When most people think about Orlando, all of the theme parks immediately come to mind. Between Disney and Sea World and Universal, it’s easy to overlook all the other awesome things that the Orlando area has to offer.
Here are 10 of my favorite things to do in the Orlando area- besides theme parks:
- DeLeon Springs State Park: Had to put this one first because it is HANDS DOWN my favorite! DeLeon Springs State Park is a beautiful park with a natural spring rumored to be the original Fountain of Youth. The water in the spring stays 72 degrees year round which makes it a very popular place for manatees to gather in the winter months. Besides the naturally beautiful grounds, there is also a really awesome playground. And, I can’t lie, the best part of the park is the Old Spanish Sugar Mill! It’s a unique restaurant where you cook your own pancakes right on the griddle on your table. These pancakes alone are worth a trip to Orlando!
- Orlando Science Center: The Orlando Science Center is an awesome museum for kids of all ages. There are multiple sections of the museum with interactive exhibits. Kids (and adults) can play as they learn! This is a great Orlando activity for a rainy day!
- Beaches: Although Orlando is located in the center of the state away from the coast, it is really a very short drive to the ocean. Heading east- towards the Atlantic Ocean- you can be at New Smyrna Beach or Coca Beach in less than an hour. If you want to head for the Gulf Coast, Clearwater Beach is less than 2 hours from Orlando.
- Lake Eola Park: Located in the heart of downtown Orlando Lake Eola Park is a beautiful destination away from the theme park area. No matter what time of day or year you visit, you’ll find locals jogging around the lake, playing on the playground or enjoying food from the many nearby vendors. Often there are special events that take place in the park too.
- The Holy Land Experience: I guess technically this could be considered a theme park, but it certainly isn’t one of the main ones. The Holy Land Experience is a living, biblical museum that immerses you in ancient Jerusalem. This museum will take you 7,000 miles away from Orlando and 2,000 years back in time. It’s a really neat educational and theatrical way to experience history.
- Winter Park: The day I fell in love with Florida was the first day I spent in Winter Park. It’s magical. From the brick-paver streets, to the ridiculously fancy cars, to the delicious food and cute boutique shops, there’s nothing not to love about Winter Park! Stroll through the rose garden, visit the farmers market, eat ice cream in front of the fountain and be sure to take a scenic boat tour!
- Sports: The Orlando area has a lot to offer when it comes to sports! Several MLB teams do their Spring Training at complexes in the area. Orlando also has a NBA team- The Orlando Magic. And for a very random sporting experience, be sure to check out Jai Alai!
- Cape Canaveral: The Kennedy Space Center is located on Cape Canaveral and it is a fantastic place to visit. Learning about the history of the space program and seeing all of the equipment up close is a very cool experience. Also during your visit to Cape Canaveral, be sure to take a drive through the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. You’ll experience alligators on a whole new level!
- Shopping: Orlando has fantastic shopping! The Mall at Millenia is a place to experience, even if you aren’t in the market for a new $20,000 purse! The mall is gorgeous and lots of fun to walk around. Plus, there is great food in both the food court and surrounding restaurants. In addition to the mall, there are also several outlets and TONS of boutique stores in the Orlando area.
- Mt. Dora: Mt. Dora is a historic little town located on the shores of Lake Dora close to Orlando. The town is full of charm and character with a very laid back feel to it. There always seems to be a festival or something going on. It’s adorable and pretty much the exact opposite of the theme parks (which is not said to knock either- it’s just COMPLETELY different!)
BONUS TIPS FOR ORLANDO
- Z88.3: Best radio station ever! Immediately tune your radio to Z88.3!
- Toll Roads: They are everywhere in the Orlando area. If you plan to spend a lot of time on the roads in Florida, you might want to look into getting a Sun Pass which is a pre-paid toll transponder. It will save you tons of time and hassle!
- Airport: If you plan on flying into Orlando, check flights into the Sanford Airport. Not only is the airport less crowded than the main Orlando airport, often the flights are cheaper.
- St. Augustine: I debated putting this in the list of 10, but decided that it’s questionable if one would consider this part of the “Orlando area.” Technically, I guess it’s not…but if you have time, it’s worth the drive (about 2 hours from downtown Orlando.)
- Food: This city has amazing food. Like a.ma.zing. Do yourself a favor, and don’t eat anywhere that you could eat in your hometown! If you aren’t sure where to go, checkout Yelp to see reviews of places near you.
What other tips do you have for experiencing the area?