Cooler fall temperatures have finally arrived in Central Florida, and with that comes the desire to get out and explore on the weekends. Being centrally located in Orlando means an endless supply of choices when it comes to day trips, so I’ve rounded up a list of five quaint destinations to add to your must visit list. Give these smaller destinations a try and prepare to be pleasantly surprised.
Pronounced mick-ah-No-pee, this small town (population: 614 as of 2013) just south of Gainesville oozes old Florida charm. Small art galleries, live oak trees, antique shops, and cozy cafes line the main street, and walking town end to end won’t take you longer than 15 minutes. If you’re looking to escape the hustle and bustle of city life, Micanopy–and it’s inviting locals–can’t be beat.
Must see: Make sure to venture down NE Cholokka Blvd. to peruse the antique shops, cafes, and art galleries. Aside from town, the real draw of the area is Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, a 21,000 acre U.S. National Natural Landmark located 6 minutes from town. Choose from eight hiking trails while spotting wildlife such as wild bison, horses, alligators, and birds.
Must eat/drink: You can’t go wrong with a sandwich and a slice of cake from the Old Florida Cafe. Collectibles and antiques line the walls with tables set in cozy nooks for dining, and outside you’ll find plenty of seating on the patio. The Cuban sandwich is a good choice, especially if you’ve spent the morning hiking Paynes Prairie, and the carrot cake is out of this world.
Essential info: From Orlando, plan for a 1.5-hour drive. Most of the shops and cafes close up by 6pm, so plan your visit accordingly. For a romantic mini-getaway, stay the night in the Herlong Mansion, a historic Greek revival mansion turned B&B.
The Gulf coast is my go-to for a beach escape, and Dunedin always fits the bill. Despite its location right on the coast, this city feels significantly more hip and urban than touristy beach town. Home to a number of art galleries, local breweries, coffee shops, a bustling downtown full of shops and eateries, and a beautiful beach located within a nearby state park, Dunedin truly has it all.
Must see: Honeymoon Island State Park offers beachgoers the same crystal clear water as nearby Clearwater Beach, without the overwhelming crowds. The natural landscape, tranquil water, and quiet atmosphere set this beach apart. From inside the park, you can also hop on a ferry to Caladesi Island State Park for an even more isolated beach day.
Must eat/drink: Dunedin is home to several of my favorite breweries in the state. If you’re craving food with your brew, make your way to Dunedin Brewery, Florida’s oldest craft brewery. The Apricot Peach Ale and Tater Tot Poutine are both great selections. Another favorite, 7venth Sun Brewing Company is almost always filled to the brim with locals and for good reason.
Essential info: From Orlando, plan for a 2-hour drive. You’ll find the majority of the shops and restaurants along Main Street and Douglas Ave. Entrance to Honeymoon Island State Park is $8.00 per vehicle ($4.00 if you’re alone).
Historic Downtown Kissimmee
Kissimmee might conjure up images of kitschy gift shops, discounted attraction ticket booths, and endless resorts, but Historic Downtown Kissimmee couldn’t be farther from the tourist-laden lands of 192 and Old Town. Just minutes from scenic Lake Tohopekaliga, the downtown area boasts an eclectic selection of restaurants, bars, and specialty shops. For such a tiny town, I was pleasantly surprised to see so much going on here and can’t wait to go back.
Must See: Kissimmee Lakefront Park, located on the shore of Lake Tohopekaliga, is a beautiful spot to unwind. Throughout the park you’ll find paved walking and biking trails, BBQ grills, large pavilions, boat ramps and fishing piers, a decorative lighthouse and more. It’s a great place to enjoy the outdoors and catch the sunset.
Must eat/drink: With a varied menu including tacos, sushi, burgers, and sandwiches, there’s something for everyone at 3 Sisters Speakeasy. My mahi tacos were excellent and prove that you don’t have to be oceanside for great fish tacos. For my fellow pizza fans, Broadway Pizza Bar is your go-to for a pie. If it’s craft beer and cocktails you’re after, Breeze Whiskey Lounge (now located on Dakin Ave.) is an inviting bar with killer ambiance and a wide selection of craft drinks.
Essential info: From Orlando, plan for a 40-minute drive. Many of the shops and restaurants are located along Broadway, but Dakin Ave. and Monument Ave. are worth exploring. Parking is available at Kissimmee Lakefront Park and throughout downtown. Similar to Micanopy, many of the shops and restaurants close up by 6pm.
New Smyrna Beach
While I usually prefer the calm clear waters of the Gulf coast, there’s a certain charm to New Smyrna Beach that draws me in. An easy drive from Orlando, New Smyrna is the ultimate beach day destination: pretty water, good local eats, and a wide beach area with plenty of room to spread out your towel and soak up the sunshine.
Must see: The beach! Like Daytona, New Smyrna Beach allows you to park your car right on the beach. There are food stands set up for beach essentials like hot dogs and snacks, and the beach is wide with plenty of room for everyone. After spending the morning soaking up the sun, stroll along Flagler Ave. to explore the local scene full of restaurants, shops, and more.
Must eat/drink: For oceanfront dining with a cool breeze, head to The Breakers on Flagler Ave. The ultra laid-back restaurant facing the water serves up hearty burgers (choose from 15 burger varieties) and American fare. It’s also an ideal spot to enjoy a beachy cocktail while listening to the ocean waves. For more dining options, check out our brunch guide.
Essential info: From Orlando, plan for a 1-hour drive. Stick to the beach area near Flagler Ave. to maximize your day trip. Parking directly on the beach is allowed along most of the beach, but there are designated areas of the beach where cars aren’t allowed if you prefer.
While you can easily spend a full weekend exploring the nation’s oldest city, it’s totally doable to hit the highlights in a day. There’s simply no better place in Florida to experience true old world charm than in St. Augustine. Wander the streets and marvel at historical homes, get spooked on a ghost tour, get lost in an old fort, and eat your fill at one of many local eateries. Lovers of history and architecture will delight in this day trip which is a must visit for any Floridian.
Must see: To get the full history of the area while getting around town, check out Old Town Trolley Tours. You’ll get a detailed retelling of St. Augustine’s past and may hop on and off the trolley at your leisure all day long. Ticket packages are fully customizable, with the option to add on admission to many area attractions at slightly discounted prices. Flagler College, Castillo de san Marcos, and the St. Augustine Distillery are all worthy of inclusion in your day trip itinerary, and each are trolley stops.
Must eat/drink: Now a staple of St. Augustine, Ice Plant Bar‘s selection of craft cocktails and culinary offerings are unparalleled. Set in the former Ice Plant (hence the name), the building’s charm is intact with exposed brick walls and a 1920s vibe. Do yourself a favor and indulge in the Wagyu beef burger along with a signature craft cocktail. Another favorite, Cousteau’s Waffle and Milkshake Bar specializes in Belgian waffles and delectable milkshakes in ocean explorer themed digs.
Essential info: From Orlando, plan for a 2-hour drive. Free parking is available for those who purchase trolley tickets at The Old Jail. If you’re just visiting for the day, leave some breathing room in your schedule. Choose 2 or 3 attractions you want to see most, and spend some time navigating on foot down quiet side streets and neighborhoods.
About the Author/Photographer:
Stephanie Patterson is the managing editor of Orlando Date Night Guide. She’s a talented professional food and travel photographer and writer with a passion for creativity, the beach and great eats. When she’s not taking photos or writing, you can find her exploring the state for her Florida travel blog, Travel Taste Click. Find her online at www.spattersonphotography.com and www.traveltasteclick.com.
All photos by Stephanie Patterson.