Florida is a poplar travel destination for Americans and internationals alike. I’ve lived here for twenty plus years and the most common question I get after “Are there gators in the lakes?” is “What is there to do in Florida outside of the theme parks”? While a road trip to the Florida Keys or Miami is at the top of many people’s list, Central Florida has a lot to offer as well.
This guide goes beyond the usual stops like Walt Disney World, the Kennedy Space Center, and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. We already know about all of these, but there is so much more to central Florida than its famous attractions.
Things to do in Central Florida Besides Theme Parks
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There is an abundance of unusual things to do in Central Florida, here are ten of my favorites that I often recommend:
1. Rainbow River
Sometimes referred to as “KP Hole”, this spring fed river is the crown jewel of Central Florida. Known for its pristine blue water and tubing, the spring head at Rainbow River Springs feeds the six-mile river run. You can ride the river on any type of watercraft, motorized or non-motorized but most people choose to float down the river.
Located in Dunnellon Florida, this is one of the most beautiful and natural rivers runs in Florida. If you have your own tube or any floating device, you can float the river for free!
- You can use your own tube or rent one from several companies on the river.
2. Fort Island Beach
When you mention beaches in Florida most people think South Beach, Daytona Beach, or Clearwater. Few if any have heard of Fort Island Beach on the west coast of Florida.
Ford Island beach holds a treat for anyone that enjoys a day at the beach. Few tourists, no crowds, beautiful white sand, and clearwater.
You do not have to hit the Panhandle to find a public beach that is public, yet not crowded.
- There is a sectioned off swimming area which is great for kids. There are plenty of rock pools so you can search for crabs or fish from the rocks.
3. Devils Den Spring
Florida is famous for its springs. The state is home to 700 springs. However, the Devil’s Den is a special and unusual one. This eerier spring is underground, and you must be brave enough to journey through the medieval stone stairs not knowing what awaits you.
Sure, you can look at the pictures and get an idea. But until you take the plunge you cannot grasp the adrenaline rush you will get once inside Devil’s Den spring.
Given that this spring is an underground one, this is not necessarily a full day out – unless you dive. You will most likely spend a couple of hours exploring and then be ready to soak up some sun. The Devil’s Den Spring is privately owned, entrance is by appointment only.
Watch the video of Devil’s Den Spring on YouTube
- Predominantly for divers, this spring is open to snorkelers and swimmers alike.
4. Amphicars at Disney
Did you know that there are cars that can drive on water? I know this sounds crazy, but it is true. Back in day, Hans Trippel, a German designer came up with the idea to invent cars that could drive on land then convert to an “amphicar” – water car.
You can ride them at Disney Springs in Orlando, Florida. This is the only place in the world where the public can take a ride with a captain.
You can make a reservation from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., weather permitting. Each amphicar can accommodate up to three guests (which can be classified as three adults or two adults and two small children).
The cost is $125 per car.
- If you book two vehicles, you will get a $25 discount.
- Likewise, if you eat at the Boathouse, you will get a $25 discount when you show your receipt.
Watch the video to see how much fun it is!
$125 may to ride might seem steep but there is a ton of maintenance required to keep these antiques operating on the water. The ride is twenty minutes, which is plenty of time to enjoy the experience. All things considered, I thought it was worth the cost because the experience is so unusual.
5. The Wonder House
No visit to central Florida is complete without taking in some of the area’s history. While Florida is famous for theme parks and beaches, it is also home to many mansions packed with enchanting stories.
The Wonder House is in Bartow Florida and was the creation of Conrad Schuck. Conrad was of German heritage, and there are several stories about him being a spy.
At one point, he was arrested and jailed for three days during World War II, then released. Conrad was not a spy; ultimately, the FBI issued a press release declaring that Conrad Schuck was not a German spy.
Conrad opened his home to the public in 1934, and it became a popular local tourist attraction for about 30 years. Visitors paid a dime to see the ponds and 25 cents to wander around the interior.
The house if full of hidden surprises!
There is a moat that runs from the basement of the house through to the gardens. There are sunken bathtubs with mirrors to the lower floor. A large collection of preserved animals, some spooky ones. And many technology marvels beyond it is time. The house is now privately owned and in the process of restoration however you can take a tour.
- Tours are offered over the weekend and require reservations.
6. The Mermaids of Weeki Wachee
Who does not love mermaids? And you do not have to go to Disney to see one. In fact, the mermaids of Weeki Wachi are much more impressive.
Located at Weeki Wachee Springs, a state park that is somewhat famous in Florida due to the live mermaids. The park also hosts Buccaneer Bay and Buccaneer Bay Water Park. The mermaid show in Florida are full-blown production shows with a story, characters, dancing, and singing. There are three shows a day. And, if you want to watch all three, you can – it is included in your admission!
Following the show, you get the chance to meet the mermaids and take photographs with them.
7. Lakeridge Winery
Everyone associates wine with California but there are other wineries across the country that are lesser known. Florida, while hot and humid is home to a winery that produces its own label. This is not your ordinary non-Californian winery. This is a full-blown vineyard and winery.
You can take a tour through the winery which includes complimentary sampling of all the wines. If you choose to you can also tour the vineyard.
Lakeridge Winery also host many festivals and events throughout the year:
- Wine and Cheese
- BBQ and Blues
- Seafood Festival
- And many more.
- For the complete list of events see the schedule here.
In addition to festivals and events, you can also try out grape stomping!
8. Westgate River Ranch Resort and Rodeo
Some traditions such as the Rodeo still live on at Westgate River Ranch Resort. Every Saturday, a real competition rodeo takes place ! Tickets are $20 for adults, $10 for children, and what value for the money.
At the halfway point, they let kids chase a calf to grab a piece of string loosely tied on its tai, harmless fun and no one gets hurt.
After the rodeo, join the free street party and you might meet a cowboy! In addition to the Rodeo, which is worth a visit alone, there is a plethora of things to do:
- Westgate River Ranch has a full-service marina (BYOBoat), or you can rent a boat.
- Kid’s adventure park that includes everything from a zip line, wall climbing to a mechanical bull.
- Horseback Riding
- Petting Farm
- Pony Rides
- Trap or Skeet Shooting
- Archery Range
- Pontoon Boat Rental
- Swamp Buggy and Air Boat Rides
- Golf Course
- Driving Range
- Bicycle Rentals
- Sports Equipment Rentals –for tennis, basketballs, horseshoes, volleyballs, kick balls, soccer balls, and more.
If you stay on site you can choose to book a hotel room, a caboose, cottage, or a glamping teepee.
9. Cape Romano Dome House
Located close to Marco Island, this house has real rich history and viewing the remnants of the house requires you to take to the ocean.
Built by Bob Lee, a now-deceased retired oil producer in 1980. The self-sustaining solar-powered dome homes started as a dream vacation home.
The masterpiece consisted of six connected dome structures for a total of 2,400 square feet. The house boasted three bedrooms and three bathrooms
Hurricane Andrew hit South Florida in 1992 and it damaged the windows and the Lee family left and sold it to John Tosto in 2005. The new owner never secured the structure. In 2017, hurricane Irma hit, and two of the original six domes sunk
The dome homes can only be accessed via water. You can either navigate to them yourself or take a tour to view them. Hurry, while still visible above the water today they will not be forever.
Watch my video tour of Cape Romano Dome House
10. The Crystal River
Nestled away on the west coast of Florida lays a costal town that is famous for manatees! Stumbling across a Manatee on the Crystal River is as sure as finding fish in the ocean – they are everywhere.
The Crystal River is the only place in America where it is legal to swim with manatees although it is a felony to approach or harass a manatee.
This said, they will swim up to you and so long as they come to you and you don’t pet them or prevent them from swimming you can watch these amazing sea cows up close.
You can see the manatees at The Sisters Spring during the winter months without having to get on the water. However, the best way to see them is on the water.
You can bring your own boat rent a boat, kayak, paddleboat or even take a tour to view these magnificent creatures. But a tour is not required! And these are my favorite things to do in Central Florida that offer alternative ideas.
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