You’ll be back home in time for dinner with these day trip ideas, all less than a two-hour drive from Orlando.
Some call it cabin fever; others prefer the term stir-crazy. However you define it, we all know the feeling—after days and weeks of performing predictable work duties, repetitive chores, and other daily responsibilities, nothing feels better than embarking on a journey to discover someplace new. On those days when a change of scenery is a must, fuel up the car and head to one of these enchanting, unique points of interest across Florida, each of which is no more than a two-hour drive from the heart of Orlando.
Ocala National Forest
Slap on some sunscreen, pack your bag full of snacks, and hit the trails of Ocala National Forest, 66 miles of designated Florida National Scenic Trail that winds through diverse environments including longleaf pine, sand pine, and hardwood. This peaceful corner of the earth located less than 90 minutes north of Orlando isn’t just a hiker’s paradise, though—swimmers and boaters alike gather at Juniper Springs, a natural spring bubbling up within this north central Florida subtropical forest. Paddle a kayak from the spring through the Juniper Run waterway, and keep your eyes peeled for a glimpse of the shiny, snake-like American eel, the only species of eel found in North America’s fresh waters.
Whether it’s a peaceful beach visit, a bustling day of shopping and dining, or a historical adventure you seek, St. Augustine delivers. Only 90 minutes from Orlando, the Ancient City is home to 42 miles of relatively underpopulated shoreline where sometimes, the only sound you’ll hear is the white quartz sand squeaking underneath your feet. Historic Downtown St. Augustine offers excitement for history buffs, foodies, and shopping aficionados alike: Opt for a guided tour of the two dozen historical sites that dot these 400-year-old cobblestone streets (or a ghost tour if you dare,) visit the many apparel and gift shops that line St. George Street, and top off your visit with locally sourced seafood and hand-crafted cocktails at The Floridian.
Bok Tower Gardens
You only need to drive about 90 minutes south from Orlando to reach the majestic beauty of Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales. When you arrive, plan to spend about 3-4 hours on the grounds to experience all that this nearly century-old site has to offer, including Olmsted Gardens, acres of lushly landscaped garden complete with dazzling displays of magnolias, azaleas, and camellias, and The Singing Tower, where carillon bell concerts are held each day at 1 and 3 p.m. Make sure to stop by El Retiro for a tour, too—this 20-room, Mediterranean Revival-style mansion transports visitors back to the opulence and elegance of the previous century.
Weeki Wachee Springs State Park
Since 1947, curious road travelers have been lured to Weeki Wachee Springs State Park by the real-life fantasy that is its live mermaid show. Currently, mermaids perform three, 45-minute shows each day at this park named by the Seminole Tribe of Florida, located 90 minutes due east of Orlando. Witness the artistry and skill required to swim and dance 15-20 feet below the surface against the strong, bubbling currents of a Florida natural spring, and then perform your own underwater feats at Buccaneer Bay, a family-friendly water park featuring a lazy river and two slides leading into the Weeki Wachee spring.
Sebastian Inlet State Park
A morning and afternoon spent at Sebastian Inlet State Park, 90 minutes southeast of Orlando on Florida’s Treasure Coast, contains a multitude of family-friendly adventures. Begin your day by plunking down some beach chairs and an umbrella in the sand on the south side of the inlet to watch hopefuls from the world over attempt to surf the Monster Hole, a particularly challenging area that produces massive waves and frequently reports shark sightings and interactions. When you’ve gotten your fill of the action, mosey to the north side of the inlet to rest in the shallow, gentle waters of the tidal pool, protected by a rock barrier from the currents of the inlet.
Kennedy Space Center
Blasting off to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex at Cape Canaveral won’t even take you a whole hour from some parts of Orlando. Time your visit right so you can watch a NASA or SpaceX rocket launch over the ocean or meet an astronaut, many of whom appear at the complex for several days of question-and-answer sessions, demonstrations, and of course, autographs. The Rocket Garden is another can’t-miss attraction, featuring rockets from NASA’s Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs, as well as the modern Delta II rocket that launched NASA’s Spirit and Opportunity Mars rovers.
This coastal city in western Florida boasts ample opportunities to commune with nature and wildlife, as well as learn about Florida’s history. Crystal River, located 90 minutes northwest of Orlando, serves as a sanctuary for manatees who gather in its temperate waters to stay warm each November through March. Paddle or swim near these gentle giants at the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, and then drive 12 minutes northeast to Crystal River Archaeological State Park. This 61-acre historic landmark contains what’s left of a 2,500-year-old Native American ceremonial center, including burial mounds, temple mounds, and the remains of a plaza used by native Floridians for 1,500 years.
It only takes 30-40 minutes of driving north up State Road 429 from Orlando to feel like you’ve entered another world. In Mount Dora, time moves a bit slower, and there’s always something to celebrate. This spring alone, downtown Mount Dora’s Donnelly Park hosted or will host festivals and celebrations like the 9thannual Mount Dora Blueberry Festival (complete with pies, scones, beers, and liquors to try,) the 22ndannual Mount Dora Taste and Craft Beer Fest, and the 28th annual Mount Dora Earth Day.