Orlando, Florida is one of the nation’s most popular destinations, especially for international travelers. The theme parks are a big draw, but there’s plenty to do in Central Florida once you’ve had your fill of rides and lines. All of these destinations are less than an hour and a half from the city, meaning you can easily drive your rental car there, spend plenty of time exploring, and head back to your hotel before dinnertime. This post contains affiliate links.
Distance from Orlando: 1 hour 15 minutes
Originally inhabited by Creek and Seminole tribes, Ocala was established in 1869. In 1943, the area was developed with thoroughbred horse farms for breeding, including a number of Triple Crown winners. The historic district was established in 1984 and now is home to shops and restaurants like Pi, a local pizzeria, and Yummy House, which serves Asian fare.
In this area, you can visit Silver Spring State Park, a natural spring that offers glass bottom boat tours and wildlife spotting. The Ocala National Forest has over 600 square miles of unique ecosystems with swamps, springs, and ponds, including where The Yearling was filmed. Ross Prairie State Forest is also worth exploring. The Canyons Zipline isn’t for the faint of heart with multiple tours that soar through the trees. Back on the ground, the Appleton Museum of Art features over 80,000 square feet of works previously from a private collection including works by Florida artists, pre-Columbian artifacts, and contemporary art.
Distance from Orlando: 35 minutes
Established in 1875 as the winter home of the Spiritualist organization, the town is made up of Victorian homes and over 100 certified mediums and psychics. Visitors to Cassadaga can get readings, tour the grounds with a guide, or wander around the many trails to see the lakes and other landmarks.
The Cassadaga Hotel has the only accommodations nearby as well as one of the only restaurants in town, Sinatra’s. They have a menu that includes sandwiches for lunch and Italian dishes for dinner, as well as wine. Guests can get readings and seances here as well or browse their gift shop.
Distance from Orlando: 1 hour
Originally inhabited by Native tribes before Spanish settlement, this area was developed for plantations before it was added to Henry Flagler’s railway. By the 1920s, Daytona Beach was one of the nation’s most popular beaches. Its legacy continues today as a place you can drive, especially for NASCAR fans who visit the nearby speedway.
Expect to dine at plenty of chains as well as local eateries like Zappi’s Italian Garden Restaurant, which features burgers and pasta. Sports fans and newbies should take a tour of Daytona Speedway to learn about the track’s history. Alternatively, you can drive on the famous Daytona Beach or bring your own chair to enjoy the sand and sun.
- Richard Petty Race Car Ride-Along Program at Daytona International Speedway
- Daytona Inshore Fishing Charter
- Tandem Kayak Rental in Daytona Beach
Distance from Orlando: 45 minutes
Home to Stetson University, Deland was founded in 1876 as a home to a number of Gilded Age magnates like John Stetson. The downtown historic district has plentiful shops and restaurants as well as a few boutique and chain hotels. Favorite eateries include Mr. Bill’s Donuts and Sandwiches, Byte, De La Vega, Airport Restaurant, Twisted Chopstick, and Boston Coffeehouse.
Craft beer lovers can sip brews at Persimmon Hollow before posing for photos at the Wings of the West murals. The seasonal tours at the Stetson Mansion can’t be missed, one of the finest homes in Florida built before the 20th century. At the Museum of Art Deland, admire the changing exhibits on American art in two locations. Adventure lovers can even go skydiving at Skydive Deland.
Distance from Orlando: 1 hour
A family of freed slaves settled what is now Cocoa Beach after the Civil War. The area is the closest beach to Orlando, called the Space Coast for its proximity to the Kennedy Space Center. There are plenty of well-known restaurants in this area, but a few local ones as well like TJ’s Full Belly Deli and The Fat Snook.
The Cocoa Beach Pier is a popular landmark, especially to watch the surfers that catch waves at the beach. Ron Jon Surf Shop is known for its billboards that cover Florida and sells gear for surfers and beachgoers. On Merritt Island, visitors can go kayaking in the nature preserve.
- Transportation to Cocoa Beach from Orlando
- SUP Paddleboard Lesson and Tour – Port Canaveral & Cocoa Beach
- Cocoa Beach Surf Lessons and Board Rental
Kennedy Space Center
Distance from Orlando: 50 minutes
Developed in 1962, the Kennedy Space Center is located on Merritt Island and was the site of the rocket and shuttle launch programs during the “Space Race.” The sprawling facility still functions, so visitors are limited to the visitor complex and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. While shuttle launches no longer occur, rocket launches still take place regularly.
Exhibits feature artifacts from the decades of space flight, including a moon rock, space suits, and simulators. Decommissioned rockets are on display and IMAX films further interpret the mission of the center. Tours are available as well as special programs like “Lunch with an Astronaut.” In addition to this option, the visitor complex has a few cafes serving breakfast sandwiches, tacos, hot dogs, and burgers.
- Kennedy Space Center Day Trip with Transport from Orlando
- Kennedy Space Center Ultimate Experience: Dine with an Astronaut and Up-Close Tour with Transport from Orlando