Central Florida is just that: Central to everything in Florida. While there is plenty to see and do in Orlando, those with an extended itinerary may want to take a little time to explore the surrounding area. By just venturing an hour from your hotel, you're sure to discover our local gems, from Florida's tallest lighthouse and clear springs filled with manatees to thrilling racecars and rocket launches. Here are a few of our favorite spots:
If you can't make it for the Daytona 500, you can still take a tour of the international speedway that holds 250,000 fans. But while Daytona may be the world center of racing, it's also home to the world's most famous beach. The wide, smooth beaches along the Atlantic Ocean provide plenty of recreational opportunities from fishing and boating to just taking a scenic drive. Daytona is also home to the Rockefeller's winter home, the Casements, Florida's tallest lighthouse and the brand-new Cici and Hyatt Museum of Florida Art, which houses the largest collection of Florida art. Head 55 miles northeast on I-4; about an hour's drive.
Bok Tower Garden
This picturesque garden in Lake Wales is home to a 205-foot, 60-bell carillon with two live concerts daily. Visitors can stroll the 1,200-acre grounds and admire the blooming camellias while enjoying two live concerts from the resident carillonneur. There is plenty of outdoor space for children to expend some energy, and they can feed the resident koi in the reflection pool for just a quarter. $12 admission for adults; kids under 5 are free; about an hour's drive via I-4 and Highway 27, 53 miles southwest.
Kennedy Space Center
This amazing facility is a museum and theme park all in one, located at Cape Canaveral, with an IMAX theater, laser light shows and flight simulators. The Kennedy Space Center is dedicated to the history of NASA and American space exploration. Home to the original launch pads that sent the first American into space, moon missions using Saturn V rockets and Space Shuttle missions, it's still a working launch site today with various rockets launching satellites into orbit, cargo to the International Space Station and, most recently, Orion, NASA's deep-space test rocket that's bound, one day, for Mars. Admission is $50 for adults and $40 for children; approximately 50 miles via Highway 528 East.
Blue Spring State Park
Your party can explore this Florida state park and see manatees in their natural habitat. The clear waters of Blue Spring remain a warm 73 degrees year-round, and hundreds of manatees make this their winter home. Picnic areas with grills, a gift shop, playground and marina are located on site. Free presentations take place throughout the day and boat tours are offered at an additional charge. 33 miles north of Orlando; admission $6 per vehicle.
Wild Florida is a nature center, petting zoo and air boat operator that allows visitors to experience the headwaters of the Florida Everglades. Hop aboard a one-hour airboat ride through beautiful Lake Cypress, which just so happens to be chock-full of alligators. Afterward, take a stroll along the raised boardwalk, watch a live alligator show or visit with the resident animals, from zebras, deer and water buffalo to exotic birds. Airboat rides are $45 per adult and $35 per child and animal park admission is an additional $18 for adults and $15 for children. A 45-minute drive south, following Florida's Turnpike.
This scenic bay front city is worth a day trip with plenty of activities for the entire family. Ibor City, a Latin community with charming brick streets, offers a great dining and nightlife scene. The children will love the Florida Aquarium and Glazer Children's Museum, or pay a visit to Busch Gardens for more theme park fun and residual benefits for SeaWorld Orlando. Sports lovers can also get their fix with the Tampa Bay Lightning (NHL), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (NFL) and Tampa Bay Rays (MLB). Approximately 1 hour and 15 minute drive on I-4 west.