15 amazing Central Florida attractions that have nothing to do with the theme parks

15 amazing Central Florida attractions that have nothing to do with the theme parks

Orlando is more than just Harry Potter and Mickey Mouse – the region is home to a host of other attractions that have an appeal all their own. From ziplining to gator-wrassling, hang-gliding to horseback-riding, life-size dinosaurs to Bible scenes come to life, these are just a few of our favorite diversions.

Airboat Rides at Midway

28501 E. Colonial Drive, Christmas, 407-568-6790, airboatridesatmidway.com

You are almost guaranteed to see gators – lots of them – on this popular hour-long airboat tour.

Bok Tower Gardens

1151 Tower Blvd., Lake Wales, 863-676-1408, boktowergardens.org

A botanical and historical masterpiece designed by Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., crowned with a neo-Gothic/Art Deco 205-foot bell tower.

Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens

3755 NW Highway 17-92, Sanford, 407-323-4450, centralfloridazoo.org

The zoo is home to more than 400 animals – and that's not counting the Insect Zoo. And thanks to the zoo's participation in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Species Survival Plan, you can sometimes see baby versions of endangered species like the Madagascar red-ruffed lemur or the Thai clouded leopard.

Dinosaur World

5145 Harvey Tew Road, Plant City, 813-717-9865, dinoworld.net

More than 150 life-size outdoor models of dinosaurs rule over a fossil dig, museum and lots of paleontological-themed activities.

Forever Florida

4755 N. Kenansville Road, St. Cloud, 407-957-9794, foreverflorida.com

Eco-safaris on a 4,700-acre Florida nature preserve by horseback, open-air coach or zipline offer views of a traditional Cracker-style ranch, gators, black bears and other wildlife. Overnight horseback tours available.

Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex

State Road 405 east of Titusville, 855-433-4210, kennedyspacecenter.com

You really can't get a feel for how massive a Saturn V rocket is until you take a stroll under one suspended just a few feet above your head, and this is the only place in the world to do that. Take guided tours of launch areas, see historic rockets, ride the Shuttle Launch Experience and see the Astronaut Hall of Fame.

Fort Christmas Historical Park and Museum

1300 Fort Christmas Road, Christmas, 407-254-9310, orangecountyfl.net

A regional history museum housed in a replica of a Seminole War-era log fort. You'll also find examples of pioneer homes, a Florida Cracker-style cabin, a schoolhouse and a sugar cane mill.


14501 S. Orange Blossom Trail, 407-855-5496, gatorland.com

Gatorland is a roadside attraction turned eco-preserve. The flesh-eating monsters roam (almost) free, along with many more scary things. Watch them swim, eat, sleep, wrestle and jump. Learn about them. Embrace them. Well, not literally. You know what we mean.

Harry P. Leu Gardens

1920 N. Forest Ave., 407-246-2620, leugardens.org

Three miles of paved paths wind through gorgeous botanical displays, including the largest formal rose garden in Florida, a bamboo forest and a butterfly garden. You can also visit the historic on-site house museum.

Holy Land Experience

4655 Vineland Road, 407-872-2272, holylandexperience.com

Stories from the Bible re-enacted in a high-tech mock-up of ancient Jerusalem. You might as well pay a visit, because as an Orange County taxpayer, you're subsidizing the place.

Jungle Adventures Nature Park

26205 E. Colonial Drive, Christmas, 407-568-2885, jungleadventures.com

Kind of like Gatorland, but smaller and more intimate, this roadside attraction takes in injured and abandoned wildlife for rehab. Enter through the mouth of the "largest gator in Florida," a 200-footer that used to double as the home of the park's original owner. Inside, you'll see rarities such as a Florida panther and gray wolves.

Monument of States

300 E. Monument Ave., Kissimmee

Local rocks and odd related objects from all 50 states and a number of foreign countries are mounted, labeled and assembled in a tower topped by a concrete globe and American flag. A classic relic of World War II-era boosterism. Free, weird and always open.

Mead Botanical Garden

1300 S. Denning Drive, Winter Park, 407-599-2800, meadgarden.org

This green oasis features bike paths, boardwalks and picnic areas full of native plants and wildlife. The park also features restored wetlands and riparian forests. This unique ecological oasis is a hidden gem in Winter Park. Open daily 8 a.m. to dusk.

Orlando Science Center

777 E. Princeton St., 407-514-2000, osc.org

The newly remodeled KidsTown is catnip to children (of all ages, frankly) with a huge climbing area and a pickable "orange grove," among other activities. The science center also has Florida's largest refractor telescope and all sorts of hands-on learning experiences that'll appeal to kids and adults alike.

Wallaby Ranch

1805 Deen Still Road, Davenport, 863-424-0070, wallaby.com

Even in flat Central Florida, you can hang-glide – no mountain required. Wallaby Ranch's aerotow system will launch your glider into the air, or for newbies, your tandem flight with an instructor. Prices vary widely based on experience level and equipment rental.


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