Being a lifelong resident of Florida, I have visited and experienced many of our great locations. Yes, my family loves to go to Disney, Aquatica and the beach, but there are so many other cool places to spend the day. I have highlighted 5 classic Florida outdoor day trips that are definitely worth your time and money. (All distances and travel times are from the Lake Nona area.)
- Old Spanish Sugarmill pancakes and De Leon Springs State Park (63 miles, 1:06 travel time).
Just a quick trip up 417 and I-4, you will find one of Central Florida’s nicest swimming holes. Cold, natural spring waters are the best way to cool off on a hot summer day. Start your day with all-you-can-eat, make-your-own pancakes at the Old Spanish Sugarmill. Get there early because the park and restaurant get crowded quickly. Cost is $6 (admission to park). Breakfast at the Old Sugar Mill can add up, but the experience is worth it MENU.
- Tarpon Springs (117 miles, 2:00 travel time).
If you have ever wanted to visit Greece without leaving Florida, this is your chance. The main attraction here is the sponge docks, and the Greek heritage is still strong here. Dodecanese Boulevard, which follows the riverfront, is lined with gift shops that carry everything from souvenirs to home goods, natural sponges to olive oil soap. Wander a few blocks south, and you’ll find several antique shops on downtown’s Tarpon Avenue. Authentic Greek restaurants, including Mama’s Greek Cuisine, Hellas and Mykonos, smell too good to resist. Cost: Wine Walk, July 23 at 4 p.m., $20 in advance.
- Swimming with manatees in Crystal River (105 miles, just under 2:00 travel time)
We went in February, and weather determines the number of manatees. Did you know you could swim with manatees? We didn’t, either. What an amazing experience it was to witness these peaceful animals in their natural habitats. Even better, there are strict rules that each tour company must follow to protect the “sea cows.” There are many great local restaurants in the Crystal River area you can visit after your tour. Cost is $50 and up. We toured with http://swimmingwiththemanatees.com/, but there are other options.
- Weeki Wachee Springs State Park (110 miles, around 2:00 travel time)
If you thought mermaids were just the lively imaginings of lonely sailors, think again and go to Weeki Wachee Springs, the City of Live Mermaids, on the Gulf Coast of Florida. Opened in 1947, the park includes an underwater live mermaid show, river boat tour, as well as Buccaneer Bay water park area (don’t think Aquatica or Typhoon Lagoon). You can also bring your own kayak or paddleboard to drift along the small river. Cost: adult is $13, child ages 6-12 is $8, children 5 and under are free. http://www.weekiwachee.com/
- Not quite a “day” trip – Silver Moon Drive-In Theater (60 miles, 1:00 travel time)
Take a road down memory lane, but this time, bring your kids. Since 1948, the Silver Moon Drive-In Theater has been entertaining families of all ages. See first-run films every day (you actually get a double feature). We like to find a nearby restaurant and order take-out to eat while we are watching. Summer times are later due to time of sunset. Cost: ages 4-9 is $1, ages 10+ is $5 http://www.silvermoondrivein.com/