Jake Cain is an entrepreneur and writer from Cincinnati, Ohio. He spends his free time driving around the country in his late 90’s conversion van, affectionately known as the “Monster Van” with his wife and 3 boys.
A trip to the Magic Kingdom is undoubtedly what draws most visitors to Orlando. Still, for even the most diehard Disney fans, the time may come when you need a break from Mickey and Minnie—especially after a few days schlepping around in the heat. The good news is that there is a world of fun waiting for you just outside of Disney’s doors.
Whether you’re looking for nature, beautiful beaches, or a little intellectual stimulation, Florida has plenty to offer. Whatever it is, there are lots of diverse places for the whole family that make excellent day trips from Orlando.
Here are our favorites to help you round out your trip to Florida and give you that much-needed break from waiting in line for rides—all of which are three hours away or under.
Eager to find Florida’s most Instagram-worthy coastal spots? Head to Clearwater, where you’ll find white sand beaches that will make the perfect backdrop for your next post and cause a healthy dose of jealousy among your followers.
Clearwater’s many romantic beaches make it a popular destination for couples. If you and your significant other are on the hunt for an experience that feels like you’re on your own private island, take the ferry to Caladesi Island.
Families will find plenty to do in Clearwater, too. The Clearwater Marine Aquarium is home to famous dolphin Winter, the star of “Dolphin Tale,” and is what attracts younger visitors to this city. Clearwater Marine is renowned for its rescue efforts and is not your typical aquarium.
Out of all the places on our list, Miami is probably the farthest away from Orlando, but it is a doable day trip. If you’ve never been, glamorous Miami is worth a visit, and it will give you that much-needed change of pace from everything in Orlando.
Expect to enjoy Miami’s pristine beaches, which contrast sharply against the high-rises, and plenty of opportunity for food, fun, and entertainment. Some neighborhoods to check out include Miami Beach, South Beach, and Bayside Marketplace.
You may now be intimately familiar with Daytona after watching Netflix’s “Cheer,” and it’s certainly worth a visit even if you aren’t able to coincide with the annual cheer competition.
But before Cheer, most people know Daytona as the home of the Daytona International Speedway, which hosts the Daytona 500 NASCAR race every year. Take a tour, and learn about the history of racing at the race car museum.
If racing’s not your thing, head to the boardwalk to have some fun on the rides, or visit Sun Splash Park.
Daytona’s got 23 miles of coast just waiting for you and your family to explore. It may just even be the perfect time to try that activity you’ve always wanted to try—surfing!
The Kennedy Space Center is just one of several attractions on Florida’s Space Coast where you can learn all about our universe and space travel.
It’s a guaranteed good time for your kids, but there’s no need to be underage to enjoy all that the Space Coast has to offer. People of all ages marvel at the impressive rocket launches you can see here.
Kennedy Space Center is the most visited site in the complex, and it’s possible to stay busy there practically all day. You can meet astronauts (and even have lunch with them!), see a real space shuttle, and learn all about the solar system. And these are just a few of the many activities you can partake in at the Kennedy Space Center.
The Space Coast also includes these sites:
- Cape Canaveral Lighthouse
- Port Canaveral
- Brevard Zoo
- Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge
And if you need to relax after a long day of contemplating the vastness of our solar system, the nearby beaches are a family-friendly place to kick back.
St. Augustine’s claim to fame is that it’s the oldest city in the United States. If you’ve spent more time than you can take at theme parks, St. Augustine is a day trip that will provide you with some intellectual stimulation.
The Spanish founded the city in 1565, and history buffs will be pleased to know that there’s a lot to learn about St. Augustine. Visitors can discover the city’s monuments and hear the highlights about St. Augustine’s most notable residents on trolley tours and ghost tours.
Check out the antique lighthouse that offers excellent views of the city, as well as access to the Maritime Museum.
But what you won’t want to miss is the Castillo de San Marcos, which is the oldest masonry fort in the United States. Your kids will love exploring the castle, and they’ll be enthralled with the fact that it’s supposed to be haunted.
The Everglades is one of Florida’s main attractions, and they’re a must-see for nature and animal lovers. This World Heritage Site is an ideal break from traipsing through the theme parks in Orlando, though keep in mind that the summer months in the Everglades can be brutally hot.
From November to March, however, this unique setting is the ideal place to spot Florida’s most notorious inhabitant: the American alligator. Just make sure to have a professional get you up close and personal if you want to see them avoid any unfortunate encounters.
If reptiles aren’t quite your thing, you can also see manatees and dolphins.
And the list of things to do in the Everglades doesn’t end with seeing impressive animals. You can enjoy activities like hiking, bird watching, kayaking, or fishing.
You may have had enough of Mickey, but who’s to say you a visit to Legoland isn’t just what the doctor ordered? We don’t need to tell you that Legoland is sure to impress young kids, but there’s more than an adult or two who will enjoy this 150-acre park, too.
It’s got more than fifty rides, as well as a botanical garden and live shoes—and of course, plenty of Lego-building opportunities. But perhaps the best part is that if you go during the summer, Legoland boasts a full-service water park where you can cool off in the lazy river.
You may recognize Gainesville as the name of the town that’s home to the University of Florida.
If you love college sports, there’s no better place to catch any number of sporting events, from football to basketball and more, than at the UF campus. There’s also no better place to see the world’s largest occupied bat colony if you’re into that kind of thing.
Gainesville’s not a beach town, but there’s no shortage of outdoor activities and state parks to explore. Be sure to check out the Kanapaha Botanical Garden, which houses the most extensive herb garden in the southeast and also has the largest public display of Bamboo in Florida.
And here are some other places of interest to check out on your day trip to Gainesville:
- Haile Homestead
- Harn Museum of Art
- Florida Museum of Natural History
- Sweetwater Wetlands Park
- Depot Park
New Smyrna Beach is a fun place for history buffs. It’s the site of the Sugar Mill Ruins, which houses 17 acres of a sugar factory, as well as the home to Eldora State House, where you can learn all about the area’s local history.
Not so interested in history lessons?
The Marine Discovery Center offers guided kayak and dolphin-spotting tours on the Indian River Lagoon, and the beach is one of the few that still lets cars drive on the sand. If you love fishing, surfing, or swimming, these activities are typical in New Smyrna Beach.
And animal lovers might want to make the trek to Canaveral National Seashore, which is about thirty minutes away from New Smyrna Beach. Canaveral National Seashore is the place to go if you want to see baby turtles hatching and making their way to the water. Come between May to November to see this fantastic journey.
Blue Spring State Park is an appealing day trip for the whole family.
Located about 40 miles north of Orlando, this nearby destination is perfect for nature enthusiasts who want to see manatees. It’s easy to spot them in winter, but you can visit the park at any time of year, which is open from 8 am to sundown.
You can take the popular two-hour guided boat tour or rent a kayak and see it all yourself. Hiking along the Pine Island Trail is another way to visit Blue Spring State Park on foot.
And during the summer, nothing beats a refreshing dip in the beautiful water.
Devil’s Den is about an hour and a half away from Orlando.
These impressive underground springs are a scuba diver’s paradise, and divers will enjoy this freshwater experience. If you’re not scuba certified, you can snorkel as well, but keep in mind that access to the site is limited to those diving or snorkeling.
Though children under 18 are allowed with a parent, you may want to leave the kids at home to enjoy this prehistoric site fully.
DeLand is affectionately known as the “Athens of Florida,” and it’s home to Florida’s oldest college, Stetson University. Why should you visit DeLand? Because it’s a cute town with lots of vintage architecture.
You can do things like head over to De Leon Springs State Park and take a dip in the springs, or visit Hontoon Island State Park to enjoy boating, canoeing, and fishing.
Tampa is about 80 minutes outside of Orlando, and this city offers a wide range of activities that will keep your Florida vacation interesting.
Like a ton of craft breweries where you can discover new beers, which are the perfect pit stop before catching a professional sports game. Tampa’s home to the Buccaneers, the Lightning, and the Storm, so no matter what sport you like, there are ample opportunities to see a game.
Art aficionados will be happy to learn that they don’t need to visit Spain to see Dali’s work in person. The Salvador Dali Museum hosts the largest collection of the Spanish painter’s work outside of Europe.
And if you’ve still got the theme park bug, Busch Gardens Tampa delivers some serious thrills.
Enjoy the 5,000 acres of undeveloped land at Silver Springs State Park. People of all ages and interests will enjoy the many activities that you can do here, which include fishing, hiking, horseback riding, and glass-bottom boat tours. You can also go camping, bird watching, or kayaking.
For those looking for a peaceful day trip from Orlando, the Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales provides the perfect escape. It’s just over an hour outside of Orlando, and it’s a fantastic place to enjoy nature and some quiet time with the family.
The main attraction of the Bok Tower Gardens is the tower, which was built in 1929. You can hear it chime at 1 pm and 3 pm every day, as well as view the bells and learn about its history.
Once you’ve finished touring the tower, take a stroll through the surrounding gardens, which are full of endangered plants. Or if you’re looking for a bit more, there are two trails that are the perfect setting for a long walk.
Though visiting Disney World may be the primary motivation behind your visit to Orlando, Florida has a lot more to offer than just Mickey and Minnie. And you may be ready to take advantage of one of these day trips after several days of long lines and crowds.
So whether you’re dying to see alligators, lay on white-sand beaches, or visit the oldest city in the United States, Florida delivers. These day trips from Orlando offer plenty of options for people of all ages and interests to enjoy their visit to the Sunshine State.
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