Central Florida spans the middle of the Sunshine State from Tampa to Daytona Beach. While a majority of tourists will visit Orlando, there are tons more things to see and do when you venture out into the Central Florida area too!
As a native of Central Florida, I’ve spent years exploring the natural beauty and attractions that the region has to offer.
To help you explore the best of the region, I’ve put together my list of the best things to do in Central Florida.
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Best Things to Do in Central Florida
Thrill rides and family attractions
When visiting Central Florida, you can create an entire vacation itinerary around Walt Disney World Resort, Universal Orlando Resort, LEGOLAND Florida Resort, and Busch Gardens. Orlando, home to Walt Disney World and Universal Studios, is the theme park capital of the world.
You will find an endless number of attractions at Disney World and Universal, including miniature golf courses, Disney Springs restaurants, and theme park rides. If you can, go in September, which is my pick for the best month to visit Disney World and other theme parks in Orlando.
Kennedy Space Center
Blast off to outer space
Visiting the Kennedy Space Center is an easy day trip from Orlando. The whole family will be able to learn about the history of space travel while exploring the Visitor’s Complex. Plan for a full-day visit because there are so many exhibits to see. You can even meet a real astronaut!
📚 Related Reading: Check out my other recommendations for where to take a day trip from Orlando.
Kayaking, Canoeing, and Paddleboarding
Paddle through crystal clear waters
I think the best way to experience the magic of wild Florida is from the water. Whether you prefer to stand or sit while you paddle through the water, there is a place for you to meander under sunny skies and view the local wildlife.
Some of my favorite places to paddle are Three Sisters Springs/Crystal River to see manatees, the Space Coast for bioluminescence, the spring runs for crystal clear water, and Winter Park for stunning homes. Who needs a water park when you have so many natural waterways to enjoy?
Go wild with exotic animal encounters
Florida is home to plenty of zoos, but ZooTampa is one of the best. As a former zookeeper, I hold animal facilities to high standards and I love visiting ZooTampa.
Not only is the zoo clean and easy to navigate, but it offers lots of up-close encounters with the animals. I recommend walking through the lory aviary and stopping by the giraffe feeding station.
👉 Pro Tip: ZooTampa has earned the highest accreditation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, so you’ll be happy to know that their animals receive top-quality care!
Museum of Science and Industry “MOSI”
Investigate interactive exhibits
MOSI is more than just a museum. It is a place for kids (and grown-up kids) to explore through interactive exhibits. In addition to regular admission, you can add-on experiences at the ropes course and the planetarium. Check out their event calendar for special offerings because there are always fun things for the family to participate in.
Sip new flavors
There are too many fantastic breweries in Central Florida, so I won’t even try to list them all. The great news is that no matter where you are planning to visit, you will be able to enjoy some local, craft brews.
Most breweries offer a tasting room or even a restaurant. Beer connoisseurs will enjoy touring the facilities, where you can see how each brewery makes its beverages.
🍺Need a Recommendation? I love visiting Orlando Brewing in Downtown Orlando. They have live music, free tours, and a fun taproom. It’s the oldest brewery in Central Florida, and the only organic one in the state!
JC Newman Cigar Company
Learn traditional cigar rolling
The Cuban influence in Tampa is easy to feel as soon as you arrive. Even in this big city, you find a warm community in Ybor City. In its heyday, Ybor City was home to many cigar factories.
The area is still home to the JC Newman Cigar Company. You can tour the factory and see how cigars are made by hand and by antique machinery. This is a unique experience in the “Cigar City.”
👉 Hungry For More?: Head a few blocks south to Historic Ybor City to find some authentic Cuban food and a locally brewed beer.
Art with a surreal perspective
The Dali is located on sparkling Tampa Bay in the art-loving city of St Petersburg. The museum houses an unmatched collection of over 2,400 pieces by Salvador Dali and features additional rotating exhibits.
You should plan on grabbing lunch at the Cafe Gala in the museum. The cafe offers Spanish-style tapas and it is the best museum food I’ve ever had. Don’t forget to stop by the gift shop to pick up a surrealist souvenir.
📚 Related Reading: Check out this list of the top things do in the state of Florida, which includes The Dali and other great attractions!
The Wheel at ICON Park
Aerial views of Orlando
The Wheel is located in ICON Park on International Drive. The kids will love taking in the sights from above and you can even control the music inside your air-conditioned cabin!
The Wheel is just one activity of the many attractions, restaurants, and mini-golf courses located on International Drive. You can spend a whole day at ICON Park and nearby Pointe Orlando.
See prehistoric creatures up close
If you ask locals, Dinosaur World is either a joke or a cult favorite. The park is located between Orlando and Tampa, so it is a ways away from most other destinations.
However, Dinosaur World is a great Orlando-area thing to do with kids! If you have a child that can name every dinosaur and tell you fun facts about them, this park is a can’t miss destination. The whole family will enjoy wandering the trails, seeing lifesize dinosaurs, and learning about prehistoric times.
👉 Read Next: 17 Best Day Trips from Tampa
Glazer Children’s Museum
Learn through play
📍 Map It: 110 W Gasparilla Plaza, Tampa, FL 33602 | Phone: (813) 443-3861 | Website | Hours: 10 am – 5 pm Tuesday-Saturday, 1 pm – 6 pm Sunday, Closed Monday | Entrance: $15 adults, $13 kids ages 1-12
Museums might not be at the top of the list for families traveling with children, but Glazer Children’s Museum is an exception. This museum allows children to learn through play.
For families staying in Tampa or on the Gulf Coast, this is the perfect rainy day activity. The museum also offers special events throughout the year, so feel free to check out their calendar before your visit.
Lost Pearl Pirate Ship
Conquer the high seas
Tampa loves to celebrate their pirate history (don’t tell the locals that most of it is just a myth). A cruise on the Lost Pearl allows the entire family to live out a pirate adventure!
Youngsters will learn how to load and fire the (water) cannons while pirates teach them all the lingo needed to work on a ship. Pirates ages 21 and up can enjoy complimentary wine and beer while they pillage Tampa Bay.
Fly over land and water
Airboat rides are fun adventures for the family to explore the abundant wildlife of the Florida Everglades. Most people don’t realize that the headwaters of the Everglades actually begins in Central Florida at Lake Kissimmee.
The whirr of the fan will take your boat gliding over water, marshes, and even land. Airboat rides are great for a family that loves adrenaline but has children that are too small to ride roller coasters.
Cheap Things To Do
Visit the Beaches
Enjoy the white sand beaches
The main beaches in Central Florida are St. Pete Beach and Clearwater Beach, on the Gulf Coast, and Cocoa Beach and Daytona Beach, on the Atlantic Coast. Even traveling from Orlando in the middle of the state, visits to the Central Florida beaches are easy day trips.
The west coast of the state offers unbelievable sunsets and sugar sand beaches. The east coast is known for surfing and endless beaches along most of the coast.
📚 Related Reading: Want more beach recommendations? Check out our article on the most beautiful beaches in Florida, a list put together by locals!
Bok Tower Gardens
Listen to carillon bells
Bok Tower Gardens is a National Historic Landmark that is best known for its iconic singing tower. Enjoy the carillon music that plays throughout the day while you wander through endless gardens. In addition to native plants, you can see citrus groves, endangered plants, and the edible garden.
🚗 Need Directions? The gardens are located southeast of Lakeland/Winter Haven in Lake Wales (Polk County), which is between Orlando and Tampa. To explore all of Central Florida, you’ll need a rental car to get around. Discover Cars Orlando is a great search engine for comparing agencies to find the best price.
See the real Florida
Phone: (850) 245-2157 | Website | Entrance: up to $13 per adult
Florida is home to 175 state parks. Visiting these parks gives you a chance to experience the natural side of Central Florida. The parks are also a great budget destination because they usually cost less than $10 per vehicle.
Many of the parks (and my favorite ones) are home to natural springs and waterways. I recommend visiting Wekiwa Springs State Park, Silver Springs State Park, and Weeki Wachee Springs State Park.
📚 Related Reading: For more cheap activities in the Central Florida region, check out my tips to do Orlando on a budget.
Silvermoon Drive-In Theater
If you want an evening of good old-fashioned nostalgia, pull the car up to the Silvermoon Drive-In. Every night offers a double-feature of current movies and the selection rotates each week. You can even enjoy classic movie treats from the snack bar.
Westgate River Ranch
Glamping meets rodeo
Westgate River Ranch is a resort that offers glamping, teepee and wagon camping, and cabin accommodations. However, you don’t need to be staying at the resort to partake in their activity offerings.
This is a great place to get outside and live a cowboy life. Go horseback riding, clay shooting, and ride a mechanical bull. Don’t forget about the rodeo every Saturday night. If traditional entertainment is more your speed, there is also miniature golf, tennis courts, and a pool.
Florida’s Natural Grove House
Learn the secrets of citrus
Old Florida is all about citrus groves and producing top-quality fruit juices. By visiting Florida’s Natural Grove House, you can see that history for yourself. After learning about Central Florida’s citrus industry, take a walk through the groves and enjoy the fresh smell of blossoms and fruit.
🌴 Read Next: Best Florida Vacation Spots (according to locals)
Make a splash underground
📍 Map It: 5390 NE 180th Ave, Williston, FL 32696 | Phone: (352) 528-3344 | Website | Hours: 9 am – 5 pm Mon-Thurs, 8 am – 5 pm Fri – Sun | Entrance: starting at $15/person
Devil’s Den is just another ordinary natural spring. Well, I guess it’s not that ordinary since it is located underground. To snorkel or scuba dive in Devil’s Den, you have to make your way down a set of stairs and onto a platform in the middle of the water.
There is an enchanting but eerie glow in the cave since only a small opening lets sunlight in. This one-of-a-kind destination should definitely make your Central Florida bucket list.
Animals & Outdoors
West Orange Trail
Miles to ride
The West Orange Trail runs 22 miles from Oakland to Apopka. This is one of my favorite family activities because the trail is wide enough for everyone to ride, skate, or run. A portion of the trail is even horse-friendly.
👉 Pro Tip: For those visiting the area, bike rentals are available at the Killarney Station and the Winter Garden Station.
Under the sea fun
The Florida Aquarium is located on the water in Tampa, and is one of the top things to do in Tampa. You can enjoy seeing local aquatic life and exotic fish. I recommend checking out the great Pacific octopus which can be seen breaking into shellfish and squeezing into grooves in the coral.
🍔 Getting Hungry? Walk next door to Sparkman Wharf, where you can find plenty of food and drink vendors.
Circle B Bar Reserve
Nature and recreation
Located an hour outside Orlando, Circle B Bar Reserve is a pristine example of Central Florida wilderness. This is the perfect location for bird-watching and seeing native animals, like wild turkey and white-tailed deer.
👉 Safety Tip: I don’t consider this a dangerous area to hike, but visitors should be mindful of the native wildlife. Bobcats, alligators, and feral pigs are regularly seen crossing the trails. Believe it or not, the pigs tend to be the most aggressive in that group.
TECO Manatee Viewing Center
Conserve the gentle giants
TECO is a local electric plant that realized manatees were congregating where the plant released clean, warm water into the bay. The company funded the creation of the Manatee Viewing Center so visitors could observe the large herds of sea cows.
The Manatee Viewing Center is open from November 1 to April 15, because the manatees come to the area during the cooler months.
Safari Wilderness Ranch is a safari park where guests can see exotic animals up close. You can choose from a drive-thru safari in your own vehicle or a guided tour in one of their covered trucks.
To make the experience even more memorable, add on a feeding experience to enjoy a personal encounter with the animals. You don’t want to miss the opportunity to get up close and personal with an eland or water buffalo.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the top attractions in Central Florida?
The top attractions in Central Florida include the numerous theme parks: Disney World, Universal, Seaworld, Busch Gardens, and LEGOLAND.
What are the best outdoor activities in Central Florida?
The best outdoor activities in Central Florida are relaxing at Clearwater Beach, tubing down Rock Springs, and hiking through Circle B Bar Reserve.
Is there a beach in Orlando?
There are no beaches in Orlando. The closest Florida beach to the Orlando area is Cocoa Beach, which is located one hour away from Orlando.
Is Clearwater or Cocoa Beach better?
Clearwater Beach has a large beach with warm water and white, sugar sand. Cocoa Beach is an amazing place for surfing.
What is there to do in Central Florida besides the theme parks?
There are several museums, smaller attractions, outdoor activities, and more throughout Central Florida. It is easy to have a fun-filled vacation without visiting the theme parks.
👉 Keep Reading: The Best Things to Do in Florida (By Locals!)
Whether you are heading to Daytona Beach, Orlando, or Tampa, make sure you get out and explore the rest of Central Florida. Let us know in the comments where you’re most excited to visit!
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