Orlando is renowned for its thrilling rollercoasters and sprawling theme parks, but there are plenty of other attractions which often get overlooked. It’s easy to hire a car as part of an Orlando holiday package and explore central Florida. There’s no shortage of fantastic places to spend the day, with golden beaches, leafy state parks and even NASA’s space headquarters within a short drive.
Here are some great day trips from Orlando for those looking for an unforgettable day away from Disney.
Daytona is around a 70 minute drive from Orlando and there’s even a shuttle bus for those without their own transport. This popular coastal town is livelier than some of central Florida’s other beach resorts. Each February, Daytona hosts the Daytona International Speedway – a decades-old Indy car race that draws thousands of people. As well as this famous race, Daytona hosts the Bike Week motorcycle rally and numerous golf and fishing tournaments.
There’s also plenty for adventurous types to do just off the coast of Daytona, with numerous naval vessels submerged just off shore. These make for intriguing wreck dives, teeming with colourful fish. There is no shortage of diving centres dotted along the seafront in Daytona and nearby New Smyrna Beach – another golden sand beach, which is generally quieter than Daytona Beach (pictured above).
Blue Springs Park
Just a 40 minute drive upstate from Orlando, Blue Springs Park is a collection of hot spring swimming areas and hiking trails tucked away in a quiet area of woodland; perfect for getting close to nature after a few days in the built-up theme parks. Thanks to its warm waters, Blue Springs is a designated Manatee refuge and home to an ever-growing population of West Indian Manatees.
The water is always warm (72 degrees to be precise) and you can relax by floating down the Santa Fe River. If you’d rather be on the water rather than in it, canoes and kayaks are available for hire ($15 or $10 for two hours respectively). Or if you’re feeling lazy, sit back and relax on a river boat tour. Our tip is to arrive early to get a parking spot, especially at the weekend.
Kennedy Space Centre
Less than an hour’s drive from Orlando is the home of space exploration – the Kennedy Space Centre. Guided tours of the facility are available, allowing visitors to visit NASA’s launch Headquarters, feel the pull of 4Gs in the G-Force simulator and walk beneath the imposing Saturn V rocket. The 90,000 square foot Space Shuttle Atlantis is also not to be missed.
Perhaps the most exciting of the attractions at the Kennedy Space Centre is the new Shuttle Launch Experience – an authentic simulation of being launched vertically into space! There are also several enthralling IMAX films to see including: “Magnificent Desolation: Walking on the Moon 3D,” – a fascinating depiction of life on the International Space Centre. Admission is $50 for adults, $40 for kids aged 3-11.
Florida’s west coast is lined with peaceful, white-sand beaches and relaxing seaside towns. Although slightly further away than the east coast, with drive times at around two hours it’s still a feasible day trip for those that set off early.
Indian Shores is a great option for families with young kids looking for a relaxing day at the beach. It’s also home to the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary – the largest bird hospital and sanctuary in the U.S. which is home to over 300 different sea birds.
Indian Shores is also home to a mini-golf course with a difference; the elaborate Smuggler Cove Adventure Golf. This imaginative golf course is home to live alligators which can be fed between holes – don’t worry, they are all safely out of reach! For a fun end to the day in Indian Shores backed by beautiful views, don’t miss the nightly sunset celebrations at Clearwater Beach Pier.
Wekiwa Springs State Park
This charming state park is just 20 minutes north of Orlando and offers mile upon mile of hiking trails. The park offers a glimpse of central Florida in a bygone age, with 7,000 acres of tranquil woodland to explore, not to mention soothing hot springs to relax in.
Two popular activities to indulge in at Wekiwa are canoeing and kayaking. The gentle Wekiwa River winds through the park, shaded by centuries-old oak trees. The park is also home to a veritable menagerie of animals – alligators, great blue herons, subtropical birds and white-tailed deer all call Wekiwa home.
About the author: Adam Evans blogs about travel destinations around the world for online travel company Globehunters.
Globehunters provide cheap flights to Orlando as well as accommodation, holidays and car hire.