Orlando is one of the most popular and best places to visit in the U.S., being known for theme parks like Disney World and Universal Studios. The city sees over 65 million tourists every year, and while there are plenty of outstanding attractions in Orlando to entertain them, few venture out to nearby attractions on day trips. That’s where we here at Road Affair come in! We’re here to share the best day trips from Orlando so you can make the most out of your visit to the Sunshine State. Whether you’re interested in fantastic beach towns, state parks, or just about anything else, you’ll find all the best attractions near Orlando here in our guide. So, what do you say we get this list on the road already?
Kennedy Space Center
As a kid, you probably dreamed about going to space (unless you were extremely afraid of the dark), right? Most of us did, so it’s no surprise that the Kennedy Space Center is easily the most popular day trip from Orlando.
While we can’t promise that you’ll blast off to space here, we can say that you’ll get to see real rocket ships, participate in simulations, and maybe even meet a real astronaut. This family-friendly attraction boasts 60 interactive experiences for the young and young-at-heart space enthusiasts alike. You may even be lucky enough to visit during a real NASA launch!
The Kennedy Space Center is roughly an hour’s drive from Orlando, depending on traffic. You can purchase general admission tickets here. It’s also possible to visit on a day tour from Orlando using this round-trip space center ticket with bus transfer included. To learn more about the best ways to visit, check out our guide on buying tickets to the Kennedy Space Center.
If you haven’t heard of the beauty of St. Augustine, you are in for a treat, my friend. Not many would guess that the oldest U.S. city is in Florida, but St. Augustine is! This Spanish colonial-style city was founded in 1562 (that’s 55 years before the pilgrims arrived at Plymouth) and is also home to the narrowest street in the country.
On an Orlando day trip to St. Augustine, you can admire the stunning architecture, tour the Castillo de San Marcos (the oldest fortress in the continental U.S.), and explore one of the many museums, such as the Pirate & Treasure Museum. There are also a few distilleries and breweries where you can wet your whistle (this is a vacation, after all).
St. Augustine is roughly a two-hour drive from Orlando. To avoid traffic, you can also visit the city with this combo ticket, which includes admission to the Pirate & Treasure Museum and bus transfers to and from Orlando.
Tarpon Springs is one of the most adorable seaside towns in Florida. It’s known not only for its fresh seafood, but also its abundant Greek culture, cuisine, and sponges! Greek immigrants were actually drawn to this area because of the sponges. The Greeks had been perfecting the art of sponge diving for centuries, and the immigrants used that knowledge to create an industry and town around it. You can find a plethora of Greek restaurants and shops offering sponge-related souvenirs on the Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks.
If you want to get out on the water after touring the docks, take the scenic causeway drive to Fred Howard Park. This island beach is popular for swimming, fishing, windsurfing, and other water sports, offering kayaks and other equipment for rent. Other attractions in or near Tarpon Springs include Unrefined Brewing, Honeymoon Island State Park, Lake Tarpon, and the Replay Museum, where you can see (and play!) over 100 vintage arcade games.
Tarpon Springs is about two hours from Orlando. If you make the drive, plan your departure times carefully – you definitely don’t want to pass through Tampa during rush hour.
Daytona Beach has quite a reputation as a party area, but there’s much more to this coastal town than spring break. While it does get very lively in March, it also hosts other popular events, such as the Daytona 500 NASCAR race, the Daytona Turkey Run (a classic car festival), and Daytona Beach Bike Week, the largest motorcycle event in the world!
While visiting during one of these events would definitely be a hoot, several permanent attractions also make Daytona Beach worth visiting on a day tour from Orlando. Its sandy shores are fantastic for walking, relaxing, or even driving. The west coast also offers much better surfing opportunities than the east in general. After a day at the beach, you can hit up the Daytona Beach Boardwalk to play carnival games, ride the Ferris wheel, or enjoy some tasty treats. The town also boasts the Daytona Lagoon water park, the Museum of Arts & Sciences, several beach bars and restaurants, and the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America.
Daytona Beach is just under an hour’s drive from central Orlando. You can also get to Daytona Beach on Greyhound or FlixBus with just a slightly longer travel time.
Blue Spring State Park
One thing often forgotten about Florida is how many fresh springs it has, and these freshwater swimming pools are easily one of the best things to see in Florida outside of Orlando.
Blue Spring State Park is about 40 minutes north of Orlando and offers crystal-clear swimming havens for those hot Florida days. This dog-friendly park is the perfect spot to spend a day in nature, with plenty of activities available. You can rent a kayak or canoe and explore the waterways or, for a more relaxing experience, rent an inflatable tube and float down the river. You can also take a guided boat cruise around the park or a self-guided tour of the historic Thursby House.
Of course, the main attraction is the stunning springs, which maintain an ideal year-round temperature of 72 degrees Fahrenheit. You can snorkel, float, or even dive in the waters. If you’re lucky, you may even see some manatees in the river!
We strongly advise arriving at Blue Spring State Park as early as you can, as it’s one of the most popular springs to visit in Florida. The park runs on a first-come, first-served basis and often hits capacity early in the morning. If you want to get up close and personal with manatees on a guided tour, consider booking this three-hour manatee experience by kayak!
Weeki Wachee Springs State Park
You’ll find another fantastic spring at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park. The water itself isn’t the only draw of this spring – it’s actually home to the deepest underwater cave system in the U.S. The park combines the natural beauty of the springs with entertainment for families, including rides, a water park, and live mermaid shows.
You can explore the environment by swimming, renting a kayak or canoe, or taking a riverboat cruise. The spring is also popular with cave divers, but you’ll have to apply for a pass if you want to dive in Weeki Wachee Springs!
You can get to Weeki Wachee Springs State Park from Orlando in roughly an hour and a half by car. Get there as early as possible (especially during summer or holidays), as the park runs on a first-come, first-served basis and often fills up for the day quite early.
Lined with hanging oak trees and historic architecture, Mount Dora is a gorgeous city with a classic American small-town feel and unique attractions. It’s also a short trip from Orlando if you drive or call a rideshare, taking only 30 minutes to reach by car.
When you arrive in this cozy town, visit the Victorian-era Lakeside Inn – which is Florida’s longest continuously operating hotel and reputedly haunted – to walk the oak-filled grounds and enjoy a meal at the restaurant. If you’re more interested in the rumored hauntings, you can book a ghost tour of the inn and town. Other great things to do in Mount Dora include bargain shopping at Renninger’s Flea Market & Antique Center, browsing the unique designs at the Modernism Museum, and strolling through Donnelly Park.
Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park
On the east side of Florida, just under a two-hour drive from Orlando, you’ll find pristine nature at Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. This is an especially great place to see manatees, as the Underwater Observatory lets you watch them in their natural habitat. This beautiful state park is also home to several captive animals, such as alligators, Key deer, black bears, and the oldest living hippopotamus in captivity (he just turned 62!).
Once you’ve visited both the land and sea animals, you can take a short boat tour of the river or a bird-watching stroll down Pepper Creek Trail. Unfortunately, swimming is not allowed at the park, but you can enjoy several hiking trails and an on-site restaurant.
Tampa or St. Petersburg
Tampa Bay, home to both Tampa and St. Petersburg, is a fantastic and relatively close day trip from Orlando. The area hosts not only some professional sports teams, including the Tampa Bay Lightning and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but also several world-class beaches and museums.
Once you’re in Tampa, head downtown to stroll down the 2.6-mile Tampa Riverwalk and visit attractions like the Tampa Museum of Art, The Florida Aquarium, and the Tampa Bay History Center. You can rent small boats, paddleboards, and kayaks or hire a captain to take you on a boat cruise around the city. You can also find great food stalls at both Armature Works and Sparkman Wharf. Another great part of Tampa to visit is Ybor City, a neighborhood known for its Hispanic roots, fantastic food, and cigar-rolling shops.
A 30-minute drive east will take you to St. Petersburg, another fantastic coastal city with plenty of attractions. If you’re after some sand and surf, play volleyball at St. Petersburg Municipal Beach or head to the neighboring beach town of Treasure Island, where you can book a fishing excursion or rent a Jet Ski at John’s Pass. Alternatively, the downtown area boasts the Salvador Dalí Museum, the St. Pete Pier, the James Museum of Western & Wildlife Art, and various breweries and restaurants. If you time your visit right, you could even catch a Tampa Bay Rays baseball game at Tropicana Field!
Sarasota is easily one of the most popular vacation towns in Florida. It’s well worth a visit if you’re a beach fan, as you’ll find Siesta Key just off the city’s coast. This barrier island is home to Siesta Beach, which TripAdvisor users voted to be the best U.S. beach in the 2020 Travelers’ Choice Awards. This haven of white sand offers miles of pristine waters and clean shores for an excellent beach day. You can book excursions here as well, such as parasailing, sunset cruises, and fishing tours. After some quality beach time, take the free trolley to Siesta Key Village to browse the shops and grab a bite to eat.
Sarasota offers more than just excellent beaches, though. You can enjoy over 10 acres of greenery and wildlife at Sarasota Jungle Gardens, learn about stingrays at Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium, or tour eccentric circus king John Ringling’s palatial home, Cà d’Zan. Other fantastic attractions include the Sarasota Classic Car Museum, the Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary, the Siesta Key Rum Distillery, and the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art.
Whether you’re into Legos or not, Legoland Florida is one of the best theme parks in the state! The main park features over 50 rides for both kids and adults, along with live shows, meet-and-greet opportunities, and plenty of chances for creativity with the famous building blocks!
If your little ones are fans of a certain animated pig, take a few strides from Legoland to the new Peppa Pig Theme Park next door! On the other side is the Legoland Florida Water Park, where you can ride the thrilling waterslides, build your own raft and float down the lazy river, or cool off in the wave pool.
Legoland is a 45-minute drive from Orlando in the city of Winter Haven. You can purchase your ticket to Legoland Florida here, with free cancellation up to 24 hours before your visit.
Devil’s Den Spring
Devil’s Den is an ideal day trip for snorkeling and diving. This enormous dry cave boasts a large natural spring with fossils dating back to the Pleistocene Epoch.
You can’t enjoy a leisurely swim here, but you can rent a snorkel and explore the cave system while wading through the crystal waters, which stay at a comfortable temperature of 72 F. If you’re a diver, you can explore the underwater caverns with a guide and tick cave diving off the bucket list. You only need an open-water diving certification to dive here! Once you’ve seen plenty of ancient stalactites, you can make lunch on a charcoal grill and relax under a pavilion in this privately owned nature area.
Ocala National Forest
If you want to get out into nature and enjoy Florida’s natural beauty, take a day trip from Orlando to Ocala National Forest to wander among its tall pines and palm trees. The forest is about an hour and 15 minutes north of Orlando.
Ocala offers plenty of adventurous activities, such as mountain biking from the Munson Hills Off-Road Bike Trailhead, horseback riding, and ATV tours. Kayaks and canoes are also available for rent, letting you explore the forest’s waterways and over 600 springs! To explore the park on foot, hike one of the many scenic paths – such as the Yearling Trail, which will lead you past sinkholes and homesteads from the 19th century.
If you want a dip in a natural spring, head to Alexander Springs for its clear, refreshing waters. You can also go swimming at Silver Lake and snorkeling at the Salt Springs Recreational Area.
Canaveral National Seashore
Are you looking to escape the crowds at the theme parks and attractions in Orlando? Then you can’t go wrong with a visit to the Canaveral National Seashore, which is just an hour away from Orlando. This picturesque park offers plenty of secluded beach areas for a day in the sun and away from bustling crowds.
The park also has four interpretive hiking trails and the Manatee Observation Deck. Other activities include horseback riding, fishing, boating, and surfing. It’s also possible to watch rocket launches from the Kennedy Space Center here, as long as the launch is within the park’s operating hours. As with most national parks, admittance is on a first-come, first-served basis, so get there early, especially if you plan to visit during a launch.
One of the best side trips from Orlando is to the famous Cocoa Beach, which features some of the best waves in the state for surfing or learning to surf. The clean sands offer a great spot to spend a day in the sun, and there are several bars and restaurants along the beach.
There are plenty of other activities in the town in case you want to explore a bit more. You can search for gators and bald eagles on an airboat tour of the St. Johns River, watch the release of freshly hatched sea turtles into the ocean from the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge, or check out one of the many craft breweries.
If you stay past nightfall, you may get to see the bioluminescent waters. You can even take a kayak tour to see dolphins and manatees splashing around in the glowing water!
Bok Tower Gardens
If you’re looking for a unique day trip, consider visiting the “singing” tower at Bok Tower Gardens, just over an hour’s drive from Orlando. This is a great place to escape into nature and hear a carillon – a rare instrument composed of 23 tuned bells and played by keyboard. There are only about 600 carillons left in the world, only 185 of which are in North America. The carillon tower at Bok Tower Gardens is a real treat for the ears, playing a beautiful bell song twice a day (at 1 and 3 p.m.) and small chimes every 30 minutes.
Of course, Bok Tower Gardens is a treat for the eyes as well. Roam through the Olmsted Garden to see magnolias and other native plants, or keep your eyes on the skies for a glimpse of one of the 126 bird species that frequent the gardens. Another interesting sight here is El Retiro, a massive Mediterranean-style mansion that dates back to the 1930s. You can explore the picturesque home on your own or on a guided tour.
Have you really been to Florida if you haven’t seen the manatees? These adorable ocean creatures, often referred to as “sea cows,” are the ultimate gentle giant, and you can interact with them at Crystal River! This coastal city is an hour and a half away from Orlando by car.
Crystal River is the home of the world’s largest manatee population – and the only place in the U.S. where you can swim with these protected animals. We recommend booking a guided tour to learn more about manatees and how to interact with them. If swimming with manatees sounds like your cup of tea, consider this small-group swim with manatees or this three-hour pontoon cruise and manatee swim.
The city is home to some fantastic springs as well, which is what draws manatees here in the winter. You can explore the waterways and rivers by renting a kayak or swimming around on your own. Other attractions include Mertailor’s Mermaid Aquarium Encounter, Copp Brewery and Winery, and Crystal River State Archaeological Site.
Wekiwa Springs State Park
If you’re looking for a closer spring or state park than the others we’ve covered, take the 20-minute drive from central Orlando to Wekiwa Springs State Park. This fantastic park features the Wekiva River, which is perfect for kayaking or canoeing to see alligators and other native animals. You can rent boats at the park or even take a 2.5-hour guided stand-up paddleboard tour of the river to learn more about the environment!
The park’s other big draw is its large spring, which boasts refreshing 72-degree water all year round. There are also several hiking and birding trails, ranging from less than a mile to 13 miles long. Just be careful, as you may share some trails with bikers and horseback riders.
The town of Clearwater Beach is a popular Florida destination for good reason. The beach itself features boardwalk surf shops, lively bars, Captain Memo’s Pirate Cruise, and the Clearwater Marine Aquarium (which inspired the movie Dolphin Tale). The white sand rivals that of other top-rated beaches around the world and offers plenty of space to enjoy a day in the sun. Later in the day, Pier 60 comes alive with vendors and entertainers to offer a unique sunset experience on the waterfront.
Clearwater Beach is just under a two-hour drive from Orlando, but be careful not to get caught in the Interstate 4 traffic in Tampa or Orlando. To avoid the risk altogether, you can get round-trip transportation with this tour ticket from Greyhound and GetYourGuide. Another option is this combo tour ticket that bundles the day trip to Clearwater with a fishing charter.
New Smyrna Beach
New Smyrna Beach is another excellent trip for a day in the sun and ocean. Located just south of Daytona Beach and a one-hour drive from Orlando, this beach city is particularly known for its surfing opportunities.
If you want to do more than chill on the beach or learn to surf, you have other attractions to visit here. Smyrna Dunes Park offers lovely walking trails, boardwalks, and scenic points. Across the inlet from the park stands the Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse, which is the tallest lighthouse in Florida and includes a museum. A fantastic attraction for animal lovers is the Volusia County Marine Science Center, where you can get up close and personal with seahorses, turtles, and other sea creatures. Other interesting sights include the New Smyrna Sugar Mill Ruins, Old Fort Park, and the New Smyrna Museum of History.
Now that you know the best places to visit from Orlando, all you have to do is decide which ones fit your itinerary! Whether you’re a resident of Orlando or a tourist looking to see more of Florida, we know you’ll have a fantastic time at any of these locations. Bon voyage!