna species.
Museums & Attractions for the Whole Family
The greater Orlando area is so much more than Walt Disney World or Universal Studios. Gaze upon world-class art pieces, learn about Florida’s wildlife and aquatics or visit the Kennedy Space Center for an out-of-this-world experience.
8. The Dali Museum
Right on the coast of Tampa is the unique and eclectic Dali Museum, home to a large collection of Salvador Dali’s surrealist pieces. View the original collection as well as a rotating selection of exhibits from other world-renowned artists.
9. Kennedy Space Center
Visit the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral to get as close as you can to awe-inspiring rocket launches. Guests can even touch a piece of the moon while learning about how space exploration is possible. The Kennedy Space Center is one of the best day trips from Orlando for kids and space buffs alike.
10. The Florida Aquarium
The Florida Aquarium, located in Clearwater, Florida, is home to over 9,000 animals and aquatic life. Enjoy exciting dolphin shows put on daily with professional trainers, pet some stingrays, or play with otters when you visit!
11. The Ringling Museum
Unlike any other museum you’ve visited, the Ringling in Sarasota has a Tuscan aesthetic with old-world charm. There are multiple museums on the property, including a Circus Museum collection, complete with a clown car. In addition, over 31 galleries are filled with antiquities and exhibits from around the world.
12. Daytona International Speedway
Daytona International Speedway has been home to the Daytona 500 since 1959. Located near Daytona Beach, families love to catch a Daytona 500 race or participate in speedway tours! You can even have a personal NASCAR Racing Experience yourself driving a race car at The World Center of Racing.
For a more eccentric day trip from Orlando, Cassadaga is a small community in Volusia County known as the home of psychics and mediums. Stop by for a palm reading, or simply walk by foot through the quaint cottages to experience the spiritual energy that visitors claim surrounds the area.
Florida is known for its diverse wildlife, and travelers to the state are often in awe of the gators found near the natural freshwater. However, you don’t want to get too close to them in nature, as they can be dangerous! Visiting Gatorland near Kissimmee is the perfect way to learn more about these large reptiles and have safe, close encounters.
Historic Day Trips from Orlando
Did you know that Florida is home to the oldest city in the United States? History buffs can learn more about the state’s rich cultural history and background on various day trips from Orlando. Visit seaside forts that have stood for over 400 years or walk the same paths that Spanish settlers founded.
15. Flagler College
Before becoming a liberal arts school in downtown St. Augustine, Flagler College was once a luxurious hotel. Built by Henry Flagler, the Hotel Ponce de León was Flagler’s first hotel in a series of properties he constructed along the east coast of Florida. The hotel opened its doors to hotel guests in 1888.
16. Bok Tower Gardens
Tucked away in Lake Wales, a small city one hour south of Orlando is a singing tower carillon known as the Bok Tower Gardens. This experience has attracted over 23 million visitors since 1929 and provides a peaceful retreat away from the theme park crowds. Explore the landscape gardens and Mediterranean-style mansion while you visit.
17. Ponce de Leon Lighthouse and Museum
Open to the public 363 days a year; the Ponce de Leon Lighthouse was lit for the first time in November of 1887. These days, the Ponce Inlet marvel is more for educational purposes. Only closed on Christmas and Thanksgiving holidays, the lighthouse and attached museum offer one and a half to two-hour tours to visitors looking to learn the in-depth history of Ponce de Leon Inlet.
18. The Fountain of Youth
Take a sip from the Spring of Eternal Hope, which Ponce de Leon believed held the ability to keep people youthful and healthy. Today, it is an archaeological park in St. Augustine where visitors can take interactive tours or wander through the lush landscapes of America’s First Colony.
19. St. Petersburg Sunken Gardens
George Turner, Sr. purchased six acres of land in 1911 and drained an ancient lake on the property to create the Sunken Gardens that we know today. Draining the lake created a rich muck soil perfect for gardening, Turner’s favorite hobby. Visitors can see some of the oldest tropical plants in the region and the fruits of Turner’s labor.
20. Castillo de San Marcos
Castillo de San Marcos is located in the oldest city in the United States, St. Augustine. Built over 400 years ago, the Spanish created the historic fort to defend Florida and the Atlantic Trade Route. Today, visitors can tour Castillo de San Marcos to get a glimpse of what life was like for soldiers at the fort 400 years ago.
Best Beaches Surrounding Orlando
Florida’s best beaches are only a hop, skip, and a jump away from the theme park capital of the world. Low-cost beach days help make Orlando a budget-friendly travel destination. Whether you want exciting dining and attractions to accompany your day at the beach or a tourist-free strip of sand, you’ll find it on Central Florida’s coasts.
21. Cocoa Beach
The closest beach to Orlando is Cocoa Beach. Besides the surf and sand, the main attraction is the famous Cocoa Beach Pier, home to a massive Ron Jon Surf Shop and other entertainment.
22. Ormond Beach
Ormond-by-the-Sea is a hidden-gem beach just an hour from Orlando on Florida’s east coast. So, if you’re looking to beat the crowds and experience a slice of Florida beach life, head to Ormond Beach.
23. Clearwater Beach
Courtesy mariakray, Shutterstock
On Florida’s western coast, just north of Tampa Bay, is Clearwater Beach, known for its soft, white sand beach. The shallow water and various coastal attractions make it a favorite with families.
24. New Smyrna
New Smyrna is known for its drive-on beaches and charming atmosphere. Located on the East Coast of Florida, New Smyrna Beach is also one of the best surfing spots in Florida. Only about an hour and a half drive away from Orlando, make sure New Smyrna is on your list of day trips to take.
25. Vero Beach
With some of the nicest and most quiet beaches in Florida, Vero Beach is a favorite among locals. It’s part of Florida’s Treasure Coast, a region comprising the Indian River, St. Lucie, and Martin Counties along the Atlantic Ocean. What’s more, if you’re looking for a Disney experience without all the theme park crowds, the town has its very own Disney Vero Beach Resort.
This post originally appeared on Savoteur.
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