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21 Fun Day Trips From Orlando Florida • McCool Travel

21 Fun Day Trips From Orlando Florida • McCool Travel

These fun day trips from Orlando Florida offer cool, fun, and happy experiences, whether you have a few hours or a full day to explore. From swimming with manatees to watching amazing US Gulf Coast sunsets, these Orlando day trips will make every person in your family or group happy and add memorable experiences to your Central Florida vacations.

The following Orlando getaways are listed according to distance from Orlando Airport, according to Google Maps. The last few are over 3 hours away and may be better for an overnight stay. For all these Orlando day trip getaways, I list other things to do in the Florida destinations along with links to more detailed articles.

21 Fun Day Trips from Orlando Florida

Places to Eat in Florida : amazing beach view at Frenchy's in Clearwater Beach
local Florida eats: Frenchy’s Rockaway Grill in Clearwater Beach

The following road trips from Orlando offer outdoor heart-pumping experiences, unabashed and authentic Old Florida cuisine and culture, and chances to get away from it all into a different and more naturally enjoyable world than the Florida theme parks.

1. Drive an Airboat in Kissimmee

Distance and Time (from Orlando Airport ): 16 miles, 28 minutes

Disney World, Magic Kingdom, Universal, Sea World, and so much more of the Central Florida funness are actually not in Orlando but nearby in Kissimmee—a place I call #Kidsimmee. Things to do in Kissimmee include adventure experiences and even quirky statues—Monument of States in historic downtown Kissimmee is worth a visit. Driving an airboat makes this one of the best day trips from Orlando. Buy Boggy Creek airboat tickets in advance and save money, time, and stress.

For more information, please see Fun Things to Do in Kissimmee Florida

2. Space Out at Cape Canaveral

Distance and Time (from Orlando): 46 miles, 44 minutes

I Dream of Jeannie Lane street sign
Florida scenic drives: I Dream of Jeannie Lane in Cocoa Beach

Spend a day on Florida’s Space Coast and see where USA’s major rockets are launched. At Cape Canaveral, you may even meet an astronaut but will definitely see plenty of space rockets and memorabilia. Nearby Cocoa Beach is fun to watch surfers and visit the original Ron Jon Surf Shop.

Find other fun Florida road trip stops on a Galactic Road Trip at Scenic Drives in Florida.

3. Camp Margaritaville Auburndale

Distance and Time (from Orlando): 46 miles, 49 minutes

Change your latitude (and attitude) at the Camp Margaritaville RV Resort in Central Florida. Park your RV, trailer, or other rig, or stay in one of their ultra-cool cabana cabins. The property is next door to the Elite Cable Park, where you can add a waterski or wakeboard experience to your #LiquidRoadTrip itinerary.

For more information, see 8 Great Reasons to Stay at Camp Margaritaville Auburndale

4. Feed Lemurs in Lakeland

Distance and Time (from Orlando): 57 miles, 56 minutes

If fun animal experiences are on your Florida to-do list, hundreds of exotic animals from around the world await you at Safari Wilderness in Lakeland. Register for the unforgettable Lemur Feeding experience to make this one of your all-time favorite day trips from Orlando.

McCool Travel tip: Other highly recommended things to do in Lakeland Florida area include the Frank Lloyd Wright architecture tour at Florida Southern College, Bok Tower Gardens (Florida’s Taj Mahal!), and a citrus grove visit or tour.

For more information, please see Fun Things to Do in Central Florida

5. Explore Natural Florida on the Florida Trail

Distance and Time (from Orlando): 65 miles, 1 hour 9 minutes

Florid Trail is one of 11 US National Scenic Trails and covers over 1,500 miles of the Sunshine State. The Florida Trail Central Region offers several hiking segments close to Orlando, including Lake Jesup, Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park, Tosohatchee, and Green Swamp. One excellent spot for an Orlando day trip is 65 miles from Orlando Airport into the heart of Ocala National Forest. FT crosses highway 19 about 7.5 miles north of Altoona and you can walk in either direction—Alexander Springs is a popular natural swimming area 4 miles east and Juniper Springs is 11 miles west.

For more natural Florida opportunities, see 15 Fun and Fascinating Photo Spots in Florida for Nature Lovers

6. Visit the World’s Most Famous Beach, Daytona Beach

Distance and Time (from Orlando): 74 miles, 1 hour 11 minutes

Daytona Beach sign
Daytona Beach sign

Daytona Beach is famous for the origins of NASCAR, when the drivers raced on the hard beach sand. Eleven of the 23 miles of Daytona Beach sand can still be driven (only at low tide). Besides the world’s most famous beach, visit the Daytona International Speedway (NASCAR history and funness), go skydiving (or just watch) at Skydive DeLand, and even see where Jackie Robinson first played professional baseball.

For more information, please see 8 Great Things to Do in Daytona Beach

7. Cuban Food and History in Ybor City, Tampa

Distance and Time (from Orlando): 84 miles, 1 hour 18 minutes

For more information, please see 5 Fun Ways to See Tampa Florida and for overnight stays check out Epicurean Hotel in Tampa or Fenway Hotel in Dunedin.

8. Visit Florida Ancient Beaches in Lakes Wales Ridge

Distance and Time (from Orlando): 58 miles, 1 hour 20 minutes

Florida orange dirt road through citrus grove
Florida orange dirt road through citrus grove

Visit some of the oldest land in the United States located an hour south of Orlando Airport. When the entire continent was underwater, this area was the only dry part. While the surrounding land is prime for citrus groves with its red clay, the elevated Lake Wales Ridge running down the spine of Florida has white sand, just like the beaches. McCool Travel tip: hardly anyone visits Lake Wales Ridge so this is a really cool and fun secret Florida experience!

For more information, please see Florida Hills – Yes, Hills!

9. Swim With Manatees in Crystal River

Distance and Time (from Orlando): 96 miles, 1 hour 42 minutes

Swimming with Manatees Crystal River FL, photo by Explorida Adventures
Swimming with Manatees Crystal River FL, photo by Explorida Adventures

The highlight of any Florida trip and perhaps your entire life could be swimming with manatees in their natural habitat. Load up the car with the family, your sweetheart, or just yourself and treat everyone to one of the most magnificent and memorable experiences on Earth. Swimming with manatees is one of the most unique and cool activities on the US Gulf Coast.

For more information, please see Fun Things to Do in Crystal River FL: Manatee Tours and More

10. Outdoor and Foodie Fun in Gainesville

Distance and Time (from Orlando): 120 miles, 1 hour 50 minutes

There is so much to do in Gainesville besides visiting the University of Florida (Go Gators!). Other Gainesville FL highlights include the Cade Museum of Creativity and Invention, Depot Park, Sweetwater Wetlands Park, dozens of cool wall murals, remarkable pizza at Satchel’s, and Florida’s most sustainable craft brewery (Swamp Head). McCool Travel tip: During a quick Gainesville visit, sample various food and drink options on a Gainesville Food Tour.

For more information, please see Things to Do in Gainesville on a Florida Getaway Vacation

11. Explore USA’s Oldest City, St Augustine

Distance and Time (from Orlando): 125 miles, 2 hours

things to do in St Augustine Florida: Ponce de Leon Bridge. Article and photo by Charles McCool for McCool Travel.
Ponce de Leon Bridge in St Augustine

Explore the oldest European settlement in the United States (continuously inhabited, not including San Juan Puerto Rico) and soak in the authentic history. Tour the oldest masonry fort (Castillo de San Marcos), walk the cobblestone streets, climb the lighthouse for great views, join a haunted tour at night, and visit the lavish Flagler College and learn Thomas Edison’s big mistake. McCool Travel tip: St Augustine Alligator Farm is amazing to visit when the migrating birds are building nests and bearing new offspring.

For more information, please see 8 Great Things to do in St Augustine Florida

12. Florida Gulf Coast Hidden Gem in Pass-a-Grille

Distance and Time (from Orlando): 115 miles, 2 hours 1 minute

pool area at Coconut Inn in Pass-a-Grille
pool area at Coconut Inn in Pass-a-Grille

At the southern tip of Clearwater Beach is a mini version of Key West called Pass-a-Grille. Do not miss it. With a handful of magnificent locally owned seafood joints, bars, and shops, Pass-a-Grille is a favorite US Gulf Coast destination to escape and unwind. McCool Travel tip: while St Petersburg Beach and Clearwater Beach have massive condo and hotel buildings, we prefer the quieter and more authentic neighbors of Pass-a-Grille and Indian Rocks Beach.

For more information, please see Fun Things to Do in Pass-a-Grille

13. Drum Circles and Other US Gulf Coast Sunset Funness in Sarasota

Distance and Time (from Orlando): 131 miles, 2 hours 2 minutes

Siesta Key FL sunset drum circle
Siesta Key FL sunset drum circle

The Sarasota beaches are phenomenal. You can find shark teeth at Caspersen, watch phenomenal sunsets at Venice Beach (I saw the first and only heart reflection there), and join the dynamic drum circle at Siesta Key. During the day, explore Oscar Scherer State Park, bike the Legacy Trail, shop and stroll downtown Sarasota (the Sarasota Farmers Market on Saturday is amazing), and visit Historic Spanish Point (love the oak trees there!).

For more information, please see 15 Cool Things to Do in Sarasota Florida

14. View the Lake Placid Murals

Distance and Time (from Orlando): 100 miles, 2 hours 3 minutes

Nearly 50 vibrant and colorful wall murals make the downtown Lake Placid buildings come alive with history, nature, and laughter. Reader’s Digest selected Lake Placid Florida as the most interesting US town in 2013 and you should find out why on your Orlando day trip.

For more information, please see Florida Street Art: See The Incredible Lake Placid Murals

15. USA’s Best Secret Beach, Anna Maria Island

Distance and Time (from Orlando): 125 miles, 2 hours 12 minutes

Scenic Drives in Florida: Anna Maria Island beach
Scenic Drives in Florida: Anna Maria Island beach

Dang it, this is the one place in the world I want to keep a secret. Anna Maria Island is my favorite beach and it has fun and cool things to do, amazing food, and a perfect combination of relaxed luxury and eccentricity. I am letting you in on this McCool Travel secret because it is the future US Gulf Coast HQ when those pesky Powerball numbers bring me a nine-digit payoff. Splurge at one of the top ten US restaurants or spend a handful of coins a block away at one of the quirkiest places I have been.

For more information, please see 16 Cool Things to Do in Anna Maria Island Florida

16. St Petersburg Day Trip for Art Lovers

Distance and Time (from Orlando): 108 miles, 2 hours 15 minutes

St Petersburg is packed with interesting art. Visit the Dali Museum, Museum of Fine Arts, Chihuly Glass Museum (the only place he specifically selected to house his pieces), and walk around downtown to check out the colorful street art. McCool Travel tip: drive through the nearby Pink Streets neighborhood and have a meal in the quaint town of Gulfport.

For more information, please see St Petersburg FL Art Museums and Art Scene

17. Fun Liquid Road Trip in a Glass Bottom Kayak, Punta Gorda

Distance and Time (from Orlando): 137 miles, 2 hours 31 minutes

Glass Bottom Rentals Kayaking
Glass Bottom Rentals Kayaking

Punta Gorda highlights include Peace River Wildlife Center (as close as you can get to wild birds), Babcock Ranch Swamp Buggy Tour (hold an alligator!), a liquid road trip in a clear kayak (see everything below!), and two of our favorite US Gulf Coast restaurants. It is difficult to find fresher seafood and better Florida waterfront dining experiences than at Peace River Seafood and Farlow’s on the Water.

For more information, please see 15 Fun Things to Do in Punta Gorda Florida

18. Find Shark Teeth on Amelia Island

Distance and Time (from Orlando): 194 miles, 3 hours 2 minutes

8 Great Things To Do in Amelia Island Florida.
epic trees at Big Talbot Island State Park, Florida

OK, yes, you can find shark teeth on Amelia, as I did on the beach outside Fort Clinch State Park (just a stone throw from Georgia). But you can also drive on the beach (like down in Daytona Beach), visit Florida’s oldest bar, Florida’s oldest hotel, and two magnificent relaxed luxury resorts. McCool Travel tip: allow time to explore the otherworldly Boneyard Beach on Big Talbot Island.

For more information, please see 8 Great Things to Do in Amelia Island Florida

19. Shells, Seafood, and Sunsets at Sanibel and Captiva Islands

Distance and Time (from Orlando): 157 miles, 3 hours 3 minutes

Captiva island sunset at South Seas Island Resort
Captiva island sunset at South Seas Island Resort

The Ft. Myers beaches are about 3 hours from Orlando and are a wonderful destination to kayak around mangrove islands or take a relaxing dolphin watch sunset cruise. Add another hour (at least) to get to captivating and precious Captiva Island—but it is so worth it. Stay overnight (or a week) at the wonderful South Seas Island Resort. On the way, visit the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge and the National Shelling Museum on Sanibel Island.

For more information, please see Fun Things to Do in Fort Myers Beach on a Southwest Florida Vacation

20. Florida’s Most Unique Architecture

Distance and Time (from Orlando): 218 miles, 3 hour 12 minutes

Spanish Monastery in Miami was built in 1141 (in Spain!)
Spanish Monastery in Miami was built in 1141 (in Spain!)

A fun pitstop on the drive between Orlando and Miami or Key West is to see the oldest building in the United States—actually the oldest building in the entire western hemisphere. A few miles from the Spanish Monastery in North Miami Beach, visit one of the strangest towns in Florida, Opa-Locka, which was originally created with dozens (maybe hundreds) of Moorish/Arabian themed buildings.

For more information, please see The 8 Best Scenic Drives in South Florida and 6 Best Miami Scenic Drives.

21. America’s Best Curry and Other Culinary Delights in Naples FL

Distance and Time (from Orlando): 194 miles, 3 hours 33 minutes

Even a few years ago, the Naples Florida food scene was influenced by its midwestern visitors (steaks, spaghetti, burgers). A culinary renaissance has created one of USA’s up and coming foodie destinations and southwest Florida should be on your radar. Fresh seafood is dominant, of course, but I have also had USA’s best curry there and a dessert bigger than my head. Of course there are cool, fun, and happy things to do there including these Naples FL hidden gems.

For more information, please see 8 Great Places To Eat in Naples Florida

Tips For Avoiding Tolls From Orlando Airport

Central Florida is notorious for its toll roads. Especially when leaving Orlando airport, with a rental car, it is a confusing journey for most first time visitors, and even repeat visitors. Since rental car companies issue customers a SunPass surcharge “convenience” fee, it may cost you $25 extra to pay a toll of $1. Highway robbery at its finest.

Whether you plan to visit Disney World, Cape Canaveral, Tampa, or do other Florida road trips to discover some Instagrammable Florida spots, the prevalent signs when exiting the Orlando airport try to guide you to toll roads. McCool Travel tip: on your GPS or SmartPhone app, select the option to avoid toll roads.

To get from the airport to downtown Kissimmee, it is maybe an extra 2 minutes drive to skip the toll road. Simply continue straight on South Access Road to 527A. Turn right on 530, when Boggy Creek Road goes straight. 520 goes under the Florida Turnpike (you can thumb your nose at those drivers). When it dead ends, turn left on 192. Then left on 441 into downtown Kissimmee. Check out the Statue of States and/or park along Lake Tohopekaliga for a nice walk or picnic.

When going north from Orlando airport, ignore the directional signs pointing west to Disney/Tampa or east to beaches. Instead, drive straight from Jeff Fuqua Blvd onto S. Semoran Blvd. When going to Winter Park, this route is actually faster than the toll roads and you do not have to pay money. Sweet.

21 Fun Day Trips from Orlando Florida was originally published on McCool Travel.

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