Several Atlantic Coast beaches beckon about an hour’s drive east of Orlando. Alan Shepard Park at Cocoa Beach is popular with families for its clean and safe facilities, its multitude of nearby restaurants and shops, and great views of space launches from Cape Canaveral.
The shallow waters of New Smyrna Beach, northeast of Orlando, are great for young swimmers, while its waves are a big draw for surfers. Head to the north end to park and tailgate on the wide white-sand beach, or enjoy the traffic-free zone at the south end. After a swim, stroll the town’s quaint shops and visit the nearby Ponce De Leon Inlet Lighthouse & Museum.
Photo credit: The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art
This impressive museum in Winter Park, 20 minutes northeast of Orlando, holds the world’s largest collection of works by Louis Comfort Tiffany. You’ll find examples of the artist’s renowned leaded glass lamps and windows, as well as his pottery, paintings, jewelry and the breathtaking chapel interior from the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.
More Winter Park art museums
The Cornell Fine Arts Museum’s collection spans 600 years and is notable for its works by European Old Masters and Bloomsbury artists. The nearby Albin Polasek Museum & Sculpture Gardens pays tribute to the celebrated Czech sculptor.
Photo credit: Cortney Busscher
The crystal-clear 72-degree water at Wekiwa Springs State Park, roughly 30 minutes northwest of Orlando, offers a relaxing retreat from the theme-park frenzy. Arrive early to nab a parking space and a prime picnic spot on the broad lawn overlooking the spring pool.
An hour and a half northwest of Orlando, Ocala National Forest is home to 3 first-magnitude springs. The gently sloped pool at Alexander Springs Recreational Area is perfect for swimmers young and old. At the beautifully landscaped Juniper Springs Recreation Area, visitors can swim or rent kayaks for a challenging 7-mile paddle.
Photo credit: Mead Botanical Garden
The 48-acre Mead Botanical Garden in Winter Park is a paradise for gardeners and birders alike. Download the garden’s 175+ species birding checklist for help spotting red-headed woodpeckers in the wetlands area, listen for the myrtle warblers along the newly restored boardwalk and spy great crested flycatchers in the butterfly garden.
Roses, camellias and countless other blooms fill the beds at the 50-acre Harry P. Leu Gardens in Orlando. The shaded paths meander past such landmarks as a citrus grove, color garden and the Leu House Museum, a restored 19th-century home on the National Register of Historic Places.
From November through March, several hundred West Indian manatees make their winter home at Blue Spring State Park, 45 minutes north of Orlando. Stroll along the boardwalk or stop at the overlook to snap some pics of these prized, and protected, marine mammals.
An hour east of Orlando, the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is the place to spot Florida’s most famous fauna. Explore the park by car, trail or kayak as you search for alligators, manatees, scrub jays, sea turtles and many more of the refuge’s 1,500 animal and plant species.