When you think of Orlando, FL, you probably think of amusement parks and family time on the roller coasters. But the area around Orlando has a lot more to offer than just Mickey Mouse. Here are some great day trips to let you take a break from the Magic Kingdom and see some of what makes Central Florida such a magical place.
No trip to Central Florida would be complete without a visit to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex at Cape Canaveral. Nearly every manned American space flight since 1968 has taken off from Kennedy Space Center, including the Apollo missions, the space shuttles, SkyLab and the new SpaceX program. Visitors to Kennedy can take a bus tour of both historic and working launch facilities.
Visit the Vehicle Assembly Building where spacecraft are put together before being shot into the stratosphere. Or take a behind the scenes tour of Launch Complex 39 from where most of the Apollo and all the Space Shuttles took flight. If you plan your trip well, you might be able to actually witness a launch. The Visitor Complex is the closest you can get, and it’s well worth the trip to witness a sight like no other on Earth.
Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral
Price: from 54.99 USD
Duration: 11 hours (approx.)
For a real American experience, look no further than the Daytona International Speedway, home of the Daytona 500, the Coke Zero 500, the Rolex 24 and many other NASCAR events. Built in 1959, the Speedway is the oldest racing venue in the world. Throughout the year, the Speedway is host to some of NASCAR’s fastest cars and drivers, reaching high speeds on the steeply banked tracks. You can buy tickets in advance, or, for a real racing experience, reserve a campsite inside the sprawling complex where you can experience the thrill of stock car racing.
Daytona International Speedway
Price: from 143.69 USD
Duration: 15 - 30 minutes
3. Green Swamp Wilderness Preserve
Take a trip to see what Florida looked like more than 400 years ago before Spanish settlers colonized it. The Green Swamp Wilderness Preserve, separated into five separate tracts, is over 40,000 hectares (100,000 acres) of land nearly untouched by man. The preserve contains a variety of habitats and a dizzying array of plant and animal life including birds, reptiles, and amphibians.
The cypress ponds that dot the preserve can only be found in this part of Florida. Campsites are available year round (reservations required), and there are hundreds of miles of mixed use trails, perfect for hiking or biking. Fishing and frogging are fantastic year-round. Be sure to bring your bug spray.
Green Swamp Wilderness Preserve
Address: 28057 SR 471, 33597 Webster, FL
Travel Time: 6 hours 7 minutes drive away from Orlando (approx.)
Website: Green Swamp Wilderness Preserve
4. Ocala National Forest
The Ocala National Forest is the southernmost forest in the contiguous United States and is home to the largest sand pine scrub forest in the world. Camping is available year-round, and there are hundreds of miles of trails that wind through the longleaf pine sandhills and inland scrub. Bring a canoe and ply the slow moving blackwater rivers. Tannins from the decaying plants and cypress trees leave the water darkly transparent like a river of tea. For a real treat, take a dip in the bubbling water of Juniper Springs, an oasis in the midst of the desert-like scrub.
Ocala National Forest
Address: Pittman Visitor Center, 45621 State Road 19, 32702 Altoona, FL
Travel Time: 1-hour drive away from Orlando (approx.)
Website: Ocala National Forest
Juniper Springs Recreation Area
Address: SR 40 between Mill Dam and SR 19, 14.5 kilometers (9 miles) west of Astor and the St. Johns River
Travel Time: 1 hour 16 minutes drive away from Orlando (approx.)
Website: Juniper Springs Recreation Area
5. St. Augustine
If it’s history you crave, then look no farther than St. Augustine, Florida. Founded in 1565 by Florida’s first governor, Spanish admiral Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, St. Augustine is the oldest continually occupied European-established settlement in the continental United States. Trace Spanish history at Castillo de San Marcos, the oldest masonry fort in the continental United States, begun in 1672 and completed in 1695. Visit the King’s Bakery built during the British colonial period. Then see the Lightner Museum, originally the Alcazar Hotel, constructed in 1887 and the beginning of Florida becoming a winter retreat for cold (and wealthy) northerners.
Castillo de San Marcos
Address: 1 S Castillo Dr, St., 32804 Augustine, FL
Travel Time: 1 hour 44 minutes drive away from Orlando (approx.)
Website: Castillo de San Marcos
Address: 75 King Street, St., 32804 Augustine, Florida
Travel Time: 1 hour 42 minutes drive away from Orlando (approx.)
Website: Lightner Museum
6. Crystal River Wildlife Refuge
Ever wanted to swim with manatees? Crystal River Wildlife Refuge offers one of the only places on earth to do just that. Created in 1983 specifically to protect the endangered Florida manatee, the Refuge is a natural marvel sitting at the headwaters of the Crystal River in Kings Bay.
From late fall to early spring, the manatees converge in Kings Bay where natural springs keep the water consistently warm. For a chance to get in the water with these gentle giants, book a trip at manatee tour and dive. But plan ahead and make reservations. This is an experience you won’t want to miss.
Crystal River Wildlife Refuge
Address: 1502 SE Kings Bay Dr., 34429 Crystal River, FL
Travel Time: 1 hour 33 minutes drive away from Orlando (approx.)
Website: Crystal River Wildlife Refuge
Manatee tour and dive
Address: 36 N.E. 4th Street, 34429 Crystal River, FL
Travel Time: 1 hour 32 minutes drive away from Orlando (approx.)
Website: Manatee Tour and Dive
A trip to Florida wouldn’t be complete without experiencing firsthand the state’s alligators and crocodiles—without getting eaten, of course. The best place to do that is Gatorland, an amusement park and zoo dedicated to the sharp-toothed reptile. Here you can become a crocodile trainer for a day, or wrestle one of these ferocious creatures to the ground. The more adventurous can go behind the scenes and tour the Alligator Breeding Marsh where hundreds of hungry alligators will go crazy for dinner—just be glad it’s not you. For a thrill you’ll never forget, take the Screamin’ Gator Zip Line and soar over the hungry ‘gators below.
Address: 14501 S. Orange Blossom Trail, 32837 Orlando, FL
Travel Time: 25 minutes drive away from Orlando (approx.)
8. Bird watching at Lake Apopka
Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive Open Memorial Day and Longwood project benefits water supply and water quality Read more at https://goo.gl/c3kygjPosted by St. Johns River Water Management District on Monday, 22 May 2017
Northwest of Orlando lies Lake Apopka, a bird watcher’s paradise. Whether hiking, biking, or horseback riding, here you’ll find hundreds of species of birds nesting, mating, and living in this marshy floodplain at the headwaters of the Ocklawaha River. A 32-kilometer (20-mile) multi-use trail on the north shore will take you on a tour of the lake’s edge where you’ll see herons, egrets, warblers, flycatchers, among over 350 bird species that use this lake throughout the year. If hiking isn’t your thing, on weekends you can take the 17-kilometer (11-mile) Wildlife Drive that meanders through the eastern portion of the property.
Address: 2803 Lust Road, 32703 Apopka, FL
Travel Time 32 minutes drive away from Orlando (approx.)
Website: Lake Apopka
9. Deep sea fishing at Sea Spirit Fishing Charters
************* Angler Alert ********** ----------------------------------------------- 10 Hour Fishing Trip $110.00 +...Posted by Sea Spirit Fishing on Saturday, 15 April 2017
If fishing is your sport then you’ve come to the right place. Central Florida has some of the best deep sea fishing around. Charter the Sea Spirit and enjoy the thrill of reeling in a big amberjack, barracuda, tuna, swordfish, or mahi-mahi. Or snag a smaller grouper or mackerel to take back to your hotel for a tasty dinner you caught yourself. Whatever kind of fishing you want to do, the crews at Charter the Sea are experienced and knowledgeable and ready to help you make your deep sea fishing excursion a once in a lifetime experience.
Sea Spirit Fishing Charters
Address: 4884 Front Street, 32127 Ponce Inlet, Florida
Travel Time: 1 hour 12 minutes drive away from Orlando (approx.)
Website: Sea Spirit Fishing Charters
10. Clearwater Beach
Clearwater Beach, often ranked as one of the best beaches in the United States, has over 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) of pristine white sand beaches. The town itself was named Florida’s best beach town in 2013, and one step on the sand, or across the beach walk, will tell you why. Pier 60, with a playground, snack bar, souvenir shop, and a fishing pier, is a favorite hangout for locals and visitors alike. Every night, Sunsets at Pier 60 includes performers, artists, and musical acts for visitors to enjoy as they watch the sun set over the Gulf of Mexico. If you’re looking for a relaxing day lounging in warm, soft sand, and enjoying one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, Clearwater Beach is the destination for you.
Travel Time: 1 hour 49 minutes drive away from Orlando (approx.)
Website: Clearwater Beach
Get away from Orlando!Central Florida is more than just amusement parks and roller coasters. When you take a day trip from Orlando you’ll find how much this part of the Sunshine State really has to offer. And perhaps get to wrestle a ‘gator in the process.
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