15 Self-Drive Day Trips From Orlando, Florida

15 Self-Drive Day Trips From Orlando, FloridaWe plan on staying in Orlando for about a week in March 2020. Since we’re actually not planning on spending time in the theme parks, we want to use Orlando as our starting point for exploring central Florida. With that in mind, we prepared a list of day trips that we can take while staying in our comfortable Florida AirBnB.

Why Orlando is a great starting point for day trips

For most people, the name “Orlando” is almost a synonym for Disney parks. However, Orlando is not only a great destination with attractions that go beyond theme parks, it’s also a great base for exploring central Florida.

Orlando and nearby Kissimmee are the perfect place for finding vacation rentals at excellent prices. You can get a 4-bedroom villa in a resort for $100-$120 a night, making it an ideal stay for a family. The good news, is that if you’re tired of theme park, you can make some fantastic day trips from your Orlando base too.

To find great options in Florida, we use AirBnB. If you use this link, you’ll get $56 off your first trip! They’ll also give us a bonus for our own future reservations, so thank you in advance for using this link!

15 Day Trips Around Orlando, Florida

As you’ll soon notice, we’ve arranged our 15-day trip destinations from the nearest to the furthest from Orlando. For approximate drive times, simply look in the parenthesis next to each destination’s header.

Of course, these time estimates could fluctuate depending on daily traffic. To help you better plan your adventure, we highly recommend downloading a traffic app like Florida 511 or Waze before visiting Central Florida.

1. Winter Park (20 minutes)

Less than 10 miles from Central Orlando, Winter Park is an easy day trip destination full of fascinating cultural and natural gems.

Begin your Winter Park exploration on the “World Famous Scenic Boat Tour,” which has been guiding guests along Lake Osceola since the 1930s. After your one-hour cruise, make a stop at Winter Park’s Morse Museum, which boasts an impressive collection of Tiffany glassware.

Other impressive sites in Winter Park include the campus of Rollins College, the Casa Feliz Historic Home Museum, and the Mead Botanical Garden.

On top of these famous attractions, Winter Park has many locally-owned cafés, boutique shops, and restaurants, especially near Central Park. Plus, if you visit early on Saturday morning, you could take advantage of the city’s highly reviewed Farmers’ Market.

Anyone interested in learning more about visiting this beautiful city could check out the City of Winter Park’s “Visitors Page.”

2. Blue Spring State Park (50 minutes)

Only about 40 miles north of Orlando, the Blue Spring State Park is a convenient day-tripping destination for nature enthusiasts. This state park is particularly well known for attracting manatees every winter, but it’s open to visitors from 8 AM till sundown every day of the year.

The most popular activity at this park is a 2-hour guided boat tour that takes guests along the scenic St. John’s River. For those who’d prefer to go on a self-guided tour, consider hiking the Pine Island Trail, camping, or renting a kayak or tube.

Parking at Blue Spring State Park now costs $6 per vehicle. Bear in mind that certain water activities are temporarily suspended in the winter season to protect the manatees. Check out Blue Spring State Park’s website for more specific details.

3. NASA Kennedy Space Center (1 hour)

About 50 miles east of Central Orlando, the NASA Kennedy Space Center is often considered an honorary “Orlando area attraction.” While not technically in the Orlando area, you really can’t pass on a trip here if you’re interested in all things outer space.

With a general admission pass, you’ll ride by former launch sites, watch spellbinding IMAX films, and see countless rare NASA artifacts up-close. For those who are extra curious about space travel, you could try a few NASA simulations or dine with an astronaut for an additional fee.

Currently, daily admission tickets to the Kennedy Space Center are $52 per adult and $42 per child. Usually, the Visitor Complex is open between 9 AM – 6 PM, but always check the Kennedy Space Center’s website for sudden closures.

FYI: we have a previous post on things to do in Cocoa Beach if you’re interested in further exploring Florida’s Space Coast.

4. Daytona Beach (1 hour)

Situated on Florida’s northeastern coast is one of the world’s speediest cities: Daytona Beach.

Officially dubbed the “World’s Most Famous Beach,” Daytona is the beloved birthplace of NASCAR and home of the Daytona International Speedway. By far the most popular event here is the Daytona 500 every February, but the Speedway is open for tours in-between events.

Other popular attractions in Daytona Beach include biking along the city’s 20-plus miles of hard-packed sand, climbing Florida’s tallest lighthouse, and enjoying summertime amusements at the Daytona Boardwalk. Daytona Beach is also home to the fun Daytona Lagoon Water Park and the world-class Museum of Arts & Sciences.

Although Daytona Beach has become increasingly family-friendly in recent years, it can still get a bit rowdy here during certain festivals. Travelers with little kids should be extra careful about visiting during Spring Break or October’s Biketoberfest.

The most convenient way to get to Daytona Beach is to drive 60 miles northeast along I-4. Just be forewarned: I-4 is one of the busiest highways in Florida. Definitely check traffic updates on your phone and, if possible, avoid morning rush hour.

5. Winter Haven (1 hour)

Many first-time visitors are surprised to learn that one of Central Florida’s most popular theme parks—LEGOLAND Florida—isn’t in Orlando . Although there is a cool LEGO Store in Disney Springs, you need to travel 50 miles southwest of Orlando to Winter Haven if you want to ride those colorful LEGOLAND coasters.

Although LEGOLAND is Winter Haven’s star attraction, there are a lot of other reasons to take a  day trip here. For instance, Winter Haven isn’t far from the nationally acclaimed 250-acre Bok Tower Gardens. Folks interested in fishing, watersports, and golfing will also find plenty of outdoor opportunities in area clubs and the Chain of Lakes.

Definitely check out this official Winter Park Visitor’s Guide before driving to this fantastic city.

6. Homosassa Springs State Park (1 hour and 30 minutes)

If it’s wildlife viewing you’re after, then add Homosassa Springs State Park to your itinerary. Get this: there are roughly 300 animals in this park, including rare species like the Florida panther, hippopotamus, and black bear.

After purchasing your pass at the park’s Visitor’s Center, you could take a tram or boat into the main wildlife area. Once inside, stroll along the well-maintained boardwalk, stop at viewing stations, and relax in a picnicking area. Before leaving, definitely take a trip down to the famed Underwater Observatory to get a glimpse of all the colorful fish in Homosassa Springs.

About 90 miles west of Orlando, Homosassa Springs State Park is usually open between 9 AM – 5:30 PM and tickets cost $13 per adult or $5 per child. We actually prepared a full post on visiting Homosassa Springs State Park with all the details you need.

7. Silver Springs State Park (1 hour and 30 minutes)

Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park (Citrus County, FL) | Photo by Paul Clark

The Silver Springs State Park is a lovely nature preserve not far from the city of Ocala. First established in the late 19th century, Silver Springs State Park is best known for its 30-minute guided glass-bottom boat tour where guests get a glimpse of fascinating marine life and artifacts from the past.

Silver Springs State Park also rents out paddleboards, private vessels, and kayaks to those who’d like to explore the area on their own.  Before heading back to Orlando, consider re-fueling at the charming Spring Side Café and sampling the park’s famous homemade fudge.

Silver Springs State Park is open from 8 AM till sunset every day of the year. There is a $2 entrance fee into the park, but please check the Silver Springs State Park’s website for pricing info on the glass-bottom boat tour.

Check out our full guide to visiting Silver Springs State Park here.

Bonus tip: you could also check out our recommendations for things to do in Ocala by clicking on this helpful link.

8. Rainbow Springs State Park (1 hour and 40 minutes)

Almost 100 miles northwest of Orlando, Rainbow Springs is considered one of Florida’s oldest and most beautiful state parks. It won’t take long for you to discover why Native Americans considered this area sacred ground thousands of years ago.

Whether you take the hiking trails, rent a kayak, or visit the park’s garden area, you’re bound to encounter Rainbow Springs’ fantastic flora.

Rainbow Springs State Park is open from 8 AM – sunset every day of the year and entrance costs $2 per adult. Anyone interested in renting tubes, kayaks, or canoes should check out the Rainbow Springs State Park website for pricing info.

9. Crystal River (1 hour and 40 minutes)

There are a lot of great places to see manatees in Central Florida, but Crystal River takes the cake. Located 90 miles northwest of Orlando, this pristine natural area is home to the 40-acre Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge and the Three Sisters Springs, both of which offer great winter manatee sightings.

Once you’re done hiking, kayaking, or boating through these reserves, cap off your day with a walk through Crystal River’s Heritage Village. In this historic section of town, you’ll find dozens of lovely restaurants, cafés, and shops well worth your time.

You can find out even more about all the attractions in Crystal River by visiting this official tourism webpage.

10. The Treasure Coast Cities (Between 1.5 hours and 2 hours)

Florida’s “Treasure Coast” refers to three eastern counties forever linked with the legend of an 18th-century ship’s sunken riches. Below, we’ll briefly go through three of the most popular Treasure Coast cities for Orlando day-trippers.

Vero Beach (1 hour and 30 minutes)

Now home to a major Disney Vacation Club Resort, Vero Beach has become increasingly popular with day-tripping Disney fans. But even those who want to escape the House of Mouse will find plenty to see here.

For instance, Vero Beach is home to the beloved McKee Botanical Garden, which has an amazing array of flowers, a new children’s garden, and the world’s largest mahogany table. Vero Beach visitors can also see Spanish doubloons in the McLarty Treasure Museum, shop at Vero Beach Outlets, or play sports in Historic Dodgertown.

Fort Pierce (1 hour and 45 minutes)

Fort Pierce is one of the Treasure Coast’s oldest cities best known for its great beach access and a lovely Downtown district. In addition to exploring the city’s beaches and restaurants, Fort Pierce scores high points with tourists for its Navy SEAL MuseumManatee Observation & Education Center, and Heathcote Botanical Gardens.

Definitely check out this article on things to do in Fort Pierce if you need a few more ideas.

Port St. Lucie (2 hours)

The most famous thing to do in Port St. Lucie is watching the New York Mets during spring training at First Data Field. Golfing fans, however, should find plenty to do at the city’s PGA Village.

If sports aren’t your bag, maybe you’d enjoy exploring this city’s natural attractions like the Port St. Lucie Botanical Gardens and the Savannas Preserve State Park. Oh yeah, Port St. Lucie also has a “treasure trove” of shopping opportunities like the Treasure Coast Square Mall and the Landing at Tradition.

11. Tampa (1 hour and 40 minutes)

Although Orlando may be the “World’s Theme Park Capital,” Tampa is no slacker in the amusement department. About an 85-mile drive southwest of Orlando, the Tampa Bay Area has plenty of world-class parks, museums, and beaches worthy of at least one day trip.

Busch Gardens Tampa is an obvious draw thanks to its thrilling roller coasters and epic safari rides. Other major attractions in Tampa proper include the massive Florida Aquarium, the happening Ybor Square neighborhood, and the Adventure Island water park.

For those in the mood for a relaxing beach getaway, Tampa Bay is sure to satisfy. Indeed, Tampa is just a stone’s throw from what many tourists consider the best beach in the world: Clearwater. Other popular beach destinations to look into include St. Pete Beach and Tarpon Springs.

12. Lake Kissimmee State Park (1 hour and 45 minutes)

Lake Kissimmee State Park: Dock | Photo by Ebyabe

If it’s cowboys you’re interested in, then a visit to Lake Kissimmee State Park is in order. 70 miles south of Orlando, this 5,930-acre park is best known for its historic “Cow Camp” where guests could learn first-hand what it took to be a rancher in the late 1800s.

On top of its unique homage to the cowboy days, Lake Kissimmee State Park has over 10 miles of hiking trails, kayaking opportunities, equestrian paths, and fishing areas. There are also plenty of camping sites for those who book reservations.

Lake Kissimmee State Park is open between 7 AM and sundown seven days a week, but the “Cow Camp” is only open select days in the winter. Parking prices are now set at $5 per vehicle.

Need more info? Check out this link to the Lake Kissimmee State Park’s official website.

13. Alafia River State Park (1 hour and 50 minutes)

Yes, Florida is a pretty flat state, but that doesn’t mean mountain bikers have to suffer. Interestingly, Florida’s Alafia River State Park is well known for its extreme elevations, making it perfect for all hardcore cyclists in the region.

Those who like to take things a bit slower, however, could enjoy hiking, fishing, and horse riding activities. Just remember these trails are a bit steeper than those in other Florida parks, which makes them ideal for intermediate to advanced hikers.

Alafia River’s operating hours are from 8 AM – sundown and there is a parking fee of $5 per vehicle. To get here, you will have to travel about 80 miles southwest of Orlando. The Alafia River State Park’s website could easily be reached on this handy link.

14. St. Augustine (2 hours)

At over 100 miles northeast of Orlando, it’s a bit of a hike to get to St. Augustine. However, if you’re a history lover, then you owe it to yourself to visit America’s oldest city.

Founded in the 1500s, St. Augustine has a uniquely Spanish flair that you won’t find anywhere else in the states. To make the most of your day trip, consider driving straight to the St. Augustine Lighthouse because this popular destination usually opens at 9 AM. Afterward, head into the historic center of the city and explore a few museums, homes, or the ever-popular Castillo de San Marcos.

For more specifics on things to do in St. Augustine please visit our previous article on the subject.

15. Honeymoon Island State Park (2 hours and 15 minutes)

If it’s remote and romantic you’re looking for, how could you go wrong with an island literally named Honeymoon? A short drive north of Tampa, this lovely island has all you’d expect from its name: a 4-mile stretch of pristine sand, hiking & biking trails galore, and untouched natural splendor.

Honeymoon Island is 115 miles southwest of Orlando and usually open between 8 AM – sundown. As for parking, you will have to pay $8 per vehicle once you arrive on the island.

If you’re interested in more detailed info then check out this post about visiting Honeymoon Island.

Any more ideas?

If you live in Orlando or have visited the area, and you have more ideas for a great day out – please let us know! Just leave us a comment below to do that – and thank you!

15 Self-Drive Day Trips From Orlando, Florida

 

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