The author in a kayak in Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, one of the best day trips from Orlando

15 Epic Day Trips from Orlando for 2021 (By a Local!)

Orlando, Florida is one of the top vacation destinations in the world, thanks to a sunny climate and Walt Disney World and Universal Studios. But there are many epic attractions in and around Orlando, Florida beyond just fireworks and roller coasters. In fact, the city’s central location in the state makes it the perfect base for a variety of fun day trips from Orlando.

I have lived in Orlando for 25 years and have traveled all across the state. I know that, if you’re going to spend all that time on the road, there had better be a worthwhile destination at the end! So, to help you plan that perfect excursion from town, I put together this list of the absolute best Orlando day trips.

Before you dive in, be sure to bookmark my post on the best things to do in Orlando for more Great Orlando area activities, and my guide to the best places to stay on your visit.

Disclosure: Travel Lemming is an independent reader-supported blog. You can support my work by purchasing through the affiliate links on this page, which may earn a commission for this site. Thank you!

15 Best Orlando Day Trips 

Kennedy Space Center

View of Saturn 5 rocket at the Kennedy Space Center near Orlando Florida
Apollo-Saturn V moon rocket, one of the many incredible displays

Distance from Orlando: 1 hour | Google Maps | Kennedy Space Center Website | 👉 Kennedy Space Center Day Trip with Transport from Orlando

Located on Florida’s east coast, Kennedy Space Center has been NASA’s main launch site for human space travel since the 1960s. While most of the facility is still functional to this day, there is also a Visitor Complex  where guests can learn more about the history of space travel. Exhibits include the US Astronaut Hall of Fame and the Space Shuttle Atlantis. You can even meet with a real astronaut to hear a first-hand account of what it’s like to be in space. Definitely a unique experience!

👉 Local Tip: Download the Kennedy Space Center Official Guide app for easy access to the map, dining locations, and more practical information.

St. Augustine

View of the Castillo de San Marcos at sunset in St. Augustine, Florida
Castillo de San Marcos, one of many attractions in St. Augustine

Distance from Orlando: 1 hour and 45 minutes | Google Maps | Visit St. Augustine Website | 👉 Book a Ticket for the St Augustine Hop On Hop Off Trolley

You may remember from school that St. Augustine is the oldest European city in America. Many have visited this historic town looking for the fountain of youth. While the fountain has never actually been found, today you can still visit the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park. It opened in the early 1900s as a tourist scam, claiming that one of its wells was the fountain. Of course, it’s not, but later investigations did reveal that the location was the site of the original Spanish St. Augustine settlement in 1565. 

Some other top attractions in St. Augustine are the oldest wooden schoolhouse, the Castillo de San Marcos, the Pirate and Treasure Museum, and the Bridge of Lions. But my favorite activity is zip-lining over hungry crocodiles at St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park. 

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Tarpon Springs 

View of the Sponge Capital of the World sign in Tarpon Springs, FL
The Sponge Capital of the World sign in Tarpon Springs, Florida

Distance from Orlando: 2.5 hours | Google Maps 

This charming city is one of the lesser-known day trips from Orlando on this list, as Tarpon Springs is often overshadowed by the more popular Clearwater to the south. Tarpon Springs is located on the Gulf of Mexico and is known as the “sponge capital of the world.” The area was originally settled by Greek immigrants and the downtown center is on the National Register of Historic Places. 

You should visit the famous Sponge Docks and grab some fresh seafood by the water. For those looking for a little adventure, catch a boat out scuba diving or deep-sea fishing. Don’t worry land-lovers, there are plenty of activities for those who don’t want to get wet. I recommend stopping by Spongeorama, which houses a museum and gift shop. But most importantly, be sure to enjoy some delicious baklava cheesecake from Hellas Bakery before heading home!

Daytona Beach 

Race cars on the track at the Daytona 500
Daytona 500, NASCAR’s biggest race of the year 

Distance from Orlando: 1.5 hours | Google Maps | Daytona Beach Website |👉 Dolphin and Manatee Paddleboard Tour in Daytona Beach

You might immediately think of spring breakers when you hear Daytona Beach, but this beach town has so much more to offer. NASCAR fans will enjoy visiting Daytona International Speedway. There are many races throughout the year, including the famous Daytona 500. At the speedway, you can take tours to learn about NASCAR and racing. To get in on the action, sign up for a racing experience and feel the thrill of circling the track for yourself. 

In addition to sand and race cars, Daytona Beach is also filled with nature trails and waterways to explore. I’ve had great luck seeing wildlife, including manatees and dolphins, while paddleboarding on the intercoastal waterway. If you want to maximize your chances of seeing them yourself, you can go with a trained guide on this dolphin and manatee paddle board tour.

👉 Local tip: Locals also love to visit New Smyrna Beach, a quiet beach town about 20 minutes south of Daytona Beach.

Blue Spring State Park

View of a West Indian Manatee in Florida
It’s definitely one of the best places to see manatees in Central Florida!

Distance from Orlando: 1 hour | Google Maps | Blue Spring State Park Website

Blue Spring State Park can give you two very different experiences in summer and winter. In summer, take a dip and cool off in the crystal clear water. 72-degree water is flowing from the spring year-round and visitors love to snorkel, scuba dive, or let the current float them down the river. 

The water closes to guests from November to March because endangered manatees move in to enjoy the warm water. These gentle giants pose no threat to humans, but the park does not allow people in the water for the animals’ safety. Don’t worry, you can still get a great view of the manatees from the 0.3-mile board that runs along the river!

👉 Local tip: Arrive early during the summer and on weekends because Blue Spring State Park quickly reaches capacity. 

Weeki Wachee Springs State Park 

The author in a kayak in Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, one of the best day trips from Orlando
Me kayaking with Jeremy on the Weeki Wachee River

Distance from Orlando: 1.5 hours | Google Maps | Weeki Wachee Website

Weeki Wachee started as an old Florida roadside attraction in 1947. It is now part of the state park system, but the same allure remains. This is the only place in Florida to see live mermaids swimming underwater! 😉 

While the mermaid performers are the most famous part of the park, you can also take a riverboat cruise, learn about local wildlife, kayak the waterways, and swim in the springs at the Buccaneer Bay water park.

👉 Read Next: The 33 Best Things to Do in Orlando (By a Local!)

Fort Lauderdale

View of the Fort Lauderdale skyline
You can’t beat the beauty of Fort Lauderdale’s waterfront

Distance from Orlando: 3 hours | Google Maps | Fort Lauderdale Website | 👉 Book a Florida Everglades Airboat Adventure

Fort Lauderdale is a long drive from Orlando, but there is a lot of stuff to do in Fort Lauderdale and this colorful and cultural city is worth adding to your list of day trips from Orlando. Known as the “Venice of America,” Fort Lauderdale has hundreds of miles of canals and gorgeous waterfront properties. Enjoy the sun and sand at the local beaches, take a walk along the seven-mile strand, or take an airboat adventure through the Everglades. You are in for some delicious food while you’re there! 

Fort Lauderdale also offers plenty of Caribbean and Latin restaurants to choose from. I personally like to head to Fort Lauderdale in April for the Tortuga Music Festival. This weekend music festival hosts country artists and a portion of the proceeds go to Rock the Ocean Foundation, supporting ocean conservation efforts. 

Note that, while Fort Lauderdale can be done as a day trip, it is really more fully enjoyed as a weekend trip. Luckily, there are lots of unique places to stay at. I especially suggest check out the beachside B Ocean Resort

📚 Related Reading: Spending more time in Fort Lauderdale? Be sure to check out our day trips from Fort Lauderdale article for more activity ideas!

Mount Dora

View of cars and shops in downtown Mount Dora, Florida
Downtown Mount Dora is filled with adorable boutiques

Distance from Orlando: 40 minutes | Google Maps | Mount Dora Website

Mount Dora is one of Florida’s quaint small towns and the perfect location for an Orlando day trip. Once you arrive, you won’t believe that you are less than one hour from theme parks, large resorts, and bustling downtown Orlando. Mount Dora’s downtown area is very walkable and you can spend a full day wandering through shops and restaurants. I always stop at The Salted Fry for a sandwich and Belgian-style Frites. If you’d like to turn your day trip into a staycation, we recommend the historic Lakeside Inn, a Victorian landmark on Lake Dora. 

👉 Local Tip: Check out the event calendar before you go. Mount Dora hosts festivals, markets, and fairs every month!

Gainesville

View of the stadium of the University of Florida football team

Distance from Orlando: 1 hour and 45 minutes | Google Maps | Gainesville Website

This day trip from Orlando is best known for being the home of the University of Florida and “The Swamp.” The college campus is a great location for art and architecture lovers. You will see ivy-covered gothic buildings, abstract sculptures, and school spirit everywhere. My favorite time to visit the campus is for an evening football game under the lights at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. 

Also on campus is the Florida Museum of Natural History and Butterfly Rainforest. The museum has one of the largest zoological specimen collections in the world. Off-campus, Gainesville has an artistic and hippie downtown scene. Check out the 1.5 miles of walking paths at the exquisite Kanapaha Botanical Garden. 

Homosassa

View of a manatee in Florida
This is another great day trip if you want to see manatees!

Distance from Orlando: 1.5 hours | Google Maps

You can’t visit Homosassa without hearing about its most famous resident, Lu the hippo! When the state park system took over the Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park, they decided to only exhibit native wildlife for education. The residents did not want to lose their beloved hippo, so they petitioned for Lu to become a resident of Homosassa and made him “native” to Florida. 

In addition to the wildlife park, Homosassa is full of springs and waterways where you can spend your day tip paddling along and cooling off in the water. Some of the springs in Homosassa put out saltwater, so you can see a mix of saltwater and freshwater wildlife, including manatees and sharks!

👉 Local Tip: Crystal River is one of the best locations to swim with manatees in Florida. Since it is only 20 minutes north of Homosassa, you can hit both locations during a single day trip from Orlando. Just be sure to be responsible and give these lovely creatures their space!

Tampa Bay

Pedestrians strolling the Tampa Bay riverwalk
Nighttime on the Tampa Riverwalk

Distance from Orlando: 1.5 hours | Google Maps | Visit Tampa Bay Website |👉 Get Discounts With a Tampa Bay CityPASS

The Tampa Bay Area has a little bit of everything – big city life, tourist destinations, and nature activities. It is home to a famous Florida theme park, Busch Gardens Tampa Bay. Just across the bay from downtown Tampa, you will find St Pete Beach, voted Tripadvisor’s Top Beach of 2021. 

Other popular attractions in Tampa include the Florida Aquarium and the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. My favorite part of Tampa is the thriving food and drink scene. Hip locations, like Armature Works on the Hillsborough River, are constantly opening and bringing new flavors to the city. Also, you can never go wrong hitting up Tampa’s most famous brewery – Cigar City. 

🍲 Can’t decide where to eat? Take a food tour, like the highly-rated Historic Ybor City Food Tour, to try all the flavors.

Clearwater Beach

View of the shoreline at Clearwater Beach, Florida
Clearwater Beach is the perfect place to relax!

Distance from Orlando: 2 hours | Google Maps | Visit Clearwater Website |👉 Book a Clearwater Beach Day Tour from Orlando

Year after year, Clearwater Beach is voted one of the best beaches in the U.S. You could easily take a day trip from Orlando and spend the entire day relaxing in the white sand and watching the waves roll in. As a classic beach town, you will find surf shops and seafood restaurants aplenty. Make sure you try a grouper sandwich, it’s a local favorite! Fans of the film Dolphin Tale, especially kids, will love seeing Winter, the star of the movie, at Clearwater Marine Aquarium. 

Sarasota

Ringling courtyard in Sarasota, Florida
The Ringling courtyard

Distance from Orlando: 2 hours | Google Maps | Visit Sarasota Website |👉 Book the Popular Circus Secrets City Tour

Sarasota is one of the best day trips from Orlando on the west coast of Florida, and one of the things that makes it so unique is its connection to the circus. This area has been the home base of Ringling Bros Circus since 1927. Thanks to John Ringling, Sarasota now boasts a creative arts scene and The Ringling, housing multiple museums. 

Sarasota’s most famous beach is Siesta Key Beach. The beach is busier and more popular since it first topped Tripadvisor’s Top Beach list in 2015, but it is still worth a trip today. When I visit, I always go early to make sure I find parking and then stop at “SKOB,” Siesta Key Oyster Bar, for a delicious seafood lunch. 

👉 Local Tip: You can get a leg up on the crowds by overnighting before your beach day on Siesta Key. Hotels at Siesta Key can be expensive, though, so I always recommend staying in Sarasota and driving to the beach in the morning. Go here to browse top Sarasota hotels on Booking.

LEGOLAND Florida

People at the entrance to Legoland Florida

Distance from Orlando: 1 hour and 20 minutes | Google Maps | LEGOLAND Website |👉 LEGOLAND Florida Admission Tickets

LEGOLAND Florida is located a little over an hour outside of Orlando in Winter Haven, Florida. This resort currently offers a hotel, several theme parks, and a waterpark. Oh, and big news: parents of Peppa Pig lovers can rejoice because Peppa Pig is getting her own theme park at LEGOLAND in 2022! 

Admission prices are a steal compared to Walt Disney World, so this park is a great location for families looking to have fun on a budget. Inside LEGOLAND park, you can also find what remains of Florida’s first tourist attraction – Cypress Gardens. 

🛎️ Want to Stay in a Lego Hotel? Book a themed-room at LEGOLAND Florida Resort. They offer rooms themed “adventure,” “beach,” “pirate island,” and more. It’s definitely a memorable experience for the kids! 

Devil’s Den

A diver in an underwater spring

Light from the surface shines through the cool waters

Distance from Orlando: 1.5 hours | Google Maps | Devil’s Den Website

Who would have thought that an hour and a half drive from Orlando would land you in a Mexican cenote? Well, it is not quite Mexico, but Devil’s Den does offer the opportunity to swim in an underground spring! 

This unique location for swimming, snorkeling, and scuba diving makes for one of my favorite day trips from Orlando. Florida’s beaches may get all the attention, but Devil’s Den is a one-of-a-kind experience that should not be missed!

*** 

I hope this has given you plenty of ideas on where to explore on your day trip from Orlando! Which day trip is top of your list? Scroll down and leave me a comment!

Oh, and for more recommendations check out my list of the top things to do in Orlando or my guide on the best places to stay in Orlando, Florida. Have fun on your Orlando day trip!

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