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33+ Unique & Awesome Things To Do in Central Florida (Beyond Disney)

Central Florida is full of fun things to do, beyond just Universal and Walt Disney World.

In the heart of Central Florida, and even a bit west into Polk County , you’ll find outdoor activities, family-friendly adventures, gardens, airboat tours, museums, art galleries, parks, water park fun , and so much more. You may want to plan a trip here without visiting Mickey at all!

Here are 33+ awesome things to do in Central Florida that you and your family will love.

33+ Unique & Awesome Things To Do in Central Florida (Beyond Disney)

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  • Our family-favorite theme park option : LegoLand Florida Resort is our go-to hotel in Central Florida ! The Legoland Hotels are the only thing cooler than spending the day at Legoland Florida Resort . We’ve got the deets on how to choose which one works best for you – click here for info on how to decide !
  • Our favorite unique getaway in Central Florida: Get closer to nature with a stay at Westgate River Ranch Resort . This authentic dude ranch offers a number of accommodation types from tent and teepee glamping to lodge suites and cabin rentals. With a rock wall, miniature golf course, zipline, archery rang e, boat rentals and more, you will not get bored.   Click here for detail info about our trip to Westgate River Ranch .
  • Best RV Resort. Camp Margaritaville RV Resort & Cabana Cabins  made its official debut in January 2022. Guests can enjoy a margarita down by the tiki bar , stay in a premium-equipped RV space or motorhome suite by the lake, or bring the family to stay in one of the cabana cabins . The resort has many amenities including two swimming pools (one with a 147 ft. spiral waterslide ), Parrot Island Mini Golf, dog parks, a dog spa and two Tiki Bars.
  • Best for Families near Disney Springs: The Wyndham Bonnet Creek Resort in Lake Buena Vista, FL has so many kid-friendly activities, they’re going to want to stay here forever! With a restaurant, water park, outdoor pool, spa center, and mini-golf course , you’ll never run out of things to do here. (It’s close to Disney Springs, too.)
  • Best for Families near Universal Studios: This DoubleTree by Hilton in Orlando is located directly across from the entrance to Universal Studios ! It features first-class amenities, numerous free services and is close to all the area’s main attractions.
  • Best for Families near International Drive: The Hyatt Regency Orlando is located right the heart of International Drive in Orlando. Guests can beat the heat in one of the property’s two resort pool s, one featuring a waterslide, waterfall, splash pad and separate kiddie pool . It also offers four full-service restaurants , two bars , a 24-hour grab & go market , and room service .


Safari wilderness ranch.

For a wildlife experience like no other, take a trip to Safari Wilderness in Lakeland. 

There are a number of options available to explore the park, depending on how adventurous you’re feeling.  We went with the customized safari vehicle , complete with a driver/very knowledgeable guide.  If you want to get really up close and personal, you can tour the area on an ATV or kayak , also with a guide.  To take it to the next level, ask about the camelback adventure and go Ishtar-style.

The highlight of our visit was the ring-tailed lemur feeding .  They are cuter than you could ever imagine, softly grabbing ahold of your fingers like a human infant and drawing your hand up to them to take a bite. 

Safari Wilderness launched an option for a few special guests per night to stay in beautifully appointed safari tents ! The safari base camp consists of nine tents for Classic Safari Camping, each of which sits on its own mobile wooden deck for guest safety and comfort, and offers a panoramic view of the animal herds on the veldt.


33+ Unique & Awesome Things To Do in Central Florida (Beyond Disney)

The World’s First Peppa Pig Theme Park opened Polk County in 2022!

The new stand-alone park is located just steps away from the front gate of LEGOLAND Florida Resort. The park combines six interactive rides and themed playgrounds with character shows, an indoor cinema and a colorful splash pad that celebrates “muddy puddles” jumping fun. Every corner of the charming new park is crafted with preschoolers in mind. 

One of the best things about the new Peppa Pig Theme Park is that it opened as a Certified Autism Center .


33+ Unique & Awesome Things To Do in Central Florida (Beyond Disney)

The Legoland Florida Resort and Water Park in Winter Haven, is the perfect addition to Central Florida family vacation.

Here you’ll find a creative collection of LEGO-inspired rides and attractions that promise fun for everyone, from the “pink knuckle” thrills of roller coasters such as The Dragon, The Great LEGO Race, Coastersaurus and Flying School to interactive adventures including LEGO NINJAGO The Ride, Lost Kingdom Adventure and Kid Power Towers.

NEW IN 2023! Pirate River Quest, takes guests through the uncharted waters of the legendary Cypress Gardens to discover the secrets protecting its canals.  

We have shared tips HERE for saving money on LEGOLAND Florida tickets . It’s our favorite of all the Florida theme parks, with roller coasters, shows, a water park , and so much more.



33+ Unique & Awesome Things To Do in Central Florida (Beyond Disney)

The Hammock Hollow Children’s Garden at Bok Tower Gardens , a National Historic Landmark, is a must visit for families.

Of course, don’t miss walking the grounds and seeing the 200-ft tall tower . Inside it houses a collection of carillon bells that ring beautifully on the hour every day. Pro tip: Bring some change for the fish food – the kids will love feeding the koi swimming around the tower.

Flying into Orlando? You’re going to need a car. Great rates and comparisons on all major brands, including Enterprise and Hertz make Discover Cars our favorite travel tool. Click here to compare rental car prices.


Westgate River Ranch is an authentic kid-friendly guest ranch where families can experience the Old Florida cowboy lifestyle as a day visitor or overnight guest. Here you can go horseback riding , take swamp buggy rides , and watch the longest running championship rodeo in the USA.

One of our most memorable Florida stays was in the glamping tents here. ( Click thru for 17 tips and tricks for your stay. )

Stay Here: Westgate River Ranch


A creative treasure that many do not know about is the Frank Lloyd Wright Tours on the Florida Southern College campus in Lakeland, FL.

There are four tours , ranging in price from $10 to $45, each provides an interesting and educational look at the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright . (You can also take a self-guided tour — a souvenir map will cost you $5.)


3, 2, 1…BLAST OFF! Enjoy the many exhibits, shows, and attractions at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex , including Space Shuttle Atlantis, Shuttle Launch Experience, Rocket Garden, and Heroes & Legends featuring the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame presented by Boeing.

You’ll love the exhibits, interactive theater presentations , and the Kennedy Space Center Bus Tour to the Apollo/Saturn V Center. At Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex you’ll have the opportunity to explore the world’s largest collection of astronaut memorabilia.

Looking for online tickets to attractions or cool tours offering insider info? Get Your Guide is our family’s go-to resource for online purchases. Find Kennedy Space Center tickets here .


See Orlando from a completely different perspective while enjoying a ride on the The Wheel at Icon Park !

Admire aerial views of Orlando and beyond from the East Coast’s tallest observation wheel . Soar 400 feet into the sky in a clear capsule. Each capsule is equipped with an iPad that offers information about the sights and the surrounding environment.

It’s air conditioned ! Get your tickets to The Wheel at Icon Park here!


The SEA LIFE Orlando Aquarium offers you the chance to come “face-to-fin” with sharks, stingrays, sea turtles and more.

Home to Florida’s only 360° underwater tunnel , SEA LIFE Orlando has touch tanks, 9+ exhibit areas , thousands of sea creatures and fun behind-the-scenes tours .

Get your tickets to SEA LIFE Orlando Aquarium here!

Looking for even more fun in Central Florida? Try one of these fun experiences!

  • Take a Boggy Creek Airboat Ride . Enjoy a fast and fun ride through Florida’s Everglades Headwaters with a U.S. Coast Guard Captain. Keep your eyes peeled for alligators, turtles, and birds in this natural wonderland.
  • See Manatees on a 3-Hour Kayak Tour . Enjoy a kayaking tour in Blue Springs State Park, the winter home of one of Florida’s largest manatee populations. Spend some time paddling and some time walking along the spring-side trail.
  • Visit the Crayola Experience. Crayola Experience is where the magic of Crayola comes to life. With 70,000 square feet of attractions, take a guided tour through the Crayola Experience, Orlando’s most colorful family destination for interactive, creative play.


33+ Unique & Awesome Things To Do in Central Florida (Beyond Disney)


Circle B Bar Reserve in Lakeland is a treasured central Florida environmental area providing numerous family recreational opportunities from bicycling trails to bird watching and fishing .

The kids will love the Polk County Nature Discovery Center .


Another one of Lakeland’s most beautiful natural attractions is  Hollis Garden . This pristine park is a hidden gem, with winding paths that lead through an array of flowering trees and plants. Sixteen distinct gardens span the one-acre site, each one highlighting a different type of vibe.

You’ll find thousands of vibrantly colored blooms here, with trees and shrubs that reflect the beauty of a wild tropical rainforest.



While in Central Florida we suggest touring the citrus groves and pick your own berries at Ridge Island Groves .

Try your hand at hydroponic gardening with a take home do-it-yourself kit available at the gift shop. Take a tour of the groves and pick your own fruit to enjoy the homegrown taste of Florida.


Take an airboat tour along the shoreline of Lake Kissimmee with Floridian captains from the family-owned marina at Grape Hammock Fish Camp .

In addition to the boat tours, Grape Hammock is a top-rated Fish Camp in the state, and the perfect place to see the Old Florida.

Canoe or kayak through the serene environment that surrounds the Peace River Paddling Trail. You’ll find 12 launch points throughout Desoto, Hardee and Polk counties.

This easy to moderate paddling trail takes you through a moss-draped cypress swamp, hardwood forest and hammocks . You’ll find the blackwater river is a dark tea color. 

Paynes Creek Historic State Park is a great place to explore the river — from either the water or land.


Lake Kissimmee State Park has over 13 miles of trails to hike , along with opportunities for boating, canoeing and fishing . The park offers living history demonstrations .

You’ll find three lakes here —  Kissimmee, Tiger and Rosalie. The park has full-facility campsites  as well as a primitive camping facility.


A great thing to do in Lakeland is visit Lake Mirror Park . This gorgeous park features a grand promenade, perfect for strolling or biking along the waterfront. The walk is roughly one mile long and offers lovely views of Lake Mirror. Of course, the famous swans are never far from view, but you’ll also find geese and other birds here. 

Both walkers and runners can be spotted here, so mind your step, and enjoy some of the best Lakeland scenery.


Fly high in the sky in Central Florida with Waldo Wright’s Flying Service . Enjoy seeing Central Florida from a new perspective in a biplane, stearman or a seaplane . No age limits, and prices are very affordable.


Kids will love the free orange juice samples while everyone takes in the history of Florida’s official fruit at Florida’s Natural Growers Grove House.

Spend a little time outdoors for a self-guided tour through the orange groves around the property! Opened seasonally, from October through May.


Lake Hollingsworth is an urban lake and focal point of Lakeland, FL. The home of to the annual Orange Cup Regatta provides a walking trail , wonderful bird sightings and is home to some historic landmarks .

You can enjoy a self-guided walking tour of the outdoor Public Ar t found throughout Munn Park, Lemon Street Promenade, Curtis Peterson State Building and around Lake Mirror.


Balloons & Beyond will provide the adventure of a lifetime with a sunrise hot air balloon flight over Central Florida.

They fly 7 days a week (weather permitting) in the Orlando, Davenport and Kissimmee area — and they only do one flight a day, in the early morning, so make sure to make reservations!


  • Lakeland Highlands Scrub : Down a quiet dirt road you will find the Lakeland Highlands Scrub that offers two short and easy multi-use loop trails .
  • SUMICA : SUMICA is located in Lake Wales offering nine miles of nature views among pine flatwoods , oak hammock and marsh habitats.
  • Crooked Lake Sandhill : Crooked Lake Sandhill is one of the best examples of a sandhill ecosystem remaining in Polk County. This 25-acre land is home to four rare animals : sand skinks, scrub lizards, eastern indigo snakes and gopher tortoises.
  • Tiger Creek Preserve : On the Eastern edge of Lake Wales Ridge, known as one of the “ ancient islands ,” is Tiger Creek Preserve. Hiking through this diverse biological hotspot will get you up close with many endangered plants and animals.
  • Green Swamp Wilderness Preserve : The Hampton Tract of Green Swamp Wilderness Preserve provides approximately 30 miles of wet hiking trails .
  • Colt Creek State Park : Colt Creek State Park covers over 5,000 acres in the Green Swamp Wilderness Preserve with more than 12 miles of marked trails . The park is home to the American Bald Eagle, white-tailed deer, wild turkey, bobcat, feral hogs and Sherman’s fox squirrel.


33+ Unique & Awesome Things To Do in Central Florida (Beyond Disney)


Discover the world of aerospace at the Florida Air Museum in Lakeland. At Florida’s official aviation museum the family will experience unique educational experiences with flight that include displayed aircrafts , exhibits , and flight simulators.


Located at Florida Southern College in Lakeland, the  Polk Museum of Art  features rotating exhibits from local, national, and international artists. The museum strives to make modern and contemporary art more accessible to all audiences, so they feature both traditional and experimental pieces in their exhibitions. 

Tours of the museum are available, as well as educational and family-friendly events. Admission is free.


Bartow Air Base Museum in Polk County is a free museum that showcases memorabilia from WWII . You’ll find exhibits, displays and artifacts , and aircraft on display.


The popular Explorations V Children’s Museum moved to Bonnet Springs Park and is now known as the Florida Children’s Museum.

Located in Lakeland, FL, the Florida Children’s Museum features two floors of amazing interactive galleries and plenty of hands-on activities for the kids. Find galleries such as Watermelon Seeds, Design Park, or City Play — where kids can dress up and be part of a little city (adults can dress up too)!


Climb aboard a 1968 red caboose at the Historic Dundee Depot Museum . It’s open Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays from 10am-2pm.


See 19 th century pioneer life at Homeland Heritage Park in Homeland, FL. This park is home to unique structures like an 1800s farmhouse, school and church.

Take a tour of the area, or attend one of the events they have here throughout the year.


Davidson of Dundee is a great shop that makes candies and jellies out of citrus juice since the 1960s. Take a free tour and watch candies, chocolates, marmalades and jellies being made. (Pssst! They give out free samples! )


Silver Moon Drive-In Theatre in Lakeland, FL is open seven nights a week! They’ve been showing movies here for over 70 years — and they don’t intend to stop anytime soon! They have two screens, and host double features every night.


Orlando Fringe  opened “ Fringe ArtSpace ,” a year-round performing arts venue , in downtown Orlando in 2023.

The programing features a mix of traditionally programmed theatre and concerts as well as a studio series with weekly, monthly and pop-up events like workshops, classes, readings, performances and artistic explorations.     


Kelly park/rock springs.

Our friends introduced us to Kelly Rock Springs , and our tubing adventure here was one for the books – so fun! Start at Rock Springs Bar and Grill just a few minutes away to rent a tube if you don’t have one.

Pay to get in the park, and then enjoy the free-flowing natural spring , which stays at 68 degrees year round. The water is the clearest I’ve ever seen…and it’s easy to make the loop again and again, taking a break for a picnic on the greenway at the end of the run.


With emerald springs feeding the Wekiwa River and lush tropical hammocks , this unique park just minutes from downtown Orlando is perfect for observing abundant wildlife or cooling off on a summer day.

The blue waters of Wekiwa Springs have made it the county’s longest-running tourist attraction , only about 15 minutes from Winter Park, FL.


Another of Florida’s gorgeous springs is located at Silver Springs State Park . Here you can enjoy a glass bottom boat tour , kayak the 5-mile Sliver River, explore the museum , and so much more!


  • Cash back on affordable flights to Orlando from all the major airlines? Yes please! Check flights to Orlando here.
  • Find the best prices on all the major car rental companies with our partner, including Enterprise, Hertz and dozens of others. Check rental car prices in Orlando.

33+ Unique & Awesome Things To Do in Central Florida (Beyond Disney)


Download this 1-page checklist of Things to Do in Central Florida to print at home or your local print shop. Perfect to keep in a binder, bring on your adventure or just put on the refrigerator!

( PS. You’ll find some of these items detailed in our article, 33+ Unique & Awesome Things To Do in Central Florida (Beyond Disney) ).

Format: PDF, US Letter Size, Portrait (8.5”x11”)

You will receive one PDF file. File will be emailed and available for download up to three times upon payment. No physical item will be shipped.


  • ORLANDO: 27 Super Fun Things To Do In Orlando For Adults
  • ST. AUGUSTINE: 33 Sensational Things To Do In St. Augustine For All Travel Types
  • ORLANDO WITH KIDS: 42 Things To Do In Orlando With Kids (Besides The Theme Parks)
  • KISSIMMEE: 26 Amazing Things To Do In Kissimmee, Florida

33+ Unique & Awesome Things To Do in Central Florida (Beyond Disney)

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Your vacation guide to central florida, central florida was practically built with fun in mind, starting with the theme parks of orlando, kissimmee and winter haven. but that's just beginning; you can visit the rodeo in arcadia, tube or paddle the aptly named rainbow river in dunnellon, or discover the charms of eclectic mount dora.  , altamonte springs.

Local parks offer trail-walking and waters for fishing and boating. Lake Lotus and Lake Orienta are well visited, but the greatest activity encircles the lake at  Cranes Roost Park . Follow the cobblestone paths, pausing at benches and shade trees. A floating stage and amphitheater host city events from concerts to art shows, and the surrounding  Uptown Altamonte  has a variety of hotels, spas, shops and restaurants.

Apopka, just 12 miles northwest and minutes from downtown Orlando, has a small-town atmosphere, with beautiful natural resources and a variety of outdoor recreational opportunities. Enjoy concerts and events at the Apopka Amphitheater , take the two- to three-hour trip at the   Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive,  make lifelong memories at Camp Wewa , learn the local history at the Apopka Museum , or hike at Wekiwa Springs State Park and Kelly Park/Rock Springs , and shop and explore around the city.  

Old West meets Old South in Arcadia, home to the  All-Florida Championship Rodeo , antiques stores and storied structures (an active historical society and  Main Street Program  keep things in town lively). Yes – you can observe barrel racing and bronco bucking during the rodeo – there’s even a kids’ calf scramble and a shoot-out that recalls the rambunctious days of  Arcadia ’s turn-of-last-century cattle wars. Paddling the Peace River provides another escape to yesteryear.

Bartow reflects its 1851 founding in well-aged homes, a downtown antiques district and a historic courthouse that holds the  Polk County Historical Museum . A self-guided walking tour passes some of the city’s grandest structures and ancient oaks, pretty azaleas and dogwoods. Annually, Bartow times its  Bloomin’ Arts Festival  with the onset of the plants’ showiest season. Attend to purchase fresh-cut flowers or a handmade quilt.

Things get wild in Dunnellon with the Rainbow and Withlacoochee Rivers running nearby, and along with them, a lengthy list of adventures.  Rainbow Springs State Park  is perhaps the best known – swim, snorkel, tube or paddle this cool, clear, liquid paradise. Just south of Dunnellon, join the  Withlacoochee State Trail  at its Gulf Junction Trailhead. In town, a historic district, quaint shops and an annual  Boomtown Days Festival  let on that this is homespun Florida.

With its own resorts, themed dinner shows and kitschy amusements, Kissimmee’s no longer Orlando’s sideshow. Old Town entertains with nightly main stage performances and weekly car cruise-ins, and thrills with attractions like a human slingshot and Ferris wheel. Move away from the neon to discover authentic Kissimmee: Swamp buggies and airboats cut through the wilderness (yes, you’ll see alligators); bass fishing is big on  Kissimmee’s Chain of Lakes  (Lake Kissimmee and Lake Tohopekaliga – Lake Toho to locals – are the biggest); and the  Silver Spurs Rodeo  keeps its calendar full of roping, racing and riding at  Osceola Heritage Park . Several local organizations have collaborated to improve Kissimmee’s historic downtown, now marked by streetscapes, events on Toho Square (including a farmers’ market on Thursdays) and  Key’s Welcome Station , a 1926 service station adapted into an outpost of the town’s visitors’ bureau.

For a town once rambling with orange groves and cow pastures, modern Lakeland is well manicured. Follow Lemon Street to see the city beautiful: An ornamental seawall frames  Lake Mirror  (the Lake Mirror Promenade); Hollis Garden forms its centerpiece with a gazebo, grotto and garden “rooms.” Nearby, an antiques district and historic  Munn Park  warrant walks (the latter displays WPA projects and “boom buildings” of varying architectural styles), while Frank Lloyd Wright sets the aesthetic on the campus of  Florida Southern College  – the largest collection of his architecture on a single site resides here. Echoing Lakeland’s inside-and-out artfulness, the  Polk Museum of Art  contains eight galleries and a sculpture garden, and helps produce the  Florida Outdoor Sculpture Competition , an accessory to the city’s eye-popping landscape.

Lake Buena Vista

Doing Disney is a  Florida vacation  mainstay, and Walt envisioned centering the Florida fun on one magical locale: Lake Buena Vista. Hop between four theme parks ( Magic Kingdom ,  Epcot ,  Disney’s Hollywood Studios  and  Disney’s Animal Kingdom ) and two water parks ( Typhoon Lagoon  and  Blizzard Beach ). If you need more stimulation,  Disney Springs  won’t disappoint – here,  Cirque du Soleil  performs, and   House of Blues  rocks. Themed restaurants, including one by Wolfgang Puck, will keep your appetite stimulated too.

Lake Wales is a looker. Sixty bells encased in an Art Deco- and Gothic-styled, coquina and marble carillon tower sound over Historic  Bok Tower Gardens ’ more than 250 blooming acres. Plan your visit with the flower blooming schedule and open-air concert calendar in mind.  The Lake Wales Arts Center  hosts concerts of its own, and a free art gallery, inside a Spanish Mission-style church from 1927. Similarly, the  Lake Wales Museum and Cultural Center  earns its nickname, “The Depot Museum,” from its digs inside a former railway station. 

Magic Kingdom

The park has been updated to reflect the latest hits (witness the Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor comedy show and the Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin), but all the classics are still here: Whirl around on Prince Charming Regal Carrousel, join Peter Pan’s Flight and take the international cruise that reminds us all that “it’s a small world.” The evening fireworks you watched through bleary eyes as a child live on too, though Disney promises they’re the “biggest and boldest” extravaganzas in park history.

What is Mount Dora made of? Much to see and do along the Lake Dora waterfront (including a lighthouse, piers for fishing, an annual regatta and a holiday boat parade); an historic sensibility rooted in thick-trunked oaks (the  Lakeside Inn  dates to 1883) and a reputation among antiques collectors (weekends are for  Renninger’s , operator of a mega antiques, farmers’ and flea market with heavily attended extravaganzas throughout the year). Keep a few weekends open for the  town’s annual bicycle and art festivals  – the former packs two fall days full of rides for cyclists of all skill levels; the latter is associated with the  Mount Dora Center for the Arts , where, year round, you can view changing exhibits and a sculpture garden.

Ask anyone what to do in  Ocala   and the response will be:  Silver Springs State Park . Visitors got their first glimpses of the immaculately clear water here from a glass bottom boat in 1878. Since then, the nature-themed park has grown up around it, offering new attractions through the years (today, you can take a jeep wilderness ride and visit a water park next door). Want more? The  Ocala National Forest  produces an unplugged version – camp, swim or snorkel springs and mountain bike the  Paisley Woods Bicycle Trail  (truly, there are no mountains here, but rugged terrain through prairies and pines poses a challenge). The landscape turns green and white as some-600 picket-fenced Thoroughbred farms sprawl throughout this “horse capital.” Downtown, historic buildings, mossy oaks and a gazebo for gatherings add to the Victorian flavor.  

If Lake Buena Vista belongs to Disney (and it does),  Orlando   claims everything else – namely  Universal Studios Florida  and its  Islands of Adventure  and  CityWalk  dining/shopping/nightlife triumvirate; plus  SeaWorld Orlando , accompanied by  Discovery Cove  and  Aquatica  water park. But don’t let the turnstiles box you in.  International Drive,   Pointe Orlando  and the  Mall at Millennia  set the scene for souvenir (and other) shopping, dining and entertainment, albeit with a franchised feel. Spreading from downtown, trendy neighborhoods like  Thornton Park  and  South Eola  impart just the opposite – with original eateries and nightlife nooks (each with a walk-able quality that works during the day, too).

Even with downtown development underway,  Oviedo  holds onto its down-hominess: Oviedo Chickens strut about town; the annual  Taste of Oviedo  pairs a local restaurant competition with rides for the kids; and  Lake Jesup , rumored to be one of Florida’s most ’gator-filled lakes, supports airboat tours. The  Cross Seminole Trail , part of the  Florida National Scenic Trail , runs near town.

Sanford’s Lake Monroe vista and Victorian downtown go easy on the eyes and the spirit. Traditional street lamps illuminate brick paths that connect restored homes and historic buildings. Parks flaunt the city’s greenery, and assemble the community for open-air movies in  Centennial Park  and a Saturday farmers’ market and live music series on  Magnolia Square . You can also see the  Central Florida Zoo  and Botanical Gardens here.

Most of us know Sebring for its  international raceway  and  12 Hours of Sebring  endurance race. Slow down to see the city for all the other things it is: The boardwalks of  Highlands Hammock State Park  reveal colossal oaks, lazy alligators and a kaleidoscope of birds. Lake Jackson backdrops the  Highlands Little Theatre  and  Highlands Museum of the Arts .  The Highlands Art League  has refurbished a historic building in proximity as the Yellow House Gallery to host receptions and show its members’ works.

Winter Garden

Winter Garden is known for its old Florida style and charm. Its historic downtown is a favorite destination, with shops and restaurants situated along the award-winning West Orange Trail . If you’re a cycling enthusiast, this is the place for you. Look for live performances at the Garden Theatre , live music throughout the downtown on the weekends and visual art at the SoBo Art Gallery . Saturdays are bustling with the award-winning Winter Garden Farmers Market .

Winter Haven

Lakes about town number near 50, and their canal connections secure Winter Haven’s title as the “Chain of Lakes City.” That explains why water skis and wakeboards are acceptable footwear here. Schools dedicated to the sports have come to Winter Haven in recent years, though the iconic Cypress Gardens ski shows debuted in 1941 at the spot of what is now  LEGOLAND Florida .

Winter Park

Affluent and artsy Winter Park rolls out its best along  Park Avenue.  Lunch, shop and stroll Central Park, where the  Autumn Art Festival  unfolds annually. Head indoors to view the extensive Louis Comfort Tiffany collection at the  Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art , but get back outside in time to board a  scenic boat tour along Lake Osceola . You’ll cruise past  Rollins College , the  Albin Polasek Museum & Sculpture Gardens  and stunning homes – many with boathouses built to match.

For this and other  Florida travel ideas , go to VISIT FLORIDA's official travelers guide.

See more cities in Florida's Central region.

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19 amazing things to do in Central Florida

by Kelly Stilwell | Jan 16, 2019 | 9 comments

Note:  All travel is subject to frequently-changing governmental restrictions—please check federal, state, and local advisories before scheduling trips. 

When visiting Central Florida for the first time, it’s hard to know where to begin in planning your vacation. Yes, the beach is spectacular, but there is so much more to do in this region. We asked Kelly Stilwell from Food, Fun & Faraway Places to give us some ideas of things not to miss in this uniquely beautiful part of the state.

Central Florida has so much to offer for a vacation in the sun any time of year. Families from all over the world come to this area to visit the theme parks. Though the Disney World parks are definitely one of the top attractions, getting out and seeing the other areas will show you what authentic Florida is all about.

Central Florida has so much to offer for a vacation in the sun any time of year, but where to begin? We've got 19 ideas to help you start planning.

Photo courtesy of Visit Tampa Bay

Things To Do in Central Florida All Year Long

When the weather outside is frightful in so much of the rest of the country, chances are pretty good, even in the dead of winter, that you’ll be able to enjoy all these activities and more in Central Florida. Start putting together your bucket list for a trip to the southernmost state in the U.S.

Swim with Manatees at Plantation Adventure Center

Most people who come to the Florida area dream of seeing a manatee in the wild. If you ask around, people will tell you there’s a chance you’ll see them in the canals and marinas. The first time I saw them in the wild was in the Gulf of Mexico right off Anna Maria Island when there was a pod swimming around us. Called gentle giants, you don’t realize how big they are until you’re right next to one.

At the Plantation Adventure Center , part of the Plantation on Crystal River , your chances of seeing a pod of manatees are very high. In fact, though there are about 40 resident manatees in the summer, that number sometimes grows more than ten times in the winter. The sea cows gather in Crystal River for the consistently warm 72º temperature. Though that sounds warm, we humans will probably want to wear wetsuits, and the Plantation Adventure Center has you covered. All gear and instruction are provided as part of your tour. Though it’s tempting, remember not to invade the privacy of the manatees, and touching them is never allowed. Visit  Plantation Adventure Center  at 9301 W Fort Island Trail in Crystal River.

Central Florida has so much to offer for a vacation in the sun any time of year, but where to begin? We've got 19 ideas to help you start planning.

Photo by Maegan Luckiesh on Unsplash

See Native Wildlife at Three Sisters Springs

Here’s another chance to see a manatee, but without getting in the water. At Three Sisters Springs at Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, you’ll find a boardwalk with viewing platforms. The water really is crystal clear, making it easy to see and even photograph the manatees from above the water. Three Sisters Springs is also home to a myriad of other Florida wildlife, such as the rare Red-cockaded Woodpecker and the Sandhill Crane, which can stand almost 4 feet tall. Take a hike on one of the trails to view King’s Bay, Lake Crystal, Magnolia Springs, and the wetlands. During manatee season, Three Sisters Springs National Wildlife Refuge volunteers offer guided tours every day. Take a trolley tour Friday through Sunday, April through November 14, and seven days per week November 15 through March 31.

You can also snorkel, dive, kayak, and paddleboard in summer. In the winter when the manatee numbers are higher, kayaking and paddleboarding are not allowed. Motorized vessels are never allowed. Three Sisters Springs is located at 123 NW US Highway 19 in Crystal River.

Take a River Paddling Tour

For water activities, river paddling on the Chassahowitzka River makes for a fun day. This area is paradise for outdoor enthusiasts, and  Hunter Springs Kayak  has everything you’ll need for a day of paddling in central Florida. Take a tour in one of their unique Clear Kayaks and you might see a manatee right beneath you as you paddle through Seven Sisters Springs. Kayaks are available as singles or doubles, perfect for families with children. Hunter Springs Kayak is located at 8600 W Miss Maggie Drive in Homosassa.

Try Wakeboarding

Wakeboarding is the perfect activity for those seeking adventure, and The Lift Adventure Park  is just the spot for beginners or those with experience. Packages are available for first timers, but you will have to reserve your spot to ride behind the System 2.0. The Lift Adventure Park has your helmet, vest, and wakeboard ready for you. Summer camps are available, too. You’ll find the Lift Adventure Park at SunWest Park, 17362 Old Dixie Highway in Hudson.

See the Stilt Houses at Sunset

Florida sunsets are pretty amazing, and the Sunset Cruise to the stilt houses will give you a taste of old Florida. Though the history is unclear, the first stilt houses off the coast of Pasco County were built between 1916 and 1918 to shelter fishermen and store their mullet. Hurricane Gladys destroyed the stilt houses in 1968, but they were eventually allowed to be rebuilt. They are quite a site as you’re sailing along into the sunset. Book your cruise through Gill Dawg Marina  at 5419 Treadway Drive in Port Richey.

Central Florida has so much to offer for a vacation in the sun any time of year, but where to begin? We've got 19 ideas to help you start planning.

Photo courtesy of Visit Pasco

See a Florida Sunrise in a Hot Air Balloon

Tom and Jessica Warren of  American Air Balloon Rides have been flying balloons since 1998, and seeing the sunrise from above the trees is a spectacular experience. The first time I went up in a hot air balloon, I didn’t realize how much work went into getting the balloon ready. After that experience, I realized getting ready is all part of the fun! You will watch and participate in the balloon being readied for flight. Yes, it makes for an early morning, but the quiet of the winds and the beauty of the sunrise makes it all worth it. Reserve your flight with American Air Balloon Rides, located in Land O Lakes, by visiting their website.

Central Florida has so much to offer for a vacation in the sun any time of year, but where to begin? We've got 19 ideas to help you start planning. #Gnomads #VisitFlorida #LoveFL

Photo courtesy of American Balloon Rides

Go Skydiving

If you’ve always dreamed of skydiving, Skydive City can make that dream come true. Many years ago, I had a few friends who wanted to skydive. We finally made the appointments and took the class together, which was so much fun to do as a group. In fact, the first time I flew in a plane, I jumped out! It’s easier than ever to skydive today, as your first jump must be tandem. With Skydive City, you’ll be up in their large turbine aircraft after just 20 minutes of instruction! Your guide will open the chute, but you’ll help guide the parachute to the designated dropzone, and it will all be caught on video. You’ll find Skydive City at 4241 Sky Dive Lane in Zephyrhills. Book your flight on the Skydive City website.

Central Florida has so much to offer for a vacation in the sun any time of year, but where to begin? We've got 19 ideas to help you start planning.

Visit the Historic Sponge Docks

Who knew there was a little piece of Greece in central Florida? The famous sponge docks at  Tarpon Springs have been around since the early 1900s when natural sponge beds were discovered by Greek sponge divers. It’s fun to learn about the history of the sponge beds, but it’s even more fun to experience the Greek culture in Tarpon Springs. You’ll find shops with Greek goods from natural sponges to olive oil. Love searching for antiques? Walk just a few blocks to find a row of antique shops. And when you’re ready to take a break, you’ve got to check out the authentic Greek restaurants like Hellas and Mama’s Greek Cuisine.

Another great spot for a Florida sunset is Pier 60 in St. Pete Beach. Dig your toes into the white sand and watch the sky change from blue, to slightly orange, to deep orange, to a fireball in the sky. Watching the sunset in Florida isn’t something you do, it’s something you experience. Every night, for two hours before sunset, the Pier 60 Daily Festival presents a nightly celebration of artisans, crafters, and street performers. Seeing the sunset at Pier 60 is a wonderful way to end the day. You’ll find Pier 60 at 10 Pier 60 Drive in Clearwater.

See The Don CeSar

There’s no missing the Don CeSar when in St. Pete Beach. It’s the stunning pink palace on the beach. A Gulf Coast icon from Gatsby era of the roaring 20s, this hotel’s history is a fascinating read, from the days when it was the playground of the rich and famous to the years when it served as a sub-base hospital and later a convalescent center for airmen coming home from World War II. Eventually, there was a movement to Save the Don, making it possible to experience the Don CeSar today. If you’re looking for luxury in your stay in St. Pete Beach, the Don CeSar , located at 3400 Gulf Boulevard, is a great choice.

Central Florida has so much to offer for a vacation in the sun any time of year, but where to begin? We've got 19 ideas to help you start planning.

Photo Credit: Kelly Stilwell

The Dali Museum

While you’re visiting St. Pete Beach, be sure to visit the Dali Museum . Fans of Salvadore Dali will marvel at the collection of his works hosted at this museum. Visitors who are new to Dali will be equally amazed at the more than 2,100 works of this legendary artist. From prints to photographs to paintings, the permanent collection at the Dali Museum is a must see. The beauty of this gallery is that even if you’ve toured the Dali Museum before, you’re bound to see something new with the visiting exhibits. Check the website for details of upcoming exhibits. The Dali Museum is located at 1 Dali Boulevard in St. Petersburg.

Sparkman Wharf

Stephen Sparkman was the region’s first congressman, and it’s because of his accomplishment of securing federal funding to dig the deep-water channels creating Port Tampa Bay that the cruise ships and other large ships are able to come close to downtown Tampa Bay. It’s only fitting that Channelside Bay Plaza was renamed and reinvented into Sparkman Wharf.  Visit the Fermented Reality Biergarten featuring over 30 taps and celebrating Florida craft beer. Choose one of the ten restaurants in the Dining Garden for a bite in the relaxed waterfront setting. Check the website for the live music schedule. You’ll find Sparkman Wharf at 615 Channelside Drive in Tampa.

Armature Works

Another great spot where you’ll have a choice of restaurants is Armature Works, the fully restored storage and maintenance building used for Tampa Electric’s streetcars back in the early 1900s. Now housing Heights Public Market , currently featuring 15 places to dine from sushi to Cuban to Mexican, as well as Steelbach, the culinary choices are astounding. And according to the website, this is only the beginning. This innovative and fun spot at 1910 N Ola Avenue in Tampa has three new restaurants slated to open soonish . Visit the Armature Works website to learn more and decide where you’ll eat first.

See the Sunset at Tampa Riverwalk

Yet another great way to see the sunset is with Pirate Water Taxi . Sunsets at the Tampa Riverwalk are glorious, and you can hop on/hop off Pirate Water Taxi to see the sights all day for just $20 for adults and $10 for children, and 2-day passes are only $2 more! The Pirate Water Taxi route takes you to 15 different attractions like the Florida Aquarium and Joe Gasper’s Pirate Ship. (Admission to destinations is not included.) Beer and wine are available for purchase on Pirate Water Taxi, with drink specials during happy hour, Monday through Thursday from 4-7 p.m.  You can purchase tickets onboard one of the Pirate Water Taxis or at their ticket booth located at Stop # 7, or online . Check out the schedule of events at the Tampa Riverwalk to plan your trip.

Busch Gardens

You’ll want to spend an entire day at Busch Gardens . With 15 of Florida’s best thrill rides to choose from, 12,000 animals from 300 species to see, as well as family-friendly shows with world-class performers, there’s a lot to do at this Tampa theme park. Try one of the animal experiences, like going behind the scenes to see the animals in the Care Center or actually taking part in the feeding of Busch Garden’s feathered or furry friends. Check out the special events, like live music and the Food and Wine Festival that takes place each year in March and April. See the Busch Gardens website for dates and more information. You’ll find Busch Gardens Tampa at 10165 McKinley Drive in Tampa.

Central Florida has so much to offer for a vacation in the sun any time of year, but where to begin? We've got 19 ideas to help you start planning.

Photo Credit: Busch Gardens Tampa Bay

Glazer Children’s Museum

For more kid-friendly fun, take the family to Glazer Children’s Museum .  Their mission is to help parents raise an Imagination Generation by offering activities like learning how to farm or playing in the Engineer’s Workshop. Kids can even slide down a fire pole while pretending to be a firefighter. There’s also a mini climbing wall and indoor playground. Looks like someone will be needing a nap after all that play! Visit Glazer’s Children’s Museum at 110 W Gasparilla Plaza in Tampa.

Tampa Theatre

Tampa Theatre is one the country’s most beautiful movie palaces. Visitors can experience world-class entertainment, with over 600 events each year. You won’t find many venues where you are seated under a realistic night sky including twinkling stars. Take a Balcony to Backstage Tour to learn more about this theater built in 1926. During the summer, Tampa Theater offers film camps. Check the website for more information and shows currently playing. Tampa Theater is located at 711 N Franklin Street.

Coppertail Brewing

For a cold local beer, head to the Ybor City neighborhood of Tampa to Coppertail Brewing Co. This independently owned craft brewery and tasting room has 18 beers on tap, all which are brewed at this location. Hungry? Coppertail Brewing has you covered there, too, with a menu that pairs perfectly with their beer. Try an appetizer of Korean Fried Shrimp, or order one of their handmade half-pound burgers. Work off some of those calories by taking a tour of the brewery. Okay, so you probably won’t really burn many calories, but it will be fun and informative! Coppertail Brewing Co. is located at 2601 E 2nd Avenue in Tampa.

Central Florida has so much to offer for a vacation in the sun any time of year, but where to begin? We've got 19 ideas to help you start planning.

Photo Credit: Coppertail Brewery

Tabanero Cigars

Tabanero Cigars is passionate about restoring the once famous cigar capital of the world. Take a tour and learn about the cigar industry. Watch as the Cuban cigar rollers hand-roll the best Tampa cigars. Learn about the different varieties of Tabanero Cigars and purchase a few to take home, or make it easy and choose the sampler gift pack. Visit Tabanero Cigars at 1601 E. 7th Avenue in Tampa.

There is so much to do in Central Florida making it the perfect vacation destination any time of year. The only question is, where will you begin your vacation?

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Central Florida has so much to offer for a vacation in the sun any time of year, but where to begin? We've got 19 ideas to help you start planning. #Gnomads #VisitFlorida #LoveFL

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We love Florida and this is really making me want to go back, almost below zero here so could use some Florida Sunshine!

Myrah Duque

Central Florida truly has it all! For every age, taste, nationality! I am so fortunate to call it home.


Central Florida looks like a great place to visit and while I was there before, it looks like I missed so much!


I’ve been to Miami and Orlando (and Tampa for Spring Training), but never been to any of those places. Looks like I missed out!


We’ve done the manatee’s they were so fun! I need to spend more time outside of Orlando and all the parks. I’d LOVE to do a hot air balloon in central Florida, that sounds amazing!

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Outstanding Blog!


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Hey! This is my 1st comment here so I just wanted to give a quick shout out and tell you I genuinely enjoy reading through your articles. Can you recommend any other blogs/websites/forums that go over the same subjects? Thanks!

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4 Hidden Gems In Central Florida You Must Visit

best cities to visit in central florida

Jillian Cain Photography / Shutterstock

  • Destinations
  • United States

When I moved to Florida nearly 10 years ago, I was guilty of only being familiar with the big names associated with the Sunshine State: Miami, Orlando, and Fort Lauderdale. For months, which turned into years, I spent time exploring the lesser-known towns in my wonderful state, the hidden gems, if you will. Not only did I discover places that excited me to no end and provided wonderful visits without breaking the bank, but I fell in love with Central Florida. With dozens of places to choose from, here are the four hidden gems in Central Florida that you must visit during your travels.

Downtown Mount Dora, a small town in Florida.

1. Mount Dora

Mount Dora sits around beautiful Lake Dora, less than an hour from Orlando . My first visit was to see the Mount Dora Christmas celebration, a month-long holiday festival extraordinaire. I was so excited as I watched it “snow” on the Mount Dora streets, holiday lights lighting up the park and Victorian buildings, and merchants extending hours for shoppers and locals.

The town of Mount Dora offers adorable boutique shopping in a town square fashion (a three-block area, so walking isn’t a strain), and a nice selection of tasty restaurants. My favorite is The Bavarian Haus , a German eatery with authentic cuisine, indoor/outdoor seating, and live music. My go-to meal is Jaegerschnitzel with sauerkraut and spaetzle (I’m drooling just thinking about it). After dinner, treat yourself to a decadent cupcake or decorated sugar cookie from Allyson A. Bake Shop .

If you like antiques, Mount Dora offers Antique Extravaganzas , where 1,500+ antique dealers set up their goods in nearly 1000 booths. It is quite impressive and you’ll easily fall down the rabbit hole looking at all the treasures.

For an overnight in Mount Dora, check out the historic 1883 Lakeside Inn , with a guest list including Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Calvin Coolidge, and Dwight D. Eisenhower. It is also the oldest continuously operating hotel in Florida. You may want to get out on the 4,500-acre Lake Dora adjacent to the hotel and explore the beauty and photo-ops, which you can do with Premier Boat Tours . I would recommend spending two full days seeing everything you can in this charming town.

Pro Tip: You can buy T-shirts in Mount Dora saying, “I climbed Mount Dora” — alluding to the fact that a plateau found in town is 184 feet, a mountain by our standards.

Downtown DeLand, a small town in Florida.

Peter Titmuss / Shutterstock

DeLand, southwest of Daytona Beach, is a small town with a big city feel and my favorite downtown in Florida . DeLand touts one of the first Mainstreet U.S.A. award-winning towns. Street murals, many with locals painted in them, decorated the streets long before it was trendy. You’ll find an arsenal of small businesses in DeLand, upscale restaurants, great beer, and even better downtown murals and art.

I like to eat around DeLand; it is far more tempting than in my town. If you choose BakeChop (amazing veggies), Emmy’s Time Out Tavern (more German food), or Cress Restaurant (fine dining), you can’t go wrong. Or, you can enjoy the best of both worlds and have a beer and yummy bar food at Half Wall Beer House , or delicious meads and quesadillas at Abbey Bar . You’ll find even more great beer at Persimmon Hollow Brewing , and an all-around enjoyable taproom. Save time to explore the Museum of Art .

De Leon Springs in DeLand, Florida.

Melody Pittman

DeLand is home to the Athens Theatre , a circa 1922 film and performing arts hall. It is stunning! You’ll also have two of Florida’s best state parks to choose from on your visit — Blue Spring and De Leon Springs . Both offer rich history, bird-watching, manatees, constant 73-degree water temperatures, and epic scenery. Both parks are a 20-minute drive from DeLand.

You can’t come to DeLand and not visit the incredible Stetson Mansion . The former winter home of the famous hat-maker, the mansion has tours year-round, emphasizing the holiday tour — it is insanely popular and outstanding. Each year, the mansion is decorated around a different theme, and the rooms are decorated to the hilt. It is something I drive up for every year from my house, which is two hours south. While the holiday tour isn’t taking place in 2020, they are offering a history tour instead.

Pro Tip: Have a sampling of several DeLand eateries with a food tour from Great Tasting Tours , and tell Larry I sent you. You’ll also learn much of the town’s history as you stroll around the streets and admire the sculptures and points of interest.

Sebring International Raceway in Florida.

Sebring was a Florida town that surprised me. I loved how tranquil it feels, but it’s still exciting, with cool restaurants, breweries, and an outdoor distillery. Agritourism is big in Sebring as well as racing. You may recognize Sebring as hosting America’s oldest and most famous road racing track, Sebring International Raceway . It’s most famous race is the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring. Golf is another reason people come to Sebring, with 10 courses to offer.

Highlands Hammock State Park , one of Florida’s first, is in Sebring. You’ll enjoy nature hikes along with gators, birds, and abundant wildlife. Sebring also has a quaint 1920s downtown square that’s on the National Register of Historic Places and has a retro soda shop, galleries, and boutique shops. In April, plan to attend the annual Sebring Soda Festival , a one-of-a-kind event that brings in a crowd to sample craft sodas from around the country. Doo-wop musicians, classic car shows, and other fun events make this a party you can’t miss.

A unique opportunity in Sebring is the Military Sea Services Museum , which offers veteran-led tours and question-and-answer sessions.

A charcuterie board from Faded Bistro and Beer Garden.

Indulge in a stay at the Inn on the Lakes , a high-quality, independent hotel with modern furnishings, a beautiful pool setting (viewing the lake), and one of the best hotel restaurants ( Chicanes ) I’ve ever eaten at. It is temporarily closed for a kitchen remodel, but once it is open, you’ll have to try the Rollovers (filet mignon rolled around pepper jack cheese and bacon) or the Delmonico steak. Faded Bistro and Beer Garden is another superb dining choice, with amazing charcuterie boards and specialty cocktails.

Before leaving Sebring, drop in family-owned Maxwell Groves (est. 1936) for a sample of fresh orange juice or a dairy-free orange soft-serve cone — so darned tasty and refreshing!

Lake Mirror in Lakeland, Florida.

Susilyn / Shutterstock

4. Lakeland

Lakeland is home to Polk Museum of Art , Circle B Bar Reserve Park , Florida Southern College , and Hollis Garden , which showcases over 10,000 flowers. Many don’t know that you’ll find the most extensive collection of Frank Lloyd Wright buildings in the world right here in Lakeland. I’m willing to bet you can’t even imagine the architectural gems that await you here. Take an impressive, educational, and stunning stroll around on a pristine campus dotted with palm trees and beautiful blooms. I would allow three to four hours to see the Frank Lloyd Wright properties and schedule a tour when they are up and running again.

Another gem in Lakeland is the Historic and Antiques District in the heart of town, with eateries, galleries, local shopping, and plenty to explore. Treasure hunters hit the jackpot in this town!

Lemur feeding at Safari Wilderness in Lakeland, Florida.

Less than 30 miles from downtown Lakeland is a lesser-known gem, Safari Wilderness . Hop aboard a socially distanced African safari vehicle as you travel across the park’s 260 acres, home to exotic animals from around the world. From feeding ostrich and water buffalo (the cutest animals in the park!) to coming face-to-face with eland, zebra, and camels, you’ll love the adventures that await you in this one-of-a-kind attraction. Private tours are available.

Pro Tip: Add the lemur feeding to your ticket and see how soft their footpads are as they gently cradle your fingers between their hands while eating the pieces of grapes you’ll feed them. It is a memorable experience, and one guaranteed to make you smile. Bring plenty of water … it is hot in this part of Florida.

After sight-seeing, head over to Harry’s Seafood Bar and Grille for the day’s fresh catch, signature crab cakes, jambalaya, or shrimp and grits. Save room for a serving of bananas foster, perfect for ending the day.

Image of Melody Pittman

Melody and her daughter Taylor run both Wherever I May Roam and Travel The South travel blogs. She is a digital influencer, freelances for both print and online publications, and hosts an annual travel conference, Southern Travelers Explore. Melody has been traveling her entire adult life and has visited 49 states and 49 countries. She loves cruising, small towns, historical sights, and National Parks.

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10 Unique Things to Do in Central Florida

Written By: Nicki Webster

United States

Updated On: February 9, 2023

best cities to visit in central florida

Florida is a popular travel destination for Americans and internationals alike. I’ve lived here for twenty plus years and the most common question I get after “ Are there gators in the lakes? ” is “ What is there to do in Florida outside of the theme parks”?  While a road trip to the Florida Keys or Miami is at the top of many people’s list, Central Florida has a lot to offer as well.

This guide goes beyond the usual stops like Walt Disney World, the Kennedy Space Center, and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. We already know about all of these, but there is so much more to central Florida than its famous attractions. But if you want to know about these, check out 11 Best Theme Parks in Florida To Visit

Table of Contents

Things to do in Central Florida Besides Theme Parks

There are many places to stay in Florida and you can check this guide to help you decide. Plus there is an abundance of unusual things to do in Central Florida, here are ten of my favorites that I often recommend:

1. Rainbow River 

Sometimes referred to as “KP Hole”, this spring fed river is the crown jewel of Central Florida. Known for its pristine blue water and tubing, the spring head at Rainbow River Springs feeds the six-mile river run. You can ride the river on any type of watercraft, motorized or non-motorized but most people choose to float down the river.

things to do in central florida | rainbow river

Located in Dunnellon Florida, this is one of the most beautiful and natural rivers runs in Florida.  If you have your own tube or any floating device, you can float the river for free!

  • You can use your own tube or rent one from several companies on the river.

2. Fort Island Beach

When you mention beaches in Florida most people think of South Beach, Daytona Beach, or Clearwater. Few if any have heard of Fort Island Beach on the west coast of Florida. Ford Island beach holds a treat for anyone that enjoys a day at the beach. Few tourists, no crowds, beautiful white sand, and clear water. Read more: Best Things to do in Daytona Beach, Florida

central florida attractions | fort island beach

You do not have to hit the Panhandle to find a public beach that is public, yet not crowded. Check out Best Beaches in Florida for Fun in the Sun

  • There is a sectioned off swimming area which is great for kids.  There are plenty of rock pools so you can search for crabs or fish from the rocks.

3. Devils Den Spring

Florida is famous for its springs. The state is home to 700 springs. However, the Devil’s Den is a special and unusual one. This eerier spring is underground, and you must be brave enough to journey through the medieval stone stairs not knowing what awaits you. 

Sure, you can look at the pictures and get an idea.  But until you take the plunge you cannot grasp the adrenaline rush you will get once inside Devil’s Den spring.

best things to do in flroida | devil's den spring

Given that this spring is an underground one, this is not necessarily a full day out – unless you dive. You will most likely spend a couple of hours exploring and then be ready to soak up some sun. The Devil’s Den Spring is privately owned, entrance is by appointment only.

Watch the video of Devil’s Den Spring on YouTube

  • Predominantly for divers, this spring is open to snorkelers and swimmers alike. 

4. Amphicars at Disney

Did you know that there are cars that can drive on water? I know this sounds crazy, but it is true. Back in day, Hans Trippel , a German designer came up with the idea to invent cars that could drive on land then convert to an “amphicar” – water car. 

You can ride them at Disney Springs in Orlando, Florida. This is the only place in the world where the public can take a ride with a captain.

things to do in central florida. this weekend | disney amphicar

You can make a reservation from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., weather permitting. Each amphicar can accommodate up to three guests (which can be classified as three adults or two adults and two small children).

The cost is $125 per car.

  • If you book two vehicles, you will get a $25 discount.
  • Likewise, if you eat at the Boathouse, you will get a $25 discount when you show your receipt.

Watch the video to see how much fun it is!

unusual things to do in central florida |. amphicars

$125 may to ride might seem steep but there is a ton of maintenance required to keep these antiques operating on the water.  The ride is twenty minutes, which is plenty of time to enjoy the experience. All things considered, I thought it was worth the cost because the experience is so unusual.

5. The Wonder House

No visit to central Florida is complete without taking in some of the area’s history. While Florida is famous for theme parks and beaches, it is also home to many mansions packed with enchanting stories.

The Wonder House is in Bartow Florida and was the creation of Conrad Schuck. Conrad was of German heritage, and there are several stories about him being a spy.

At one point, he was arrested and jailed for three days during World War II, then released. Conrad was not a spy; ultimately, the FBI issued a press release declaring that Conrad Schuck was not a German spy.

fun things to do in central florida

Conrad opened his home to the public in 1934, and it became a popular local tourist attraction for about 30 years. Visitors paid a dime to see the ponds and 25 cents to wander around the interior. 

The house if full of hidden surprises!

There is a moat that runs from the basement of the house through to the gardens. There are sunken bathtubs with mirrors to the lower floor. A large collection of preserved animals, some spooky ones. And many technology marvels beyond it is time. The house is now privately owned and in the process of restoration however you can take a tour. 

  • Tours are offered over the weekend and require reservations.

6. The Mermaids of Weeki Wachee 

Who does not love mermaids? And you do not have to go to Disney to see one. In fact, the mermaids of Weeki Wachi are much more impressive.

things to do in central florida today | mermaids of Weeki Wachee

Located at Weeki Wachee Springs, a state park that is somewhat famous in Florida due to the live mermaids. The park also hosts Buccaneer Bay and Buccaneer Bay Water Park. The mermaid show in Florida are full-blown production shows with a story, characters, dancing, and singing. There are three shows a day. And, if you want to watch all three, you can – it is included in your admission!

mermaids performing in central florida

Following the show, you get the chance to meet the mermaids and take photographs with them.

7. Lakeridge Winery

Everyone associates wine with California but there are other wineries across the country that are lesser known. Florida, while hot and humid is home to a winery that produces its own label. This is not your ordinary non-Californian winery. This is a full-blown vineyard and winery. 

things to do in central florida for adults

You can take a tour through the winery which includes complimentary sampling of all the wines. If you choose to you can also tour the vineyard.

Lakeridge Winery also host many festivals and events throughout the year:

  • Wine and Cheese
  • BBQ and Blues
  • Seafood Festival
  • And many more.
  • For the complete list of events see the schedule here .

In addition to festivals and events, you can also try out grape stomping!

8. Westgate River Ranch Resort and Rodeo 

Some traditions such as the Rodeo still live on at Westgate River Ranch Resort.  Every Saturday, a real competition rodeo takes place ! Tickets are $20 for adults, $10 for children, and what value for the money. 

At the halfway point, they let kids chase a calf to grab a piece of string loosely tied on its tai, harmless fun and no one gets hurt.

central florida things to do | rodeo

After the rodeo, join the free street party and you might meet a cowboy! In addition to the Rodeo, which is worth a visit alone, there is a plethora of things to do:

  • Westgate River Ranch has a full-service marina (BYOBoat), or you can rent a boat.
  • Kid’s adventure park that includes everything from a zip line, wall climbing to a mechanical bull. 
  • Horseback Riding
  • Petting Farm 
  • Pony Rides 
  • Trap or Skeet Shooting 
  • Archery Range 
  • Pontoon Boat Rental 
  • Swamp Buggy and Air Boat Rides 
  • Golf Course 
  • Driving Range 
  • Bicycle Rentals 
  • Sports Equipment Rentals –for tennis, basketballs, horseshoes, volleyballs, kick balls, soccer balls, and more.

If you stay on site you can choose to book a hotel room, a caboose, cottage, or a glamping teepee.

9. Cape Romano Dome House 

Located close to Marco Island, this house has real rich history and viewing the remnants of the house requires you to take to the ocean.

Built by Bob Lee, a now-deceased retired oil producer in 1980. The self-sustaining solar-powered dome homes started as a dream vacation home.

The masterpiece consisted of six connected dome structures for a total of 2,400 square feet. The house boasted three bedrooms and three bathrooms

what to do in central florida | dome houses over water

Hurricane Andrew hit South Florida in 1992 and it damaged the windows and the Lee family left and sold it to John Tosto in 2005. The new owner never secured the structure. In 2017, hurricane Irma hit, and two of the original six domes sunk

The dome homes can only be accessed via water. You can either navigate to them yourself or take a tour to view them. Hurry, while still visible above the water today they will not be forever.

Watch my video tour of Cape Romano Dome House

10. The Crystal River

Nestled away on the west coast of Florida lays a costal town that is famous for manatees! Stumbling across a Manatee on the Crystal River is as sure as finding fish in the ocean – they are everywhere.

The Crystal River is the only place in America where it is legal to swim with manatees although it is a felony to approach or harass a manatee.

This said, they will swim up to you and so long as they come to you and you don’t pet them or prevent them from swimming you can watch these amazing sea cows up close.

swimming with manatees in florida

You can see the manatees at The Sisters Spring during the winter months without having to get on the water. However, the best way to see them is on the water.

You can bring your own boat rent a boat, kayak, paddleboat or even take a tour to view these magnificent creatures. But a tour is not required! And these are my favorite things to do in Central Florida that offer alternative ideas.

If you enjoyed all these fabulous Florida attractions save this post to Pinterest for your future travel planning.

things to do in central florida

Read More About Planning Your Florida Vacation

  • About Florida: Our Favorite Fun Facts About Florida
  • Daytona Beach: Best Things To Do In Daytona Beach, Florida
  • Best Places in Florida: The Best Places To Visit In Florida
  • Islamorada: Things To Do In Islamorada Florida Keys
  • Fun: Top 10 Roller Coasters In Florida
  • Southern Florida : 33 of the Best Things to Do in Key West, Florida

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About Nicki Webster

Nikki Webster is a travel writer who covers how to travel while grinding a day job, how to travel without breaking the bank, hotels, cruising, and off-the-beaten track experiences. She is particularly fond of Florida and writes extensively about the state. She flies around 60,000 miles per year and has visited 54 countries, 50 states, and six continents. Follow Nicki at BritOnTheMove.com / Facebook / Instagram / Pinterest / Twitter

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Visit Central Florida


Are you ready to explore Central Florida?Looking for fun? Central Florida’s Polk County has you covered. A wide array of things to do and see, including attractions, local restaurants, nature parks and hiking trails, boutique shops and museums.

Central Florida’s Polk County is conveniently located between Orlando and Tampa, and an easy drive to Central Florida attractions and the Gulf and Atlantic beaches. Polk County offers something for everyone, including Florida’s newest attractions, LEGOLAND Florida Resort and Safari Wilderness; and some of Florida’s most historic; including Bok Tower Gardens, Westgate River Ranch Resort (the Southeast’s largest dude ranch), and Frank Lloyd Wright’s 13 structures at Florida Southern College. With 554 fresh water lakes, the area offers great fishing, adventurous airboat eco tours and exciting water sports. Wonderful parks, preserves and trails captivate visitors with Polk County’s natural beauty.

Let’s explore Central Florida.

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Welcome to Polk County, Florida’s Sweetest Spot for epic outdoor adventures, incredible eats and Sunshine State attractions! Here, you can experience the best that Lakeland and Winter Haven have to offer while escaping the crowds found in larger cities. From wide open spaces to exhilarating thrill rides at nearby theme parks, we have it all. Let us help you plan a Central Florida vacation.

From incredible outdoor adventures to legendary attractions, there’s always something fun to explore in Florida’s Sweetest Spot.

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The Florida Travel Girl

22 Affordable and Fun Central Florida Attractions for 2023

Jul 4, 2020

From Tampa to Cocoa Beach , there are so many unique and exciting Central Florida attractions to experience. I am breaking down all sorts of ideas for things to do in Orlando , its surrounding cities and the coasts. Whether you live here or are visiting, you can easily spend weeks exploring all this part of Florida has to offer.

Instead of focusing on big attractions like Disney World and Universal, I am sharing 22 lesser-known things to do in Central Florida. These will be fun for all ages and cost less than $50 per person. No matter your budget or interest, I think you will find some fun Central Florida Attractions perfect for you with this guide!

best florida springs

Affordable Orlando Area Attractions

Everyone knows about Orlando’s many theme parks, but this list focuses on more unique Central Florida attractions. I wanted to share some of my favorite things to do in the Orlando area, including gardens, springs and more! Here are some affordable things to do within an hour of Orlando.

Blue Spring State Park

To experience Central Florida in its most natural state, visiting a freshwater spring is a must. My favorite is Blue Spring State Park in West Volusia . This gorgeous swimming hole has some of the clearest water you will find. It only costs $6 per vehicle, but be sure to get there early on summer weekends when it frequently reaches capacity.

Though it may be a bit cold to swim in the winter, it is still worth visiting all year. This is because in the winter, hundreds of manatees flock here! It is truly a stunning state. You can also bring or rent a kayak and paddle through the St. Johns River all year as well. For an unforgettable day trip, pack a picnic lunch and drive north of Orlando for a full day at the springs.

Bok Tower Gardens

Another one of my favorite Central Florida attractions is the Bok Tower Gardens . We recently visited for the first time and were blown away by how much there is to see at this enchanting garden. It currently costs $16 to enter and you can bring your dog too!

The Bok Tower itself and the reflection pool are the center point and the path to see it up close is an experience in itself. However, while touring here you can enjoy numerous nature trails, a tour of the Pinewood Estate, garden exhibits, and Carillon concerts throughout the day. Considering this at least an hour drive from Orlando, I also recommend bringing a picnic lunch and enjoying a full day here.

bok tower gardens lake wales

Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens

For a garden experience with animals too, the Central Florida Zoo is open daily. Located in Sanford, this zoo has over 100 different species to see including giraffes, rhinos and crocodiles. Tickets cost $22 for adults and include both the zoo and the botanical gardens.

There is so much guests of all ages can learn and enjoy here, from animal feedings to conservation exhibits. You can also check a variety of unique gardens, like the butterfly garden and the succulent garden. If you want an extra burst of adrenaline, there is an aerie adventure zipline course here too that can be added on!

If you ever are looking for Central Florida attractions for a rainy day, TopGolf is usually my pick. Here you can play interactive driving range games rain or shine! There is an hourly cost that ranges from $30-$50, but that cost is for up to 6 players.

Whether you are an avid golfer or have never played before, TopGolf is fun regardless. They have all the clubs you need and a variety of games that challenge distance or accuracy. You can also order food and drinks while playing or dine before or after your game. I usually spend two hours here, but you start with one hour and can add as much time as you want after that.

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The Orlando Science Center

For an educational and fun day, the Orlando Science Center is a blast for all ages. You can experience hands on exhibits about dinosaurs, space, the environment and much more! They always adding things to, so it never gets old.

It costs $21 for adults to enter and there is enough to enjoy for at least a half day. Little kids will love the kid’s town play area, with its art and climbing attractions. Adults will find the exhibits about making our food system sustainable and touring an ecofriendly tiny home fascinating. Regardless of interest, checking out this Central Florida attraction gives the chance to learn something new in a cool place.

DeLeon Springs State Park

Those looking to go for a swim should head to DeLeon Springs, just north of DeLand for swimming in a freshwater spring . This one feels a little less natural to me than Blue Spring, as it looks like a pool, but kids love it as it has shallow spots and is easy to jump in. This state park also only costs $6 per car.

Even if you are not into swimming, there is lots to do here and you can get a taste of Old Florida. Specifically at the Old Sugar Mill, where they offer griddle your own pancakes at the table! Other activities include an informative boat tour, hiking trails and paddling at Lake Woodruff. You can easily spend at least half a day here, if not more if you do brunch and the boat tour.

de leon springs west volusia

Leu Gardens

Over in Winter Park, the Leu Gardens are a wonderful place to find beauty and get some fresh air. This 50-acre botanical garden has a variety of unique flowers, plants and trees, in addition to a museum. Admission costs $10 per person and you will want to spend at least two hours here.Afterwards, grab a snack or a drink at nearby Winter Park !

Though you can’t bring a picnic or dogs, they often host movie nights or workshops. The butterfly garden, the rose garden, and the south woods are all highlights to experience. I learned a lot about native plants on my last visit and got some amazing pictures, so I am sure you will too!

Wekiwa Springs State Park

North of Orlando, Wekiwa Springs is a fun place to experience the great outdoors. It is known for its crystal-clear waters that you can even tube down a short lazy river in. As with many state parks, it costs $6 per car to enter.

Many enjoy bringing a tube and floating here, but you can also rent a canoe or kayak there. You can get concessions, but I recommend bringing a picnic and have a full summer day here. Other state parks to check out near Orlando are Rock Springs Run State Preserve and Lake Kissimmee State Park.

Kissimmee Prairie State Park Preserve

It may be a stretch to say Kissimmee Prairie Preserve is near Orlando, but it is within an hour away from it and definitely worth including on this list. We recently went camping here and had an amazing experience star gazing and walking the nature trails. This park only costs $4 per car to enter, but make sure to book a few months in advance for a campsite.

If you just want to go during the day, you are welcome to explore the miles of nature trails. However, nighttime is what this park is known for, as it is the only certified dark sky in Florida, so you can see lots of stars. For the best views, go close to the new moon when you might even see the milky way. If you want to know more, check out my trip report here to read all about our experience!

Disney Springs

Surprisingly one free Central Florida attraction I love is Disney Springs. It is completely free to park here and walk around enjoying the ambiance. However, there are lots of enticing stores and restaurants so you will probably spend some. I usually go for lunch and then check out the shops for a few hours.

For some excitement, you can go up in the hot air balloon for $25 or take a boat ride around the lake for free. There are also a variety of musical performances in the evening. Between the ever changing entertainment and the excellent lineup of restaurants , you can never have a boring time at Disney Springs.

disney springs covid

Space Coast Things to Do

Here on the Space Coast, Cocoa Beach and Melbourne are always worth a visit. Most people know this area because of the Kennedy Space Center , but there is so much more! If you like beaches or nature trails, this is one of the best places to take a day trip to. Here are some unique Central Florida attractions on the Space Coast.

Turkey Creek Sanctuary

One of my favorite nature trails in Brevard County is the Turkey Creek Sanctuary . This is an excellent spot for seeing wildlife including turtles, alligators, birds and manatees in their natural habitat. Even better, it is completely free to enter!

You could probably cover most of this in a few hours, but if you want to spend more time, you can rent a kayak nearby. This is a great spot for seeing manatees and gators, so nature lovers will be happy! Afterward, grab a bite in Downtown Melbourne , located close by.

Brevard Zoo

One of the top Central Florida attractions to experience on the Spaced Coast is the Brevard Zoo . I have been many times and love the laid-back vibe and interactive exhibits. You can feed giraffes, go on a kangaroo walk about and check out the sea life touch tanks, all either included in admission or for a small price!

Admission costs $27 for adults and includes a variety of exhibits including gorillas, meercats, bears, zebras and much more. You can add on adventures as well, including kayaking past the giraffe area or doing the Treetop Trek Ropes Course. Even without adding on, you will want to spend at least four hours here and grab a meal at the nearby Avenues of Viera after.

brevard zoo covid

Sebastian Inlet

Another beloved Central Florida attraction is the Sebastian Inlet . This is a gorgeous southern spot with a large stretch of beach, as well as a fishing pier. There is lots of room to spread out and an inlet area for those who want to swim in wave free waters.

It only costs $8 per car and the drive down is even enjoyable with scenic views. Once here, you can swim in either the inlet or ocean, walk or fish off the pier and even check out the little museum. There is a restaurant here with classic beach bites, but you can also use the picnic tables for your own lunch.

Golf Courses

For those who need a little exercise, there are plenty golf courses in the county for your enjoyment. My favorite Spessard Holland, which is right on the ocean. There is also Duran Golf Club, Aquarina Club and many public courses, with prices starting at $15 on GolfNow .

If you don’t have your own clubs and want to rent a cart, the cost can go up. However, it’s never too late to give golf a try, especially if you live in Florida! For those who prefer a more casual experience, Lighthouse Cove Mini Golf is nearby as well.

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge

Another place to get outdoors and see some wildlife is the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge . The main experience is taking Black Point Wildlife Drive. This off-road trail costs $10 per car and has a dozen places to stop and walk around.

You can also check out the short hammock loops for some pretty views. Hiking is the main appeal, but fishing or kayaking is allowed to. A picnic lunch works well here, or you can eat at my favorite Titusville spot, Third Culture Kitchen , before or after.

merritt island wildlife refuge

Tampa Bay Things to Do

I have said many times that Tampa Bay is my favorite part of Florida! Between the breweries and the beaches, I can never get enough of this gulf coast city. The area spans Tampa , St. Petersburg and Clearwater , and I have included Central Florida attractions to experience in each of these sections below.

Another Central Florida zoo that locals love is ZooTampa at Lowry Park. There are so many fun exhibits, including the elephant, manatee and hippo areas. This is another awesome way to learn about nature while seeing it up close.

It costs $42 for admission for adults and this includes all the exhibits and even a few rides! It’s easy to spend a full day here, as there is a section of the zoo dedicated to each continent and over a dozen species to see at each part. As with the other zoos on the list, there are upgrades available if you want to get a personalized encounter with your favorite animals.

Sunken Gardens

Of all the gardens on this list, the Sunken Gardens might be my favorite of the Central Florida Attractions. This is a stunning little oasis right in the middle of the city of St. Pete! It costs $12 to enter and you can spend hours exploring the winding garden paths.

There are so many amazing things to see here, from Rainbow Eucalyptus trees to a koi pond. We enjoyed feeding the koi, seeing the flamingoes and taking lots of pictures, before going Downtown for lunch . This garden frequently offers workshops and classes, so plant lovers especially need to make a visit.

sunken gardens st. petersburg

Hillsborough River State Park

To experience natural beauty of the Tampa Bay area, check out the Hillsborough River State Park , just a short drive away from Downtown Tampa. Here, you can explore seven miles of nature trails via hiking, kayaking, fishing or more. It only costs $6 per vehicle and you can even bring a picnic lunch.

My favorite parts to explore are Fort Foster and the wetlands trail. You can experience a lot in three hours, but if you want to paddle or go for a swim in the pool, you can spend a whole day. Be on the look out for rare bird and maybe even a gator or two at this beautiful state park.

The Florida Aquarium

If you would like to see some sea life without getting wet, the Florida Aquarium in Downtown Tampa is one of the best places to do that! It is full of top notch exhibits all about fish, aquatic mammals and the oceans they live in. The cost of admission is $36 for adults and you can see everything including sharks, alligators, stingrays and more.

The aquarium is broken up into nine different habitats to explore, each with different animals and fish. It will take a few hours to go through and then I recommend getting lunch at Sparkman Wharf nearby, before or after. If you want to make it a full day, you can add on a dolphin sightseeing cruise!

Caladesi Island State Park

The beaches of Clearwater and St. Pete are open and one of the best spots to experience them is at Caladesi Island State Park . This area is especially secluded, as you have to take a ferry to get to the state park. Once you arrive, there are nature trails to explore and a wide-open beach to spread out on.

It costs $16 per adult to take the ferry over for 4 hours. There is a concession stand, but I recommend bringing a cooler with your own lunch. Whether you want to hike, sunbathe or rent a kayak, this island is one of the Central Florida attractions you do not want to miss!

Fort De Soto

On the southern side of the beach, Fort De Soto is the tropical spot to get some fresh air. Here you can experience the beach, the fishing pier, and the nature trails. You can even bring your dog to certain sections of the beach!

It costs $5 per person and between exploring the fort and the beach, this can be a full day attraction. Though there are many amazing beaches in Tampa Bay, I love how natural this one feels. The water is always very calm here and if you are lucky, you may find some sand dollars!

Tampa Riverwalk

For city views, I love a stroll along the Tampa Riverwalk. This is a 2.4 mile stretch along the Hillsborough River with lots to see. You can walk, run, bike or even rent a scooters. There are playgrounds and dog parks nearby for anyone who needs to let out some energy.

It is free to visit and you are actually allowed to get to-go drinks from restaurants alongside the Riverwalk and drink them while you stroll! I like to park by Armature Works , which is also open, and then head down to the Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park. There are multiple entry areas throughout Tampa Bay though. While walking around, be sure to look for some of the unique murals and some nature sightings!

tampa riverwalk covid

Tarpon Springs

Another one of the free Central Florida attractions I love is exploring Tarpon Springs . This is the sponge dock community near Clearwater that feels like a Greek village. You can spend a couple hours taking pictures, and exploring the docks and shops.

Of course, it is pretty hard to leave here without getting some authentic Greek cuisine, like baklava or hummus. I definitely recommend getting lunch here and if you have time, taking one of the boat tours! It’s a great place to see dolphins and learn a little history.

Know Before You Go: Unique and Affordable Central Florida Attractions

Whether you like nature, history or sports, there are at least a few Central Florida Attractions for you! All of these things to do are worth spending at least half a day at for less than $50 per person. Here are a few other things to keep in mind when visiting these Central Florida attractions!

  • The best time of year to enjoy most of these is between October through May, as summers can be too hot and stormy for enjoying gardens, state parks and even beaches.
  • For rainy day things to do in Central Florida, I recommend the aquariums, museums and TopGolf.
  • For any of the attractions that require tickets, you can usually get a discount if you buy online ahead of time. Locals should check their local library for discounts too!
  • If you are visiting the area, make sure to get a rental car, since most of these Central Florida attractions are not close together.
  • Both Orlando and Tampa offer a CityPass if you want to bundle your experiences and save some money.

Have you experienced any of Central Florida attractions? Let me know what your favorite is! For more ideas for things to do in the Sunshine State, check out my Central Florida Dates Ideas and my Florida Bucket List .

Central Florida Attractions

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By   Mike Miller  August 21, 2023

These 50 Central Florida towns are in the large central region of the state that stretches south from Ocala all the way beyond Sebring. Some of the major towns in the area are Orlando, Ocala, Winter Park, Winter Haven and Kissimmee. 

There are many more towns along this part of Florida, much of them situated on the great sand ridge that forms much of Central Florida. 


The Central Florida counties are Marion, Sumter, Lake, Orange, Seminole, Polk, Hardee, Highlands, and Osceola. 

Clicking through to the individual town pages will give you information about the town's history, what it's like today, real estate, things to do, local government, lodging and restaurants.

Astor Bridge 2012

Nestled along the St. Johns River, Astor exudes a tranquil riverside charm, attracting fishing enthusiasts and nature lovers. This unassuming town is renowned for its scenic waterways and boating culture, offering a serene escape for those seeking a quiet retreat in Florida's natural beauty.

Auburndale Downtown

With its small-town charm and convenient location, Auburndale boasts a balanced blend of residential comfort and commercial vibrancy. Known for its well-maintained parks and recreational facilities, the town fosters a family-friendly atmosphere and is a hub for outdoor activities and community events.

Avalon Park

Avalon Park Orlando Street View

A meticulously planned community within Orlando, Avalon Park seamlessly integrates residential, commercial, and recreational spaces. Its New Urbanism design promotes walkability and a sense of community, with tree-lined streets, vibrant shops, and a variety of events that contribute to its lively neighborhood spirit.

Avon Park Mall Postcard

Situated in the heart of Florida, Avon Park exudes a laid-back vibe and a strong sense of community. This town offers a glimpse into old Florida with its historic downtown area.  Avon Park is surrounded by picturesque lakes, making it a peaceful retreat for residents and visitors seeking relaxation and natural beauty.

Babson Park

Babson Park Guest House

Home to Webber International University, Babson Park is a quaint town with an academic influence. Its serene location by Crooked Lake lends itself to a peaceful atmosphere, and the university's presence contributes to a vibrant cultural scene, offering a unique blend of education and lakeside charm.

Bartow Old Polk County Courthouse

With a rich history dating back to the 1800s, Bartow showcases a mix of historic architecture and modern development. The town's downtown area boasts antique shops, local eateries, and cultural venues, giving residents and visitors a taste of its Southern heritage and contemporary amenities.

Bowling Green

Bowling Green Depot

Small and welcoming, Bowling Green captures the essence of rural Florida. Known for its annual Hardee County Fair and rodeo events, the town celebrates its agricultural roots and offers a glimpse into traditional Southern culture, fostering a strong sense of community among its residents.


Celebration Bohemian Hotel

A master-planned community conceived by The Walt Disney Company, Celebration exudes a charming, picturesque ambiance reminiscent of a classic American town. With its meticulously designed architecture, tree-lined streets, and community events, Celebration offers a unique blend of nostalgia and modern convenience.

Citrus Tower

Nestled amidst rolling hills, Clermont is renowned for its stunning landscapes and outdoor recreation opportunities. As the "Choice of Champions," the town features a range of sports facilities, including the National Training Center, and is a hub for athletes and fitness enthusiasts seeking an active lifestyle.

Doctor Phillips

Doctor Phillips Google Aerial Photo

Situated near Orlando's theme parks, Doctor Phillips offers an upscale suburban lifestyle. With luxury homes, golf courses, and a variety of dining and entertainment options, the area caters to residents seeking both tranquility and proximity to Orlando's attractions.

Dunnellon Boomtown Historic District

Embraced by the Withlacoochee and Rainbow Rivers, Dunnellon beckons water enthusiasts and nature lovers. Known for its crystal-clear springs, tubing adventures, and outdoor trails, the town offers a charming blend of water-based activities and a laid-back atmosphere.

Eatonville Entrance Arch

As one of the first all-black municipalities in the United States, Eatonville holds a significant place in history. This culturally rich town is renowned for its connection to author Zora Neale Hurston and celebrates its African American heritage through community events and its historic district.

23 Eustis Sunset

Overlooking Lake Eustis, this town exudes lakeside charm and a sense of heritage. Its historic downtown area features Victorian architecture, local shops, and cultural venues, making it a destination for arts and history enthusiasts.

Fort Meade Museum

With its historic buildings and Main Street charm, Fort Meade offers a glimpse into Florida's past. The town's well-preserved architecture and antique shops create an atmosphere that harkens back to simpler times, attracting visitors interested in heritage tourism.

Frostproof Old City Hall

Nestled in the heart of citrus country, Frostproof embraces its agricultural roots. Surrounded by orange groves and dotted with lakes, the town offers a tranquil retreat and a close-knit community, embodying the quiet allure of rural Florida.

Fruitland Park

Fruitland Park Library

Named for its fertile land, Fruitland Park captures the essence of a small, tight-knit community. With its scenic lakes, parks, and community events, the town fosters a sense of togetherness and provides residents with a charming place to call home.

Haines City

Lake Eve Community Center

Straddling the line between Polk and Osceola counties, Haines City offers a mix of rural and suburban living. With a growing economy and proximity to major attractions, the town provides residents with diverse opportunities while maintaining its small-town charm.

Highland Park

Highland Park Casa Josephina

Highland Park showcases the beauty of Florida's natural landscapes. The town's peaceful atmosphere and waterfront properties make it an appealing destination for those seeking lakeside living.

Howey in the Hills

Howey Mansion

Perched on the hills overlooking Little Lake Harris, Howey-in-the-Hills is known for its picturesque scenery and Mediterranean-style architecture. The town's serene environment, golf courses, and cultural events create an elegant retreat for residents and visitors alike.



Tucked away in Osceola County, Kenansville offers a taste of rural Florida living. With its cattle ranches, nature trails, and ranching heritage, the town provides a quiet escape from urban life and a glimpse into the state's cowboy culture.

Kissimmee Colorful Downtown

Adjacent to Orlando, Kissimmee is a gateway to the region's world-famous theme parks. This bustling town features a historic downtown area, diverse dining options, and a lively entertainment scene, making it a hub for both residents and tourists seeking Central Florida's attractions.

Lakeland Hollis Garden

Set between Tampa and Orlando, Lakeland embodies a blend of Southern charm and urban amenities. Home to Florida Southern College and its Frank Lloyd Wright architecture, the town offers a cultural haven alongside its vibrant downtown district and proximity to various lakes.

Lake Placid

Lake Placid Mural Building

Known as the "Caladium Capital of the World," Lake Placid celebrates its agricultural heritage with vibrant caladium fields. Nestled among the rolling hills of Central Florida, the town exudes a small-town feel and is a hub for arts, crafts, and local festivals. It is noted for the many murals painted on its buildings.

Lake Wales Hotel Grand

Perched atop the Lake Wales Ridge, this town offers stunning views of Central Florida's landscape. With its historic Bok Tower Gardens and unique downtown area, Lake Wales provides a blend of natural beauty and cultural attractions.

Leesburg Mote Morris House

Resting among the Harris Chain of Lakes, Leesburg boasts a waterfront lifestyle and a range of outdoor activities. The town's historic downtown district, antique shops, and community events contribute to its charm, creating an inviting atmosphere for residents and visitors.

McIntosh Depot

Known for its preserved 19th-century architecture, McIntosh offers a glimpse into Florida's history. This small town embraces a slower pace of life and is a haven for antique enthusiasts and those seeking the quiet elegance of the past.

Home on Lake Florence in Montverde

Nestled among rolling hills and pristine lakes, Montverde is a residential gem. Home to the Montverde Academy, the town offers an education-focused atmosphere and a strong sense of community, making it an attractive destination for families seeking a serene environment.

Donnelly House

Set alongside Lake Dora, this town captures the essence of a charming waterfront community. Known for its artsy flair, unique boutiques, and numerous festivals, Mount Dora offers a blend of culture and natural beauty that draws both locals and visitors.

Mount Plymouth

Mount Plymouth Sam Stoltz Home 2017

With its serene landscapes and golf courses, Mount Plymouth is an idyllic retreat. The town's quiet neighborhoods and natural surroundings create a peaceful ambiance, making it a desirable destination for those seeking a tranquil residential haven.

Nalcrest Entrance Sign

Owned and operated by the National Association of Letter Carriers, Nalcrest is a retirement community exclusively for postal workers. Nestled in Central Florida, the town offers a close-knit community and amenities tailored to retirees' needs.

Oakland Mansion on Old Highway 50

With its historic roots and proximity to major cities, Oakland offers a balance between small-town living and modern convenience. The town's commitment to preserving its heritage is evident in its historic downtown area and cultural events.

Ocala Horse Statue

Surrounded by horse farms and lush landscapes, Ocala is known as the "Horse Capital of the World." The town's equestrian culture is complemented by its vibrant downtown district, providing residents with a unique blend of rural charm and urban amenities.

Ocklawaha School House

This town is named after the nearby Ocklawaha River. It has a rustic character and a deep connection to nature. The surrounding forests and waterways offer recreational opportunities, making it an appealing destination for outdoor enthusiasts seeking a secluded retreat. It is on the north shore of Lake Weir.

Ocoee City Hall

Positioned near Orlando, Ocoee strikes a balance between suburban living and city access. The town's diverse community, recreational parks, and local events create a vibrant atmosphere that appeals to families and individuals seeking a lively lifestyle.

On Top of the World

On Top of the World Circle Square Commons

A 55+ active adult community, On Top of the World offers resort-style living for seniors. With a wide range of amenities, including golf courses, fitness facilities, and social clubs, the community fosters an active and engaging retirement experience.

Orlando Downtown Lake Eola Park

Known as "The City Beautiful," Orlando is a global tourist destination with world-famous theme parks, cultural attractions, and a bustling downtown scene. The city's dynamic blend of entertainment, business, and diverse neighborhoods makes it a hub of activity and innovation.

Walt Disney With Aunt and Cousin

Surrounded by the Ocala National Forest, Paisley embraces its rural surroundings and offers a peaceful retreat. The town's proximity to natural wonders, including springs and trails, makes it a haven for outdoor enthusiasts seeking a connection to nature. It is also noted as the location of Walt Disney's family roots.

Sanford Downtown

Set alongside the shores of Lake Monroe, Sanford exudes historic charm and a vibrant waterfront scene. The town's revitalized downtown area, eclectic shops, and cultural events create a lively atmosphere that attracts both residents and visitors.

Downtown Sebring

Known for its racetrack and annual 12 Hours of Sebring endurance race, the town offers a blend of motorsports excitement and laid-back living. Its historic downtown district and surrounding lakes create a serene environment for residents and racing enthusiasts alike.

Silver Springs

Silver Springs Tourists 1973

Famous for its glass-bottom boat tours, Silver Springs showcases Florida's natural springs and lush landscapes. The town's iconic springs, along with its wildlife exhibits and outdoor activities, make it a popular destination for nature lovers and adventure seekers.

St Cloud GAR Hall

Situated near Orlando, St. Cloud offers suburban living with a small-town feel. With its waterfront areas, historic district, and community events, the town fosters a close-knit atmosphere and provides residents with a comfortable lifestyle.

Tavares Key West Resort

Set along the Harris Chain of Lakes, Tavares embraces its waterfront location and offers a variety of nautical activities. Known as "America's Seaplane City," the town combines a love for seaplanes with its charming downtown area, creating a unique and inviting environment.

The Villages

The Villages Golf Carts

A massive 55+ retirement community, The Villages is renowned for its extensive amenities, golf courses, and recreational opportunities. With a focus on active living, the community provides residents with a vibrant and engaging retirement lifestyle.

Umatilla City Hall

Situated amid serene lakes and rolling hills, Umatilla is a tranquil escape known for its small-town charm and welcoming community. With a historic downtown district and abundant outdoor recreational opportunities, the town offers residents a peaceful lifestyle and a close connection to Florida's natural beauty.

Wauchula Downtown Building

Embracing its agricultural heritage, Wauchula is a hub for citrus and cattle industries, defining its authentic rural character. The town's Southern hospitality, annual rodeo events, and local festivals reflect its close-knit community spirit and provide a glimpse into traditional Florida culture.

Windermere School

Nestled between lakes and upscale neighborhoods, Windermere offers an affluent lifestyle with a focus on waterfront living. The town's elegant estates, boating culture, and proximity to Orlando's attractions appeal to residents seeking luxury and exclusivity.

Winter Garden

Winter Garden Downtown

Boasting a historic downtown lined with charming shops and eateries, Winter Garden radiates a vibrant arts scene and family-friendly atmosphere. The West Orange Trail and its proximity to Walt Disney World make it an outdoor and entertainment haven, creating a harmonious blend of nostalgia and modern leisure.

Winter Haven

Winter Haven Downtown

Nestled around a series of interconnected lakes, Winter Haven is renowned for its water-centric lifestyle and the iconic Cypress Gardens. The Chain of Lakes and LEGOLAND Florida Resort offer a plethora of recreational activities, while its cultural venues and community events contribute to a well-rounded living experience.

Winter Park

Winter Park, Park Plaza Hotel

A haven for culture and sophistication, Winter Park is defined by its elegant architecture, prestigious Rollins College, and boutique shopping along Park Avenue. With its lush green spaces, annual art festivals, and historic charm, the town attracts residents who appreciate refined living and artistic expression.

Yeehaw Junction

Yeehaw Junction 1964

Situated at the crossroads of major highways, Yeehaw Junction is a quirky roadside stop known for its kitschy atmosphere and historic significance. Its historic Desert Inn was nearly demolished in a truck accident and will probably not be rebuilt.  Too bad; it was a fun place to visit.

Central Florida Day Trips and Scenic Drives

best cities to visit in central florida

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Local Travel Guide: Best Places to Visit in Central Florida

By: Angela   /   Published: August 27, 2018   /   Updated: August 5, 2019   /   5 Comments

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Have you thought about squeezing in some more travel during these last days of summer? With summer coming to an end, local travel might just be the best option. Flights, rental cars and even gas for road trips can eat up a big chunk of your travel budget. A family vacation can easily cost you thousands of dollars, especially when you add the price of transportation on top of already costly lodging, meals and activities. As a single mom, this is why I often choose to stay close to home for family vacations and weekend getaways. Plus, we have so many wonderful things to do here in Central Florida.

I’ve partnered with Ibotta for this sponsored post to talk about local travel, and share the best places to visit in Central Florida . The Ibotta cash-back and rewards app can help you save money throughout the year, that can be put towards your vacation fund. You can even earn rewards and cash-back when booking your travel with some of Ibotta’s partners like HotelsTonight and Hotels.com.

The Central Florida region includes many top vacation destinations such as Tampa Bay, beaches on both the Gulf of Mexico and East Coast, and the Orlando area. All of these places are within a few hours drive of each other.

What are the best places to visit in Central Florida? Get ideas and inspiration with this local travel guide. Also, find tips for planning your next Central Florida vacation or staycation on a budget, using the Ibotta cash-back and rewards app.

Best Places to Visit in Central Florida

Located along Florida’s Gulf Coast, Tampa offers a multitude of activities, attractions and adventures. If you’re traveling with children, I recommend checking out Busch Gardens, Adventure Island, the Museum of Science & Industry (MOSI), Zoo Tampa at Lowry Park, and the Florida Aquarium. For outdoor adventures, I recommend visiting Lettuce Lake Park, Morris Bridge Park and Tampa Riverwalk. Tube down the Manatee River or rent canoes and float down the Hillsborough River. I also recommend kayaking at Weedon Island Preserve or on the Weeki Wachee River. Rentals are available at both.

What are the best places to visit in Central Florida? Get ideas and inspiration with this local travel guide. Also, find tips for planning your next Central Florida vacation or staycation on a budget, using the Ibotta cash-back and rewards app.

(Kayaking the Weeki Wachee River.)

One of three historic Landmark Districts in the state of Florida, Ybor City is known for boutiques and vintage shops on 7th Avenue, and a variety of restaurants and breweries, bars and clubs. Ybor City boasts a lively nightlife. The Ybor City State Museum has exhibits on the cigar industry and the area’s immigrant communities. The Centro Ybor Mall has a movie theater and GameTime Mega Arcade.

Just a short trolley ride away from Ybor City, Tampa’s Channel District is home to Florida Aquarium, Port of Tampa, and Channelside Bay Plaza entertainment complex.

Central Florida Beaches

About an hour from Tampa, the Clearwater and St. Pete Beaches are very popular with tourists because of their sandy white beaches, calm water, and plenty of restaurants and hotel options. One of my favorite Florida East Coast beaches is Daytona Beach. Just steps from the beach the Daytona Beach Boardwalk offers rides, arcades, a movie theater, restaurants, and Daytona Lagoon water park with go-carts, laser tag and waterslides.

What are the best places to visit in Central Florida? Get ideas and inspiration with this local travel guide. Also, find tips for planning your next Central Florida vacation or staycation on a budget, using the Ibotta cash-back and rewards app.

(A beautiful day on Daytona Beach.)

Orlando Area

The Orlando area is home to more than a dozen theme parks including Walt Disney World, Sea World, Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. You’ll easily find just as many water parks like Disney’s Blizzard Beach and Universal’s Volcano Bay. A short drive away you’ll also find LEGOLAND amusement park with an adjoining water park.

International Drive is the center of fun in Orlando. I-Drive is home to many hotels and restaurants, the Orlando Eye, Fun Spot America adventure park, miniature golf, indoor skydiving, Topgolf Orlando, go-karts, arcades and so much more.

What are the best places to visit in Central Florida? Get ideas and inspiration with this local travel guide. Also, find tips for planning your next Central Florida vacation or staycation on a budget, using the Ibotta cash-back and rewards app.

(Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon Water Park)

How to save for your next vacation with the Ibotta app.

Download the Ibotta app for a better way to save time and money while you shop. Simply download the app, choose the items you’d like to purchase, claim the deal, and then save your receipt.

You can use the Ibotta app both in-store and for online shopping. After you shop, upload the receipts, and within 24 hours, the money that you saved is in your account. It’s literally that easy. Your savings are tracked through the app and once you hit $20, you can cash out either to PayPal or Venmo or via a gift card. Such a great way to start a vacation fund!

Travel Planning Tip: When planning your travel, be sure to check out Groupon offerings in the Ibotta app, for cash back offers similar to Hotels.com, etc. It’s a great way to find additional cost savings when planning activities and meals!

As summer comes to a close, easing back into your usual routine can be hard. Luckily, getting cash back with Ibotta is easy! Download the free Ibotta app and start earning cash back today.

I feel very fortunate to live nearby so many fun things to do in Central Florida. With so many great Florida beaches and attractions just a short drive away, a staycation makes a lot of sense for me, and the savings I get from using Ibotta while I shop helps me pay for it. Have you done much local travel in your state or have you ventured to Central Florida? I’d love to hear about it! Please leave me a comment below.

best cities to visit in central florida

About Angela

Angela is the founder of About A Mom and currently acts as a content creator and editor-in-chief for the About A Mom Team. She has been a professional blogger for over 10 years. Angela has appeared in numerous TV segments, advertising campaigns and her work has been featured by many top publications. She lives in Tampa, Florida.

Reader Interactions

best cities to visit in central florida

September 5, 2018 at 11:52 AM

Central Florida has it all indeed! I am so fortunate to be a resident. It’s like being on vacation all year round.

best cities to visit in central florida

September 5, 2018 at 3:16 PM

Florida looks like a beautiful place to visit. It’s definitely on my list of places to see. Your tips are great, and will be added to my travel file.

best cities to visit in central florida

September 6, 2018 at 9:57 AM

Other than Orlando and Miami, we haven’t had the chance to visit other parts of Florida. Need to make a week of it!

best cities to visit in central florida

September 7, 2018 at 5:13 PM

I really have not explored much of Florida, but after seeing this informative guide, I am definitely excited to change that. Seeing all of the rivers in Tampa seems especially fun!

best cities to visit in central florida

September 7, 2018 at 5:40 PM

Florida is so beautiful! We’ve been a couple of times, but there’s so much more we could do if we went again!

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Best places to visit in florida in 2023.

With more than 8,000 miles of shoreline, the Sunshine State is prime vacation territory. But with so many diverse destinations in Florida, it can be hard to pick which place is right for your next getaway. That's why U.S. News considered factors like the number of attractions, availability of accommodations and the opinions of everyday travelers to pick the best places to visit in Florida. Vote for your favorite spot below to help determine next year's list.

Dry Tortugas National Park

St. augustine, clearwater beach, marco island, amelia island, everglades national park, miami beach, st. petersburg, fl, cocoa beach, fort walton beach, st. george island.

best cities to visit in central florida

This picturesque barrier island off the coast of Sarasota is a prime vacation spot for relaxation-seeking travelers. Spend your getaway lounging on Siesta Beach, often considered one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, and enjoy powdery white sands and a bevy of family-friendly amenities including beach volleyball, a playground and hiking trails. Or, head to quieter Turtle Beach for shelling and kayaking. In the evening, catch some live music in Siesta Key Village before bedding down at one of the island's top-notch hotels and resorts.

best cities to visit in central florida

Sitting about 70 miles off the coast of Key West, Dry Tortugas National Park is known for its premier snorkeling and wildlife-viewing opportunities. Home to nearly 300 species of birds, five types of sea turtles and about 30 species of coral, this remote seven-island park in the Gulf of Mexico is a popular Florida daytrip destination for nature lovers. Plus, travelers can go on a self-guided tour of the 19th-century coastal fortress Fort Jefferson, located on Garden Key. Keep in mind, Dry Tortugas National Park can only be reached by boat or seaplane and a $15 entrance fee is required.

best cities to visit in central florida

Made up of six islands in the Florida Keys – Plantation Key, Windley Key, Indian Key, Lignumvitae Key and Upper and Lower Matecumbe Keys – Islamorada boasts tranquil parks, colorful coral reefs and art galleries. Thanks to its position between Florida Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, this laid-back coastal village is a renowned sport fishing destination, bringing in species like sailfish, marlin, mahi-mahi, tuna and tarpon. But if you don't feel like casting a line, you can check out the History of Diving Museum or put a dent in your wallet at the shops in Rain Barrel Village.  

best cities to visit in central florida

History buffs should make a beeline for St. Augustine. Founded by the Spaniards in 1565, this town in northern Florida is the oldest continuously inhabited European settlement in the U.S., earning it the nickname the Ancient City. St. Augustine's seaside buildings and monuments, from the pedestrian-friendly St. George Street to the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, act as a living guide to history. And when it's time to relax after taking in the sights, head to Anastasia State Park for its unspoiled beaches and sand dunes.

best cities to visit in central florida

Clearwater Beach's beautiful white sand, crystal clear water and small-town vibe make it an ideal destination for a family vacation on the Gulf Coast. Spend the day getting a snapshot of the city during a Segway or helicopter tour or visit Caladesi Island State Park (only accessible by boat) for its untouched natural splendor. Also save time for a visit to one of the area's biggest attractions, the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, where the dolphins that inspired the "Dolphin Tale" movies were rehabilitated. Later, head to Pier 60 to catch a sunset, purchase locally made crafts and watch various street performances.

best cities to visit in central florida

World-famous attractions such as Walt Disney World and Universal Studios Florida make Orlando a year-round tourist destination, but there are many attractions and activities outside of the theme parks. Travelers can shop till they drop at outlet malls, hit the links at one of the area's many golf courses, and get up close and personal with dolphins and stingrays at Discovery Cove. Those without little ones can explore Orlando's revitalized nightlife and restaurant scenes in the downtown area.

best cities to visit in central florida

The elegant and romantic city of Naples is all about luxury and relaxation. This spot on Florida's Paradise Coast is known for its gorgeous sugar-white sand beaches and incredible golf courses High-end shops and gourmet restaurants abound, especially along Fifth Avenue South and Third Street South. Plus, flora and fauna lovers have access to all kinds of nature-focused attractions here, such as the Naples Zoo, the Naples Botanical Garden and Clam Pass Park. Those who appreciate art won't want to miss The Baker Museum or one of the city's many art galleries.

best cities to visit in central florida

Travel to this island in the Florida Keys to relax at a beachside resort and see the southernmost point in the continental United States. Key West is known for its free-spirited locals, colorful conch-style homes and coral reefs ripe for snorkeling and scuba diving. Between boat tours and margaritas, bibliophiles will enjoy visiting the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum, where they can learn more about the famous writer and see descendants of his six-toed cat, Snow White. Or, head to Key West's main drag, Duval Street, for its cafes, shops and nightlife.

best cities to visit in central florida

The largest of Southwest Florida's Ten Thousand Islands, Marco Island is a haven for water sports like boating, fishing and kayaking. Its sunny skies and white sand beaches invite visitors to sunbathe, swim and search for seashells. Those who want a break from the sand can learn about the island's ties to the ancient Calusa Native Americans at the Marco Island Historical Museum or look for manatees, sea turtles and other wild animals in Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge.

best cities to visit in central florida

Known as the Dive Capital of the World, Key Largo offers access to the only living coral reef in the continental U.S., the country's first undersea park (John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park) and the only underwater hotel in the world solely accessible by scuba diving. The largest island in the Florida Keys is also a prime spot for other aquatic activities, including snorkeling, deep-sea fishing and glass-bottom boating. When you're ready to trade your sea legs for solid ground, grab a bite to eat and a rum runner cocktail at one of Key Largo's laid-back restaurants.

best cities to visit in central florida

Located about 30 miles northeast of Jacksonville, Amelia Island's historical charm and 13 miles of uncrowded beaches make it a top vacation destination. Stroll through Historic Downtown Fernandina Beach, where pirates used to roam and the modern shrimping industry was born. For some fun yet relaxing activities, go horseback riding by the water or play a round of golf on one of the island's highly regarded courses.

best cities to visit in central florida

This spot along the Florida Panhandle's Emerald Coast is a home away from home for thousands of summer vacationers. Its unique, postcard-worthy white sands made from Appalachian quartz and its clear, bright blue-green water help Destin stand out from other Florida beaches. The nearby Henderson Beach State Park is also a must visit, with its 30-foot white sand dunes. And Destin's small-town feel, manicured golf courses, optimal fishing conditions and shop- and restaurant-lined boardwalk continue to attract travelers year after year.

best cities to visit in central florida

Florida is almost as famous for its alligators as it is for its beaches and theme parks, and one of the best places to see them is in Everglades National Park. As the largest subtropical wilderness in the country, the park is the world's only environment where alligators and crocodiles coexist. It's also home to rare species like manatees and panthers. The Everglades offers several trails and guided tours for navigating its vast 1.5 million acres. Be sure to visit between November and April (the park's dry season) to enjoy lower temperatures, fewer mosquitos and increased chances of spotting wildlife.

best cities to visit in central florida

Few places in the world compare to colorful, vibrant Miami Beach. From the one-of-a-kind art deco architecture along Ocean Drive to the scantily clad beachgoers on South Beach, this Miami offshoot attracts everyone from relaxed retirees to night owls. But you'll want to bring along your credit card, because those fashionable dance clubs and chic, trendy restaurants don't come cheap. To save some money, consider buying a Go Miami card before your trip to access to some of the area's museums and tours for a fraction of the price.

best cities to visit in central florida

Much like its sunny neighbor, St. Petersburg, Tampa attracts visitors with its balmy weather and outdoor pursuits. But as the third largest city in Florida, Tampa also offers a little more action. Visitors can stroll or bike along the lively Tampa Riverwalk to get a glimpse of public art and dazzling light displays, or visit one of the area's museums, such as the Tampa Bay History Center. Those bringing kids along can also explore Glazer Children's Museum or The Florida Aquarium (with a stop at Sparkman Wharf for lunch), or tire them out with some thrills at Busch Gardens theme park.

best cities to visit in central florida

Holding the Guinness World Record for most consecutive days of sunshine, St. Petersburg appeals to all types of travelers. Outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy St. Pete Beach and the 7 miles of waterfront parks. Away from the shore, downtown St. Petersburg offers plenty of attractions, including a museum dedicated to the works of Salvador Dalí and the Sunken Gardens, the city's oldest living museum. The city also hosts one of the largest Pride events in the U.S. every summer and is home to a large LGBTQ community.

best cities to visit in central florida

This Gulf Coast paradise is perfect for nature lovers. Here, you can soak up some sun at Lido Beach on nearby Lido Key or admire the butterflies at the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens. Then, explore marine life at the Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium, which is known for its manatees, sharks, sea turtles and otters. Make sure you also save some time for The Ringling museum, which commemorates the legacy of former Sarasota residents John and Mable Ringling (of circus fame) with art exhibits, a circus museum and tours of their gilded mansion, Ca' d'Zan.

best cities to visit in central florida

Cocoa Beach appeals to everyone from space enthusiasts to sun seekers and surfers. The nearby Kennedy Space Center offers a firsthand look at NASA's shuttles and launch pads. In the northern part of Cocoa Beach, visitors will find one of the best places in Florida to surf and the flagship Ron Jon Surf Shop, the largest surf shop in the world that also houses the Florida Surf Museum. Vacationers can also sign up for bioluminescent kayaking tours of the area's waterways or play beach volleyball next to the Westgate Cocoa Beach Pier.

best cities to visit in central florida

Head to this small coastal town on the Florida Panhandle for family-friendly beaches, scenic golf courses, museums and more. Travelers who want to do absolutely nothing on vacation can head to Okaloosa Island or John Beasley Park, both of which feature sparkling white sand perfect for lounging. Or, if you prefer a more active getaway, get out on the water in a deep-sea fishing charter or try your hand at watersports like water-skiing and parasailing. Later, check out the exhibits at the Indian Temple Mound Museum.

best cities to visit in central florida

Sitting off the coast of Apalachicola on the Gulf of Mexico, this unspoiled barrier island appeals to vacationers looking to travel off-the-beaten-path. You won't find the hordes of high-rise hotels that tower over other popular beach destinations blocking your view here. What's more, you will be treated to laid-back watersports like kayaking and snorkeling, stunning views from the Cape St. George Light and unspoiled beaches like those at Dr. Julian G. Bruce St. George Island State Park.

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Florida Trippers

Learn how to easily plan your dream trip to Florida!

The quaint skyline of a small town in Florida is reflected in the water.

21 Cutest Small Towns In Florida

February 8, 2021 //  by  Florida Trippers

You’ve been to Tampa, Orlando, and even the State Capitol, but how many of these small towns in Florida have you visited? We bet there are a few towns here that even the locals haven’t heard of before!

Thanks to Florida’s location in the country, it has one of the most diverse populations of all the states. The Sunshine State’s sunny skies, clear waters, and warm weather draw in people from all walks of life. Many tourists eventually make Florida their permanent home.

When you’re tired of the hustle and bustle of big cities, there are a lot of places where you can recharge their batteries. Many small towns in Florida are quaint, homey, and welcoming.

Keep in mind that small doesn’t mean dull. Many of these small towns in Florida are beloved for their niche communities. You can find fishing havens, thrift shop meccas, and even Scottish villages!

We guarantee that a trip to each of these small towns in Florida will provide you with unique memories from a new adventure. So whether you’re in need of an escape or just looking for something new, check out the best small towns in Florida!

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If so, we would love to keep in touch! We enjoy seeing photos and comments about your experiences in Florida! You can follow us on Instagram and we will repost your photos on our feed and comment too! Just tag us at @floridatrippers and hashtag #floridatrippers. We can’t wait to see your travels!

Downtown Quincy, just to the north of Tallahassee in Florida's panhandle.

St. Augustine

A visit to the nation’s oldest city has lots to offer! Founded in 1565 it wasn’t until Henry Flagler transformed the city into a bustling hub in the late 1800s with his railroad.

One of the most romantic cities in Florida, St. Augustine offers something for everyone. Between castles , beaches, museums , national parks , ghost tours, distilleries, restaurants , and wineries there is a ton of things to do in Saint Augustine .

If you head just to the north, you’ll find a great beach for surfing at Jacksonville Beach. Head to the shoreline to see the St. Augustine Lighthouse , featured many times in television and film.

Plan your trip well, and you can even get spooky as fall in Florida approaches! With a reputation as one of the most haunted towns, you can take ghost tours in St. Augustine that will chill you to your core! Where To Stay in St, Augustine : Sandy Feet Retreat : Check Rates on VRBO

A fountain glistens with blue-green waters in St. Augustine, one of the cutest small towns in Florida.

Safety Harbor

On the west shore of Tampa Bay, you’ll find a small community in Pinellas County tucked away. Less than 5,000 people live here, and the town is only five square miles.

The downtown stretch of Main Street is lined with trees, family restaurants , small shops, and boutiques. This small-town feel is absent in the heavily urbanized Pinellas County, making Safety Harbor a cultural gem.

Main Street dead-ends into the Safety Harbor Resort and Spa , which offers affordable treatments using Florida’s natural springs for the family. The town is so charming, Lifetime even filmed one of their movies in Safety Harbor!

Make sure to visit Whimzeyland, a small home that uses bowling balls, mosaics, and glass bottles to create a place where color explodes non-stop. This is a private residence, and while visitors are welcome to explore the grounds, please be respectful.

Where To Stay in Saftey Harbor : Casa La Cala: Check Rates on VRBO

Victoria sits in a vibrant yellow skirt on the blindingly colorful decorations of Whimseyland in Safety Harbor.

Tarpon Springs

Tarpon Springs , Florida is one of Tampa Bay’s best-kept secrets and cutest small towns in Florida. Rich in history, Greek culture, great food, and natural beauty, this little coastal town is a great destination for the whole family.

Due to the abundance of Greek Immigrants brought by the sponging industry, a large number of the residents in Tarpon Springs come from greek heritage. Depending on when you visit you may find yourself walking through a massive Greek festival or in the middle of the Epiphany, a traditional Greek celebration out on the bayou. 

The Sponge Dock in Tarpon Springs is a must-visit. Here you will find the largest variety of natural sponges, so fresh you can still smell the salt and sea all over them. 

In addition to great antiquing, vintage shops, specialty markets, and boutiques, you can visit the Safford House Museum. Filled with original furnishings and old Safford family possessions, it remains a prime example of late 19th century Victorian architecture.

Where To Stay in Tarpon Springs : Waterfront Home: Check Rates on VRBO

Bunches of sea sponges are piled on the shores of Tarpon Springs, one of the best small towns in Florida.

Just a 30-minute drive from  Tampa  and an hour away from  Orlando , a trip to Dade City is a perfect  day trip  or quiet  weekend getaway . One of the best small towns in Florida, you’ll always find something to do in Dade City .

Dade City is a quiet town full of history, native Florida wildlife , and culture. The rolling hills and pasture lands provide a beautiful backdrop for a dense suburban lifestyle in Pasco County.

Downtown is full of incredible antiquing and thrifting, perfect for a leisurely stroll. Because there are plenty of mom and pop diners and cafes to choose from, you’ll always have a good homecooked meal. Life is so quiet here, motorists actually slow down for pedestrians!

Dade City is full of rich Florida history. Reenactment festivals depict battles from the Second Seminole War and the Civil War. Settled in the early 1900s by railroad workers, you can learn about Pioneer Life at the Pioneer Village and the Dade City Heritage Museum.

Where To Stay in Dade City : Tiki Paradise: Check Rates on VRBO

A small house sits in the Pioneer Village in Dade City, one of the cutest towns in Florida.

Winter Park

The next time you’re near Orlando , don’t hesitate to visit Winter Park. Originally a resort for business magnates, don’t let its now-sleepy facade fool you. Winter Park is one of the best small towns in Florida.

The main drag, Park Avenue is lined with civic buildings, retail, art galleries, and a private liberal arts college, Rollins College. There’s also museums, a park, a train station, a golf course country club, a historic cemetery, and a beach and boat launch!

Peacocks often roam around in neighborhoods, especially throughout the community of Windsong. You can find them in the beautiful, lush parks. Former President Chester A. Arthur even called Winter Park “the prettiest place in Florida [he had] seen.”

Plan your visit and you can be in Winter Park for their annual Sidewalk Art Festival ! Thousands of people travel from all over the world to apply to compete, and only 225 are selected per year. With that many applicants, you know you’re going to see some amazing chalk art!

Where To Stay in Winter Park : Casa Aloma: Check Rates on VRBO

Downtown Winter Park, a quaint Florida town just north of Orlando.

Just a 35-minute drive northwest of Orlando , Mount Dora is a sleepy town known for its antique shops and the  best festivals in Florida . Small enough to explore in a day, but interesting enough to lure visitors back, this is a great place to explore on a date night .

As you walk through Mount Dora, you’ll notice the historic buildings downtown dotted with palm trees on the streets. Filled with boutique shops, walking tours, and art galleries, there is so much to explore.

The highlight of the town is Renninger’s Vintage Antique Center & Farmer’s Flea Market. Over 117 acres of scenic, rolling land are filled with vendor booths selling everything from produce, meats, cheeses, and a variety crafts.

On the second Friday of every month, catch the Mount Dora Art Splash. Walk through an outdoor art gallery, where the quirkiness of the town really shines. The shops stay open late and there is live music to enjoy!

The crown jewel of the town is Lake Dora. 6 miles long and a third of a mile wide, enjoy the sunset on the Palm Island Park Boardwalk. Take a tour of the 35-foot tall working lighthouse! There are not many freshwater lighthouses in the state, so take advantage!

Mount Dora is said to be magical, and once you visit, you’ll understand why. Extend your stay with a  charming Airbnb  and take in the small town in all of its allure.

Where To Stay in Mount Dora : The Carlton: Check Rates on VRBO

Downtown Mount Dora, full of quaint and plentiful boutiques and thrift stores.

Adjacent to Cape Coral , you can find one of the most quaint small towns in Florida! Pronounced “mat-la-SHAY,” Matlacha means “big warrior” in Seminole!

A quirky, historic fishing village, Matlacha feels like Key West , minus the crowds. The colorful charm and laidback vibe capture the essence of turn-of-the-century Florida. On a walking tour, you’ll see pink palm trees, dolphins painted with polka dots, and one-of-a-kind homes painted in neon colors.

When you visit Matlacha Pass, you’ll always see an angler reeling in a big catch! Known as the “World’s Fishing-est Bridge,” a tidal current runs beneath that sweeps in snook, redfish, and tarpon.

After, you have to pass by the “Doll Lady’s” House. She decorates her front yard with her collection of “junktiques.” You’ll be charmed by hobby horses and rag dolls sitting in salvaged garden chairs.

Matlacha Village is also home to renowned international artist Leoma Lovegrove. Her eclectic, colorful artistic medium has influenced the entire village. In her gallery, you’ll find her vibrant paintings displayed throughout a whimsical garden.

Where To Stay in Matlacha : Waterfront Getaway: Check Rates on VRBO

One of Matlacha's trademark neon colored houses that make the town one of the best in Florida.

Not only is Webster one of the best small towns in Florida, it’s also one of the best places to live in Florida! In Sumter County, the town boasts a population of only 726 residents!

Locals enjoy an atmosphere that is equal part suburban communities and rural Old Florida charm. With great public schools and affordable housing, many retirees and snow birds have made Webster their permanent home.

Webster is a haven for shopaholics with an enormous 35 acres of weekly open-air markets. A haven for thrifters, the town attracts more than 50,000 people every Monday to stroll the streets to attend its popular markets.

At the Webster Swap-O-Rama, you’ll find over 2,000 spaces and 1,500 local vendors selling a variety of goods at this combination flea market and farmers market. Then cross the street to Webster WestSide to comb through the 500 antique and collectible dealers.

Where To Stay in Webster : Lakehouse Getaway: Check Rates on VRBO

Traders line up with tables and tents in Webster, ready for the Swap-O-Rama.


Apalachicola’s name derives from Hitochi Native American words meaning “on the other side,” and “people.” But locals will tell you it means “land of the friendly people.” One of the cutest small towns in Florida, one step into Apalachicola and you’ll understand why.

The welcoming port town radiates hometown charm, friendly neighbors, and rich maritime history. You’ll find bustling seafood houses, weather-worn fishing boats, and impressive historical buildings.

Walkthrough the town’s many parks and nature trails before taking a self-guided walking tour through the Historic District. Under the shade of lofty oak trees, you’ll see the regal homes of past sea captains and river pilots.

The 900 homes you can see date back to the 1830s and are a perfect example of Victorian architecture. You can learn more about the picturesque homes and the town’s diverse and colorful history on the city’s self-guided walking tour!

When you need to escape to the great outdoors, the Apalachicola River and Bay boast freshwater and saltwater fishing opportunities. If you’re not much of an angler, you can explore the calm waterways by kayak , riverboat, or sailboat!

Where To Stay in Apalachicola : Rivers Edge West: Check Rates on VRBO

Two chairs sit in the sea landscape of Apalachicola, one of the best small towns in Florida.

Mexico Beach

Mexico Beach, a seaside community, is so tiny that it has no traffic lights. There are no big chain restaurants, everything is family-owned. One of the most quaint small towns in Florida, Mexico Beach is the perfect place to relax in quiet seclusion!

With only 1,000 residents, Mexico Beach encompasses five grand miles of pristine white-sand beaches along the emerald waters of the Gulf of Mexico! With such a beautiful coastline, the opportunities for water sports and activities are endless.

From the beaches, you can enjoy easy access to artificial reefs and the historic shipwreck of the Vamar. Simply swim out to enjoy the best snorkeling in Florida!

If you’re a fisherman or an angler visiting, you don’t even need to own a boat! There are many fishing charters available that will take you to spots popular with Spanish mackerel and kingfish! Spear fishermen can also enjoy their sport right on the shore!

If you bring your pup along, you can head over to St. Joe’s Beach. You don’t have to feel guilty about leaving your pet behind on a fun beach day, because Mexico City has their own dog beach !

Where To Stay in Mexico Beach : Beach Walk Bungalow: Check Rates on VRBO

A dog sits on the dog beach in Mexico Beach, one of the cutest small towns in Florida.

Normally, most people don’t associate Florida with Scotland. In Dunedin, one of the oldest towns on the West Coast of Florida, you’ll change your tune forever!

Famous for its quaint and walkable downtown and annual Scottish celebrations, Dunedin is one of the most quaint small towns in Florida. Its residents protect the wooded and subtropical lands, recently winning a hard-fought battle against developers.

The charming and active downtown boasts beautiful parks, history, culture, and educational opportunities. You won’t find big chain food joints here, either. The Dunedin restaurant scene boasts pubs, seafood joints, and even fine dining establishments along the four miles of picturesque waterfront.

Just off the coast of Dunedin are Caladesi and Honeymoon Islands. Both absolute treasures renowned for their unspoiled beauty, make sure to look out for the hidden shell trees, where locals hang shells on branches and make wishes.

Check out our full guide for exploring Honeymoon Island !

Where To Stay in Dunedin : Beautiful Condo: Check Rates on VRBO

A Scotsman statue playing the bagpipes welcomes guests into the city of Dunedin, one of the cutest small towns in Florida.

Sometimes the best small towns in Florida also happen to be beach towns as well! That’s the case for Islamorada, found in the always beautiful Florida Keys.

Islamorada or “purple island” is located in the Florida Keys! Located 15 minutes from the local airport or just 1.5-hour drive south from Miami.

Spanning 7 miles long, Islamorada is the best small beach town in Florida if you’re looking to fish. The sports fish capital of the world, you have angling opportunities on both the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. You can find over 500 species of fish here. Peak season is in December through May! 

No trip to Islamorada is complete without a stop at Robbie’s Marina found at MM 77. You can feed tarpon for $2.25 per person, or for the more adventurous you can rent a kayak to visit Indian Key State Park. 

While at Robbie’s try the Hogfish Sandwich at the Hungry Tarpon. Or Chef Michael’s for a more upscale dining experience.  

Theater of the Sea is a great place to get up close to dolphins, sea lions, or take a glass-bottom boat ride. For those looking for an all-inclusive resort, the Cheeca Lodge will provide you with an upscale all-inclusive getaway! 

Located in the 6-block cultural downtown, you will find tons of art galleries. Plan your trip correctly and you can experience Art Walk, one of the best festivals in Florida! 

Where To Stay in Islamorada : Luxurious Home: Check Rates on VRBO

An aerial drone captures the blue-green waters and docks of Islamorada, one of the cutest small towns in the Florida Keys.

DeFuniak Springs

In 2019, MSN.com named DeFuniak Springs as the best of all the small towns in Florida. Home to just over 5,000 people, you can find DeFuniak Springs in the panhandle.

DeFuniak Springs holds a notable place in Florida’s history. Here, you can find a resort and campus built during the Victorian Era. Marketed to the nation as “The Education Resort of the South,” the campus was once gated and very exclusive.

A tour of Downtown will guide you through some of DeFuniak Spring’s most historic sites. Make sure to stop and see the Train Depot, the old Tented Classrooms, Hotel Chautauqua, and the Wooden Sidewalks.

Come during Christmastime to see the grounds as more than 6 million lights adorn the Victorian structures. A stroll while gazing at the lights twinkling in the spring-fed lake is the perfect way to celebrate Christmas in Florida .

If you’re tired of reading wine labels, then visit Chautauqua Winery! They’ll help you take the guesswork out of picking your new favorite wine with all-day tastings and tours through the vineyards.

Where To Stay in DeFuniak Springs : Secluded Waterfront Home: Check Rates on VRBO

The historical town library of DeFuniak Springs.

Nestled in the heart of the Apalachicola National Forest, you can find one of the most unique small towns in Florida. Sopchoppy will be your gateway into rural Florida.

Less than 500 people call Sopchoppy home. 45 minutes from Tallahassee, Sopchoppy is not just a fun word to say. It’s also known as the Worm Gruntin’ Capital of the World.

Every April, on the second Saturday of the month, people come from all over Florida, Georgia, and Alabama congregate. During a special festival, grunters use a specialized technique to draw earthworms up to the ground’s surface to use as fishing bait.

Use those worms and head over to the Ochlockonee River State Park for a grand day of boating and fishing. Sopchoppy is actually one of the best places to go camping in Florida !

Where To Stay in Sopchoppy : Beachfront Home: Check Rates on VRBO

A tree provides shade near the river in Sopchoppy, Florida.

Along the Atlantic Coast of Florida, you can find the Sailfish Capital of the World. To the north of Palm Beach and south of Vero Beach , you’ll find Stuart , one of the cutest small towns in Florida.

Famed for its historic and pedestrian-friendly downtown, you shouldn’t miss the Stuart Green Market. A small farmers market, you can find it every Sunday from 9 AM – 1 PM just near City Hall.

For nature lovers, head over to Seabranch Preserve State Park. Perfect for birding, you can also enjoy nature trails and even a butterfly garden! Then head over to St. Lucie Inlet Preserve State Park to observe sea turtles nesting.

History buffs will enjoy the House of Refuge at Gilbert’s Bar. A restored home, it was once used as a haven for shipwrecked sailors dating back to the early 1900s. You can also find restored homes and furniture of early pioneers at the Stuart Heritage Museum!

Where To Stay in Stuart : Private Oceanfront Condo: Check Rates on VRBO

Stuart, one of the best small towns in Florida, at sunset.

White Springs

There are many tourist attractions in Florida, but did you know the town of White Springs was Florida’s first? One of the most quaint small towns in Florida, White Springs offers a quintessential look into Old Florida.

Home of the annual Florida Folk Festival, White Springs is a tourist destination famous for its historic charm, antiquing and water activities on the Suwannee River. The river cuts right through the town, creating a warm and inviting atmosphere.

The proximity of the river affords many opportunities for kayaking in Florida ! Don’t be afraid to bring your rods and lures along. Fishermen can enjoy catching red-bellies, brim, mullet, and catfish.

For the more adventurous, there are many natural springs that spawn off of the Suwannee River. Grab a mask and some fins and enjoy snorkeling with the manatees . Divers will love the many water caves to explore.

Where To Stay in White Springs: Hidden Creek Cabin: Check Rates on VRBO

Canoes and backpacking gear sit ready on the shores of Stephen Foster Folk Culture State Park in White Springs, one of the cutest small towns in Florida.

Just an hour southwest of Gainesville , you’ll find the tiny enclave known as Cedar Key. One of the most quaint small towns in Florida, it offers beautiful beaches, fishing opportunities, and old-fashioned, traditional Florida beauty.

With very few traffic lights, you’ll stop and wave at locals as they pass you on the sidewalk. The local police ride around on spiffy golf carts. The houses and shops sit on stilts over the Gulf of Mexico.

Over the tiny keys that make up Cedar Key, you can easily find a tasty clam chowder with a cold brew to wash it down. Your backdrop? The natural beauty of the tranquil village and the almost forgotten natural Florida beauty.

Cedar Key remains a haven for artists, writers, and a special breed of tourists who seek out unspoiled environments. Join the thousand of visitors who make their way to Cedar Key for their local festivals.

The Old Florida Celebration of the Arts in April celebrates local artists, old and new. The Fourth of July party takes fireworks to a new level with the bursts reflecting in the ocean water. With no high-rises, Cedar Key is perfect for The Stargazing Party in February!

Where To Stay in Cedar Key : Aqua Vista: Check Rates on VRBO

Fishing, bait, and tackle shops hover over the water on stilts in Cedar Key, Florida.

Micanopy holds the title of the oldest inland town in Florida. It means “head chief,” a title bestowed upon the leader of the Alachua Seminoles. Micanopy, “the town that time forgot,” is one of the best small towns in Florida.

Ancient oaks draped with Spanish moss line Micanopy’s narrow streets. The shade is welcomed by the numerous historic homes and old cracker houses that create the picturesque warmth of the town.

Once occupied by the Alachua Seminoles, you can often see excavators and preservation initiatives searching for artifacts in residents’ yards. You can learn more the Alachua Seminoles at the Micanopy Native American Heritage Preserve, which protects a Native American mound.

The town is so appealing, many films and television shows have been shot on location here, including Doc Hollywood, Cross Creek, and Top Gear! Shooting locations include the Herlong Mansion Bed & Breakfast, a Greek revival mansion.

Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park protects a massive natural basin in the “great Alachua Savannah.” Here, bison and wild horses roam free in the state’s largest grassland at 22,000 acres. At times, the fields are covered in wildflowers.

Where To Stay in Micanopy : Treetop Artists Retreat: Check Rates on VRBO

An old baptist church sits between oak and palm trees in Micanopy, one of the best small towns in Florida.

Lake Placid

Arguably the prettiest of the small towns in Florida, Lake Placid has two nicknames. “Town of Murals” and “The Caladium Capital of the World.” Well, three titles if you count Reader’s Digest dubbing it “America’s Most Interesting Town.”

Lake Placid earned its “Town of Murals” nickname because of the 49 murals that adorn commercial buildings. They tell the story and history of Lake Placid and its people.

It is also “the Caladium Capital of the World” because 70 – 80% of the world’s caladium (or the colorful Heart of Jesus plant) is grown here. The Caladium Festival each summer features a massive car and motorcycle show!

Lake Placid’s other attractions include 27 freshwater lakes, Toby’s Clown School, and the Saturday Morning Market. Catch it on the second Saturday of each month from October through March.

The town is not without its festivals, either. Catch the annual Grape Stomp at Henscratch Farms Vineyard & Winery in August. And in February, you can attend the Arts & Crafts Country Fair!

Where To Stay in Lake Placid : Lake View Cottage: Check Rates on VRBO

The sun sets over the still waters of Lake Placid, Florida.

Known as “The Historic Town at the End of the Road,” you’ll dead-end into St. Marks at the end of Woodville Highway, or State Road 363. One of the cutest small towns in Florida, St. Marks is one of the oldest settlements in North America and is believed to be the third oldest in the new world.

With a population of less than 300, its historical significance in Florida remains unparalleled. Just 20 miles south of Tallahassee, St. Marks was one of the most important early ports in Florida.

While it is small, St. Marks makes up for its size with a bounty of natural attractions. Visit the archeological displays at San Marcos de Apalache Historic Park. Walk the salt marshes at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuse and take a selfie in front of the St. Marks Lighthouse!

Wakulla Springs with its wonderful swimming holes is right down the road. You can charter a fishing boat with a crew or on your own at Shields Marina!

Where To Stay in St. Marks : Waterfront Home: Check Rates on VRBO

Dusk captures the magnificent colors of the grass surrounding the lighthouse at St. Marks, one of the cutest small towns in Florida.


The gateway to Florida’s Nature Coast, Steinhatchee remains one of the most charming fishing towns in Florida. With only 1,000 residents, Steinhatchee provides the perfect backdrop for your laid-back beach vacation.

The atmosphere in Steinhatchee is warmed by quaint landscapes of Victorian homes. Towering live oaks provide shade with Spanish moss draped over their branches.

Nature lovers will appreciate miles and miles of quiet, unspoiled country roads. You can also find miles of white sand beaches. With no noisy crowded beach resorts, the shoreline remains unspoiled and cozy.

Surrounded by gardens and lush foot trails, Steinhatchee is often referred to as “Florida’s Best Kept Secret.” Shhh, we won’t tell if you don’t!

Where To Stay in Steinhatchee : Romantic Angels Attic: Check Rates on VRBO

The sun sets over the shores of Steinhatchee, Florida.

Downtown Dunedin Florida

  • 11 Must-Visit Small Towns in Florida

Who doesn't dream of a Florida escape or a vacation? The Sunshine State is a worldwide destination; even Floridians enjoy vacationing in its small towns. Under the same sunny vibes and along the same coastal stretches of sugary sands, these small towns speak volumes to families, couples, and friends on a road trip looking to bond over unique experiences and nature.

Just look at Everglades City, immersed in wilderness, or the humble fishing village of Cedar Key, or Rosemary Beach, just off of Scenic Highway 30A. We're talking brick-paved streets, trolley rides, and lighthouses galore, and then off to the sunset on a cruise you go! Pastel cottages, welcoming inns, cute cafes—it doesn't get more quaint, personal, and yet exciting than these must-visit towns in Florida!

Anna Maria Island

Aerial view of Anna Maria Island

The barrier island between the Gulf of Mexico and mainland Florida is a must-visit for every taste and state of mind, in any season. Whether you've been dreaming of a romantic escape or wiping your city slate clean, it just doesn't get better than here, with no high-rises, obstructed views, or construction noises. With a name that rolls off your tongue like honey, the little island town, a slice of heaven indeed, emanates peaceful vibes of relaxation upon approach. Anna Maria boasts seven pristine miles of white-sanded beaches to dive straight into waters or bury your toes into the soft, loungeable sands and let the worries go at the views!

Beach goers enjoying the sun on the beach in Anna Maria Island

The laidback downtown area, where you can truly relax, offers a step back into the Old Florida feel, with a quaint scene of antique stores and art galleries in between your finger-licking obsessions. From seafood delicacies to the wooden City Pier for a stroll into the sunset circa 1911, you must take the free trolley tour around town. Now that you've covered the basics, you can enjoy kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, or simple beachy pleasures while spotting bottlenose dolphins. There is also great fishing, and bird lovers rejoice, having found their personal paradise on Anna Maria Island, a bird sanctuary!


Aerial view of Apalachicola, Florida.

Ah, this lovely town that is so much fun to say is a definitive item on your Florida bucket list! Right on Apalachicola Bay in the Gulf of Mexico, the idyllic "Old Florida" destination awaits with the moniker of the oyster capital of the world and one of the best towns in the US to enjoy fresh seafood! Oh, and there is no better time to experience it all and then some than the annual, most-popular Florida Seafood Festival! Truly, a big name around the coast in fishing culture, and with bottomless maritime and oyster fishing, you will be happy discovering it for days!

Street view of the Dixie Theater in Apalachicola, Florida

But then again, come at your convenience for strolls through the Apalachicola Historic District, with its over 900 buildings—many dating nearly two centuries back! The sun and outdoors prevail here, with acres of national and state forests, so skip into Apalachicola National Forest and Tate's Hell State Forest, or take a trip to St. George’s Island for some big game fish while the little ones paddle in its protected shallow bays! The beautiful beach town with its own lovely waters running warm and clear offers a crowdless atmosphere to indulge in your favorite way!

Captiva Island

Beach houses in Captiva, Florida

The town right off the mainland in the Gulf of Mexico is the ultimate destination for all types of outdoor lovers on a remote escape you've been dreaming of! Captiva captivates with a peaceful, beautiful island setting where all you want to do is bike through town with no traffic lights when not beachcombing for those marvelous shells. But then again, there's always fishing, sailing, and hiking to explore the outdoors in your favorite way with only those who matter! With its northernmost two-mile portion housing the South Seas Island Resort, you can stay here in luxury by the 2.5 miles of beach or come for the calendar-full of family-friendly events!

Explore the rest of the island on a bike ride with photo-worthy ops around each corner of the pastel-colored buildings, like the Bubble Room, a multi-themed restaurant and a definitive must-try at dinner! You can, no, you should take the bridge over Sanibel, which is no less captivating than its sister island on Florida's southwest coast and offers more biking, sailing, birding, and a variety of water activities. Its most varied tropical topography is characterized by giant cacti, bougainvillea vines, and the most stunning sunsets of your life!

 An American flag on a street in historic downtown Cedar Key, Florida

When it doesn't get smaller than Cedar Key , you know you've hit the jackpot for a second-to-none escape. The charming town "on stilts" suspended over the Gulf of Mexico, like ladies snatching up their skirts in fear of getting wet, is renowned for clamming. A must-visit town with just over 700 locals, it offers enough sights and experiences for a vacation and a do-over! There is no better clam chowder than there, where the people are warm like the climate and the town's history runs deep. The humble fishing village with multilevel houses of mom-and-pop stores encourages you to savor each succulent moment of the slow-paced lifestyle, like at an on-the-water restaurant!

Tiki Bar Behind Low Key Hideaway located in Cedar Key is open for business

A low-key hideaway of the state in the Gulf of Mexico, its swampy region is fun on a boat tour, while the sunsets are irreplicable, especially after a hike through the waterfront Waccasassa Bay Preserve State Park to come out for views! From the cutest annual rubber duck race in the fall to the popular RV park for a budget holiday stay, Cedar Key is a good, old-fashioned destination. You can get back to the town basics on a paddle around Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge and explore artifacts depicting the area's history as a busy port at Cedar Key Museum State Park.

The scenic coastal town of Dunedin, Florida.

Dunedin , one of the state's oldest towns, is a remarkable example of Old Florida. Together with its distinctive beaches and Scottish roots, founded by two Scotsmen in 1899, the mix lends itself to a unique local spirit with one-of-a-kind experiences, like its many Scottish festivities. The annual carnivals throughout the year greet you with an alive and kicking-it-up vibe that pulls you right in! Give into the relaxed feel and all your urges to shake off days behind a work desk during the fun Dunedin Highland Games in April.

Trolley driving through main St. in Dunedin, Florida

Just an hour from Tampa, the charming downtown core is a walkable, significant attraction on its own, with popular craft breweries just a hop away from the four-mile-long Honeymoon Island beachfront. Among the two prominent state parks here, Honeymoon Island State Park offers gorgeous beaches and pine forests, as well as wildlife like owls, osprey, and woodpeckers. The 38-mile-long trail is great to take a bite out of on a morning stroll or cover the whole distance on a paddle ride. You can get back to lounging on the beach or book a fine dining experience in Tampa Bay, while the butterfly garden is another popular attraction.

Everglades City

Airboat rides along the Barron River, Everglades City

A small town that lives and breathes nature—the talk of the town—and where the outdoors is a year-round celebration? No matter how you put it, Everglades City fits the caricature well, within the iconic wilderness but with a few surprises up its sleeve! While your mind scrounges up a vast, swampy wetland—picturesque nonenthels—upon mention, it is only a scratch in the bottomless barrel of the miles and miles of the diverse surrounding ecosystem, a wild “River of Grass." Offering a civilized sprinkle of culture, or a hearty dose of it, when you compare it to the very real alligator land and other critters, Everglades City is a must-visit!

Home to nature-loving residents who once moved here to get inspired every day, you can meet them at the cool local Island Cafe, not to mention the lodges, hotels, and clubs welcoming you to stay! Located at one end of the Wilderness Waterway, Everglades City is the gateway to the 10,000 Islands. Offering endless wet acres of marshes and mangrove forests, you can navigate along the open waters of the bay—one of the state's best places for canoeing or kayaking. With a variety of guided tours available, like airboats, through the old-growth forests, and swamp buggy rides, you can always take off on your own cycling excursion, a birdwatching trail, or enjoy relaxing fishing.

The charming town of Islamorada, Florida.

Abounding in family attractions, this must-visit town is home to the Theatre of the Sea with dolphin shows, the Alligator Reef Lighthouse, and shipwrecks at Indian Key Historic State Park, which you can explore in a kayak! Just 90 minutes south of Miami, the appropriately dubbed “Village of Island” spreads across six Florida Keys. Home to fabulous beaches, you can sunbathe, swim, and stroll, or take the gateway into Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park. Islamorada is a dream to explore for adventurous couples, water sports enthusiasts, and fishermen, with its several annual fishing tournaments, sail fishing, and bone fishing.

The Florida Keys History and Discovery Center is a must-visit to get your hands on shipwrecks, Indigenous people, and pirates, which you can impersonate on a diving excursion for treasures and gorgeous sea creatures! It is also a favorite getaway to get your swag on with your little pirates! Whether you are a tropical drink kind of gal, a beer-loving lad, or love yourself some good ol' rum, the avid drinking culture here pulls you right in and mixes fabulously with the seafood scene! Florida Keys Brewing offers tours over tasting some of the limited releases and seasonal beers! With many ways to experience gorgeous sunsets, you can set sail on a private cruise into aqua blue, cross the Instagrammable bridges, at the water restaurant, or from the piers!

Downtown Mount Dora in Florida

Mount Dora , a charming town of about 16,000, feels idyllic, prepped with lakes and live oaks along the streets that offer an authentic and refreshing taste of Central Florida. Nestled on Lake Dora, you will find three freshwater lighthouses, while the well-kept town also features a century-old historic village. The downtown district, big on old-school charm, is both lively and quaint, thanks to the historic architecture and incredible restaurants throughout.

Aerial view of Mount Dora, Florida

There is always a reason to visit Mount Dora's antique shops, eateries, and annual festivals, like the Mount Dora Arts Festival, a perennial favorite, on the first weekend of February with nearly 200,000 other out-of-towners! You can prowl through art galleries, modern furniture and decor for home, and local history museums here, where southern charm blends with lakeside vibes, with another, bigger Lake Eustis just northwest!

Rosemary Beach

Aerial view of Rosemary Beach, Florida

This beachside cottage town with wide-open porches could not get any more charming but exciting, sure, with its incredible "French Quarter" feel downtown! Emanating real vacation feels, the Town Center is as much a shopping destination as a foodie paradise, with international restaurants and lively boardwalk promenades! You can meander the secret alleyways between the carriage houses, so foreign to city minds, with a feel of mysticism in the air that gets you daydreaming of faraway lands. But in all seriousness, Rosemary Beach, a Dutch village lookalike, is a close-knit community of good-ol American spirit who love lounging at the beach, socializing at local galleries, and dining al fresco.

The standout village with European vibes and beautiful architecture next to the ocean offers cottages and hotels with nearby remarkable landmarks along the Scenic Highway 30A. There is the must-visit Wesley House at Eden Gardens and Topsail State Park for kayaking tours, while South Walton Beach is a quick hop away. The aesthetic and young settlement, founded in 1995, makes you feel just as virile after a peaceful beach vacation and a stay at the stunning Pearl Hotel! You can unwind at the local pace among fellow shopaholics through the boutiques, the 30A Farmers Market, or at a delightful spa—and don't be surprised if you get an open-porch invitation!

People walking around in downtown Seaside, Florida

The town with the name emanating peaceful vibes is a little magnet with something to keep everyone a happy sailor! One of the best small beach towns in the Gulf of Mexico, Seaside is a sight to see, with pastel-colored houses lining the shore and beautifully decorated porches on a winding stroll along the backstreets! A real 20th century beauty, it boasts a new urbanist architectural design with a ton of beach access spots and beautiful outdoor spaces like Cerulean Park right next to the WaterColor Trail System and a stroll to Viridian Park!

The sugar white sand beach, never overcrowded, is a stone's throw away from the pedestrian-friendly streets downtown—a star in The Truman Show! The town in northwest Florida, named the prettiest by Architectural Digest, is pure joy to wander around quaint cafes, like the most popular Great Southern Cafe, food vendors in airstreams, and bikable lanes to explore outward! Seaside imprints in your memory as a quaint New England town or an exotic European destination, white picket fences included! Stark against the waters, the resort town offers many b&bs and rentable places to call home, thanks to its many part-time residents.

Stuart, Florida: Aerial view of Bathtub Reef Beach, via Noah Densmore / Shutterstock.com

Stuart , a must-visit town along Florida’s Atlantic Coast, is the “Sailfish Capital of the World,” which speaks volumes to maritime fans. With opportunities for water sports, fishing, and boat tours along Florida’s Treasure Coast, Stuart also appeals to families seeking timeless small-town charm. Perfect for a weekend escape, you can spend a Saturday morning at the Stuart Green Market, a live event every Sunday morning at City Hall, and make a stop for heritage at the Road to Victory Military Museum and another one at the Stuart Heritage Museum.

With family pursuits for every taste along the boardwalk following the St. Lucie River, notable hotspots include an antique car collection at the Elliott Museum. Just a hop to the historical downtown with dining and shopping, you can return for a romantic sunset stroll. Check out or check into the colorful Old Colorado Inn, while the House of Refuge at Gilbert’s Bar is an old haven for shipwrecked sailors in the 1900s. From trails, state parks, and preserves to the Indian River Lagoon, there are also butterfly gardens and sea turtle nesting areas, so the town is sure to please the active and put the little wanderers in awe!

In wrapping up our tour of Florida's small-town treasures, we're reminded that true vacation magic is found in the unexpected—a quiet fishing pier at dawn, a hidden cafe serving the freshest catch, or a cozy inn nestled among pastel cottages. Everglades City, Cedar Key, Rosemary Beach and others offer not just a retreat from the hustle of daily life but an invitation to a different rhythm altogether.

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Iconic Florida City Among The 50 Best Places To Travel In 2024

Posted: November 10, 2023 | Last updated: November 10, 2023

We're currently in the last stretch of 2023, and everyone is already thinking about what trips to take next year. Travelers are almost spoiled for choice between high-profile metropolitan cities, charming small towns , and places that tourists often overlook.

If you're itching for a special vacation next year, Travel Lemming unveiled its annual list of the best places to travel in 2024. Writers noticed their collection is "dominated by remote destinations and hidden local gems perfect for longer trips." They also believe travelers should "slow down" on their trips by either extending the time or enjoying every little moment.

The roundup includes all sorts of iconic and under-the-radar locations from across the globe, including destinations in Australia, Colombia, Canada, Japan, France, Thailand, Italy, and much more. Several U.S. cities and towns appeared on the list, including an iconic city in Florida: Jacksonville !  Writers had something to say about this esteemed location:

“Skip the over-crowded Florida hot spots and head to Jacksonville, an underrated destination. It’s the United States’ biggest city by area but manages to maintain an authentic, local appeal.”

If you want to add more stellar travel spots to your bucket list, visit Travel Lemming ’s website for the full roundup . 

Iconic Florida City Among The 50 Best Places To Travel In 2024

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A warning and 6 advisories in effect for 4 regions in the area

County-by-county: central florida holiday lights, festivals to get in the spirit this season, holiday markets, drive-through displays and more.

Brenda Argueta , Digital Journalist

Jacob Langston , Digital Journalist

ORLANDO, Fla. – It’s that time of year again!

The time to take in the cool nights and enjoy holiday lights.

There are so many options this holiday season, from markets to festivals to drive-through displays.

If you have any events you’d like added to the list, please send information to [email protected] .


Don't miss out! Keep up with Central Florida events, festivals and more by signing up for our Central Florida Happenings newsletter.

Brevard County

Light Up Rockledge and Festival of Trees

  • When: Dec. 2 at 4 p.m.
  • Where: Rockledge Civic Hub
  • What: Free entry, just bring a canned item. Enjoy a Christmas tree stroll, food trucks/vendors, gift vendors, a Christmas tree silent auction, live holiday music and a reading of “The Night Before Christmas.” Click here for more info .

Light Up Viera Holiday Parade

  • When: Dec. 2 at 6 p.m.
  • Where: Viera High School
  • What: This wonderful annual community event begins with a fireworks display at 6 p.m. The parade begins immediately following the fireworks. Click here for more.

Cocoa Village Holiday Boat Parade

  • When: Dec. 8 at 6 p.m.
  • Where: Cocoa Riverfront Park
  • What: Join Cocoa Village Main Street for the largest charitable holiday boat parade on the Space Coast! All proceeds will benefit the Sharing Center of Central Brevard. Click here for more info.

10th Annual Edgewood Holiday Art & Craft Fair and Food Truck Event

  • When: Dec. 9 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
  • Where: Edgewood Jr/Sr High School
  • What: Enjoy holiday shopping from unique crafters, artists, and vendors. This event fundraises for Edgewood Project Graduation Class of 2024. Click here for more.

Holidays in Space 2023

  • When: Dec. 15-30
  • Where: Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex
  • What: You can watch a nightly projected show on the massive exterior of Gateway: The Deep Space Launch Complex that will take you on a journey with Starflake as she travels through the stars, Earth and beyond.

Flagler County

Palm Coast Tree Lighting Ceremony

  • When: Nov. 25 at 6 p.m.
  • Where: Town Center
  • What: Join Santa Claus, the Palm Coast City Council and the Rotary Club of Flagler County in the countdown to the lighting of a beautiful tree. Santa will arrive on a Palm Coast Fire Engine.

Fantasy Lights Festival

  • When: Nov. 25 - Dec. 30
  • Where: Fantasy Lights Festival
  • What: Every night will feature our 55 animated light displays, and music throughout the park. Santa’s Village has several elf houses for the kids to explore, Santa’s Merry TrainRide nightly (weather permitting) and Santa will be there every Sunday night before Christmas Eve and snow on weekends! On certain nights, live musical performances will be held on the stage. Click here for more.

Lake County

Clermont’s Hometown Holidays

  • When: Nov. 11 from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m.
  • Where: Downtown Clermont
  • What: Jump aboard a complimentary train journey, capture memorable moments with Santa Claus, encounter the Grinch, enjoy a delightful pony ride, savor the harmonious tunes of holiday carolers and experience a diverse array of live entertainment. Click here for details.

36th Annual Light-Up Eustis

  • When: Nov. 24 from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.
  • Where: Ferran Park
  • What: Watch the ceremonial tree lighting and enjoy food and craft vendors in the park, pictures with Santa and more! Click here for details.

Light Up Mount Dora

  • When: Nov. 25 from 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.
  • Where: Elizabeth Evans Park
  • What: Holiday lights, 40-foot Christmas tree, musical performances, a holiday aerial show and fireworks. And of course, SANTA! Click here for more.

Leesburg Christmas Festival and the 56th annual Leesburg Christmas Parade

  • When: Saturday, Dec. 2; festival starts at 1 p.m., Parade starts at 6 p.m.
  • Where: Towne Square and Main Street
  • What: The festival features ice skating, live music, vendors, visits from the Grinch and Santa and more. The parade will have dance and music groups, businesses and Santa Claus.

Lady Lake Annual Holiday Parade “Christmas in Space”

  • When: Dec. 2 at 10 a.m.
  • Where: Old Dixie Highway between Guava Street and Griffin View Drive
  • What: Classic cars, twirlers, clowns, candy, marching bands, floats and Santa and Mrs. Claus on their intergalactic sleigh.

Light Up Lady Lake

  • When: Dec. 8 at 6:15 p.m.
  • Where: Log Cabin Park
  • What: Step into a winter wonderland as we light up Lady Lake with thousands of lights. Enjoy carols by the Villages Elementary of Lady Lake and join Santa as he counts down to the grand lighting. Click here for more.

Snow in the Park

  • When: Dec. 9 from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.
  • Where: Elizabeth Evans Park in Mount Dora
  • What: Snow sledding, music, food and activities. Bring a toy donation to benefit the Community Toy Drive and nonperishable foods to benefit Lake Cares Food Pantry.

Marion County

Light Up Ocala

  • When: Nov. 18 from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.
  • Where: Downtown Square
  • What: Kick off the holidays with live entertainment, festive sounds, a holiday parade and a kids zone. The lighting up of downtown Ocala will happen at 6:30 p.m. Click here for more.

The Ocala Christmas Light Spectacular

  • When: Nov. 24-Dec. 30
  • Where: 11851 Southwest 16th Avenue
  • What: Drive through a 1.8-mile route of dazzling lights “designed to bring your favorite Christmas tales to life.” There will also be a skating rink, mini train rides, Santa’s Special Land and other walk-through areas to feel the joy of the season. Click here for tickets.

Winter Wonderland at World Equestrian Center

  • When: Nov. 24-Dec. 23
  • Where: World Equestrian Center – Ocala
  • What: The halls of the WEC Grand Plaza will be decked with spectacular show-stopping features for the season, including a walk-through Christmas tree, lighted horse-drawn carriage and plenty of splendid holiday décor. Meet the real Santa Claus at this family-friendly event and enjoy festive entertainment on the weekends, including a full rotation of singers, face painters, balloon artists and cheery caricaturists. Click here for more.

Orange County

Dazzling Nights

  • When: Nov. 24 - Jan. 6, 2024
  • Where: Leu Gardens
  • What: Moroccan lanterns hanging from trees, interactive lights, laser lights, snow and more at this festive event. You do have to purchase tickets for a specific time and date and tickets are not available at the door. For more information, click here.

Orlando Tree Lighting Celebration

  • When: Dec. 1
  • Where: Lake Eola Park
  • What: The event will include holiday performances at the Walt Disney Amphitheater, food trucks and a holiday market on International Plaza within Lake Eola Park. Returning this year at Lake Eola is the downtown Merry Market, available each weekend through Dec. 23. Enjoy snowfall in Florida, shop local from over 30 vendors and be sure to stop by for a visit with Santa! Click here for more.

Apopka Tree Lighting

  • When: Dec. 1 from 6-8 p.m.
  • Where: Kit Land Nelson Park
  • What: Enjoy holiday music, photos with Santa, kids activities and more at the annual tree lighting event in Apopka. To learn more, click here.

Holidays in Winter Garden

  • When: Dec. 1-2
  • Where: Historic Downtown
  • What: Light Winter Garden, Christmas Parade and Holiday Market will take over downtown during the first weekend of December. Click here for times and details of the events.

Winter Park Ye Olde Hometown Christmas Parade

  • When: Dec. 2 from 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.
  • Where: Park Avenue
  • What: The event has been held each December for more than 65 years, making it the oldest continuous holiday parade in Central Florida. Over 80 organizations that participate, including marching bands, local police and fire departments, scouting groups, local dignitaries and, of course, Santa Claus. Click here for more.

Maitland Season of Light

  • When: Dec. 2 from 5-8:30 p.m.
  • Where: Lake Lily Park
  • What: Bring the family for snow sledding, carnival games, fireworks, vendors, live music, a tree lighting ceremony and a visit from Santa. Admission is free. For event information, click here .

College Park Holiday on the Drive

  • When: Dec. 7 at 5 p.m.
  • Where: College Park Main Street, Along Edgewater Drive
  • What: The College Park Main Street District invites families and friends to Holiday on the Drive parade featuring live music, Santa Claus in Albert Park and other holiday festivities. Click here for more.

Oh, What Fun! Holiday Festival

  • When: Dec. 7-23
  • Where: Lake Nona Town Center
  • What: Holiday market, photo-ops, snow (yes, in Florida), Santa’s Cottage, a tree trail and more . Click here for more.

Osceola County

Holiday Nights at Island H2O

  • When: Nov. 15-Dec. 31
  • Where: Island H20 Water Park
  • What: Celebrate the season island-style and experience a dazzling immersive spectacle with tons of photo moments, kids activities, festive shows and holiday eats! Activities are included in the price of admission. Click here for tickets.

Now Snowing

  • When: Nov. 26 - Dec. 31
  • Where: Celebration Town Center
  • What: This month-long event features strolling Charles Dickens style carolers, photos with Santa, horse drawn carriage rides, train rides, ice skating and nightly snowfall at 6, 7, 8 and 9 p.m. Admission is free and you can learn more by clicking here.

St. Cloud Holiday Festival

  • When: Dec. 2 & 3 from 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.
  • Where: Downtown St. Cloud
  • What: The festival features over 100 crafters, carnival-type fare, entertainment, a classic car show and a kids’ holiday fun zone with Santa. Click here for more information.

Polk County

43nd Annual Lakeland Christmas Parade

  • When: Dec. 7 at 7 p.m.
  • Where: Downtown Lakeland
  • What: The Junior League of Greater Lakeland and the City of Lakeland will host the 42nd annual Lakeland Christmas Parade. A fireworks display over Lake Mirror will kick off the festivities at 7 pm. For more information, click here.

Seminole County

Oviedo’s Tree Lighting Celebration

  • When: Nov. 30 from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.
  • Where: Center Lake Park
  • What: Tree lighting ceremony, free photos with Santa, food trucks and holiday activities for the children.

Central Florida Zoo Asian Lantern Festival

  • When: Select dates November through January
  • Where: Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens
  • What: The Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens will transform at night into the Asian Lantern Festival: Into the Wild! Tickets must be purchased online. Limited tickets are available per night. Tickets must be purchased for specific entry times: 6:00 p.m., 7:00 p.m., or 8:00 p.m. Click here to learn more.

Holiday in the Park

  • When: Dec. 1 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
  • Where: Central Park at Lake Mary City Hall
  • What: Ice skating, over one million holiday lights, food trucks and light shows. Click here for more.

Wekiva Island Christmas Tree Forest and Snow Flurries

  • When: Dec. 1 - Dec. 31, 7-11 p.m.
  • Where: Wekiva Island, located at 1014 Miami Springs Drive, Longwood
  • What: Enjoy thousands of lights and the 30 foot tall Christmas Tree surrounded by dozens of other decorated Christmas Trees while snow flurries fall from the sky. For more information, including full schedule, click here.

Light Up the Holidays

  • When: Dec. 2 from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.
  • Where: Cranes Roost Park, Altamonte Springs
  • What: Watch as the park comes alive with spectacular holiday displays featuring 200,000 lights and a 60-foot tree. There will be a fireworks show, live music, photos with Santa and Mrs. Claus and holiday light displays. Click here for more.

Celebrate the Season

  • When: Dec. 8 from 6-9 p.m.
  • Where: Reiter Park located at 311 West Warren Ave in Longwood
  • What: This holiday street party will feature an array of activities including photo opportunities with Santa, music by DJ Dennis, performances by One School of the Arts, an inflatable snow maze, giant fun slides, a petting zoo, a trackless train, 10+ food trucks and a major laser light show throughout the event. To learn more, visit here.

Sumter County

Lake Sumter Landing Tree Lighting Festival

  • When: Nov. 25 from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.
  • Where: Lake Sumter Landing
  • What: Live music, food vendors and lighting ceremony with Santa. Click here for the full lineup.

Brownwood Tree Lighting Festival

  • When: Dec. 1 from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.
  • Where: Brownwood Paddock Town Square
  • What: Live music, food vendors and lighting ceremony with Santa. Click here for the lineup.

Volusia County

Magic of Lights

  • When: Nov. 17 - Dec. 31
  • Where: Daytona International Speedway
  • What: The Magic of Lights is a holiday lights drive-through experience and will be open from 6-10 p.m. daily. It includes a drive through the state-of-the-art motorsports facility and ends in the midway display area outside of the facility. There is a cost for this event and ticket prices can be found here.

Light Up DeLand

  • Where: Volusia County Historic Courthouse
  • What: There will be carriage rides, shopping, seasonal food and drinks, a skating rink, live entertainment, Santa’s Workshop, and Santa will even be skydiving in. Click here for more.

Light Up Orange City

  • When: Dec. 1 from 5 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
  • Where: Block of City Hall
  • What: Enjoy the tree lighting, food trucks, kid zone, train ride, Santa photos, and a holiday movie. The city will provide free hot cocoa and cookies. Click here for more.

North Pole Drive-Thru in South Daytona

  • When: Dec. 1 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
  • Where: Reed Canal Park
  • What: Drive through the North Pole at Reed Canal Park and see Santa. Treats will be given along the way! Enter at 919 Reed Canal Road. Click here for more.

Christmas in the Park in Port Orange

  • When: Dec. 2 from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.
  • Where: Kenneth Parker Amphitheater
  • What: Come to City Center Park to celebrate the holidays with the official tree lighting ceremony, a performance by the Navy Jazz Band, a live choir performing classic Christmas tunes, meet and greet with Santa, hayrides and MORE! Click here for info.

Tree Lighting Ceremony in Daytona Beach Shores

  • When: Dec. 3 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
  • Where: Veterans Park
  • What: Come and enjoy The Florida Chamber Brass Band, DJ Dave and Santa Claus! Light refreshments will be served. Click here for more.

Orange City Christmas Parade

  • When: Dec. 9 at 5 p.m.
  • Where: Volusia Avenue
  • What: Volusia Avenue will be closed from Wisconsin Avenue, south to Rhode Island Avenue, starting at 4 p.m.. Roads will reopen at 6:30 p.m.

Check out the Florida Foodie podcast. You can find every episode in the media player below:

Copyright 2023 by WKMG ClickOrlando - All rights reserved.


Holiday cheer: festival of trees returns to orlando museum of art.

The annual Festival of Trees is making its return to the Orlando Museum of Art, starting this weekend.

About the Authors:

Brenda argueta.

Brenda Argueta is a digital journalist who joined ClickOrlando.com in March 2021. She graduated from UCF and returned to Central Florida after working in Colorado.

Jacob Langston

Jacob joined ClickOrlando.com in 2022. He spent 19 years at the Orlando Sentinel, mostly as a photojournalist and video journalist, before joining Spectrum News 13 as a web editor and digital journalist in 2021.

7 Christmas Towns In Florida That Will Fill Your Heart With Holiday Cheer

best cities to visit in central florida

Megan Todaro

Megan Todaro was born and raised in Miami, Florida, and still calls The Sunshine State home today. While saving lives and putting out fires during the day, Megan is also passionate about writing and travel, especially when it comes to sharing her knowledge of her home state. A few of Megan's favorites include: favorite Florida vacation destination - New Smyrna Beach. Favorite Florida restaurant - Eastside Pizza in Miami. Favorite Florida hidden gem - Shibuya Sushi Art. Favorite Florida OnlyInYourState article: Take A Terrifying Florida Road Trip That Will Surely Haunt Your Dreams.

More by this Author

The holidays are my favorite time of year, and Florida sure knows how to light up the holiday season with a dazzling display of twinkle lights, beloved traditions, and enchantment! The festive spirit in Florida lasts from November through the New Year, which means you have plenty of time to get in on the magic. Here in Florida, we’ve got some Christmas towns that are so incredible that you’d think they came straight out of a storybook or a feel-good holiday movie. These 7 Christmas towns in Florida go all-in with their celebrations, featuring fantastic festivals with horse-drawn carriages, real-life reindeer, and city-wide parades. As far as Christmas events in Florida go, each city and town offers something unique to visitors. So, are you ready to plan for your holiday state exploration?

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What do you think about our list of things to do for Christmas in Florida? Have you been to any of these towns or cities to celebrate the holidays? Sound off in the comments section! Also, if you’re looking for unique places to go for Christmas and haven’t yet booked your accommodations, then we have you covered. Check out all the best vacation rentals in Florida through VRBO . Plus, check out our unique holiday gift guide , featuring the best gift ideas for the traveler in your life!

OnlyInYourState may earn compensation through affiliate links in this article. As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases.

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Explore Florida

Florida ranks high in 2024 U.S. News & World Report best cities to retire. Here's the list

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Looking for a place to retire? Florida is waiting for you.

In the U.S. News & World Report's " 2024 Best Places to Retire in the U.S. " list, 10 of the top 30 ranked cities are in the Sunshine State.

The top place to retire in Florida? Daytona Beach, which came in at No. 8 out of the 150 metropolitan cities that made the list.

Pennsylvania dominated the list for retirees this year, with Harrisburg, Reading, Lancaster, Scranton and Allentown taking the first five spots. New York City was No. 7, then back to Pennsylvania with York at No. 7 and Pittsburgh at No. 10. No. 9 was Youngstown, Ohio. That's something of an upset over last year when there were four Florida cities in the top ten , but rising housing costs may have cost us some points.

Here are the Florida cities that U.S. News & World Report named as the best places to retire in 2024.

No. 8: Daytona Beach

Daytona Beach was the top Florida city this year, although it dropped from last year's No. 7 spot . The World's Most Famous Beach was praised for its weather, its fishing and golf, beach driving, the NASCAR connection, and the "museums, theaters, performing arts centers, antique markets, restaurants, malls and colleges that combine to make it one of Florida's most well-rounded metro areas."

The Report also liked the easy access to surrounding towns and communities that allow residents "a range of living choices at various prices," and it points out that housing costs in Daytona Beach ($375,917 in 2022) are slightly lower than the national average ($383,883 in the same period). Daytona Beach also is No. 49 on the U.S. News & World Report's "Best Places to Live" list.

  • Overall Score: 7.0
  • Housing Affordability: 6.7
  • Health Care: 5.5

No. 12: Tampa

Tampa was No. 4 last year, but the "increasingly competitive" housing market brought it down to No. 12. The Report liked the combination of the "laid-back beach lifestyle" and the things found in a large metropolitan area such as professional sports teams, museums, a "hip social scene," a thriving Hispanic community and more.

U.S. News and World Report picked Tampa as No. 24 in this year's "Best Places to Live" list.

  • Overall Score: 6.9
  • Housing Affordability: 6.2
  • Health Care: 5.6

No. 18: Sarasota

In Sarasota , the Report loves the unique charm of the city with its "vibrant arts scene, beachy atmosphere and burgeoning food culture." They also liked the opera house, the rooftop bars, and the availability of both resorts and fine dining and "a more intimate, seaside ambience," which may be why they ranked the city as No. 5 in the "Best Places to Live" list.

Rising housing prices brought it down in the rankings from last year's No. 11 spot , though, with average rental prices slightly higher even than nearby Tampa and St. Petersburg. Average housing costs in Sarasota were $387,630 in 2020, compared to the national average of $315,743, the report said.

  • Housing Affordability: 5.8

Best place to live: Naples is 6th, according to U.S. News & World Report. Sarasota is 5th.

No. 22: Lakeland

The report likes Lakeland 's natural beauty, affordability, convenience to Florida attractions, and its balance between small-town living and metro life.

"The relatively small metro area lends itself to a small-town feel, where neighbors know one another and people often run into friends while out shopping or dining," the report said. But this year's ranking is still lower than last year's, at No. 13.

  • Overall Score: 6.8
  • Housing Affordability: 7.0
  • Health Care: 5.7

No. 23: Melbourne

Down from No. 12 in 2022, Melbourne , "an easygoing metropolitan area with serious small-town appeal," ranks for the mix of people who come to the Space Coast, the bustling Eau Gallie Arts District, the historic downtown area and the many water-based activities available.

The report points out that housing costs are well under the national average — $217,400 in Melbourne in 2020, vs. the national average of $315,743 — but you'll pay more for necessities such as gas and groceries. Melbourne was ranked No. 15 in the report's "Best Places to Live."

  • Housing Affordability: 6.5
  • Health Care: 5.3

Why move to Florida? 14 Florida cities made list of best places to live in US

No. 24: Orlando

Whether it's the nightlife, the shopping, the sports, the beautiful residential areas, or (of course) the world-famous theme parks, the Report likes all the different aspects of Orlando . It's one of the few Florida cities on this list to move up the ranks this year, from No. 31 in 2022.

"When you get right down to it, every facet of Orlando combines to create one of Florida's most appealing areas for business, living and recreation," the report said.

  • Housing Affordability: 6.1

No. 26: Ocala

The Report praised the rolling hills and green pastures of Ocala , the "Horse Capital of the World," but also appreciated the "vibrant, historic downtown features Victorian-era homes framing a city square with an active food scene and nightlife." Down from No. 16 last year, Ocala ranked well for housing affordability.

  • Housing Affordability: 7.5

No. 28: Naples

Housing costs hurt many of the cities' rankings, but Naples is known for its premium property and preferred retirement destination for the "rich, powerful and cold-averse," the report said. Housing costs in Naples in 2022 were $823,196, twice the national average of $383,883 in the same time period, which may be why it's listed down from No. 6 in last year's list.

But the report also points to the sugary beaches, golf courses, fine dining, craft breweries and more, while pointing out issues with the lack of affordable homes and road-choking traffic. Despite that, Naples was No. 6 in the Report's "Best Places to Live" list.

  • Housing Affordability: 5.1
  • Health Care: 5.1

Snubbed! 7 Florida towns left off 2023 Best Places to Live list

No. 29: Jacksonville

Jacksonville was another rare Florida city that rose in the rankings, up from No. 35 in 2022. The report likes the wide range of "culturally and aesthetically diverse neighborhoods," the many restaurant, shop and entertainment options, the nature trails and waterways, and a rising art and music scene.

Jacksonville ranked No. 16 on the Report's "Best Places to Live" list.

  • Housing Affordability: 6.6
  • Health Care: 5.2

No. 30: Pensacola

Despite an average housing cost well below the national average and no obvious complaints, Pensacola saw the biggest drop in ranking, from No. 3 last year. But the report admires the "white sand beaches, breathtaking sunsets and emerald green waters: of the city, as well as the rich cultural heritage and multiculturism, the vibrant nightlife, the beautiful outdoors and the "flourishing arts scene."

  • Housing Affordability: 6.9
  • Health Care: 4.7

Pensacola living: Pensacola jumps 16 spots on U.S. News' Best Places to Live 2023-2024 list

Not ready to retire? Which Florida cities are Gen Z's young professionals flocking to?

What other Florida cities made the U.S. News & World Report's '2024 Best Places to Retire' list?

  • No. 49: Port St. Lucie
  • No. 57: Fort Myers
  • No. 63: Tallahassee
  • No. 82: Miami


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    Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens. For a garden experience with animals too, the Central Florida Zoo is open daily. Located in Sanford, this zoo has over 100 different species to see including giraffes, rhinos and crocodiles. Tickets cost $22 for adults and include both the zoo and the botanical gardens.


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