Central Florida is a pretty amazing tourist destination—even if you took away all of its theme parks.
While Disney World, Universal Studios, SeaWorld, and other parks are generally the very first things that come to mind when people think about attractions in Florida, the center of the state would rival other areas of the country even if you took those away and only left the “B-players.”
In fact, “B-players” is not an appropriate term at all for the attractions in Central Florida. From sightseeing, to national parks, to top-of-the-line quality bike paths, to crazy sports combinations, the area has a diverse set of entertainment and leisure options that can appeal to anyone.
Here are 14 of the best attractions in Central Florida—from Tampa to Daytona—has to offer.
1) Orlando Eye
The Coca-Cola Orlando Eye is a 400-foot tall observation wheel located off of I-Drive. Visitors can ride to the peak of the wheel and look out over Central Florida in a fully-enclosed compartment.
Below the actual eye, there are plenty of restaurants and other attractions in the area, including the Yard House restaurant, Sea Life aquarium, and Madame Tussauds (a celebrity wax attraction).
This famous area of American rocket launches is located near Cape Canaveral. The visitor center is what you’re looking for here: the complex is organized into “Mission Zones” with attractions and tours that pull from every era of space exploration. You’ll even get to hear about what the future of space exploration looks like.
Located in Disney Springs, Orlando’s Cirque Du Soleil is a must-see event beneath a gorgeous tent-shaped structure. You can see everything from aerial ballet to trampoline acts to story-driven high-flying acts.
4) Daytona International Speedway
Home to one of the most famous races there is, this track transforms in the middle of a race. The physical sensation alone is worth attending.
Beyond the Daytona 500 and other races, though, the speedway also does tours and has other attractions, such as the NASCAR Racing Experience.
The Ocala National Forest is the “southernmost forest in the continental United States.” It takes up a huge chunk of Central Florida.
There are plenty of camping sites and hiking trails in the forest, with an interactive map to guide you through it all. Just maybe watch out for ticks…
The West Orange Trail actually extends beyond Orange County and westward into Lake County. It’s a long, beautiful path for bikers, walkers, and joggers.
The Orange County portion runs for 22 miles that include some elevation, a drive through beautiful downtown Winter Garden, and a few bridges here and there.
7) Whirly ball at the WhirlyDome
Couldn’t resist this one…
If you don’t know what whirly ball is, sorry, no words can describe. You’ll just have to see for yourself.
Wekiwa Springs park has basically everything you want in the outdoors: trails, camping, springs, and kayaking. Maybe the biggest draw is the Rock Springs Run, a moving stream in which you’re carried down the water.
Two warnings: it’s a very popular park, so get there early. And the water is really, really cold.
9) Lake Eola
Had enough of beautiful, natural havens in the middle of urban centers?
Yeah, me either.
10) Cornfield Maze at Long & Scott Farms
This is a seasonal attraction, running in the Fall. It’s definitely worth your time, though: the cornfield is cut into four color-coded sections of a maze, with the paths making unique shapes. A great way to test your navigational merit or just to enjoy getting a little lost for a while.
11) Harry P. Leu Gardens
This is a large property of gorgeous gardens where you can enjoy all sorts of flowering trees, palms, azaleas, and more. There’s also a historical museum on site.
12) Lakeridge Winery
The award-winning wines at Lakeridge Winery are produced in Clermont, FL. Lakeridge claims to be “Florida’s largest premium winery,” as it sits on a 127-acre estate.
Check it out for free tours and tastings as well as a full retail store. You can see all of their wine types here.
13) Tampa Riverwalk
The Riverwalk in Tampa has gone from a leisurely but fairly uneventful path to a near-can’t-miss for the city’s visitors in just a few years.
It’s a lovely walk beside the river and passes all sorts of parks, restaurants, and other entertainment spots. You’ll pass the Florida Aquarium, Tampa Convention Center, and Channelside Bay Plaza.
Grab a pair of comfortable shoes and prepare to spend a whole afternoon exploring the area around the Riverwalk.
14) Tampa Theater
This place is just really, really cool.
The Tampa Theater was built in 1926, intended to be an elaborate and extravagant movie site. “The Mighty Wurlitzer” organ is still played before almost every film. Really, though, the draw is the sheer classic beauty of the atmosphere.
Orlando, of course, is where the majority of these attractions can be found. But as you can see, there are fantastic entertainment draws even as you spread out to both coasts and dozens of miles above the city.
To the north, you have the stretch of pines that make up the massive Ocala National Forest. It’s a fantastic destination for those who want to hike its paths and pretend they’re blazing the frontier for the first time in history. The thick forest supports that length of imagination.
To the west, you have the Riverwalk and Tampa Theater, where you can watch modern films in an elaborate environment straight out of a bygone era.
To the east, you have Kennedy Space Center, where you can learn the history of how humans have probed the reaches of space—and experience parts of it too.
Right in the heart of Orlando or all around it, there are places you and your family can visit to create lasting memories together.
Even if you’ve grown tired of all the theme parks.
By: Ryan Drawdy
August 3, 2017