Orlando is one of the most visited cities in the United States, but that doesn’t mean you have to spend your entire vacation here. With so many great day trips from Orlando, FL, you can maximize your time in America’s theme park capital and explore the rest of Central Florida.
From the white sands of Daytona Beach to the laid-back beach town of Clearwater Beach, these Orlando side trips offer something for every traveler. Whether you’re looking for a relaxing romantic getaway in Central Florida’s natural beauty or want to experience family-friendly thrills, it’s all for the taking within a short drive from Orlando.
Ready to maximize your Orlando trip? Check out our complete guide to the top-rated Orlando day trips.
Top-rated Orlando side trips
Less than two hours away from Orlando is Clearwater Beach. If sand, sun, and surf are your jam, the beach town is a must-see for your Orlando itinerary. Award-winning Clearwater Beach is famed for its white-sand beaches, turquoise waters, and around 361 days of sunshine a year.
Looking for a little peace & quiet on a day trip to Clearwater Beach? Focus your visit on Sand Key Park and get swimming. Thanks to all the sunshine, you can take a soothing dip anytime you like. Catch the waves, or relax on the powdery-white shore. Don’t forget your sunscreen!
After that, soak up some rays on Clearwater Beach itself. Take a walk on the beachfront promenade, relaxing at its seaside restaurants, bars, and cafés.
In the evening, head to Pier 60 to enjoy an epic sunset over the Gulf of Mexico. The pier lights up with street performances that are sure to keep the whole family entertained.
One of Florida’s most exciting places to visit, Daytona Beach is easy to reach on a road trip from Orlando. This gorgeous city on Florida’s Atlantic Coast has a little of something for every type of traveler.
True NASCAR fans descend upon Daytona Beach in droves to pay homage at the Daytona International Speedway. The raceway hosts the ever-popular Daytona 500 race car event. A visit to the NASCAR “mothership” is worth anyone’s time.
Both kids and grown-ups will enjoy the tours of the famed speedway. (Some Daytona International Speedway tours even include visits to the nearby Kennedy Space Center and Legoland.)
For downtime, hit up Daytona Beach’s white sandy beaches. Take in the sunset by the soothing blue waters of Daytona Beach, before you wrap up for the day.
Kennedy Space Center
Ready to get your geek on? One of the most popular tourist attractions in Florida is NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Located on Merritt Island, it’s just an hour’s drive from Orlando. If you’ve got the time, it’s worth the drive.
There’s a ton to do at the Kennedy Space Center. Tourists and locals alike flock to this world-famous spot for tours and fun activities.
The crowd-pulling Apollo/Saturn V Center lets you gawk at larger-than-life exhibits. But, for the best thrill at the Kennedy Space Center, stop at the Atlantis. Feel all the awe and nostalgia of NASA’s space program that rocketed man to the moon.
Don’t miss out on the Rocket Garden while you’re there. It’s a stunning tribute to the giants of spacecraft, and another wondrous spot to get inspired and dive into history.
Famously known as Florida’s “Nature Coast,” Crystal River is located in Citrus County, about an hour or so from Orlando. If you’re a wildlife lover, it’s a must-see.
The crowd-puller at Crystal River is the beautiful manatees who flock here to enjoy warm waters. For an extra special visit, you can even go swimming or scuba diving (if you’re licensed) with them. It’s a great way to get up close and personal with these gentle giants.
Another hugely popular Crystal River attraction is its natural springs. The water temperatures flow at a consistent 72 degrees here. It’s perfect for a dip any time of year.
If ‘catching your dinner’ is your thing, find a charter that lets you snorkel for scallops. It’s a fun experience that both parents and kids will enjoy. For saltwater fishing, you’ll want to check out the flats of Crystal River or Homosassa River.
Need more nature? Rent a bike and explore the stunning 46-mile Withlacoochee State Trail. Don’t forget your camera!
Blue Spring State Park
Less than an hour from Orlando, the Blue Spring State Park is a great day trip for the whole family. With springs feeding the stunning Wekiwa River, Blue Springs is a nature lover’s paradise. It’s also a designated manatee refuge and a popular tourist spot.
There’s a kayak rental station right on the water if you want to explore. The scenery is breathtaking and dotted with plant and animal life. If you want to dive in, go snorkeling and discover the tranquil underwater world. You can also swim there. The two best swimming spots are near the spring source/boil, or in the spring run aka the Swim Platform.
With its nature trails, Blue Spring State Park is ideal for hikers. You’ll also find some great camping spots here. For an affordable fee, you can camp overnight and enjoy the rustic and natural setting.
Bok Tower Gardens
One of the most beautiful and scenic spots in Central Florida is the Bok Tower Gardens. About an hour’s drive from Orlando, Bok Tower Gardens is a stunning display of historic beauty. Prepare to be awe-struck and inspired. Created by a Pulitzer-Prize winning Dutch immigrant author, the gardens’ focal point is the landmark Singing Tower carillon.
The best way to explore Bok Tower Gardens is on the hiking trails. Those who opt for the Pine Ridge Trail in Lake Wales can stroll through a beautiful pine/turkey oak habitat. It’s the best way to catch great views of the iconic carillon tower. After that, more dazzling views await you along the Lake Wales Ridge.
At the end of your visit, stop by the Outdoor Kitchen & Edible Garden. This spot features fresh food and chef demonstrations. Explore the fruit orchard and grape arbors too. If you’ve got kids, stop by Hammock Hollow for some child-friendly fun.
Just an hour east of Orlando at the center of Florida’s Space Coast is world-famous Cocoa Beach. The beach itself is the main attraction and is one of the most beautiful beaches along Florida’s East Coast. The water is warm all year round, and you can take a dip any time of day.
First-time visitors will love heading down to the Cocoa Beach Pier for great food and touristy shopping. You’ll also want to stop by Lori Wilson Park. The park is home to one of the finest beaches near Orlando and a gorgeous nature trail for you to explore.
If you’re a surf-lover or not, a visit to Ron Jon Surf Shop is a must. It’s the largest surf shop in the world and packed with everything beach-related. If you don’t want to shop there, just relax and enjoy the huge fish tanks, and waterfalls.
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If you’re traveling with teenagers, a visit to the Cocoa Beach Skate Park shouldn’t be missed.
For a unique getaway, St. Augustine ranks high on most tourist lists. Just a two-hour drive from Orlando, this city boasts a rich four-century old heritage and culture. If you’re a history buff, you’ll love St. Augustine.
There’s a ton to see & do in Saint Augustine. Visitors and locals enjoy relaxing strolls through the quaint town and visiting its lovely Historic District. Spend time browsing the shops, art galleries, and museums along St. George Street and Aviles Street, the oldest street in the U.S.
Castillo de San Marcos is a focal point of any visit to St. Augustine. Dating back to the 17th century, it’s the oldest masonry fort in the continental U.S. and a National Monument.
If you love myth and history, stop by The Fountain of Youth. It’s home to the early Spanish explorers and the oldest European settlement in the United States. As the legend goes, Ponce De Leon discovered the healing waters that magically maintain a youthful appearance.
Do you get to drink the magical spring water? Of course! Explore the park, and pop in for a viewing at the Planetarium, or visit the Timucua Indian Exhibit.
For more fun & games, pack your bags and drive to Tampa. This hip and bustling city will give you all the Latin flavours your heart desires. (Think Cuban and Spanish fusion.)
There’s a vibrant beat in Tampa that visitors love. And it’s just the right mix of modern and cultural to keep the good times rolling.
Tampa’s biggest attraction is the African-themed park, Busch Gardens. It’s the only place you can ride thrilling roller-coasters, and take a Serengeti Safari Tour all in a day.
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If you have more time, take a stroll down the Tampa Riverwalk. Grab a drink in a hip & happening bar in Downtown Tampa or in Ybor City, the city’s historic Latin-influenced entertainment district.
Everglades National Park
With a whopping one million visitors per year, the Everglades National Park is one of the highlights of any visit to Florida. With over 1.5 million acres of natural habitat to explore, you should plan out your visit to the Everglades in advance.
There are so many great things to see in the Central Florida Everglades. View turtles, herons, alligators and an abundance of natural wonders. Surf through Florida Bay on a tour boat or a kayak. Check out the crocodiles, manatees and dolphins along the way.
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The best way to explore the park is to bike along Long Pine Key Nature Trail. With so many hiking trails, you can choose between the shorter ordered trails. Or go slogging the longer hiking trails to see more of the exclusive species this park has to offer.
Weeki Wachee Springs State Park
Let your imagination run wild at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park. One of the state’s most popular, it’s full of mermaids. (And, no, we’re not kidding.)
For some real family fun, and a ton of outdoor activities, you can’t go wrong at Weeki Wachee Springs. The best way to explore the park is to take a riverboat cruise or canoe/kayak on the Weeki Wachee River.
Enjoy the luxury of the first-magnitude spring with a 400-seat submerged theater where you can view the live mermaid show.
If you’re a real thrill-seeker or traveling with kids, slide over to the Buccaneer Bay water park. Ride the Cannonball and Pirate’s Revenge flumes for a memorable splashy thrill.
Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park
If you’re heading to Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, take your camera with you. This beautiful park for nature lovers features the popular Wildlife Walk. The elevated boardwalks offer views of natural habitats of Florida’s native wildlife. You can see panthers, bobcats, bears, gators, and, of course, manatees.
On your way out, stop by and say hello to Lu, the celebrity hippo. At the age of 61, Lu is currently enjoying his retirement, but still loves visitors.
If you’re a birdwatcher, take a stroll down the Pepper Creek Birding Trail. There’s a reptile house too, if you like scaly friends.
You won’t regret a visit to Homosassa Springs. It’s a beautifully family-friendly place, and a great way to get in touch with nature, and see wildlife up close.