Things To Do in Central Florida and Orlando Besides Theme Parks

If you're visiting Orlando and want to do something other than visit theme parks, here are our picks for the best things to do in Central Florida.

Kennedy Space Center
The Rocket Garden is a highlight at the Kennedy Space Center. Publicity photo

Central Florida is home to crystal-clear springs, lush forests, world-class performing arts theaters and the gateway to space exploration. If you’re visiting Orlando and want to do something other than visit theme parks, here are our picks for the best things to do in Central Florida.

Wekiva Springs State Park

Wekiva Springs State Park
The swimming hole is a popular attraction at Wekiva Springs State Park. Florida State Parks

Central Florida is home to 10 state parks, a state reserve and a national forest. But it’s Wekiva State Park – just north of Orlando in Seminole County – that draws the biggest oohs and aahs.

The crystal-clear water of the Wekiva Springs feeds this park, where visitors flock to on warm days to hike, bike, canoe and kayak. The water here is 72 degrees year-round, the perfect temperature during Florida’s hot summer months.

The swimming hole here is a half acre in size with an average depth of about four feet. No lifeguards are on duty, but personal floatation devices are allowed.

Pavilions in the park are available for family gatherings and picnics. (Contact the park rangers for rental information.) Camping reservations are also available.

Admission is $6 per vehicle or $4 for a single-occupant vehicle. Camping is $24 a night (plus some assorted taxes and fees).

Insider tip: Plan to arrive early in the summer months and weekends because Wekiva State Park frequently reaches capacity and is required to temporarily close in those cases.

Kennedy Space Center

Kennedy Space Center
Interactive rides are just part of the fun at the Kennedy Space Center. Publicity photo

Don’t call Kennedy Space Center a theme park – though it’s just as much as one. This is a working launch center and is located about 60 miles to the East of Orlando’s theme parks.

The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is a collection of attractions and tours to help guests relive the conquest of space. Visitors can tour historic launch sites and spaceflight facilities, stroll through a “rocket garden,” explore the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame and even chat with a real NASA astronaut.

If a rocket launch is scheduled during your visit, a viewing area is available. There are also restaurants and shops. Best of all, you can score an annual pass for less than the cost of a single-day ticket to the Disney and Universal parks.

Insider tip: Try grabbing one of the early bus tours after you arrive. These provide a quick tour of areas of the compound that usually are restricted. If you sit on the right side of the bus, you’ll have better views of the Vehicle Assembly Building where rockets are built.


That toothy grin can only be from one attraction. Publicity photo

This 110-acre wildlife preserve is home to thousands of alligators and crocodiles. You no doubt have seen a photo of its unique entrance, where visitors walk through the toothy grin of a swamp monster to enter the attraction.

Gatorland is one of Florida’s original “theme parks,” having been founded in 1949 on a patch of cattle land just south of the Orlando city limits. Today it features a breeding marsh (used in the filming of 1984’s “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom”), zip lines, a swamp tour, feeding shows, a “petting” zoo and more.

Aside from alligators and crocodiles, Gatorland also has exhibits featuring wild cats, birds, snakes, tortoises and other Florida creatures. There’s a restaurant on the premises that serves casual meals – including gator nuggets (not made from its inhabitants) – and a coffee bar. Parking is free and adult single-day passes start at $32.99. Annual passes start at $49.99.

Insider tip: Two other area attractions offer alligator encounters – the Gaylord Palms Resort and the Fun Spot amusement parks.

Catch a Show

Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts
Orlando’s iconic Dr. Phillips Center is a performing arts destination in Central Florida. Courtesy of Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts.

If you’re a fan of Broadway, let us ask you this: Do you like a nice big, shiny showroom? Or do you prefer a quaint, historical theatre? The Orlando area has both and they’re both wonderful.

Downtown Orlando is home to the Dr. Phillips Center, home of the Walt Disney Theater. This 2,700-seat hall – set with copper accents and cherry wood – often is the home to touring Broadcast musicals such as “Hamilton” and “Wicked” as well as concerts by music legends such as Jackson Browne, Chicago and more.

Next door to the Walt Disney Theater is the equally stunning Steinmetz Hall, a multiform theater that can transform into a variety of shapes and seating arrangements. Here, the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra performs and visiting artists such as Michael Bolton astound eager audiences.

If intimacy is your goal, head about 20 miles west to Winter Garden where the historic Garden Theatre awaits. This 300-seat venue features a Mediterranean revival design to mimic a Spanish courtyard. The theater first opened in 1935 to welcome the era of Hollywood “talkies” but today is home to screenings of silver-screen masterpieces along with an impressive calendar of performing arts performances. Upcoming events include professional productions of “Something Rotten” and “Dreamgirls.”

Other local theaters include the Winter Park Playhouse, Orlando Repertory Theatre and Orlando Shakes.

Insider tip: As in many city centers, parking is a challenge in downtown Orlando, so plan ahead. According to the Orlando Date Night Guide blog, nearby hotels and restaurants may provide affordable valet parking – particularly if you eat there before a show.

Winter Park Boat Tour

Winter Park Boat Tours
Get a closer look at life along the water’s edge on a boat tour of Winter Park. Publicity photo

Here’s a real underrated gem: Take a boat tour of the pristine Chain of Lakes in Winter Park, just a few miles north of downtown Orlando. Open-air passenger motorboats, seating 18 guests, leave every hour every day of the year except Christmas Day.

The adventure starts on Lake Osceola where a captain guides passengers through three lakes and two canals through Winter Park. Enjoy spotting the region’s towering palm trees, lush landscapes and frolicking wildlife – maybe even a sunbathing alligator on a nearby shore.

No reservations are accepted – it’s a first-come, first-served experience. Boats leave the dock between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. each day. Adults are $15, children $8. It’s cash only, and bring a few extra bucks for tips. Private tours are available.

Insider tip: The dock for the boat tour is within walking distance of historic downtown Winter Park and Park Avenue, which is full of sidewalk cafes and bistros. Save room for lunch before or after your tour. Some of the more popular eateries – including the beloved Prato in particular – are busy around the clock so reservations are recommended.

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