I’m not sure there is anywhere in the world quite like Orlando. The place that used to be quiet citrus groves is now the theme park capital of the world, attracting over 66 million visitors per year — more than anywhere else in the United States. From theme restaurants to amusements parks to quirky attractions, Orlando has it all — bigger, brighter, and some might say better. They even have the world’s largest “entertainment” McDonalds. Over 18,000 square feet of food, arcade and play structures — talk about super-sized!

Of course families come for the theme parks and water parks — of which there is no shortage. And these theme parks are constantly adding new rides and attractions to keep families coming back again and again and again — from the new “Frozen Ever After” ride at Epcot,; to SeaWorld’s Mako, Orlando’s tallest, fastest,and longest roller coaster; and Universal Islands of Adventure’s “Skull Island: Reign of Kong.”

But still, the more families come back to Orlando, the more they want to experience something outside of the waterparks as well. And let’s face it, a giant McDonalds just isn’t going to cut it for everyone. After my recent trip to Orlando on a press trip with Visit Florida, I wanted to put together a guide to what to do in Orlando outside of the theme parks. So here you go, my guide to off the beaten path Orlando.

Off the Beaten Path Orlando


I-Drive 360 and the Orlando Eye — I suppose it is hard to call something off-the-beaten path when you can see if from so far away, but did you know that Orlando had the Orlando Eye, kin to the London Eye? I didn’t. I-Drive 360 (named after International Drive) bills itself as an “entertainment destination.” With cornerstone attractions like Madame Tussauds and SeaLife Aquarium, along with restaurants and shops, it certainly has plenty to offer. Honestly those are a bit of a yawn for me as I’ve done both before in other locations, but I haven’t had a chance to ride the London Eye or any others, so my eye (see what I keep doing here), was on that big wheel in the sky.

Orlando Eye

Now I am no fan of rides, but I can tell you that this ride is so smooth and slow that you barely notice you are moving. A single rotation takes 20 minutes and if you want, you can get a glass of bubbly to bring along. A little champagne, some music in the car, beautiful views and you’ve got a party going on with an awesome view across Orlando. I highly recommend it at sunset. Afterwards, stop by dinner at Tapa Toro because the paella is deee-li-cious.

Orlando Eye

I-Drive 360 is located at 8375 International Drive, Orlando, Fl 32819.

Mango’s Tropical Cafe — It may be a bit easier to visit Cuba these days, but it is still a stretch for many American families, but now Orlando visitors can get a taste of Cuba and move to some Latin rhythms at Mango’s Tropical Cafe. Mango’s brought its South Beach flair to Orlando less than a year ago and since then, people have been sipping mojitos and salsa dancing like they are in the islands. Book a dinner and show for the most family-friendly options.

Mango’s Tropical Cafe is located at 8126 International Drive, Orlando, FL 32819.

Harry P. Leu Gardens –Perhaps you are seeking something a bit more…shall we say…peaceful than what you’ll find on International Drive or in the theme parks? Or perhaps you want something that will make all the generations happy? The Harry P. Leu Gardens offers up three miles of paved scenic walkways, a butterfly garden, bamboo gardens and even a museum, which is a restored 19th century home that has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. You can enjoy azaleas, vines, tropical philodendrons, roses and camellias and stroll under the branches of camphor trees, elms and oaks. How do you like them apples? Plus, did I mention it was cheap? Now that’s not easy to find in Orlando.

Leu Gardens is located at 1920 North Forest Avenue, Orlando, FL.

Milk District — After spending some time in theme parks and on International Drive, it is hard to believe that there are some cute or historic districts in Orlando, but they do exist. There is the Church Street District in the heart of downtown Orlando, which offers a glimpse of the past but also has an array of trendy restaurants and nightclubs. Then there is Thornton Park, Orlando’s most charming neighborhood with plenty of eateries. But what caught my eye was the up-and-coming Milk District, named for its location near a dairy. This thriving area is known for its funky shops and weekly food truck gathering. They had me at food trucks.

Orlando Science Center — Trying to convince your kids’ teachers that you took them out of school for educational purposes for that trip to Orlando? Then you better stop by the Orlando Science Center, which is a hands-on science museum with educational exhibits, programs, planetarium shows, and 3D theaters. With hundreds of exhibits across four floors, there will be plenty of opportunity for the kids to  explore, experiment and discover.

Please sir, may I have s’mores? Celebrating #NationalSmoresDay with science! A photo posted by Orlando Science Center (@orlandosciencecenter) on

The Orlando Science Center is located at 777 E. Princeton Street, Orlando, Florida 32803.

Wekiwa Springs State Park — What, you mean walking around all those theme parks hasn’t tired you out? How about some exercise that is a bit more relaxing for the senses to calm those overstimulated nerves? Canoeing and kayaking through Wekiwa Springs State Park is a charming way to discover the Wekiva River while experiencing the beautiful, untouched wonders of Florida. Just 20 minutes north of Orlando, Wekiwa Springs State Park Nature Adventures allows you to craft your own adventure of activities including canoeing, kayaking, bicycling to simply sitting back and swimming.

Wekiwa Springs State Park Nature Adventures is located at 1800 Wekiwa Circle, Apopka, FL 32712.

Rattlesnake Roller Coaster Zipline — Okay, this is one is a little further off-the-beaten path in St. Cloud, but I think it would be worth an hour’s drive to do this roller coaster zipline. Plus, Forever Florida offers regular ziplining, horseback riding, nature tours, and the panther pounce free fall plunge.

Forever Florida is located at 4755 N. Kenansville Road, St. Cloud, Florida 34773.

Also, don’t forget that in nearby Central Florida you can feed lemurs, go on safari, watch a rodeo, go bass fishing, and visit LegoLand Florida. Kennedy Space Center is only about an hour also and that is one place I very highly recommend for families.

With all these choices and so much to do…are you sure you want to pay the premium prices to stay in the theme parks? Did you know that there are over 7,000 vacation home rentals in Central Florida? How nice would it be to relax in your own villa with all the amenities of a resort? Top Villas offers luxury villas that are perfect for families and groups, including many in the Reunion Resort. Reunion Resort is a five-star resort near Disney World with golf courses, a water park, 11 pools, restaurants and more. Many of these villas offer the most adorable theming that you’ll almost feel like you are on-property. I mean just look at this!

Reunion Resort 29's treehouse bedroom
Do you have any favorite off-the-beaten path attractions in Orlando or have you been to any of the above? What about places to stay? I’m already thinking of my next visit.


Get off the beaten path in Orlando with this guide on what to do outside of the theme parks.
Note: My visit to Orlando was hosted by Visit Florida and Visit Orlando. All opinions are my own.

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