Chances are if you’re traveling to Central Florida with your family you’ll find yourself at one of its many theme parks. There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, over 113 million tourists visited the sunshine state in 2016 alone, with 68 million of them visiting the greater Orlando area. That’s a lot of people! Thankfully, for those travel aficionados looking to take advantage of the sunshine Florida offers, but wishing to skip the crowded and expensive theme parks, there’s a whole other side to Orlando just waiting to be discovered.
Here’s a list of ten of the best attractions to explore in Central Florida, and its surrounding areas, without ever stepping foot inside the Mouse’s front gates.
Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex
Does your family enjoy awe-inspiring, hands-on and out-of-this-world shared family experiences? Then the one-hour car ride to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is right up your space-lane. Since 1967, this space-coast attraction has continued to inspire a whole new generation of explorers to never stop looking to the stars for answers. As the final resting place of the legendary space shuttle Atlantis, Kennedy Space Center offers first-hand experiences to guests looking to take it to the next level in their realistic ‘Shuttle Launch Experience’ simulator!
- Admission for adults is $50 and $40 for children
Offering peaceful walkways and idyllic views of the vast marshes that populate Central Florida, the Lakefront at Kissimmee is the perfect place to spend a quiet afternoon. Recently remodeled, the Lakefront has multiple playgrounds for children to explore and enjoy, ample opportunities to see wildlife in their natural habitat and guests can even fish right off of the pier with live bait! The best part of the Lakefront is its quiet atmosphere which makes it a perfect place to enjoy a picnic in the sun.
- Admission for adults is $10 and $3 for children.
Orlando Science Center
If you’re looking to get off property while staying at one of Orlando’s premiere resorts, the Orlando Science Center is the perfect choice. With four floors of uniquely exciting exhibits, this monolith of knowledge is the perfect activity to encourage educational exploration and, above all else, fun! The best part of exploring Orlando Science Center is that the fun never ends; once visitors finish exploring one exhibit hall, there is a whole other ‘world’ to explore right around the corner. From the reptile exhibit NatureWorks to their prehistoric display DinoDigs, Orlando Science Center has something to appeal to all age-groups and interests.
- Admission for adults is around $20 and children are $14
If you have any interest in taking a giant step back to the Middle Ages, Medieval Times Dinner and Tournament experience in Orlando is the perfect place to visit. This unique dining experience pits rival knights against one another in contests of sword-fighting, jousting and horseback stunts. After the show, explore a one-of-a-kind medieval village where guests get a glimpse into what life was like during the harsh times of the Middle Ages complete with a realistic torture chamber!
- Admission for adults is $62 and children are $32
A Day at the Beach
When you want to put on your swimsuit but take a day off from the Orlando area water park experience, there’s no better option than the beach of the Atlantic Ocean. One of the best parts of traveling to Central Florida is its limitless access to beautiful beaches. In fact, because Florida’s landmass is surrounded by bodies of water on three of its four sides, you can drive in pretty much any direction and hit a white, sandy beach in under 75 minutes. Cocoa Beach, for example, is only an hour’s drive east of Orlando. It offers a laid back family-friendly atmosphere for those looking to build sandcastles and take a necessary breather from Orlando-area theme parks.
- Some beaches charge parking fees; Try Satellite Beach or Melbourne Beach for free parking and access
The Sunshine State offers a wide variety of attractions, but none come close to the experiences you’ll take away from a trip to Orlando’s very own Gatorland. Since 1949, this unique 110-acre park and wildlife preserve, located right off South Orange Blossom Trail, has provided an educational look into the natural habitat of Florida’s native alligator and crocodile population. Are crocodiles not scary enough for you? How about taking a closer look then by braving their on-site ‘Screamin’ Gator Zip Line’ which puts you right in the face of danger as you soar above live-gator habitats – we dare you!
- Admission for adults is $27 and children are $19
For the traveler looking to take a break in between Orlando’s busy tourist attractions, Lake Eola Park offers the perfect opportunity to unwind right in the heart of the city. Lake Eola is surrounded by a winding sidewalk crawling with locals and tourists alike searching for fun outdoor activities to enjoy under the Florida sun. Here are just a few activities Lake Eola has to offer:
- Swan-shaped paddle boat rentals
- Walt Disney Amphitheater outdoor concerts
- Live swans and wildlife feeding
- Sunday farmer’s market
There is free street parking, and metered parking/parking garages nearby.
Located on the famous International Drive in the heart of Orlando, Florida, Magical Midway is an action-packed park for the child in all of us. With fast-paced wooden elevated go-kart tracks, bumper cars, bumper boats and one of the largest arcades in Orlando, Magical Midway packs all the adventure you can handle in one convenient location.
- Cost varies based on activity but general admission is free.
Located just 45 minutes from downtown Orlando, and just a few miles from the Disney properties, Kissimmee’s Old Town offers a unique glimpse into the past that visitors of all ages are sure to enjoy. A nostalgic experience reminiscent of the 1950’s and 1960’s, Old Town’s shops and attractions take guests back to the age of innocence. In between shopping and exploring Old Town, don’t forget to enjoy the theme park rides available to guests on-site. Here are just a few of the stores guests can expect:
- Black Market Minerals: hands-on gold-mining demonstrations
- General Store: eclectic souvenirs from days-of-old
- Portrait Gallery: realistic costumed family portraits from the old-west
- Pearl Factory: experience the life of a pearl; from oyster to jeweler
- Cost varies based on activity but general admission is free.
For those travelers with an eye for plant life, Leu Gardens is a must-see smorgasbord of botanical grandeur located just minutes from Downtown Orlando. Spread out over 50 acres of lush landscape, this year-round exhibit of natural splendor promises to tease the senses while also educating visitors on each plant’s role in the vibrant ecosystem. Let your nose be your guide to wild roses, tropical philodendrons or even stalks of wild bamboo!
Whether your family is in the market for a thrill-seeking adventure or looking to take it easy and stick their toes in the sand, Florida has no shortage of attractions to keep busy. Florida is the perfect place to start creating lifelong memories with family and friends. Don’t forget your sunblock!
About the author: Katie Parsons is a communications specialist with Westgate Reservations. She is also the creator of parenting blog MumblingMommy.com and lives in Central Florida with her family of 7.