One of the reasons I love living in Orlando is that the options for day trips throughout Florida are practically endless. There are scores of towns, state parks, theme parks, beaches, historical landmarks, sports venues and more within an easy drive. By definition, you should be able to complete a day trip -- including the round-trip drive and a decent chunk of time at the destination -- within a day's time, so I've narrowed the following options down to places you can reach in 90 minutes or less. But if you’re open to a longer day, you can also find the historic district of St. Augustine (two hours away), the vibrant, multicultural melting pot of Miami (three hours away), or even a NASCAR race 60 miles northeast in Daytona Beach at one of the sport's most storied tracks. Wherever you go, you'll be sure to have a unique adventure in a state that has far more to offer than just sunshine and theme parks.
Just a bit too far away to be considered an Orlando theme park, LEGOLAND is, nonetheless, a destination you should consider if you have kids under 12. Forty-five minutes from the tourist strip of Orlando, this 150-acre property boasts plenty of rides and shows, and even a botanical garden.
Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex
An easy 50-minute drive east, this tourist destination is a beautiful ode to the nation’s space program. The home of Space Shuttle Atlantis, the complex features a couple of rides, an informative tour of the property, two incredible 3D IMAX movies and even the opportunity to meet a real astronaut. Check the website before you go; you might even be lucky enough to see a rocket launch.
Blue Springs State Park
Fifty minutes north of downtown Orlando, find this 2,600-acre park, which includes the largest spring on the 310-mile St. Johns River. You can swim, snorkel or scuba dive in the clear, 72-degree spring most of the year, but from mid-November through March 15, the water is reserved for the large manatee population that winters there (a truly cool thing to see in person). Especially on weekends, plan to arrive early; the parking lot closes once it’s full.
Less than forty minutes away, step back in time in this charming lakefront town, a favorite among antique hunters. The downtown area features an array of antique dealers, and thousands flock each weekend to the huge Renninger’s Flea and Farmer’s Market. Watch the sunset from a lakefront restaurant or take a stroll to find a wide variety of quaint cafes and art galleries.
The Tampa Bay area -- including Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater -- is a popular vacation destination unto itself, so if you're in Orlando, it's worth the 80-minute drive if you have a bit of extra time. Find Busch Gardens Tampa, the beautiful white sand Gulf beaches, the historic Ybor City, several thriving downtown areas, and the Seminole Hard Rock Casino. You can also catch an NHL, NFL or Major League Baseball game here.