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Hidden Gems in Central Florida

Posted at Thu, May 4, 2023 4:30 PM

Attractions in the Orlando area are not shy. They boldly vie for visitors’ attention and time. But there are ways to escape the crowds and experience a different, quieter side of the region. OK,  maybe they’re not all quieter. Check out these suggestions to see what we mean.

Leu Gardens

Leu Gardens - Orlando FL - Website / Directions

This 50-acre garden offers a place to slow down and relax in the midst of the Central Florida hustle. Tropical plants are the stars here and visitors can wander through an array of different environments, including a bamboo garden and a butterfly garden, as well as collections of philodendrons and some rather non-tropical azaleas. The site also includes a museum that showcases life in a 19th century home.

Open year-round. Small admission fee. Suitable for families.

World of Chocolate Museum and Café

World of Chocolate Museum and Café  Orlando FL - Website / Directions

Located in the heart of touristy International Drive, this museum/café/retail shop immerses visitors in all things chocolate. Learn about the history of chocolate, see chocolate sculptures of world-famous landmarks and people, view how chocolate is made and, finally, have a little sample of the goods. Then enjoy a snack in the café, if you still have an appetite.

Café is free to enter (but we guarantee you won’t get out without buying something!). Range of admission fees for the museum, tours and tastings.

Farmers Markets

Hit a Farmers Market   Various Locales - Winter Park Website / Winter Garden Website / Maitland Website

You don’t have to be on the hunt for veggies to enjoy one of Central Florida’s award-winning farmers markets. As much community gathering as retail emporium, they’re a great place to spend a weekend morning. Be like a local and bring your pup to Winter Park, the area’s largest market; check out the specialty foods and artisan offerings in Winter Garden; or taste your way through the baked goods, kettle corn, hot sauces and honey on a Sunday morning in Maitland. Want more? Nearly every community has its own market with its own distinct personality. You can’t go wrong.

Free to enter. Bring Fido, the kids and your reusable shopping bags.

Airboat Rides at Midway

Airboat Rides at Midway  - Christmas, FL - Website / Directions

Ok, we warned you that not every activity would be quiet. An airboat ride at Midway takes you deep into the Florida backwoods on the St. Johns River. Expect to see some big honkin’ gators as well as bald eagles, otters, snakes, herons and tons of other wildlife. Knowledgeable guides give you the scoop through voice-activated headsets. Back at base, you can meet Porkchop the pig and his friends.

Rides last about an hour. Family friendly.

Old Sugar Mill Pancake House

Old Sugar Mill Pancake House  DeLeon Springs State Park, DeLeon Springs, FL - Website / Directions

This one’s actually a favorite with locals and visitors alike. but we had to include it anyway because where else can you make your own pancakes? It’s great fun and sometimes lines to get in can be long. The restaurant is housed in a 100-year-old replica of an 1830s sugar mill. Check out the markers on site for other historic points of interest.

Park admission required for the restaurant. Open year-round. Great for families. Take a dip in the spring or stroll one of the hiking trails (one of which is wheelchair accessible) to work off the calories afterward.

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