Central Florida staycations 

Simple day trips and overnighters that'll help you recharge your batteries

click to enlarge PHOTO BY MICHAEL LOTHROP
  • PHOTO BY MICHAEL LOTHROP

Inexpensive overnighters

Weeki Wachee Springs State Park
No manatees here, guys – thar be real mermaids in these waters. They’ve been around since 1947, so the park has had a little work done – gorgeous new retro seating in the theater, for instance – so it still looks great. In the summer the Buccaneer Bay water park opens up for all your water sliding and tan-lining pleasure. If you’re not into laying around like a beached whale (did you see that explosion video? Gross) then grab a kayak and paddle your way through one of the most beautiful springs in Central Florida. Side note – Weeki Wachee also has a Sirens of the Deep Mermaid Camp every year where you can learn if you have what it takes to flaunt your fins in public with the pros. We sense a reality show idea: Real Mermaids of Weeki Wachee. You’re welcome, public, you’re welcome.
Drive time from downtown Orlando: One hour and 45 minutes, so this one could be a daytrip, but if you want to stay the night, there’s a Quality Inn less than a mile from Weeki Wachee.
9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Monday-Sunday; 6131 Commercial Way, Spring Hill; $13; floridastateparks.org/weekiwachee

Camping at Sebastian Inlet State Park
Get out of the Central Florida funk and wake up to some refreshing sea breezes by overnighting it at one of the most famous surfing and saltwater fishing spots in Florida (A1A, beachfront avenue!). Camping isn’t on the beach, but it might as well be; you can stumble out of your tent or RV and be on the sand in minutes to wiggle your toes in the water. The camping area is on the south side of the inlet with three miles of gorgeous beachfront to enjoy. You can snorkel, surf, fish, shell and sunbathe and there’s access to the Indian River Lagoon if you bring your canoe or kayak. If you’re thinking you’d rather just loaf around and watch the surfers, that’s cool too; pull out your Gandalf pipe and enjoy the view, just don’t Bogart it. You shall pass. There are 43 spots to camp, but be sure to call ahead for a reservation.
Drive time from downtown Orlando: One hour and 45 minutes. It could be a daytrip, but we recommend you camp for at least a night.
10 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Sunday; 9700 S. State Road A1A, Melbourne Beach; $28 to camp, $4-$8 just to park and enjoy the beach; 772-589-9659; floridastateparks.org/sebastianinlet

In town adventures

Leu Gardens and lunch from East End Market
Harry P. Leu loved plants so much that he married a woman named Mary Jane. True story. He filled his estates with plants that he found on his globe-spanning travels and today the property he used to call home is one of the prettiest and most biologically diverse spots in the city. Take a little stroll down the winding paths of the gardens and revel in the awesomeness that is horticulture. Before you hit the gardens, you should stop at East End Market, just down Corrine Drive, to fill up a picnic basket with some fresh juices from Skye Bird, pastries from Olde Hearth Bread Company and other things to snack on from Houndstooth Sauce Company and La Femme du Fromage. Totally ride your bikes for this trip if you can, because afterward you can pedal over to the nearby Blue Bird Bakeshop for one of the best cupcakes in town, then grab a beer at Redlight Redlight or a cocktail at Stardust Video and Coffee to complete your Audubon-cation.
9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Sunday; Leu Gardens, 1920 N. Forest Ave.; $10, leugardens.org

East End Market
3201 Corrine Drive, eastendmkt.com

Blue Bird Bakeshop
3122 Corrine Drive, bluebirdbakeshop.com

Redlight Redlight Beer Parlour
2810 Corrine Drive, redlightredlightbeerparlour.com

Stardust Video and Coffee
1842 Winter Park Road, stardustie.com

Lake Eola Famers Market, Swan Boats and Drinks in Thornton Park
There are more than 50 vendors (and growing) at one of the best weekly markets in Central Florida. Fill your reusable shopping bags with baked goodies, cheeses, pastas and more as you enjoy the sun-dappled walkways around the Southeastern corner of Lake Eola. Kick back and enjoy a beer – or the $12 all-you-can drink mimosas – from Orlando Brewing while listening to the always-chill live music before strolling around the park to the $15 Swan Boat rentals on the north side of the lake. Afterward, make your way over to the center of Thornton Park for fantastic burgers from Graffiti Junktion, barbecue from Wildside or something more brunchy from Dexter’s before heading over to Burton’s for one-too-many pitchers on the patio. Watch the sun set over the downtown Orlando skyline before making your way back to the Eo Inn (because there’s no way you can drive right now) with sun-kissed cheeks and a happy-dazed look in your eyes. Treat yourself to a massage or a manicure while you’re there too.

Thornton Park
10 a.m.-2 a.m. Sundays

Graffiti Junktion
900 E. Washington St., graffitijunktion.com

Wildside Bar and Grill
700 E. Washington St., wildsidebbq.com

Dexter’s Thornton Park
808 E. Washington St., dexwine.com

Burton’s Bar
801 E Washington St. Eo Inn, 227 N. Eola Drive, eoinn.com

Take a Ride on the Rivership Romance
You’ve got two options here, y’all: You can either make it a sun-filled day of bird-watching and cloud-gazing during a daytime cruise, or a night of boozing and gluttony on an evening trip. Either way, gliding along the St. Johns River should be something every Orlando resident does at least once a month to reconnect with our abundance of natural awesomeness. There’s something about seeing herons, gators and turtles in the wild that reminds us why we put up with the shitty things we have to deal with by living here, like I-4 traffic and sprawl. Meals on the cruise are indoors, but we encourage you to take that plate outside, because otherwise what’s the point of being there?
11 a.m.-2 p.m. Wednesday and Saturday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Thursday and Sunday and 7:30-11 p.m. Saturday; 433 N. Palmetto Ave., Sanford; $43.34-$60.19; 321-441-3030; stjohnsrivershipco.com

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