Destinations USA

Best Places To Visit Within Driving Distance Of Orlando

Places To Explore Near Orlando

We love visiting Orlando and all the theme parks, it’s one of our guilty pleasures. Some travellers can be a little pretentious, looking down at the popular tourist attractions and resorts. However, I (Mr W), like many people, often have two answers to the question of ‘favourite’, the sophisticated one and the real one.

For example, if I was being asked by the Sunday Times magazine what is my favourite film. The sophisticated answer would be “Citizen Kane” but my real answer would be “Nutty Professor II: The Klumps”. It’s the same for destinations, my favourite answer would be Lake Como, Italy but I would still drop everything for a sneaky trip to Orlando, Florida.

Although we do enjoy our days in the parks, sometimes the ‘Happiest Place On Earth’ can get a bit too much. Maybe it’s our British temperament but we get the urge to escape Mickey’s vice-like grip and visit somewhere not made of plastic.

Disney World Orlando

Disney World Orlando

Discovering Florida

If you are staying near the parks or on International Drive, it is easy to get around Orlando without a car using the free park transportation or Uber. We usual rent a car which gives us the option to get out of Orlando and explore central Florida.

We have visited a number of Florida destinations and they can be very different. We were not too keen on Miami but really loved the laid back atmosphere of Key West. However, in this post, we will be looking at places close to Orlando. Towns and beaches within a couple of hours drive, well depending on that I-4 traffic.

St Augustine

St Augustine

Castillo de San Marcos, St Augustine

St Augustine has been on our must-visit list for years. Somehow, we still haven’t got there but in the next few weeks, we will actually be visiting. It is the “The oldest continuously occupied European-established settlement within the borders of the continental United States.” Yes, that was a bit of a mouthful, basically, St Augustine is old and packed with really interesting early American history.

As well as the Castillo de San Marcos and the St. Augustine Lighthouse we will be making a trip to the Fountain of Youth, an archaeological site and famous spring. It supposedly restores the youth of anyone who drinks the water, we’ll wait and see…

Where: St Augustine is about a 2 and a half hours drive north of Orlando. One of the longer drives but definitely worth the trip.

Cocoa Beach

Cocoa Beach Florida

Cocoa Beach

Cocoa Beach on Florida’s Space Coast is one of the closest beaches to Orlando and being on the Atlantic coast, it does get a bit of a swell. Although it does get waves, the water is generally calm and the water is shallow making it a great place to learn to surf.

Cocoa Beach also has a historic 800ft wooden pier stretching into the Atlantic. Some people say it is ‘too touristy’ well it is, but what do you expect from a classic seaside pier. What it does capture is the sense of old-style Florida.

Although we’ve never been lucky enough to experience one, from Cocoa Beach you can see the rocket launches from Kennedy Space Center.

Where: Cocoa Beach is just over an hours drive directly east of Orlando, it’s quite close to the busy cruise ship departure point of Port Canaveral.

Daytona Beach

Daytona Beach

Daytona Beach

You can’t be a true motorsport fan if you are not familiar with Daytona Beach. In the early days of motoring, the hard-packed sand of Daytona Beach was a venue for land speed record attempts. At the end of the 50’s the Daytona International Speedway was built which hosted the classic Daytona 500.

If you want a bit of old-style seaside fun take a walk along the pier and the Daytona Beach Boardwalk.

If motorsport or crowds aren’t to your taste, the area’s 23 miles of white sandy beach is certainly big enough to escape the crowds and relax.

Where: Daytona Beach is about 1 hour 15 minutes north-east up the I-4

Clearwater Beach

Clearwater

Clearwater Beach

Sitting on the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, it’s not hard to see how the white sands of Clearwater Beach have frequently been ranked as one of the best beaches in the US. We found Clearwater Beach had a very relaxed atmosphere with some great places to eat and drink, perfect in the evening as you watch the sun go down over the pier.

With its location on the Gulf Coast, it not surprising that the area is also a mecca for boating and fishing.

If you fancy meeting a film star take a trip to the rescue and rehab centre of Clearwater Marine Aquarium. This is where you can meet Winter the tailless Dolphin, the star of the movie Dolphin Tale.

Where: Clearwater Beach is a 1 and a half to 2-hour drive south-west along the I-4

Mount Dora

Mount Dora

Mount Dora

The historic town of Mount Dora is still on the water but instead of the sea, Mount Dora overlooks the pretty Lake Dora which is part of the Harris Chain Lakes.

The charming little Floridian town is over a hundred years old. It is only 45-minutes from International Drive but feels a million miles away. For all you fisherman, why not go fishing on Lake Dara, the “Bass Capital of the World”.

Where: Mount Dora is only a 45-minute drive north-east from I-Drive, Orlando.

Do you have a favourite place within driving distance of Orlando? If you want to share it, let us know below but we understand if you want to keep your hidden gem secret.

Best Places To Visit Within Driving Distance Of Orlando Florida

Best Places To Visit Within Driving Distance Of Orlando – Pin For Later

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  • Allan Mees
    August 6, 2018 at 11:43 am

    Winter Park just north of downtown Orlando for a real taste of old Florida. Home to one of the best Univerdities in the USA. Just half an hour drive from Universal if you can catch the train. Great cafes, gardens, galleries and museums. Don’t forget to take a boat trip on the lakes.

    Another favourite is Bok Tower Gardens and the famous singing bell tower. About an hours drive SW of Kissimmee take the 4 then the 27.

    • Mr and Mrs W
      August 7, 2018 at 9:19 am

      We are going over in a few months, we were thinking about visiting Winter Park. Also, we are staying in a house past Kissimmee for the first 3 days so may take a look at Bok Tower Gardens, thanks for the info.

  • Danik
    August 12, 2018 at 9:23 am

    Fantastic post and great ideas here. If I flew into Orlando (from the UK) I would try and drive out of the area asap because I cant stand Disney. Is that bad? 😀

    • Mr and Mrs W
      August 13, 2018 at 11:14 am

      I can see your point about Disney, it’s not to everyone’s taste.

  • Agness of eTramping
    August 12, 2018 at 12:17 pm

    Wow! These are some exceptional places to visit and explore near Orlando, Mr W! Daytona Beach would be a perfect place for me to see. Is it a good summer destination?

    • Mr and Mrs W
      August 13, 2018 at 11:16 am

      It can get a bit busy in the summer and in August the thunderstorms can set in, but being on the Atlantic coast it’s a bit better than the heat of central Florida.

  • Nicole
    August 12, 2018 at 9:02 pm

    I’m saving this for my trip back to the States. I have been to Orlando and Clearwater beach but I want to explore more of this area. ST Augustine looks really interesting.

    • Mr and Mrs W
      August 13, 2018 at 11:17 am

      We are really looking forward to St Augustine, it’s the only one we haven’t been to ourselves.

  • Fiona Maclean
    August 12, 2018 at 10:25 pm

    Plenty of options! I’ve never been to Florida so this is a great list to get me started. I really like the look of Mount Dora

    • Mr and Mrs W
      August 13, 2018 at 11:18 am

      Ye, Florida and Orlando have definitely more to offer than the theme parks.

  • Linda
    August 13, 2018 at 12:21 pm

    We are in Florida quite regularly but must admit it has been some time since we visited Orlando. The fort at St Augustine certainly looks like a spot to visit. But I might prefer seeing the long pier at Cocoa Beach. It would be so cool to be there for a rocket launch. Or to visit Daytona for the big race. I never thought of looking for lakes instead of the ocean. Lake Dora might be a spot to try. Thanks for introducing some new Florida spots!

    • Mr and Mrs W
      August 16, 2018 at 6:54 pm

      We live by the see so always like a beach view, although it is a bit warmer in Florida than in Wales.

  • Julia
    August 14, 2018 at 12:14 am

    I’ve been to Daytona Beach once and it was so lovely! All these beach pictures are making me want to drop everything and head straight over! Definitely interested in visiting cocoa beach and Clearwater beach, they both sound amazing and I just love the white sands!

    • Mr and Mrs W
      August 16, 2018 at 6:56 pm

      We did enjoy the beaches and as they are so long, you can usually find a spot away from the crowds.

  • Dylan
    August 14, 2018 at 5:48 pm

    It’s been many years since I have been to Orlando. My wife and kids have not been there yet. We will hopefully be visiting Disney world next year so I’ll have to refer back to this. The castle and Daytona beach are the ones I’d really love to see.

  • Paige
    August 14, 2018 at 11:19 pm

    These are great tips. A lot of people don’t realize how many amazing things there are in Florida other than Orlando and its glorious theme parks. I’ve never been to Cocoa Beach, but it’s now on my list! The pier sounds really cool; thanks for the great suggestion!

  • Adelina
    August 15, 2018 at 3:30 am

    I’ve always been a space junkie so I like heading over to the coast to visit Cape Canaveral as well. Otherwise, next time I really want to visit St Augustine. I’ve heard so many wonderful things about it and I would love to explore its history!

  • sherianne
    August 15, 2018 at 4:47 am

    Love these ideas! My mom goes to Cocoa Beach every year and loves it. I haven’t been to this part of Florida for over 10 years and think it’s time to get back and drive on Daytona Beach. I haven’t heard of Mount Dora or the chain lakes. I like Juniper Springs a lot too

  • Janine Thomas
    August 15, 2018 at 12:19 pm

    Cocoa Beach is stunning. I have wanted to visit this part of the world for ages, but just haven’t got my act together! I would love the explore the area as well so I have bookmarked the post. Thanks for some really good ideas.