From Tampa to Cocoa Beach, there are so many unique and exciting Central Florida attractions to experience. I am breaking down all sorts of ideas for things to do in Orlando, its surrounding cities and the coasts. Whether you live here or are visiting, you can easily spend weeks exploring all this part of Florida has to offer.
Instead of focusing on big attractions like Disney World and Universal, I am sharing 22 lesser-known things to do in Central Florida. These will be fun for all ages and cost less than $50 per person. No matter your budget or interest, I think you will find some fun Central Florida Attractions perfect for you with this guide!
Affordable Orlando Area Attractions
Everyone knows about Orlando’s many theme parks, but this list focuses on more unique Central Florida attractions. I wanted to share some of my favorite things to do in the Orlando area, including gardens, springs and more! Here are some affordable things to do within an hour of Orlando.
Blue Spring State Park
To experience Central Florida in its most natural state, visiting a freshwater spring is a must. My favorite is Blue Spring State Park in West Volusia. This gorgeous swimming hole has some of the clearest water you will find. It only costs $6 per vehicle, but be sure to get there early on summer weekends when it frequently reaches capacity.
Though it may be a bit cold to swim in the winter, it is still worth visiting all year. This is because in the winter, hundreds of manatees flock here! It is truly a stunning state. You can also bring or rent a kayak and paddle through the St. Johns River all year as well. For an unforgettable day trip, pack a picnic lunch and drive north of Orlando for a full day at the springs.
Bok Tower Gardens
Another one of my favorite Central Florida attractions is the Bok Tower Gardens. We recently visited for the first time and were blown away by how much there is to see at this enchanting garden. It currently costs $16 to enter and you can bring your dog too!
The Bok Tower itself and the reflection pool are the center point and the path to see it up close is an experience in itself. However, while touring here you can enjoy numerous nature trails, a tour of the Pinewood Estate, garden exhibits, and Carillon concerts throughout the day. Considering this at least an hour drive from Orlando, I also recommend bringing a picnic lunch and enjoying a full day here.
Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens
For a garden experience with animals too, the Central Florida Zoo is open daily. Located in Sanford, this zoo has over 100 different species to see including giraffes, rhinos and crocodiles. Tickets cost $22 for adults and include both the zoo and the botanical gardens.
There is so much guests of all ages can learn and enjoy here, from animal feedings to conservation exhibits. You can also check a variety of unique gardens, like the butterfly garden and the succulent garden. If you want an extra burst of adrenaline, there is an aerie adventure zipline course here too that can be added on!
If you ever are looking for Central Florida attractions for a rainy day, TopGolf is usually my pick. Here you can play interactive driving range games rain or shine! There is an hourly cost that ranges from $30-$50, but that cost is for up to 6 players.
Whether you are an avid golfer or have never played before, TopGolf is fun regardless. They have all the clubs you need and a variety of games that challenge distance or accuracy. You can also order food and drinks while playing or dine before or after your game. I usually spend two hours here, but you start with one hour and can add as much time as you want after that.
The Orlando Science Center
For an educational and fun day, the Orlando Science Center is a blast for all ages. You can experience hands on exhibits about dinosaurs, space, the environment and much more! They always adding things to, so it never gets old.
It costs $21 for adults to enter and there is enough to enjoy for at least a half day. Little kids will love the kid’s town play area, with its art and climbing attractions. Adults will find the exhibits about making our food system sustainable and touring an ecofriendly tiny home fascinating. Regardless of interest, checking out this Central Florida attraction gives the chance to learn something new in a cool place.
DeLeon Springs State Park
Those looking to go for a swim should head to DeLeon Springs, just north of DeLand for swimming in a freshwater spring. This one feels a little less natural to me than Blue Spring, as it looks like a pool, but kids love it as it has shallow spots and is easy to jump in. This state park also only costs $6 per car.
Even if you are not into swimming, there is lots to do here and you can get a taste of Old Florida. Specifically at the Old Sugar Mill, where they offer griddle your own pancakes at the table! Other activities include an informative boat tour, hiking trails and paddling at Lake Woodruff. You can easily spend at least half a day here, if not more if you do brunch and the boat tour.
Over in Winter Park, the Leu Gardens are a wonderful place to find beauty and get some fresh air. This 50-acre botanical garden has a variety of unique flowers, plants and trees, in addition to a museum. Admission costs $10 per person and you will want to spend at least two hours here.Afterwards, grab a snack or a drink at nearby Winter Park!
Though you can’t bring a picnic or dogs, they often host movie nights or workshops. The butterfly garden, the rose garden, and the south woods are all highlights to experience. I learned a lot about native plants on my last visit and got some amazing pictures, so I am sure you will too!
Wekiwa Springs State Park
North of Orlando, Wekiwa Springs is a fun place to experience the great outdoors. It is known for its crystal-clear waters that you can even tube down a short lazy river in. As with many state parks, it costs $6 per car to enter.
Many enjoy bringing a tube and floating here, but you can also rent a canoe or kayak there. You can get concessions, but I recommend bringing a picnic and have a full summer day here. Other state parks to check out near Orlando are Rock Springs Run State Preserve and Lake Kissimmee State Park.
Kissimmee Prairie State Park Preserve
It may be a stretch to say Kissimmee Prairie Preserve is near Orlando, but it is within an hour away from it and definitely worth including on this list. We recently went camping here and had an amazing experience star gazing and walking the nature trails. This park only costs $4 per car to enter, but make sure to book a few months in advance for a campsite.
If you just want to go during the day, you are welcome to explore the miles of nature trails. However, nighttime is what this park is known for, as it is the only certified dark sky in Florida, so you can see lots of stars. For the best views, go close to the new moon when you might even see the milky way. If you want to know more, check out my trip report here to read all about our experience!
Surprisingly one free Central Florida attraction I love is Disney Springs. It is completely free to park here and walk around enjoying the ambiance. However, there are lots of enticing stores and restaurants so you will probably spend some. I usually go for lunch and then check out the shops for a few hours.
For some excitement, you can go up in the hot air balloon for $25 or take a boat ride around the lake for free. There are also a variety of musical performances in the evening. Between the ever changing entertainment and the excellent lineup of restaurants, you can never have a boring time at Disney Springs.
Space Coast Things to Do
Here on the Space Coast, Cocoa Beach and Melbourne are always worth a visit. Most people know this area because of the Kennedy Space Center, but there is so much more! If you like beaches or nature trails, this is one of the best places to take a day trip to. Here are some unique Central Florida attractions on the Space Coast.
Turkey Creek Sanctuary
One of my favorite nature trails in Brevard County is the Turkey Creek Sanctuary. This is an excellent spot for seeing wildlife including turtles, alligators, birds and manatees in their natural habitat. Even better, it is completely free to enter!
You could probably cover most of this in a few hours, but if you want to spend more time, you can rent a kayak nearby. This is a great spot for seeing manatees and gators, so nature lovers will be happy! Afterward, grab a bite in Downtown Melbourne, located close by.
One of the top Central Florida attractions to experience on the Spaced Coast is the Brevard Zoo. I have been many times and love the laid-back vibe and interactive exhibits. You can feed giraffes, go on a kangaroo walk about and check out the sea life touch tanks, all either included in admission or for a small price!
Admission costs $27 for adults and includes a variety of exhibits including gorillas, meercats, bears, zebras and much more. You can add on adventures as well, including kayaking past the giraffe area or doing the Treetop Trek Ropes Course. Even without adding on, you will want to spend at least four hours here and grab a meal at the nearby Avenues of Viera after.
Another beloved Central Florida attraction is the Sebastian Inlet. This is a gorgeous southern spot with a large stretch of beach, as well as a fishing pier. There is lots of room to spread out and an inlet area for those who want to swim in wave free waters.
It only costs $8 per car and the drive down is even enjoyable with scenic views. Once here, you can swim in either the inlet or ocean, walk or fish off the pier and even check out the little museum. There is a restaurant here with classic beach bites, but you can also use the picnic tables for your own lunch.
For those who need a little exercise, there are plenty golf courses in the county for your enjoyment. My favorite Spessard Holland, which is right on the ocean. There is also Duran Golf Club, Aquarina Club and many public courses, with prices starting at $15 on GolfNow.
If you don’t have your own clubs and want to rent a cart, the cost can go up. However, it’s never too late to give golf a try, especially if you live in Florida! For those who prefer a more casual experience, Lighthouse Cove Mini Golf is nearby as well.
Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge
Another place to get outdoors and see some wildlife is the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. The main experience is taking Black Point Wildlife Drive. This off-road trail costs $10 per car and has a dozen places to stop and walk around.
You can also check out the short hammock loops for some pretty views. Hiking is the main appeal, but fishing or kayaking is allowed to. A picnic lunch works well here, or you can eat at my favorite Titusville spot, Third Culture Kitchen, before or after.
Tampa Bay Things to Do
I have said many times that Tampa Bay is my favorite part of Florida! Between the breweries and the beaches, I can never get enough of this gulf coast city. The area spans Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater, and I have included Central Florida attractions to experience in each of these sections below.
Another Central Florida zoo that locals love is ZooTampa at Lowry Park. There are so many fun exhibits, including the elephant, manatee and hippo areas. This is another awesome way to learn about nature while seeing it up close.
It costs $42 for admission for adults and this includes all the exhibits and even a few rides! It’s easy to spend a full day here, as there is a section of the zoo dedicated to each continent and over a dozen species to see at each part. As with the other zoos on the list, there are upgrades available if you want to get a personalized encounter with your favorite animals.
Of all the gardens on this list, the Sunken Gardens might be my favorite of the Central Florida Attractions. This is a stunning little oasis right in the middle of the city of St. Pete! It costs $12 to enter and you can spend hours exploring the winding garden paths.
There are so many amazing things to see here, from Rainbow Eucalyptus trees to a koi pond. We enjoyed feeding the koi, seeing the flamingoes and taking lots of pictures, before going Downtown for lunch. This garden frequently offers workshops and classes, so plant lovers especially need to make a visit.
Hillsborough River State Park
To experience natural beauty of the Tampa Bay area, check out the Hillsborough River State Park, just a short drive away from Downtown Tampa. Here, you can explore seven miles of nature trails via hiking, kayaking, fishing or more. It only costs $6 per vehicle and you can even bring a picnic lunch.
My favorite parts to explore are Fort Foster and the wetlands trail. You can experience a lot in three hours, but if you want to paddle or go for a swim in the pool, you can spend a whole day. Be on the look out for rare bird and maybe even a gator or two at this beautiful state park.
The Florida Aquarium
If you would like to see some sea life without getting wet, the Florida Aquarium in Downtown Tampa is one of the best places to do that! It is full of top notch exhibits all about fish, aquatic mammals and the oceans they live in. The cost of admission is $36 for adults and you can see everything including sharks, alligators, stingrays and more.
The aquarium is broken up into nine different habitats to explore, each with different animals and fish. It will take a few hours to go through and then I recommend getting lunch at Sparkman Wharf nearby, before or after. If you want to make it a full day, you can add on a dolphin sightseeing cruise!
Caladesi Island State Park
The beaches of Clearwater and St. Pete are open and one of the best spots to experience them is at Caladesi Island State Park. This area is especially secluded, as you have to take a ferry to get to the state park. Once you arrive, there are nature trails to explore and a wide-open beach to spread out on.
It costs $16 per adult to take the ferry over for 4 hours. There is a concession stand, but I recommend bringing a cooler with your own lunch. Whether you want to hike, sunbathe or rent a kayak, this island is one of the Central Florida attractions you do not want to miss!
Fort De Soto
On the southern side of the beach, Fort De Soto is the tropical spot to get some fresh air. Here you can experience the beach, the fishing pier, and the nature trails. You can even bring your dog to certain sections of the beach!
It costs $5 per person and between exploring the fort and the beach, this can be a full day attraction. Though there are many amazing beaches in Tampa Bay, I love how natural this one feels. The water is always very calm here and if you are lucky, you may find some sand dollars!
For city views, I love a stroll along the Tampa Riverwalk. This is a 2.4 mile stretch along the Hillsborough River with lots to see. You can walk, run, bike or even rent a scooters. There are playgrounds and dog parks nearby for anyone who needs to let out some energy.
It is free to visit and you are actually allowed to get to-go drinks from restaurants alongside the Riverwalk and drink them while you stroll! I like to park by Armature Works, which is also open, and then head down to the Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park. There are multiple entry areas throughout Tampa Bay though. While walking around, be sure to look for some of the unique murals and some nature sightings!
Another one of the free Central Florida attractions I love is exploring Tarpon Springs. This is the sponge dock community near Clearwater that feels like a Greek village. You can spend a couple hours taking pictures, and exploring the docks and shops.
Of course, it is pretty hard to leave here without getting some authentic Greek cuisine, like baklava or hummus. I definitely recommend getting lunch here and if you have time, taking one of the boat tours! It’s a great place to see dolphins and learn a little history.
Know Before You Go: Unique and Affordable Central Florida Attractions
Whether you like nature, history or sports, there are at least a few Central Florida Attractions for you! All of these things to do are worth spending at least half a day at for less than $50 per person. Here are a few other things to keep in mind when visiting these Central Florida attractions!
- The best time of year to enjoy most of these is between October through May, as summers can be too hot and stormy for enjoying gardens, state parks and even beaches.
- For rainy day things to do in Central Florida, I recommend the aquariums, museums and TopGolf.
- For any of the attractions that require tickets, you can usually get a discount if you buy online ahead of time. Locals should check their local library for discounts too!
- If you are visiting the area, make sure to get a rental car, since most of these Central Florida attractions are not close together.
- Both Orlando and Tampa offer a CityPass if you want to bundle your experiences and save some money.
Have you experienced any of Central Florida attractions? Let me know what your favorite is! For more ideas for things to do in the Sunshine State, check out my Central Florida Dates Ideas and my Florida Bucket List.