Want to See Real Florida? These Day Trips Are a Fun Break From Disney World

I’m about to say something that might make me a ton of enemies: At a certain point, Walt Disney World just isn’t that magical anymore.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a born and bred Florida Man who can tell you the difference between the taste of the water in the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at the Magic Kingdom and the Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Caballeros at Epcot. Don’t ask.

But here’s the thing: I live two hours away from Kissimmee, so I’m never subjected to weeklong tours of all the Orlando theme parks have to offer. But according to families that are, things can sort of drag the last few days.

Plus, everything in and around theme parks costs an arm and a (turkey) leg.

If my older brother brings his family from Chicago, I’d spend a day at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. I might even enjoy an overcooked steak at the kitschy Rainforest Cafe. (I say that with love; I’ve been a loyal and enthusiastic customer for decades.) But then I’m out of there.

Now, there are actually lots of fun things to do in the immediate vicinity of the big mouse-eared utility pole flanking Interstate 4.

There’s Cocoa Beach, where I once spent an extremely ill-advised spring break. There’s also Disney- and Universal Studios-adjacent stuff for adults, like Universal CityWalk or Disney’s Boardwalk.

But sometimes, if the kids seem to be able to handle a few hours in the car, it’s time to leave the magical grip of Orlando and hit the road — Florida style.

These 10 Day Trips From Orlando Will Save You From Another Disney Day

First off, when we say Orlando, we mean the region from Kissimmee north 20 miles on Interstate 4. Let’s call it theme-park central.

So, you don’t technically have to have spent the week touring Disney parks to enjoy these (sort of) short road trips.

1. Cedar Key

Cedar Key is on the opposite coast of Florida, an it’s just about as antithetical to Orlando’s theme park strip as possible.

Rolling over the bridges connecting the cluster of islands, you’ll see it’s as Old Florida as you can get. No giant water slides, towering Ferris wheels or massive roller coasters here. Just tens of thousands of birds, acres of winding mangroves and miles of waterways to explore via kayak or paddleboard.

It’s the perfect way to wind down a weeklong vacation of excessive expenditures and nonstop stimulation. Plus, you might even bring home some fresh-caught seafood to teach the kiddos that not everything in life is available at a themed cafeteria.

Drive Time: 2:38

2. Weeki Wachee

A mermaid swims at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park
Whitney Roberts drinks a Coke underwater during the Fish Tails show at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park. Sharon Steinmann/The Penny Hoarder

Ok, so you’ll start to see that I really dig Old Florida destinations. But this one even has real-life mermaids.

Yes, Weeki Wachee, with its population of 13, is certainly magical — and not in the animatronic way. You can swim, and even sort of bunk with majestic manatees in the river named after the town.

And if you need a little taste of theme park action, spend half that day at Buccaneer Bay, which is right in Weeki Wachee Springs State Park.

If you want a tasty snack to bring back home, try scalloping in the river. It might be the most Florida thing you can do.

Drive Time: 2:02

3. St. Augustine

A little bit of real history and a few tall tales are the bedrock of any historic Florida city (at least according to author Craig Pittman and his essential read, Oh, Florida).

St. Augustine, with its very fake Pirate Museum and very real Castillo de San Marcos fort, might be the quintessential example. But, this dichotomy also makes it perfect for a family trip.

Check out the baby albino alligators at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park, where you can zipline above all the critters for a quick thrill. And to recover from said thrill, parents, have a cocktail at the St. Augustine Distillery.

To give the kids a taste of culture after the traipse through Walt Disney World, you have to tour all the historical oddities at the Lightner Museum.

(Just a side note: I might be a little bit biased since St. Augustine, specifically the Lightner, is where I got married.)

Drive Time: 2:18

4. Cassadaga

As you already know, Florida is weird. And if you’re ready to ditch the conformity of Celebration to find out just how weird we can get, you’ll have to hit up Cassadaga.

Known as the psychic capital of the world, this little town is just up I-4 from where you’re probably staying, and promises just as much “magic” as the Kingdom. Channel the unknown with a workshop at the Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp.

Or, find out if the kids will behave in the car ride home with a reading from one of the hundreds of psychics in town. Listen, it’s not your average day trip, but it’s the best way to get your Florida Man or Florida Woman certification.

Drive Time: 1:12

5. Clearwater Beach

Three women bike at Clearwater Beach.
(Left to right) Christane Thomas, Brandy Fralin, and Sherenthea Barber bike at Clearwater Beach. The friends were visiting from Roanoke, Va. Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

Quite a departure from some of the previous destinations, Clearwater Beach is a booming, sand-soaked barrier island on the Gulf of Mexico.

You’ll hit some traffic, but the beach is as laid-back as any in Florida. In fact, it’s been voted the No.1 beach in the country.

On your way there, you can stop by the Clearwater Marine Aquarium and meet one of Florida’s most famous residents: Winter the Dolphin. But this day trip should probably best be spent soaking up the sun (don’t forget the sunblock!)

Drive Time: 1:54

6. Lake Wales

I came across this little Florida gem while trucking my wife to a horse show in Brooksville. It’s sort of in the middle of nowhere, but Lake Wales — and specifically Bok Tower Gardens — are totally worth a day trip.

The peaceful gardens will be music to your ears after a week in the crowded Orlando parks. Literally. The “singing tower” carillon is the highlight of the Central Florida attraction.

And, of course, to tie in Florida weirdness, you’ll have to roll up to Spook Hill, where an optical illusion involving the road will leave your jaw agape. Well, it’s sort of interesting, anyway.

Drive time: 1:04

7. Siesta Key

Home of another No. 1 beach, Siesta Key is another cheap option for relaxing after a week on the go.

The bleached-white, quartz sand is world-famous. And following a $21 million renovation a few years ago, the county park has plenty of food and fun for the family.

For a quieter locale and some awesome snorkeling, visit Point of Rocks or Turtle Beach at the south end of Siesta. And, after baking in the sun for a while, you can sip on a frozen drink at Daiquiri Deck Raw Bar in Siesta Key Village.

Drive Time: 2:15

8. Gainesville

I’m a Florida State University graduate, so it pains me to do this, but Tallahassee is just too far away for a nice day trip from Orlando. So, I have to send you to Gainesville.

Avoid the college area, and head out into some good old Florida wilderness to see Devil’s Millhopper Geological State Park, one of the most unusual geological features you’ll see in our wacky state — a mini rainforest. Plus, it’s where Tom Petty used to go to make out.

If that sounds too risque, take the family to the Butterfly Rainforest at the Florida Museum of Natural History. And if you’re into spookier winged creatures, then visit the University of Florida Bat Houses.

Drive Time: 2:05

9. Merritt Island

It’s borderline criminal to visit Florida without swinging by the heart of the Space Coast. I mean, did you check out that SpaceX launch?!

It’s pretty expensive — between $40 and $50 a person — to tour Kennedy Space Center, (which is why it’s so far down on this list), but if you’re from out of state, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance to take in everything NASA. And maybe you’ll even buy the kids some astronaut ice cream.

And the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge should supply you with enough alligator and manatee sightings to give you the Florida Woman or Florida Man certification we talked about earlier. But remember, please no riding the manatees.

Drive Time: 1:19

10. Plant City

If you flew into Tampa on your way to an Orlando theme park, you traveled through Plant City. And you most definitely saw Dinosaur World.

Yep, the giant brontosaurus peeking out over Interstate 4 will lead you to an archaeological theme park that costs a lot less than another day at Disney. Plus, it’s 100% Florida Weird-certified.

If you happen to be here in March, bring your sweet tooth to the Florida Strawberry Festival, a fair-like celebration of the year’s harvest — you might even get to meet the Florida Strawberry Festival queen. If not, antique shopping in downtown Plant City might yield cobwebbed treasures (I know, I know, the kids might get antsy. But they just had the time of their lives at Disney.)

Drive Time: 0:59

So when you’re over the magic of Disney, remember, there are tons of cool, weird and wild places that will give your family a real taste of Florida.

Alex Mahadevan is a data journalist at The Penny Hoarder. He’s trying to visit as many weird Florida places as possible this year.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

Please follow and like us:
onpost_follow

Comments

comments

18 thoughts on “Want to See Real Florida? These Day Trips Are a Fun Break From Disney World

  1. Thanks for the ideas shared on your blog. Yet another thing I would like to say is that weight reduction is not about going on a fad diet and trying to get rid of as much weight that you can in a few months. The most effective way to shed weight is by taking it slowly and gradually and following some basic suggestions which can enable you to make the most from your attempt to shed pounds. You may learn and already be following these tips, nonetheless reinforcing information never does any damage.

  2. I have seen a great deal of useful items on your website about computers. However, I have the impression that laptops are still more or less not powerful more than enough to be a option if you normally do projects that require lots of power, like video modifying. But for website surfing, word processing, and most other common computer work they are okay, provided you do not mind the little screen size. Thanks for sharing your thinking.

  3. Howdy, just evolved into tuned in to your current web site by using Bing, and found it is absolutely educational. We’re likely to beware of brussels video vlogger terbaik. We are pleased if you happen to keep on that in future. Appear as healthy are going to be helped from a composing. Cheers!

  4. Your post on Want to See Real Florida? These Day Trips Are a Fun Break From Disney World – new tips and tricksnew tips and tricks is very good. I hope u can continue delivering many more article in the future. Be prosperous newtipsandtricks.com

  5. This is the suitable blog for anybody who wants to search out out about this topic. You realize so much its virtually hard to argue with you (not that I truly would need…HaHa). You undoubtedly put a brand new spin on a subject thats been written about for years. Nice stuff, simply great!

  6. A formidable share, I simply given this onto a colleague who was doing just a little analysis on this. And he in reality bought me breakfast as a result of I discovered it for him.. smile. So let me reword that: Thnx for the treat! However yeah Thnkx for spending the time to debate this, I feel strongly about it and love studying extra on this topic. If possible, as you develop into expertise, would you mind updating your blog with more particulars? It’s extremely helpful for me. Large thumb up for this blog publish!

  7. There are some attention-grabbing cut-off dates in this article however I don’t know if I see all of them heart to heart. There may be some validity however I will take maintain opinion until I look into it further. Good article , thanks and we would like extra! Added to FeedBurner as well

  8. aplikasi android rekomendasi saham terbaru good day! , I adore ones publishing therefore much! percentage many of us convey far more roughly this page about Yahoo? My partner and i will need an experienced of this type to fix my own issue. Possibly that is people! Waiting for appear people.

  9. There are some interesting points in time in this article however I don’t know if I see all of them heart to heart. There’s some validity but I will take maintain opinion till I look into it further. Good article , thanks and we would like more! Added to FeedBurner as nicely

  10. I know top Blog professionals would really like your blog. You have a good head on your shoulders. You always know just what to say. I truly appreciate this page. Neat post.

  11. Youre so cool! I dont suppose Ive read anything like this before. So nice to find any individual with some authentic ideas on this subject. realy thank you for beginning this up. this website is something that is wanted on the internet, someone with a little originality. useful job for bringing one thing new to the internet!

  12. This is the suitable blog for anybody who wants to search out out about this topic. You realize so much its virtually hard to argue with you (not that I truly would need…HaHa). You undoubtedly put a brand new spin on a subject thats been written about for years. Nice stuff, simply great!

  13. Oh my goodness! a tremendous article dude. Thank you However I’m experiencing problem with ur rss . Don’t know why Unable to subscribe to it. Is there anybody getting similar rss drawback? Anybody who is aware of kindly respond. Thnkx

  14. Thanks to Thrifty I was saved this night. My car hire experience was great! When I arrived to the rental area I was served by quite helpful and polite guy. He was too kind, offering me a glass of water (I was really thirsty). I wanted to rent a mini van, unfortunately, they hadn’t it. However, the car, that I was provided was not bad. Everything was fast and I hadn’t problems. It was such a beam of light after the previous worst car rental deal. Thrifty is number one at Orlando Airport (United States)!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *