A Non-Disney Travel Guide To Central Florida

For vacationers, Florida may be known for Disney World and the beaches but there are gems hidden down dirt roads and cascading oak trees. I spent my adolescence on the southern peninsula and have traveled from the Keys to Tallahassee; yet my two favorite places remain the same. I flew from NYC back home to central Florida recently and spent a day re-exploring these local favorites: Kelly Park at Rock Springs and Florida Cactus. 

 

Guest post by Camille Shaw

Kelly Park at Rock Springs

There are approximately 33 natural springs in Florida. Rock Springs, located in the city of Apopka is my absolute favorite. Pro tip: rise with the sun and arrive to the park at 8AM in the summer to guarantee admission -- the park tends to reach capacity early on. When you do make your way into the park, venture to the head of the spring where the water flows from a boil located beneath the rocks. The water creates a mosaic of reflections of the emerald green trees and turquoise sky.

The water is 70 degrees all year around. My best advice is to brave the initial chill and plunge into the crystal clear water! The natural push and flow of the water will carry you down the river about a quarter mile to the blocked off pool portion of the spring where you can swim freely from end to end.

Florida Cactus

Florida Cactus is a family owned cactus and succulent nursery nestled in the heart of Apopka, approximately 10 miles outside of Downtown Orlando. There are multiple greenhouses on the property and each are home to thousands of plants. One eye-catching greenhouse holds rows and rows of grafted cacti- a rootstock base fused with a vibrant scion. The deep pinks, fluorescent yellows and vibrant oranges create a gradient across the tent. Florida Cactus is open to the public 5 days a week and is well worth the drive down country roads.

Day Trip Essentials

I kept packing minimal and compact. I packed my essentials in the Catalina Deluxe Tote and brought a change of clothes, swimsuit and a towel in the main compartment, a notebook and pen in the outer pocket and a pair of sandals in the bottom compartment. And of course, I kept my camera on hand to capture the beauty of my surroundings! I also brought my Waverley to keep smaller items like my wallet, keys, chapstick, and phone by my side.

Where to Eat

Hawkers

Once you’ve spent the day exploring Florida’s best in nature, it’s time to eat. The Mills District, a subsection of Downtown Orlando, is home to Hawkers Asian Street Fare. The Roti Canai is a must. My tip is to order tapas for the table instead of individual entrees.  

Farmers Market at Lake Eola

If a Sunday rolls around during your visit, be sure to check out the Farmers Market at Lake Eola. Every Sunday from 10AM to 4PM you can find fresh produce, flowers, plants, corn fresh off the grill, and you can even drink out of a coconut.

Where to Stay

Winter Park

If you like art galleries, shopping from local boutiques, and brunch, the Winter Park area is the place to stay. It's also home of my all time favorite stationery design studio, Rifle Paper Co. You can visit the studio and shop right in the heart of the city and take home an item inspired by the home and travels of Anna Bond, the creative director of Rifle Paper Co.

AirBnBs

There are a myriad of Airbnbs in the Orlando area. My advice is to book early. This way you can find one of the more unique options -- a lakeside tiny home or a downtown loft.

Camille brought the Catalina Deluxe Tote and Waverley with her.

Comments

  • Greg Nelson

    That food looks amazing! Great ideas for traveling Florida. I also highly recommend riding RedCoach while in the state- I got to see so much of the area.

  • Heidi Gomez

    I love Florida! I’ve never been to Disney though. I agree- check out some of the other offerings of the sunshine state. One travel tip- take RedCoach buses. They are local, you can see more of the state, and you don’t have to worry about driving in traffic. But great guide!

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