I recently set out on a mission to show my daughters another side of Florida. I created a bucket list of places in the Sunshine State I want to take my girls, things to see and do as a family. In partnership with Visit Florida, here are 10 Central Florida day trips my family has checked off our to-do list.
10 Central Florida Day Trips
Everyone who has driven I4 from Orlando to Tampa has driven past Dinosaur World in Plant City, we have more times that I can count. Finally we stopped for a visit at the quaint roadside attraction, and I can’t believe it took us so long. What a fun afternoon, filled with a fossil dig, gem mining and lots and lots of dinosaurs. If your kids are into dinosaurs, this place is a must. But even the average kid (like mine) will find a ton of fun at this surprising mini theme park. No rides, but lots of things to explore. And plenty of great photo opps!
Tips – Pack a picnic lunch and spring for the gem mining – totally worth it!
Kennedy Space Center
For an out-of-this-world adventure, nothing beats Kennedy Space Center. Each time my family visits KSC we discover there is more to explore at this larger-than-life space park. A day at KSC is filled with ohhs and ahhs as parents and kids discover space. The Space Shuttle Atlantis attraction will take your breath away as you realize just how enormous the task of visiting space really is. And thrill seekers will love blasting off on the Shuttle Launch Experience. For a real “WOW,” time your visit with a rocket launch and watch a launch up close.
Tip – Plan to spend a full day at KSC, and don’t miss trying the astronaut ice cream in the souvenir shop.
If you have a need for speed, the Richard Petty Driving Experience at the Daytona International Speedway is your ticket to ride. Whether you are ready to take the wheel or just want to ride-along, you will experience NASCAR speeds. How fast do you go? My husband clocked 167 when he took the wheel! Not just for adults, kids ages 6-13 can enjoy the thrill of a Junior Ride-Along. All riders are equipped with full gear and safety equipment. Even my six year old loved this adventure.
Tip – Bring someone along to take photos, this an experience you will want to capture. (Makes a great gift idea too!)
Watch a Junior Ride-Along. (This video was taken at the former Walt Disney World Speedway, but the same experience is now offered at Daytona.)
What could possibly be more magical than real live mermaids?! Nothing. Since 1947 the Weeki Wachee mermaids have delighted audiences, and decades later the show is still just as memorizing. Sure, it is just about as kitchty as it gets, but it is filled with good old-fashion fun too. The mermaids are magical and the mini water park is a blast. Where else can you enjoy wooden slides and take a plunge from a platform into a natural spring, after watching mermaids sing and dance 20 feet below the surface?
Tip – Pack a picnic lunch, beach blankets and some chairs. We also recommend the short pontoon boat ride and a stop at the ice cream parlor.
The beach is less than an hour away from Central Florida, and there is nothing more appealing than white sandy beaches on a hot summer day. Whether you choose to relax in the warmer waters of the Gulf of Mexico on the West Coast or hang-ten in the Atlantic on the East Coast, Florida’s beaches can’t be beat. My beach bums love the sand and splashing in the water. On the East coast I recommend Cocoa Beach, on the West we love Pass-A-Grille.
Tip – Sunscreen, of course, and a full arsenal of beach toys, towels and chairs.
Ready for a classic Florida adventure?! Try a high-speed airboat ride through marshy St. Johns river for a ride like no other. My daughters couldn’t stop giggling as the wind whipped their hair everywhere and the boat glided smoothly over the shallow water. We saw plenty of wildlife including gators, fish, birds and cows on the scenic trip. I’ve boated with two local companies Boggy Creek AirBoat Rides and Midway Airboat Rides both offered fantastic scenery and a great ride.
In a state filled with lakes and rivers there are plenty of places to put in a canoe or kayak. The most unique kayaking experience is to glide through the glowing bioluminescent waters of the Indian River Lagoon on a warm summer night. Truly magical. For younger kids kayaking is also available at Wekiva Springs and the Brevard Zoo.
Tip – Do not forget the bug spray. A picnic is also a must for this adventure.
Not all movie stars are standoffish, some are downright friendly. At Clearwater Marine Aquarium families can meet Winter, the star of Dolphin Tale, and her fellow rescued marine animals. Although Winter is a permanent resident of the facility due to her injury, the aquarium’s mission is to rescue, rehab and release local wildlife. A visit to the facility is more than just a fun afternoon, it is an opportunity for kids to learn about the protection and care of animals.
There is nothing sweeter than fruit you pick, plus it is a fun family adventure. Get the family outside on a sunny day and enjoy picking your own strawberries (February/March) or blueberries (April/May) in Plant City. Most you pick farms charge by the bucket, so you can pick all the berries you want. Find pick your own farms all over Florida
Tip – Be sure to bring water to stay hydrated, and use the facilities before you arrive.
Although you can find gators in nearly every lake, pond, stream and river in Florida, you’ve never seen so many gators in one place until you visit Gatorland. It’s another old Florida tradition that has been captivating visitors for more than 60 years. While gators are the main event, my kids also enjoy feeding the goats. For even more adventure try the Screamin’ Gator Zip Line, get your photo taken while gator wrestling or take a back stage tour to feed the gators (video).
There are so many great things to see and do in Florida, and my family has barely made a dent in my bucket list. Up next we want to swim with manatees and explore Florida caves. We also want to meet more wildlife and visit timeless Florida vacation spots. #LoveFL
What’s your family’s favorite Central Florida day trips?
For more family adventure, check out 10 Adventures You Can’t Miss On Florida’s Space Coast.
This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of VISIT FLORIDA. The opinions and text are all mine.