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This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Orlando North, Seminole County. All opinions are 100% mine. Please note that this post was written in February 2020 and is for future travel inspiration.
I love so many things about my hometown of Orlando, but probably my favorite is its treasure trove of hidden gems. Think about it– when most people hear Orlando, they think of theme parks, beaches, and tourists. When I hear Orlando, I think of state parks, being terrified of falling off airboats, and really really good food and drinks. That said, if you want an off the beaten path-type Orlando experience, I highly recommend planning a visit to Orlando North, Seminole County! Not only is it significantly more affordable, there are seriously so many things to do, places to eat, and amazingly unique places to stay. To help y’all plan your next vacation, I’m sharing all my favorite spots and fun-tivities in today’s post! Keep reading for a full Orlando North weekend travel guide!
Where to Stay in Orlando North
1. Danville B&B– Located in Danville, which is probably one of the most unique “towns” in the country, the Danville B&B is 5-star rated and self-contained in a large airplane hangar on the outskirts of Geneva. This 3,000-square foot hangar magically transforms into an Inn with an Irish Pub, 1920s-themed movie theatre, wedding pavilion, and full-on street-scape. The B&B itself includes yurt, “man cave,” and treehouse accommodations, too. Bonus Tip— Rent a segway to explore and/or ask the owner/pilot/mayor for an aerial tour of the county. He’s an eager and willing participant!
2. Sanford’s Floating Cottage– Sanford’s Floating Cottage is a combination of charming houseboat and tiny cabin, and it’s located on the St. Johns River. Amenities include a queen loft bed beneath a cathedral ceiling, full-sized sofa bed, fully-equipped kitchen, and adorable front and back porch lounging areas. Not only is there abundant wildlife to observe, you’re just a few blocks from the marina and historic downtown Sanford, which offers galleries, shops, restaurants, bars, brew pubs and entertainment venues.
Of course, if you prefer more traditional accommodations, you’ll find dozens of reputable hotels and inns in the area. Click here for more options!
Where to Eat in Orlando North
1. Townhouse Restaurant– Townhouse Restaurant is literally an Oviedo icon. They’ve been around forever (since the 1960s, I believe) but recently moved into a much bigger space with ample parking and outdoor seating. They now serve beer and wine, too, so it’s the perfect brunch spot. Highly recommend their pancakes and biscuits and gravy!
2. Hollerbach’s Willow Tree Cafe– Hollerbach’s is a bright, friendly, and family-owned German restaurant, deli, and traditional costume shop. It also qualifies as a must-try lunch/dinner spot. They’re known for their schnitzel, bratwurst, and other German classics, plus great German beer and live music. I’ll admit I’m not the biggest fan of German food normally, but I love this place. The food is just all-around great, and you can’t beat the ambiance of their lively outdoor patio! Bonus Tip— If at all possible, make a reservation. The waits can be pretty lengthy, especially for dinner.
3. Santiago’s Bodega– If you’re in the mood for tapas-style dishes, Santiago’s Bodega in Altamonte Springs is the place to go! Not only is the atmosphere colorful and lively, they have a full bar, some of the best brussels sprouts you’ll ever taste, and probably my favorite outdoor patio in all of Orlando. Plus, the sangria is to die for. Try and make reservations before you go, though, even if it’s for lunch. They’re almost always busy!
4. Enzo’s on the Lake– Located in Longwood, Enzo’s on the Lake is literally the perfect spot for a magical date night. Originally a private Italian-style villa, this authentic and independently-owned “mom and pop” restaurant was recognized as one of the 100 Most Romantic Restaurants in America in 2018. Oh, and the food— oh my gosh, the food. In my humble (and very Italian) opinion, it’s hands down the best Italian food/romantic ambiance combo anywhere in Orlando. If you’re willing to spend a little extra, I can’t recommend Enzo’s on the Lake enough!
Other great spots to try are The Smiling Bison, which is a locally-sourced farm-to-table restaurant right down the road from Hollerbach’s, The Tennessee Truffle, which is a must-stop for fans of good old fashioned southern cooking, and The Corner Cafe, which is often dubbed the #1 restaurant in Sanford on popular travel sites! For a full list of Orlando North restaurants, click here!
What to Do in Orlando North
1. Central Florida Zoo and Botanical Gardens– I used to visit the Central Florida Zoo and Botanical Gardens all the time when I was a kid. Honestly, though, it’s just as much fun as an adult. Not only are there tons of amazing animals and exhibits to see, Seminole Aerial Adventures zipline courses are absolute blasts, although they cost extra. There’s also a cute little splash park for kids and adults who need to cool down, too!
2. St. Johns River Tour– The Barbara-Lee is an authentic retro paddlewheel ship that cruises the historic St. Johns River Wednesday through Sunday. The Barbara-Lee crew hosts Friday night river parties, Saturday dinner and dancing, Sunday luncheons, and more– all with live onboard entertainment and delicious food from a local chef (and air conditioning, too).
3. Pappy’s Patch U-Pick Strawberries– Pappy’s Patch U-Pick Strawberries is the sweetest family-owned and operated strawberry farm in Oviedo. Seriously, they grow some of the most delicious strawberries you’ll ever taste! You pay per pound and can easily spend an entire morning or afternoon there. The only real drawback is that they’re only open when strawberries are in season (typically December-April), and when weather permits. Florida’s famous for its temperamental weather, so you may want to call before you go! You probably also want to wear a hat and apply sunscreen beforehand, too.
4. Aiguille Rock Climbing Center– If you’re someone who wants to get a little exercise on vacation, Aiguille is an absolute blast. I went all the time in college and loved it so much that I bought a membership. They have 10,000 square feet of climbing walls and offer two types of climbing, bouldering and rope. You can also rent climbing equipment there, and a $15 day pass will get you access to their climbing facility all day long (until closing, obviously). Note— all climbers must be at least 4 years old and 25 pounds to participate.
5. Brewery Hopping– One of the best things about Orlando North, Seminole County? So many amazing craft breweries! If you’re a beer lover, I highly recommend grabbing a drink at The Hourglass Brewery, Celery City Craft, Bowigens Beer Company Co, Sanford Brewing Company, and/or Wops’ Hops!
6. Airboat Rides on Lake Jessup– Another fun fact(s)– Lake Jesup is one of the largest lakes in Central Florida. It also supports one of the entire state’s densest population of gators! So, for a “real Florida” experience, it’s hard to beat a Black Hammock airboat ride. You’ll get a tour of what they call Alligator Sea and Bird Island, plus a rundown of all the fauna and flora of Central Florida swamps’ ecosystems.
Also, if you sign up for the hour-long ride (which you need reservations for), you get a free photo with Lucy, their 4-foot pet alligator!
7. Wekiva Springs– I grew up going to Wekiva Springs every weekend, and I actually met my fiance on a camping trip there, too. Needless to say, it holds a special place in my heart. All bias aside, pretty much any native Floridians will tell you that Wekiva Springs is one of their favorite local spots. There’s camping, canoeing, kayaking, swimming, biking, horseback riding– basically everything. Also, if the Florida heat gets to you, which it will, the emerald spring water is crystal clear and 72 degrees all year long!
Wekiva Springs is also a state park, so it’s super affordable. Park admission is currently $6 per vehicle (2-8 people), $4 per single-occupancy vehicle, and $2 pedestrians, bicyclists, and extra car passengers. Check out their hours and fees here. Also, trust me, if you go, you’ll want to get there early. Wekiva gets packed during spring break and in the warmer spring/summer months.
If you want to go more of the guided tour route, check out Adventures in Florida. They host a kayak tour of Wekiva River, as well as a manatee encounter in Blue Springs State Park, nightly bioluminescence paddles from May through October, a full moon paddle on Winter Park’s Chain of Lakes, and daily kayak tours of Econlockhatchee River, Winter Park’s Chain of Lakes, and Blackwater Creek.
Again, I really can’t stress enough how much of a gem Orlando North, Seminole County is. If you want to avoid the tourists and spend a weekend in Orlando the native Orlandoan way, you can’t go wrong with any of these spots. As always, if you have any questions, feel free to leave me a comment or reach out via email. I’m happy to help!