19 Fantastic Day Trips from Orlando

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With an incredible central Florida location, Orlando is well-suited to help visitors exploring both Florida coasts, the Everglades, and more on day trips from Orlando.

Now, as an Orlando native, I can tell you that any article suggesting day trips like Miami have never been to Orlando.

It can be a four hour drive at good times, and is definitely not a day trip.

These are actual day trips from Orlando, where you can enjoy your day in the destination and come back at night at a reasonable hour.

These Orlando day trips range from beaches to historic forts to wildlife reserves to theme parks like LEGOLand, so whatever you’re in the mood for, hop in the car and let’s go!

Sidenote! If you want more tips on US travel and to chat about all of the wonderful places to see in the USA, consider joining my Ultimate USA Travel Chat group on Facebook. Just click here and I’ll add you!

1. Daytona Beach

Distance from Orlando to Daytona Beach by car: 55 miles, about 1 hour

Famous for being a “Spring Break” destination, Daytona Beach is a hot spot for people looking for white sandy beaches on Florida’s east coast.

On some of the beaches, you can even drive on the beach, which is great for those hoping to be able to enjoy lunch from the back of their car or be closer to their surfboards and boogie boards.

You can walk on the Daytona Beach Boardwalk to get some amazing views of the coast, or spend the afternoon in the Ocean Walk Shoppes shopping or eating your way through the restaurants there.

If you haven’t come specifically to put your feet in the sand and chill out, you can check out the Daytona Speedway, which hosts the annual NASCAR event the Daytona 500.

This is very much a “happening” place for people who want the hustle and bustle of a busy beach town while also being able to ride the waves.

2. Cocoa Beach

Distance from Orlando to Cocoa Beach: 60 miles, about 1 hour

If you’re wanting to learn how to surf, visit the world’s largest surf shop, or just enjoy one of Florida’s best beach towns, Cocoa Beach is the place to go.

On Florida’s east coast, Cocoa Beach has clean beaches, warm water, spectacular sunsets and basically everything you could want from an Orlando day trip.

If you want to do more than lay on your beach towel, consider a segway tour through the streets of Cocoa or you can embark on a kayaking expedition to explore some of the inlets while watching for dolphins.

Unlike some beaches like Daytona, Cocoa Beach does not allow cars so be prepared to park and then walk on the pathways through the dunes to get to the beach.

Before or after your beach day, don’t forget to stop at Ron Jon’s Surf Shop, the largest surf shop at over 50,000 square feet stocking everything from boogie boards to surf gear to T-shirts.

3. St. Augustine

Distance from Orlando to St. Augustine: 107 miles, about 1 hour and 40 minutes

Founded in 1565 by the Spanish, St. Augustine is known as the oldest continuously inhabited European settlement in the US.

Who knew such history was waiting for you just under two hours from Orlando?

For history buffs, a day trip to St. Augustine can be filled with everything from roaming inside the walls of the Castillo de San Marcos, a Spanish fort with gorgeous views of the ocean, or you can visit the Fountain of Youth, which is rumored to be discovered by Ponce de Leon, a Spanish explorer, back in the early days of St. Augustine.

The streets are cobblestone and narrow in a charming way, the restaurants and shops tend to be family-run and boutique so you know you’re getting something special, and the atmosphere is welcoming (and did we mention gorgeous?).

Go on a tour of historic Flagler College with its red brick exterior, or hang out on the beaches of Florida’s historic coast after a full day of sightseeing.

4. Kennedy Space Center

Distance from Orlando to the Kennedy Space Center: 45 miles, about 50 minutes

The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is the world’s must-do destination for anyone interested in the USA space program.

While Houston is well known for being Mission Control, the Kennedy Space Center on Cape Canaveral is the true hub of the missions while they’re launching and on the ground.

At the Visitor Complex, you can meet real astronauts and ask them questions, get up close to retired space shuttles from the shuttle program, see moon rocks, enjoy interactive games and demonstrations to help build your knowledge of what it takes to man a spacecraft, and so much more.

Not only that, but you can take a bus tour through restricted access areas so you can see the launch pad, the runway to the launch pad, the buildings where the spacecraft are built and stored, and so much more.

If you’re just heading out on a day trip from Orlando, plan to spend the whole day at Kennedy Space Center.

If you have a weekend, you can also spend some time at the surrounding beaches on what’s known as the “Space Coast.”

rocket blasting off at kennedy space center

5. LEGOLand Florida

Distance from Orlando to LEGOLand Florida: 51 miles, about 1 hour

LEGOLand Florida isn’t actually in Orlando, but in a town called Winter Haven which is about an hour’s drive from Orlando.

However, it’s worth the trek for families with younger children who will be in LEGO heaven at this unique theme park.

Everything here is LEGO themed, from the water ski shows to the dining options to the rollercoasters to the LEGOLand Hotel.

LEGOLand ties in more recent LEGO adventures like the LEGO movies with classic LEGO themes like Duplo for the youngest LEGO fans.

In addition to the park, which has rollercoasters, dark rides, tons of LEGO themed cities and Star Wars memorabilia, there’s also the LEGOLAND water park adjacent to the main park, which has a wave pool, some giant slides, play areas for the little ones, and super cute LEGO theming.

This is one of the best Orlando day trips for families with kids, and while it isn’t the same level of theming and service as the Disney or Universal parks, it’s a must-visit destination for any LEGO fans.

6. Clearwater

Distance from Orlando to Clearwater by car: 105 miles, 1 hour and 45 minutes

Take a drive to Florida’s west coast to visit one of the most spectacular beaches along the Gulf of Mexico.

The name “clearwater” rings true to the conditions you’ll find here.

Clearwater Beach is the most popular attraction in the area with white sand beaches and the most stunning sets you’ll ever see.

Plenty of outdoor eating options on the beach means you can enjoy lunch or dinner without ever giving up the view.

If you want to head inland, you’ll find the Clearwater Marine Aquarium where you can learn more about the wildlife that lurks under the sea just a few feet away, or you can go in search of other entertainment options like Big Storm Brewing Company.

Clearwater is great for families as the shallow waters and soft sands make it ideal for little beachgoers.

beach on sunny day

7. St. Petersburg

Distance from Orlando to St. Petersburg by car: 107 miles, 1 hour and 40 minutes

Not only does St. Petersburg have absolutely stunning beaches, but it’s a treasure trove of museums, historic hotels, and a really vibrant local community that loves Florida and loves St. Petersburg.

Start by a visit to the Salvador Dali museum, one of the world’s largest collections of the weird and wonderful melting clocks that Dali was so fond of.

Continue your artist’s day out at the Museum of Fine Arts, or go get some sun in your face as you drive along the Sunshine Skyway Bridge or wander along the St. Pete Pier.

Don’t miss a visit to the Don Cesar, a quirky pink hotel that is as lavish inside as it is out, and explore the white sandy shores of St. Pete Beach (about a 15 minute drive from downtown St. Petersburg).

coastline of Florida

8. Crystal River

Distance from Orlando to Crystal River by car: 86 miles, 1 hour and 30 minutes

Located in what’s known as “Citrus County,” Crystal River is another great destination for visitors hoping to see Florida springs and, in the winter, manatees!

In addition to kayaking along the river or trying your hand at scuba diving through the springs, Crystal River has plenty of other options like the Crystal River Archaeological State Park where you can explore the area’s past.

If you want to buy some gifts for friends and family, the shopping options in Crystal River are usually located in adorably bright shops with shiplap sides that promise a unique shopping experience and some local stories if you take the time to chat to the owners.

9. Tampa

Distance from Orlando to Tampa by car: 84 miles, 1 hour and 20 minutes

Take a day trip from Orlando to Tampa and you’ll be right in the heart of another major Florida city with plenty of things to do.

From spending the day screaming your head off on rollercoasters at Busch Gardens, to teeing off at one of the gorgeous Tampa golf courses, you’ll want to get specific about what you want to do to make sure you see it in one day.

Visit the Tampa Museum of Art for a cultured day out, or support the Tampa Bay Bucs at their stadium as they face their latest rival in football (for those of you uninitiated with sports!)

You’ve also got the Tampa Riverwalk for some hustle and bustle as you wander along the river, as well as kayaking options so you can see the river by boat (or take a guided boat tour).

And of course, you can’t forget the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, which is a major favorite among Floridians who want to try their hand at casino games.

Check out other things to do in Tampa here.

10. Mount Dora

Distance from Orlando to Mount Dora by car: 31 miles, 40 minutes

This charming town will keep your day trip from Orlando inland, as well as closer by than some of the other options.

If you like antiquing, eating ice cream as you stroll down cute streets, popping into family-owned restaurants, as well as unique museums, this area is for you.

Mount Dora is super popular for its shopping options downtown, as well as regular events like Farmer’s Markets and outdoor festivals.

If you’re into modern art, the Modernism Museum can’t be missed.

While this is more an adult-friendly day out if you’re planning on shopping and eating, there is one of the best playgrounds in all of Florida here: Gilbert Park, which is a wooden playground with water views that your kids will fall in love with.

You can also have a picnic at Palm Island Park if you’re all shopped out.

mount dora at christmas
Source: Flickr, 20151218-IMG_0913 by Rain0975, CC-By-ND 2.0

11. Siesta Key

Distance from Orlando to Siesta Key by car: 140 miles, 2 hours and 10 minutes

Siesta Key is one of the longer day trips from Orlando, but if you’re really wanting one of Florida’s best beaches, it’s worth it.

On Florida’s West coast, a short drive from Sarasota, this island is the place to be for relaxation (hence the name “siesta”!)

Feel the smooth, soft white sand underneath your feet as you walk along looking for perfectly formed shells.

Enjoy warm water that glistens in the sun, set up your day underneath a beach umbrella and let the family run free, or make it a point to spend some time together playing in the water or building sandcastles.

There’s a free trolley to take you around the island, which is worth doing just to see the sights, and if you’re feeling adventurous, try parasailing over the wide open ocean!

flip flops on beach

12. Tarpon Springs

Distance from Orlando to New Smyrna: 113 miles, about 2 hours

Let’s cut to the chase.

If you’re going to Tarpon Springs, Florida, you’re going to see the sponge docks.

Yes, sponges!

Built up by the community of Greeks who immigrated to this part of Florida, the Tarpon Springs sponge industry at one point was exporting more sponges than Florida was exporting citrus.

These sponges, collected by divers from the ocean, are high quality and have become the center of a fun day out as you can walk along seeing the sponging boats and experiencing delicious Greek restaurants and bakeries.

If you visit downtown, you’ll also be walking through history as this area with its antiques and art galleries is on the National Register of Historic Places.

It’s a quirky, very off-the-beaten path Orlando day trip that is great for people who feel like they’ve seen it all.

Tarpon Springs Florida
Tarpon Springs. Don Johnson 365 [CC BY ND 2.0], via Flickr

13. New Smyrna Beach

Distance from Orlando to New Smyrna: 55 miles, 55 minutes

With great waves for more advanced surfers and plenty of white sandy beaches, New Smyrna Beach is a popular day trip option for couples and families with teens.

Check out the drive-on beaches where you can drive over packed sand to park your car and surf gear directly in front of the waves.

Means no traipsing back to the car for lunch!

If you’ve got your furry friends with you, there’s a pet-friendly park at Smyrna Dune Park which also offers gorgeous backdrops of the stunning white sand dunes.

If you’re in the mood for some culture, there are lots of boutique art galleries and local museums like the Peter Wolf Toth Museum, filled with quirky outdoor sculptures.

beach hut on Florida beach

14. Blue Springs State Park

Distance from Orlando to Blue Springs State Park: 33 miles, about 40 minutes

There’s a hidden gem near Orlando that is different from all of the other state parks in the area because this one?

It has manatees!

These gentle giants come to Blue Springs State Park every winter, from about mid November to mid March, when the 72 degree waters are nice and warm for them.

Come during this time and you’ll be able to see manatees as far as you can see, lazily spending the day bobbing around in the water.

Because they’re springs, the water is also crystal clear, and in the summer months you can swim, snorkel, or even scuba dive.

In the winter, rent a canoe or kayak or go on a guided boat tour which will not only take you past manatees, but also other Florida wildlife like ospreys, alligators, and so much more.

manatees in water

15. Alexander Springs Recreation Area

Distance from Orlando to Alexander Springs Recreation Area: 57 miles, 1 hour and 5 minutes

This gorgeous spring in the Ocala National Forest is a paradise for visitors wanting to take a dip in some of Florida’s fresh waters.

Because the spring is so gently sloped, this is a perfect spring for families to enjoy together.

Go for a swim, bring a picnic to enjoy, or rent a canoe to travel over the water rather than through it.

The best time to visit is in the Spring, when the crowds are lower than in the busy summer months.

This is definitely one of the most local Orlando day trips.

You won’t find too many tourists here, but instead friendly Floridians who call this vacation state their home and are looking to have some fun in the sun without the price tag.

rack of kayaks in Florida

16. St. Sebastian River State Park

Distance from Orlando to St. Sebastian River State Park: 87 miles, 1 hour and 20 minutes

It’s not often in Florida that you see the word “forests,” but St. Sebastian River State Park is an excellent place to go if you want to wander through the trees.

Nestled off of the St. Sebastian River, this state park preserves longleaf pine forests, one of the few remaining in the state.

You’ve got plenty of walking and biking trails to get active, as well as natural birdwatching and wildlife watching spots.

You can also go fishing in the pond as well as in the St. Sebastian river, and horseback riding is hugely popular here.

If you do want some water based adventures, go kayaking in the St. Sebastian River to see what kind of wildlife you can spot along the banks.

Florida bird

17. Wild Florida

Distance from Orlando to Wild Florida: 40 miles, about 45 minutes

Where can you see an albino alligator, hold a sloth, or go on an Everglades airboat tour?

Wild Florida, of course!

This attraction is truly in the middle of nowhere, and that’s a good thing.

This is Florida as nature intended, wild and rugged, filled with alligators (in the water, not running after you!), and ready for adventurers to explore.

We took part in the sloth experience at Wild Florida, which is a memorable encounter with these slow-moving creatures.

You can also see lemurs, zebras, and more exotic animals at the animal park.

Take an airboat tour through the Headwaters of the Florida Everglades in the morning, afternoon, or night for a different experience each time, and enjoy a day far away from the crowded lines and hustle and bustle of Orlando.

There’s an on-site barbecue restaurant as well so you don’t have to worry about packing food.

18. Sarasota

Distance from Orlando to Sarasota by car: 131 miles, 2 hours

Sarasota is a gateway to some of Florida’s best beaches, but that’s not why it’s on this list of the best day trips from Orlando.

No, it’s because Sarasota is awash in culture, and sometimes in Florida, culture can be hard to find (sorry, Mickey).

Spend the day here visiting the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, which pays homage to the Ringling family and has everything from art collections to old costumes and wagons from the world’s largest circus.

You can also stop by the family home of the Ringlings, the Ca’d’Zan Mansion which is built in venetian Gothic style and absolutely has to be seen to be believed.

street in Sarasota Florida

19. Gainesville

Distance from Orlando to Gainesville: 111 miles, about 1 hour and 40 minutes

If you’re taking a day trip from Orlando to Gainesville, it’s likely that you’ve got one thing in mind: the University of Florida.

Gainesville is very much a college town, with UF dominating the industry and of course, the football fans.

Take a tour of the UF campus to see where football greats like Tim Tebow went to school, take a look at the “Swamp,” which is the football stadium, or just enjoy the beautiful architecture dotted around the campus.

If you’ve got extra time after visiting UF, you might be surprised to find that there are other things to do in Gainesville, many of them geared towards Florida nature.

Visit the Butterfly Rainforest to walk through different butterfly habitats and feel a tickle as they land in your hands.

Check out the Florida Museum of Natural History, known as the best natural history museum in Florida for its collection of fossils and other natural history exhibits that put Florida’s natural wonders on full display for future generations to enjoy and protect.

University of Florida stadium
University of Florida Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Great Degree [CC BY SA 2.0], via Flickr

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3 thoughts on “19 Fantastic Day Trips from Orlando”

  1. I am glad to see all the places you can visit in the area! I had friends telling me that there is not much to see and do around Orlando except Disneyworld and I can see that it’s not true!

  2. I love this list – I live in Clearwater and definitely there are so many amazing things to do outside Orlando. Short road trips will lead you to amazing and diverse experiences in the beautiful sunshine state.

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