Though there is plenty to do in The Villages, Florida is a big state that offers so much to explore. If you do not mind taking a drive, you can check out beaches, museums nature centers, and more that provide a nice change in scenery. I have searched all across Florida and found some amazing ideas for day trips from The Villages.
This guide contains over 30 different day trips with all sorts of experiences. I have broken them into destinations within an hour’s drive, between a 1 to 2-hour drive, and over 2 hours away. This way you can choose a day trip based on how long you are willing to drive for it. Whether you are a native Floridian or a new transplant, I think this guide will share some unique day trips from the Villages that you had not thought of before!
1 Hour or Less Day Trips from the Villages
First up, I have found nine day trip ideas that are less than an hour (or less than 55 miles) away from The Villages. Regardless if you spend the whole day exploring these places or just a few hours, they can be an accessible escape. Between freshwater springs and antiquing, there is so much to see just outside of The Villages!
1. Silver Springs State Park
- Distance: 23 miles (40-minute drive)
- Highlights: Glass Bottom Boat Tours, Museum, Kayaking, Hiking
If you want to visit a Florida freshwater spring and not get wet, Silver Springs is one of the best options. This one does not allow swimming, however, still offers a gorgeous park with so much to see.
The Glass Bottom Boat tour is one of the biggest appeals of this park. You can see the beautiful, blue water right through the bottom, as well as fish and often manatees! There is a thirty-minute tour ($13/person) offered daily and a ninety-minute tour ($25/person) offered on weekends I would recommend the 10 AM tour since the manatees are more frequently seen feeding then.
After the tour, visit the Silver River Museum. With so many fossils and ancient artifacts, this place is a hit for all ages. If you go on a Saturday, you can often get a free tour of the Pioneer Village as well. Most spend an hour or so exploring the museum, and then you can have your own picnic lunch at the pavilions.
In the afternoon, paddling or hiking are two other attractions worth experiencing. You can rent a kayak, canoe, or paddleboard and explore the 1.1-mile loop around Ross Allen Island. For hiking, there are half a dozen trails ranging from 0.75 miles to 4. Miles. The Sandhill Trail and the Swamp Trail both provide excellent nature views.
To end the day, grab dinner in Historic Downtown Ocala. Here you can enjoy the Tuscawilla Art Park and all the sculptures there or the shops of Magnolia Avenue. There’s cuisine available for all kids, with highlights being Brick City Southern Kitchen and Infinite Ale Works. With Ocala National Forest close by, you can easily turn this into a weekend trip, or multiple-day trips.
2. Mount Dora
- Distance: 29 miles (45-minute drive)
- Highlights: Antiquing, Afternoon Tea, Boat Tour, Downtown
Though the highlights may seem quaint, Mount Dora is an aDORAble town loved by all ages! It has some of the most unique architecture n the state and quite a bit of history. For less than an hour’s drive from The Villages, a Mount Dora day trip is the perfect way to slow down and smell the roses in Central Florida.
If you are into antiquing, this is definitely the place to go! Arrive in Mount Dora first thing to peruse the shops Downtown. Even if you are not looking for anything to buy, most people will enjoy seeing all the eclectic things to buy. The Rennigers flea market usually has some good finds as well!
For lunch, there are restaurants and café offering an abundance of cuisine options. If you go during the weekend, you can dine at the renowned 1921 Mount Dora. Other favorites for lunch any day of the week include the WAVE sushi and Pisces Rising.
Another can’t miss attraction here is a CatBoat Adventure Tour that takes you around Lake Dora and through the Dora Canal. These tours are the best way to learn the local history and are offered at 9:30 AM or 1 PM. My day trip recommendation is to book the after-lunch one for a fun midday experience. For those who prefer to stay on land, you can also rent bikes from a local shop and take your own self-tour.
If you have time, check out the Windsor Rose Tea Room for high tea. This is the cutest British-inspired tea shop with the most delicious finger sandwiches and scones. Alternatively, you can visit nearby Lake Seneca Farms for a wine tasting. Make sure to make a reservation in advance!
Downtown Mount Dora has plenty of restaurants for dinner, drinks, and live music if you want to eat before heading back to The Villages. This is definitely a place to get a foodie fix in a relaxing setting.
3. Ocala National Forest
- Distance: 32 miles (50-minute drive)
- Highlights: Springs, Nature Trails, Paddling, Cycling, and Horseback Riding
For a day in nature, there is nothing like Ocala National Forest. These preserved wetlands and flatlands offer all sorts of ways to have an active and adventurous day trip, Whether you are into swimming, hiking, bird watching or just relaxing, there is something here for you!
Before going, I would decide if you want to swim or kayak on this day trip. Both Juniper Springs and Alexander Springs are open for swimming and you can even snorkel through the clear water. As for paddling, Alexander Springs has the best option with an out-and-back trail, whereas Juniper Springs and Salt Springs Run require paddling back against the current. They do have rentals available at the springs.
Other exciting ways to spend the day include cycling or horseback riding through the forest. You can book a trail ride through Cactus Jack for either a 9 AM, 1 PM or 3:30 PM departure.
I recommend packing lunch so you can spend plenty of time in Ocala National Forest. Once you have finished your main activity, it is worth exploring a nature trail or two as well. Some of the best ones include Bear Swamp Trail (1.5 miles) and the Salt Springs Observation Trail (1.9 miles). If you want a longer hike, there are plenty of options for that too including St. Francis Trail (7.8 miles) and Pat’s Island to Hidden Lake (7.2 miles. You can find out more info on AllTrails.
If you want to end your day trip with dinner, Downtown Ocala is the place to stop on the way back. Here you can find a variety of different cuisines, with an emphasis on the barbecue. In addition to the spots mentioned earlier, Big Lee’s BBQ is also a casual favorite.
4. Kelly Park – Rock Springs
- Distance: 40 miles (1-hour drive)
- Highlights: Swimming, Snorkeling, Nature Trails, Paddling
Orlando has plenty of water parks with lazy rivers, but you can take a quick drive to Kelly Park to experience a real one! Here you can tube down the Rock Springs Run, as well as swim or paddle it. It’s a gorgeous place to experience the great outdoors just 1 hour from The Villages.
To start your Kelly Park day trip, make sure to get there early, especially in the summer. The park often reaches capacity by 9 AM on summer weekends. You can either bring your own tube or rent one from outside the park for $7.
From here you can tube down Rock Springs as many times as you like. It’s a quick ten-minute walk to the start of the run and then it takes about half an hour to float the three-fourths of a mile back. You can also swim along it or snorkel and look for shark teeth!
There are concessions, but I recommend packing a picnic for lunch. Once you have had enough swimming, you can either go for a hike or head to King’s Landing for paddling. This is a nearby spot where you can rent paddleboards, kayaks, and canoes. You will have to drive here, so if you prefer to stay at Kelly Park, then take any of the one-to-three-mile trails or continue your day of swimming and sunning.
It’s not too bad of a drive back to The Villages for the day trip, but if you want to extend your experience, grab an early dinner at nearby Rock Springs Bar & Grill or Antojito’s la Mexicana. Either one has plenty of libations to enjoy while reflecting back on the day.
5. Rainbow Springs State Park
- Distance: 40 miles (1-hour drive)
- Highlights: Tubing, Paddling, Nature Trails, Swimming, Cajun Cuisine
By far one of my favorite freshwater springs in Florida is Rainbow Springs and it only takes an hour to get here from The Villages! This beautiful spot is perfect for swimming, paddling or just walking around.
Start your day at Rainbow Springs in the morning and treat yourself to a nature walk. There are actually four manmade waterfalls on the trail that add such a lovely ambiance! If you go in the winter, the walk is filled with colorful plumerias around every turn. However, it’s just as alluring the plentiful plant life the rest of the year.
After the walk, take a dip in the freshwater spring. The swimming area here is smaller than some other springs, but I find the clear blue water still makes for a refreshing swim. Then you can lay out on the grassy hill and eat a picnic lunch in the sun.
Midafternoon is the perfect time to go paddling here and you can rent kayaks, canoes, or paddleboards for around $20 per person. If you opt to bring your own, keep in mind, it’s almost a half a mile walk to the launch area. In the summer, many choose to do a tubing float trip instead. For this, you will have to start at the drop-off and a bus will take you back after your float trip.
Once you have had enough of basking in the beauty of Rainbow Springs State Park, I recommend ending the day with dinner at Swampy’s Bar and Grille. This is a kitschy local spot with excellent Cajun food. The Shrimp Po Boys and the Gator Bites are the biggest hits, but the menu has something for everyone. With waterfront views and tropical drinks, a day here will feel like you are on vacation, even if it’s just for a day!
6. Crystal River
- Distance: 42 miles (1-hour drive)
- Highlights: Boat Tours, Downtown, Springs
If you want a day trip from The Villages unlike any other, Crystal River is the place to go. This area is well-known for having the most manatees to congregate in the river and you can swim with them!
During the winter, manatee boat tours are offered where you get to swim with the gentle giants and see more of the waterways. The morning tours have the best chance of seeing a manatee, especially on warmer days, so you will want to wake up early. If you are not visiting during manatee season, paddleboard tours, and in the summer, scalloping trips also offer a unique experience.
No matter what type of tour you embark on, head to Crystal River Main Street afterwards for lunch. Tea House 650 and Amy’s on the Avenue both offer a variety of tasty lunch options.
For those that want even more adventure, finish the day at Homosassa Springs. There is a 1.1-mile trail that includes wildlife viewing of manatees, alligators, and even rhinos! With both a boat tour and a tram ride, you can easily spend the rest of the day here before heading back to The Villages.
7. Winter Garden
- Distance: 45 miles (1-hour drive)
- Highlights: Nature Trails, Food Hall, Historic Downtown, Bike Trails, Kayaking
Being so close to theme parks and the city, Orlando often feels far from nature. However, just a short drive from Downtown, you can spend a day in Winter Garden and experience the natural side of Central Florida. To being your day trip here, head to the Tibet-Butler Nature Preserve for a hike. You can look for wildlife on the Tarflower Loop and Fallen Log Crossing or take the one-mile Palmetto Passage if you are up for a challenge.
From here, head to Plant Street Market, which is one of the best local food halls. There are all sorts of options for lunch, coffee, or a treat, as well as a craft brewery. I love to hang out here for a bit enjoying beer and snacking, and live music if we come on a weekend. While you are downtown, be sure to take a walk down the main street and look for some of the unique murals that have been painted here.
For the afternoon, there are a variety of options for nature lovers. Cyclists can head to the Orange Trail for over twenty miles of bike trails, whereas paddlers can rent a kayak at King’s Landing and paddle through the Rock Springs Run. Families may prefer the Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive or a visit to Gatorland where alligators of all shapes and sizes can be found. A day trip to Winter Garden is the perfect way to have a relaxing time outside of The Villages.
- Distance: 52 miles (1-hour drive)
- Highlights: De Leon Springs, Downtown DeLand, Mural Tour, Cool Craft Beverage Trail
West Volusia is close to The Villages but has enough small-town charm to feel like a world away. A day here is just what many need. You can start your day trip with a visit to DeLeon Springs State Park, which used to be a sugar cane mill.
There is so much to see here, including the turquoise water. If you are hungry, the Sugar Mill restaurant offers griddle tables where you can make your own pancakes! Afterward, take the Eco/Heritage Boat Ride or go for a dip in the natural springs.
Next, start your Wings of the West Scavenger Hunt with a stop at Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge. Take a nature walk around the marsh and find the swallow-tailed kite wing photo opportunity at the end of it!
For lunch, I recommend going to Downtown DeLand for a variety of options. Santorini Greek Cuisine and BakeChop are a couple of my favorite places to eat. You can also find another mural of wings for the scavenger hunt or visit some of the establishments on the CoolCraft Beverage Trail. Persimmon Hollow Brewing and the Abbey Bar are both excellent spots for craft beer lovers.
End your day trip to DeLand with some history at either the Stetson Mansion or the Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp. Either option offers interesting sights and stories of the area. Of course, you can always spend the rest of your day downtown enjoying live music at one of the many bars before heading back to The Villages.
Day Trips That Take 1 to 2 Hours to Drive To
Next up, are twelves ideas for day trips from The Villages that take between one to two hours to get to. This means a two to four round-trip day of driving, so you will want to plan a longer experience at these spots to space out the drive. This distance puts you near Orlando theme parks and many big Florida cities. If you are looking for exciting experiences, these are some of the best places to go!
9. Blue Spring State Park
- Distance: 60 miles (80-minute drive)
- Highlights: Blue Springs, Downtown Sanford
One of my favorite freshwater springs in Florida is Blue Springs State Park and it is within day-trip distance to The Villages. In the winter, you can see countless manatees and, in the summer, you can cool off with a dip in the clear springs. There is plenty to do here for a full day and afterward, you can visit nearby Sanford for dinner.
If you are going on a summer weekend, get a very early start. They only let in a certain amount of people and lines form shortly after opening. On weekdays and most of the rest of the year, crowds are not as much of an issue. Once parking, there are a few options for how to spend the day.
I recommend starting with something active like a walk through the nature trails or renting a kayak or paddleboard. Then once you are hot, you can float in the cool springs and relax. Packing a picnic lunch is a must so you don’t have to worry about leaving the springs when you get hungry. Check out my Blue Springs State Park Guide for more info when visiting.
After a day of swimming, paddling hiking, manatee spotting, and sunning, take the 20-minute drive to Historic Sanford. I think this downtown is so cute and has so many hidden gems. For coffee, check out Palate Coffee, sweets, try Wondermade, or craft beer go to Deviant Wolfe Brewing. Then for dinner, Henry’s Depot is a food hall with something for everyone, from flatbread pizzas to Filipino sandwiches! Though Blue Springs State Park is a day trip in itself, I love ending the day with a little adventure in a different downtown.
10. Lake Eola Park
- Distance: 60 miles (1-hour drive)
- Highlights: Museums, Foodie Spots, Paddleboats, Downtown
For a visit to the big city, I recommend making the 1-hour drive to Orlando’s downtown and checking out the Lake Eola area. Start in the morning with some museums, like the Orlando Museum of Art or the Orlando Science Center. Both of them open at 10 AM and you can spend a few hours learning something new.
Afterward, get lunch at one of Orlando’s many renowned restaurants. There are dozens to choose from whether you want a quick Cuban meal from Black Bean Deli or a Tapas lunch at Santiago’s Bodega. This blog post has all the best ones to choose from!
Then in the afternoon, burn off that meal with either a walk around Lake Eola or even rent some Swan Boats and paddle around the lake. From here, there is plenty more to do, including visiting a local brewery, checking out some shops, or even going to a soccer match! This is just the tip of the iceberg of what Orlando has to offer, so read up on all my activity recommendations for Orlando here if you want some more suggestions for the evening.
11. Walt Disney World Resort
- Distance: 60 miles (1-hour drive)
- Highlights: Theme Parks, Shopping Complexes, Dining, Fireworks
It’s a rite of passage for every Floridian to visit Disney World at least once, so make the hour drive there for a day trip if you have not yet! This day trip could range from an all-day experience of rides and shows to a relaxing visit to Disney Springs, so it is really up to you how you want to spend it.
Disney World is made up of four theme parks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom, two water parks (Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon), and two shopping districts (Disney Springs and The Boardwalk). The theme parks are the most expensive and require a ticket and park reservation to visit. I recommend just planning to visit one for the day instead of doing a hopper.
The water parks are a little cheaper and the shopping districts are free. Regardless of what you choose, go early, make a dining reservation for lunch or dinner (see restaurant recommendations here), and be prepared for a day of magic!
12. Universal Orlando Resort
- Distance: 60 miles (1-hour drive)
- Highlights: Theme Parks, Dining, Entertainment
Another theme park complex worth checking out for a day trip from The Villages is Universal Orlando Resort. This has two theme parks (Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure), one water park (Volcano Bay), and one shopping district (CityWalk). If you are planning to visit Universal, you want to pick one of the theme parks or the water park, as CityWalk does not offer much to do until the evening.
This is another situation where you want to get there right at park opening to optimize wait times. Go on the most popular Universal rides first for shorter waits and then enjoy some shows, lunch, and entertainment midday. Keep in mind, Harry Potter World exists at both parks so there is no shortage of wizardry for Potterheads!
After either the theme parks or the water park, I recommend getting dinner at one of the City Walk restaurants, like CowFish or Bigfire. There is lots of live music at night to check out as well. It’s a full day but with only an hour-long drive, it is worth the visit!
- Distance: 64 miles (75-minute drive)
- Highlights: College Tour, Nature Trails, Museum, Downtown
If you have a high schooler interested in going to UF, a day trip to Gainesville from The Villages is the ideal way to check it out. However, even those not interested in going to college here can also enjoy a day exploring “Hogtown” and the nature all around it.
For those doing a college tour, get an early start to the day with a 9 or 10 AM tour. You will need to register for one here ahead of time. If you rather check out the campus on your own, there are also instructions for a self-guided tour here.
Once you have visited the University of Florida, I recommend heading to Downtown Gainesville for lunch. Some of my favorite Gainesville restaurants open for lunch include Relish and The Patio. Make sure to grab a coffee from Wyatt’s too!
For the afternoon, you will want to check out the local sights. I highly recommend a hike at either La Chua Trailhead or Devil’s Mill Hopper. La Chua Trailhead is great for checking out gators whereas Devil’s Mill Hopper is more shaded with views into a sinkhole. If you prefer an indoor experience, the Florida Museum of Natural History has fascinating exhibits for young and old!
Of course, if you don’t want to do a college tour, you could do a hike in the morning and the museum in the afternoon. Craft beer lovers with time should also check out some local breweries, like Swamphead or First Magnitude. Lastly, end the day with some of the best Cuban food I have ever had at Mi Apa Latin Café!
14. Winter Park
- Distance: 65 miles (70-minute drive)
- Highlights: Boat Tours, Gardens, Museums, Dining
My favorite part of Orlando to explore is also only an hour or so away from The Villages. Winter Park is just north of Downtown and offers gardens, culture, and plenty of tasty goodies to try.
I recommend starting your day trip with a scenic boat tour of the area. The first one is at 10 AM and spends an hour navigating the lakes of Orlando and sharing facts about the area. Conversely, you could check out the Morse Museum of Art if it’s not a good day for boating.
Lunch is a must in Winter Park with a plethora of incredible options to choose from. I love the Briarpatch for a brunch-style meal, Prato for Italian, or Bosphorus for Turkish, but find even more recommendations here.
Post lunch, a visit to the Leu Gardens is a must. This is a gorgeous green space with so many cool flowers, trees, and other natural sights to see. For ending the day trip, a visit to Ravenous Pig Brewing for a beer or the East End Market for dessert is never a bad idea.
15. Daytona Beach
- Distance: 75 miles (105-minute drive)
- Highlights: International Speedway, Beach, Zipline, Gardens, Pier
Another popular day trip from The Villages is to take a visit to Daytona Beach. This is only about an hour and a half from The Villages and can be great for either a beach day trip or some more exciting sights. Race car fans will be especially excited to take a tour of the Daytona International Speedway.
Tours occur daily with the exception of race days and offer an hour-long look at the track and pit road experiences. If you want to take a ride on the track or even better, drive yourself, you can book a NASCAR racing experience ahead of time online.
For those not into racing, start your day at the beach. This is one of the few beaches in the country you can drive on, so you don’t have to worry about lugging umbrellas and chairs. I like driving near the Daytona Beach Main Street Pier, which also puts you in a great place for lunch. You can either walk the pier and dine on The Roof or walk to Oasis Tiki Bar or Crabby’s.
After lunch, you can either have a relaxing or exciting afternoon. For relaxation, either stay on the beach or visit the Dunlow Sugar Mill Gardens. This tropical oasis has all sorts of nature paths and some fun dinosaur statues for the kiddos.
On the other hand, the Daytona Beach Zipline Adventure has all sorts of exhilarating challenges. You can zoom through the trees and climb across elevated ladders while enjoying the fresh air. Anyone eight years or older can try it and there are a variety of course options.
To finish off your day trip to Daytona Beach, have a romantic dinner at Chucherias Latin American Fine Dining or a lively meal at Caribbean Jack’s. You can also stop by New Smyrna Beach on the way back and take a stroll down Flagler Avenue. Either way, it’s just the beachy kind of day trip to get you out of The Villages!
16. New Smyrna Beach
- Distance: 75 miles (100-minute drive)
- Highlights: Beach, Flagler Ave, Surfing, Nature Trails, Lighthouse
Another beach town perfect for a day trip from The Villages is New Smyrna Beach. Though you could easily spend the entire day at the beach, this town offers so much more! To see it all in a day, here’s what I recommend.
Start out with a nature hike or paddle tour. Three Brothers Adventure Tours offers early morning paddleboard excursions where you are very likely to see dolphins and manatees. Conversely, you could head to Doris Leeper Spruce Creek Preserve or the Sugarmill Ruins for a walk-through of nature.
Around lunchtime, go to Flagler Ave for a delicious meal. There are so many restaurants to check out on the strip, but my favorites are Third Wave Café and Café Verde. You can also check out the shops and the bars while here.
You can’t miss the beach while in New Smyrna, so go there next. Crazily, you can even drive on the beach for a unique experience that you won’t find elsewhere. Either drive on at Flagler or, if you want to see the lighthouse, take the scenic half an hour drive to Beach Street. From here you can drive on the beach, watch the surfers and climb the tallest lighthouse in Florida! This should make for a full day in New Smyrna Beach, and if you are hungry after, stop by The Garlic for a Mediterranean meal.
17. Busch Gardens Tampa Bay
- Distance: 77 miles (90-minute drive)
- Highlights: Rides, Animal Encounters, Shows, City
If you have done it all at the Orlando theme parks, it may be time to take a day trip to Busch Gardens. This theme park is only an hour and a half away from The Villages and has everything you could want from an amusement park, including rides, shows, animals, and water rides.
Plan to get there right before the park opens and hit the most popular attractions first. This includes Iron Gwazi (the tallest, fastest and steepest hybrid coaster in the world), Cheetah Hunt, and Montu for coaster lovers. If you aren’t into speedy rides, start with the skyride cable car and some of the animal experiences. They tend to be more active in the morning!
Don’t expect a gourmet lunch in the park, but there are plenty of options to satisfy your hunger. Zambia Smokehouse and Dragon Fire Grill are some of the best options. Afterward, you can continue riding coasters and seeing animals or opt to cool off with some water rides.
Busch Gardens has your typical rapid ride and a flume ride that are both family-friendly. You can also check out some of the shows, including an ice-skating performance and a Sesame Street musical. With nineteen rides and tons of animals, it is not hard to find ways to spend the whole day here!
If you want a unique spot for dinner after your day at the theme park, head to nearby Downtown Tampa. For nice days, the outdoor food hall, Sparkman Wharf has tons of food options and lovely waterfront views. However, if you rather dine inside, there are loads of excellent Tampa restaurants for that as well. Whether you end your day experiencing a little bit of Tampa or stay at the theme park all night, a Busch Gardens day trip makes for a fun experience for all.
18. Downtown Tampa
- Distance: 81 miles (90-minute drive)
- Highlights: Museum, Aquarium, Zoo, Gardens, Foodie
Just an hour and a half away from The Villages, Tampa is a city I can’t get enough of. This is an easy day trip that offers so much culture and a break from the quiet Villages. Leave early enough to beat the traffic and start your day with one of Tampa’s top attractions.
Choose between ZooTampa, the Tampa Museum of Art, or the Florida Aquarium, depending on your interest. Adults will enjoy any of the options, whereas families should stick with the zoo or aquarium. Afterward, head to Armature Works for lunch.
This is my favorite food hall around and it has so many excellent food stands to sample from. If you prefer a more traditional sit-down lunch Ulele and Steelback there offer that as well. Once you are full, take a walk down the Riverwalk to see the city views.
For the afternoon, head to either USF or the University of Tampa for some exploring. USF has a botanical garden open to the public with all sorts of trees, plants, and flowers. Over at the University of Tampa, you can learn about the history of the area at the Henry B. Plant Museum, as well as take in the stunning architecture.
Lastly, end the day at the historical Ybor City. There’s a free museum here that shows the history of the area, or you can tour a traditional cigar factory. For dinner, it’s a great area to try Cuban cuisine at places like Carmine’s Restaurant and the local brews at Tampa Bay Brewing Co. or the Cigar City Meadery.
19. Tarpon Springs
- Distance: 85 miles (110-minute drive)
- Highlights: Boat Tours, History, Cuisine
For a taste of Greece without having to take an international flight, you can visit Tarpon Springs, which is less than two hours away from The Villages. Immigrants from Greece flocked to this town in the 1890s and it became one of the largest natural sponge markets in the world. The markets still function today and with that, the town has kept its Greek cultural roots intact.
Start your day on the water with a dolphin and shelling cruise. Odyssey Cruises offers many throughout the day, but I recommend doing the 10:30 AM for the best chance of seeing dolphins. During the two-hour tour, the boat stops on Anclote Island where you can see a lighthouse and find shells. And you can even bring your dog!
With the tour getting done at 12:30, it’s the perfect time for lunch! You have to get an authentic Greek meal while you are here. I recommend going to the famous Hellas for a Greek Salad or a Gyro Platter. Don’t skip the Feta Dip, and if you are feeling daring, the broiled octopus is a favorite.
After lunch, make sure to peruse the shops and read about the history of the area. You can get your own authentic sponge and some baklava if you aren’t too full from lunch! Other things to do in the afternoon include visiting the Tarpon Springs Aquarium or trying the local beer at 5 Branches Brewing or wine at Tarpon Springs Castle Winery. If you still have time, you can visit nearby Dunedin, Clearwater Beach or Tampa for dinner on the way back to The Villages.
- Distance: 97 miles (100-minute drive)
- Highlights: Downtown, National Wildlife Refuge, Kayaking, Beach
Nature lovers should head to Titusville for a day trip with all sorts of adventures. You can start the day with a tour of the Haulover Canal with BK Adventures. This is known as their Manatee and Dolphin Tour, so you are sure to get some amazing sightings!
Next head to one of two gorgeous national sites. If you are in the mood for a beach afternoon, Canaveral National Sea Shore offers some of the most pristine beaches in Florida. For hiking and more nature sightings (including alligators!) go towards Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.
You may want to pack a lunch if you are planning a beach day. But whether you need lunch or dinner, you can’t miss Third Culture Kitchen when in Titusville! This is one of my favorite restaurants, so I recommend grabbing a bite thereafter the wildlife refuge or on the way out for dinner.
Downtown Titusville is also a cute place to walk around with some old-time charm. Fans of craft beer should head to the Hardware Store, as Playalinda Brewing Company has so many excellent brews here.
Regardless of when you go, check out SpaceFlightNow for the launch schedule and stop by Marina Park if there happens to be a launch while you are here! And if you want an excuse to stay late, or take a night trip, take a BK Adventure Biouluminscent tour at night instead for an unforgettable experience!
2+ Hour Drive Day Trips from The Villages
These last ten destinations take at least two hours of driving to get to from The Villages, so be prepared for lots of car time if you want to attempt one of these. However, driving this far will put you near some of the nicest beaches and coolest historical sites in the state! I have included a full-day trip plan for each of these ideas to make the most of your day.
21. St. Augustine
- Distance: 97 miles (2-hour drive)
- Highlights: Historical Tours, Nature Sightseeing, Downtown
With so many landmarks and attractions, it is impossible to see all of St. Augustine in one day! However, if you want to see some of it and this is your first time here, this guide will get you through the highlights.
Start early with a tour around Castillo de San Marcos so you can explore the oldest fort in the continental United States. This sets the stage of the history of St. Augustine and is best to follow with a museum tour. I recommend the Historic Flagler College Tour, the St. Augustine Lighthouse Museum, or the Old Jail.
For lunch, there are half a dozen awesome taco places to stop at. My favorites are Osprey Tacos and Nalu’s Tropical Takeout. This put you in a great spot for a nature experience. Either a bike ride on Anastasia State Park or a few hours at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm and Zoo, which is one of the coolest zoos I have been to.
End the day with a stroll through old town checking out the touristy shops. If you want some libations, both St. Augustine Distillery and San Sebastian Winery offer free tours that are so fun! For dinner, my picks are the Floridian for Southern Fusion or St. Augustine Fish Camp for seafood. All this makes for a very full day, but if you want to take a day trip to St. Augustine from The Villages, this is the way to maximize your time there!
22. Bok Tower Gardens
- Distance: 100 miles (2-hour drive)
- Highlights: Gardens, Nature Trail, Sightseeing
For a day immersed in the beauty of nature, Bok Tower Gardens is one of my top day trip recommendations. I have met many people that seem skeptical it is worth the drive, but once arriving, everyone is enchanted by the sights here!
The gardens open at 8 AM daily and I recommend arriving sometime before 10 AM so you can take in the low morning crowds. Start at the Welcome Center where you can learn all about Edaward Bok and his inspiration for the Bok Tower. From here, you have to see it for yourself, so head to Olmstead Gardens for a great view! You can spend about two hours checking out the tower, the different gardens, koi ponds, and the boardwalk.
Make sure to bring a picnic lunch and enjoy it on the picnic tables outside. Head back into the gardens by 1 PM for the enchanting Carillon Concert played by the tower. In the afternoon, I recommend taking an architecture tour of the El Retiro Mansion, exploring the nature trails, or letting the kids play at Hammock Hollow if you brought any.
Once you are ready to leave Bok Tower Gardens, there is still more to do nearby. No visit is complete without driving to Spook Hill and experiencing your car rolling uphill! If you are confused, just trust me and see for yourself.
End the day trip with dinner at one of the favorite local Lake Wales restaurants, such as L’Incontro Italian Restaurant or Manny’s Original Chophouse. And if you still want to spend time outside, you can even top of the day with some craft beer at Grove Roots Brewing Company. Visiting Bok Tower Gardens is a great way to see the unique side of Old Florida.
23. Clearwater Beach
- Distance: 105 miles (2-hour drive)
- Highlights: Beach, Aquarium, Breweries
There are many beaches close to The Villages, but Clearwater Beach is arguably the most popular, and for good reason! The warm water here is as pretty as its namesake and there are miles of white sand beaches to enjoy it on. Though you will definitely want to experience the beach at some point on your Clearwater day trip from The Villages, there is more to this town as well.
I recommend starting the day early at the beach. Look for a spot near the Hyatt Clearwater beach and expect to spend up to $10 for the day. Bring or rent chairs and an umbrella and make sure to go for a swim at some point.
Once you are ready for lunch, it is hard to resist the famous Frenchy’s Rockaway Grill. If it’s too crowded, I also like Badfins Food and Brew and Poke Havana. After lunch, head to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. This is a must for young and old, as the dolphins, turtles, sharks, stingrays, and fish are so fun to watch! For even more wildlife, the 3 PM Dolphin and Tour has some amazing sights in the wild too.
For a proper end to the day in Clearwater Beach, make sure to check out Pier 60 before sunset. There are frequent performers, craft booths, and souvenirs to find on this festive boardwalk. You can even grab a drink and dinner while watching the sunset at Tommy’s Tiki Bar or the Salty Crab Bar. The sunsets are unbeatable here, so try and stay for them to have a magical end to your day trip.
- Distance: 105 miles (90-minute drive)
- Highlights: Downtown, Spring Training, Breweries, Honeymoon Island State Park
For a gulf coast day trip, one hidden gem I love is Dunedin! This area has small town vibes compared to the rest of the Gulf Coast, but still plenty to do and see. You can start the day at Honeymoon Island State Park and check out either the beach or the nature trails. If you have a lot of time, you can even take the ferry to Caladesi Island from here and enjoy the untouched beaches and often dolphin sightings on the ride over!
In the afternoon head to Downtown Dunedin to explore the quirky shops and cafes. There are so many great places to get lunch with some of my favorites being the Crown and Bull and Frenchy’s Outpost. Be sure to check if there is a game TD Ballpark. The Toronto Blue Jays practice here during Spring Training, and you check out the minor league Blue Jays team during the regular season.
If there isn’t a game going on, I recommend a brewery crawl for the afternoon. There are at least half a dozen Clearwater breweries within walking distance of each other, including Dunedin Brewery, 7venth Sun and Cueni. For those who prefer a little pop culture history, the Ultimate Beatles Museum is a fun visit!
Lastly, end your Dunedin Day Trip with a sunset view. The Hi-Fi rooftop at the Fenway Hotel has gorgeous unobstructed views and tasty cocktails to go with it. For dinner, head downstairs to the Hew Parlor & Chophouse, and do not miss the to-die-for French Onion Mac and Cheese! If you don’t fill up there, the family-owned Strachan’s Ice Cream shop is a sweet way to finish off the day trip before heading back to The Villages.
25. Downtown St. Pete
- Distance: 105 miles (100-minute drive)
- Highlights: Mural Tour, Breweries, Museums, and Gardens
My favorite city in Florida is St. Petersburg, so if you can take the 1.5-hour drive there for a day trip, I think it is an excellent endeavor. You could easily make your own adventure walking around and discovering colorful murals, craft breweries, and music on the pier.
If you prefer a more structured St. Petersburg day trip itinerary, start with a visit to the Sunken Gardens. It is a tropical oasis right in the middle of the city with flamingos, rainbow eucalyptus, and all sorts of flowers to see. For an indoor experience, the Dali Museum has some breathtaking art on display.
Afterward, get lunch downtown on the pier or at a foodie spot, like one of these St. Pete restaurants. Then take a biking tour to see the city on wheels! If you have time, the top of the Birchwood is an amazing place to watch the sunset before the drive back.
26. Cape Canaveral
- Distance: 111 miles (2-hour drive)
- Highlights: Kennedy Space Center, Waterfront Dining
A Kennedy Space Center day trip from The Villages is essential to experience the fascinating history of the space race. This part museum, the part amusement park has interactive exhibits and attractions that appeal to all ages. Even though it is a two-hour drive from The Villages, I highly recommend it to Floridians and tourists.
Start the day early and get here just before it opens. Lines can form about an hour after opening, so this way you will avoid it. Begin with a walk through the rocket garden and the astronaut hall of fame for a primer on the start of space discovery.
After this, plan to spend about an hour checking out the Space Shuttle Atlantis attraction. Here, you learn about the history of the program, the Hubble telescope, and get to see a space shuttle in its massive glory. There is also a ride that gives a simulation of what it feels like to be launched into space.
Another essential stop is taking the bus over to the Apollo/ Saturn V Center. This is included with your ticket and is a must-see for learning about the moon landing. The simulated launch from the firing room is a surreal and its amazing to see the massive Saturn V up close. There is a café with food here if you are hungry for lunch, but it’s average theme park food.
Once you arrive back at the main campus, there are plenty more things to experience including IMAX movies, a play area for kids, and the new Gateway to Deep Space Complex. You can spend the whole day here or leave a bit early for a late lunch at the Brix Project on the way back to The Villages.
27. Cocoa Beach
- Distance: 111 miles (2-hour drive)
- Highlights: Beach, Downtown, Sightseeing
For a quintessential beach day, Cocoa Beach is one of the best day trips from The Villages. This beach is famous for surfing and being where “I Dream of Jeanie” takes place. It also has an awesome downtown and pier to walk around.
I recommend getting here early and finding a spot a parking spot at Lori Wilson Park. From here, you can enjoy swimming, shelling or even take a surfing lesson. You can bring your own beach picnic or walk to one of the surf shack style restaurants like Jazzy’s Mainely Lobster or Fourth Street Fillin Station.
Once you have had enough beach time, there is time for sightseeing. Families can head to Lighthouse Cove for a round of mini golf and ice cream. Adults may prefer to walk the Cocoa Beach pier and grab a drink at Rikki Tiki Tavern or a more laidback cocktail at Tropics. On the way back to The Villages, stop in Cocoa Village for a walk through the quaint shops and dinner at OSSORIO Café.
- Distance: 127 miles (2-hour drive)
- Highlights: Brevard Zoo, Nature Trails, Beaches, Downtown, Mural Tour
One of the most underrated The Villages day trip options is a visit to my town Melbourne, Florida! Less than ninety minutes away, this area has everything you could want out of a Florida day trip. Start the day by deciding whether you are looking for a beach or nature experience.
For the beach, head to free parks like Spessard Holland or Howard E. Futch Memorial for plenty of room to spread out on the sand. If you prefer a nature day, the Brevard Zoo is ideal. Not only can you see all sorts of animals in their habitats, but you could also choose to kayak through a giraffe enclosure or zipline through the trees for an additional fee.
Afterward, get a late lunch in the Eau Gallie Arts District. Highland Park Sandwich Shop, The Cottage Irish Pub, FM Pizza Oven, and Intracoastal Brewing Company are all excellent options. You can also take a walk around the area and admire the many murals that add so much charm to this arts district.
End the day with a fun nature excursion through the swamp! The Viera Wetlands are on the way back to The Villages and visitors can drive or walk through the trail. It’s a great place to see alligators, go birding and just enjoy the fresh air.
- Distance: 130 miles (2-hour drive)
- Highlights: History and Art Museums, Shopping, and Dining, Gardens
For a gulf coast destination filled with history and culture. Sarasota is a two-hour drive to the coast. This city is known for being the winter home of the Ringling Brothers, and now has a fantastic museum celebrating this piece of American history, as well as many art museums.
A Sarasota from The Villages day trip should start at the Ringling Museum where visitors can explore the circus museum, the museum of art, the Ca’ d’Zan Mansion and the Bayfront Gardens. You could spend a full day checking out each part, but I recommend focusing on two and then grabbing lunch after.
My recommendation for where to get lunch is St. Armands Circle. Here you can find all sorts of excellent Sarasota restaurants, including my favorites, Venezia and Shore. This is also a fun place for shopping and waterfront views.
End the day here with some nature, either at the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens or at the Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium. The botanical gardens here are some of the most gorgeous in Florida and the Mote aquarium is one of the best places to see sea turtles on the gulf! Young and old can appreciate the unique things of Florida with a day in Sarasota.
30. Siesta Key
- Distance: 140 miles (2.5-hour drive)
- Highlights: Beaches, Water Sports, and Live Music
Another beach town brimming with charm that is perfect for day trip from The Villages is Siesta Key. About two and a half hours southwest of The Villages, this is one of the best places for a day of fun in the sun. The beaches here are absolutely gorgeous and you could easily spend all your time relaxing at one.
A morning start at the beach is ideal, with plenty of time to try an activity. I recommend snorkeling, renting a beach cruiser or going parasailing. There are of course tons of kayak and paddleboard tours available too.
For lunch, venture to Siesta Key Village and enjoy the kitschy gift shops. Come lunchtime, you do not have to worry about being sandy, as everyone is a beach bum here! Grab a meal at a chill eatery like Island House Tap & Grill or the Hub Baja Grill.
After, adults can spend a few hours jamming to the live music at Siesta Key Oyster Bar, whereas families will want to get some dessert from Big Olaf Creamery. If you still have time later that evening, you can take a sunset cruise or electric bike beach tour to soak in the magical views.
31. Vero Beach
- Distance: 153 miles (2-hour drive)
- Highlights: Beach, Gardens, Shopping, and Downtown
For a relaxing day trip, Vero Beach is a tropical excursion great for Disney fans. This beach town is sleepier than some, but it makes up for it with beautiful scenery and an oceanfront Walt Disney World resort.
Before you head there, make a reservation for breakfast at either Disney’s Vero Beach or Cobalt at the Kimpton. Both hotels are beautiful spaces to walk around and its worth eating a late breakfast or brunch there. Afterwards, head to Wabasso Beach Park for some fun in the sun.
Once you have had enough beach time, there are a variety of shops and cafes to check out by the water. I like to get a drink at Sailfish Brewing or ice cream from Kilwin’s. You can also drive over the bridge to Downtown and check out the street art, shops, and restaurants there.
Finally, if you get done with all that before 4 PM, I highly recommend checking out the McKee Gardens. This is on the way back and is a lovely place to see some gorgeous greenery. The giant water lilies and the enchanted forest are amazing spots to take pictures of and will add some tranquility to the end of your day trip.
Know Before You Go: Day Trips From The Villages
Whether you live in The Villages or you are looking for a unique adventure during your trip there, these day trip ideas should make for a fun experience! From wildlife sightings to vibrant city tours, there is so much to do within a three-hour drive from The Villages. Before you take one of these day trips, here are some tips to keep in mind!
- These driving times should be pretty accurate, but there may be traffic during February through April with spring breakers and snowbird season. If you are going through Orlando, rush-hour traffic can be common on I-4 as well.
- On the other hand, watch out for afternoon showers when visiting July through October. I often recommend waiting until after dinner to head back from a day trip so you can avoid getting caught mid-drive in a storm!
- While exploring, make sure to leave nature undisturbed and always pick up trash. You can take shells home if you like, but make sure there are no living organisms in the shells when you do!
- No matter what you are doing for your day trip from The Villages, you will probably want to bring sunscreen and bug spray. I like Sun Bum and these bug-repellent wipes.
- Even if you are not bringing a picnic lunch, I always recommend packing a cooler with drinks and a couple of snacks for day trips. This way you can enjoy nice, cold water or seltzer on the drive back!
- Check out the map below to get an idea of where each day trip will take you. To save the map for later, click the star next to the map name. Then go to Google Maps -> Menu -> Your Places -> Maps and you will see it.
What’s the best Florida day trip you have taken? To find out more exciting things to do in Florida, be sure to check out my Sunshine State Bucket List and my guides to my favorite nature spots and the best vacation destinations.