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Orlando is one of the most popular tourist destinations not only in the state of Florida but is one of the top family destinations in the United States. While the city boasts plenty of family-friendly attractions to keep your itinerary full, it’s central location in Florida also makes it a great home base to explore the rest of the state’s alluring destinations. From sparkling spring waters to cultural hot spots, explore more of the Sunshine State on one of these top weekend trips.
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Just three hours from the top-rated attractions in Orlando, the picturesque city of Amelia Island looks like something straight off of a postcard. Perhaps the biggest draw of the area is the 13 miles of untouched, uncrowded beaches to relax and stroll along. But, that’s just the beginning. The island has a unique historic downtown district where you can learn about the city’s colorful past and maybe even encounter a pirate or two. You can explore the water by kayak, stand-up paddleboard or take a sunset cruise, and if you’re a golf enthusiast, enjoy 99 holes of world-class golf on the island’s courses. Amelia Island also hosts several events throughout the year that you may want to plan a trip around, including the Shrimp Festival and the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance, where you can see more than 300 rare and classic vehicles on display.
About two hours from Orlando is the oldest city in the country, St. Augustine. History buffs will love to explore its captivating historical attractions, beautiful Spanish-style architecture and the living history museums, as well as check out unique attractions like the Colonial Quarter and the Medieval Torture Museum. You can tour the city by foot, trolley, train or take a romantic horse-drawn carriage ride along the cobblestone streets. Then, enjoy a delicious meal at one of the area’s fine dining restaurants and end your day with a sunset cruise along the water. If you’re traveling with kids, there’s also plenty for them to enjoy like climbing the St. Augustine Lighthouse and seeing wildlife up close on a St. Augustine ECO tour.
Weeki Wachee Springs State Park
Have you ever wanted to meet a mermaid? Now you can with a short drive to the Weeki Wachee Springs State Park in Spring Hill. The world-famous “mermaids” perform Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid live three times a day, every day in a submerged 400-seat auditorium. Plus, the mermaids perform musical numbers and do amazing things like eating and drinking underwater! During your visit, you can also take in a wildlife animal encounter show where you can meet alligators, reptiles and birds, go on a kayak ride, rent a paddleboard or take a riverboat cruise down the Weeki Wachee River.
The exciting beach town of Daytona is only a little over an hour from Orlando, so why not make a weekend of it and experience all that this city has to offer. You can drive your car right onto the beach and pick the perfect spot for sunbathing and swimming all day. Then, spend your evening strolling along the boardwalk and pier, where you can enjoy delicious food, quaint shops and fun amusement park rides. Then, if you plan your schedule just right, you can take in an exciting NASCAR race at the Daytona International Speedway and tour the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America before you head home.
Just a little over two hours from Orlando is Sarasota, where you’ll find plenty of things to do, such as the Ringling Museum of Art, which includes both an art museum and a circus museum that celebrates the lives and careers of the famous Ringling Brothers. In addition to touring the museums and gardens, you can also take in one of the live performances that happen daily. Sarasota is also home to the Siesta Key Distillery, where you can take a free tour and enjoy a tasting of their famous spiced rum. Other things you’ll want to check out while you’re there include the Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium, and the Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary, where you can see a variety of animals up close and personal!
The beautiful Gulf Coast city of Tampa Bay is only an hour and a half from Orlando and is packed with fun things for the whole family to do. Tampa is the home of the Florida Aquarium and ZooTampa, as well as the Busch Gardens Theme Park, so there’s plenty to do if you’re getting away with the kids. The city is also home to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, so if you time your trip just right, you can take in a professional football or baseball game. Or if you really just want to relax and take in some fun in the sun, there’s plenty of beautiful beaches here for that too.