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Destination Relaxation

As summer draws to an end and school gets underway, many residents are not quite ready to get back into their fall routines. Thankfully, there are plenty of day trip and staycation options that can provide a fun and relaxing escape from day-to-day life.  

One of the great things about living in Central Florida is the close proximity to all of the amazing things that the Sunshine State has to offer. While North Florida is known for its tranquil and rural environment, South Florida provides a more tropical climate and lively culture. Whether looking for a fun and educational adventure or a serene day lounging at the beach, Central Floridians can easily access it all with just a short drive. Orlando Family Magazine has compiled a list of some of the top spots to visit and explore this fall.


Two Tails Ranch

Though less than two hours north of Orlando in Williston (near Gainesville), visitors will feel as if they have traveled to another continent at this sprawling, one-of-a-kind 67-acre ranch. Founded in 1984, the privately owned ranch has been home to over 250 Asian and African elephants. The elephants have all stayed on the property for a variety of reasons, ranging from medical necessity to retirement and, in some instances, after hurricanes destroyed their zoo enclosures and exhibits.

The ranch offers a very peaceful environment to animals and guests alike, with its majestic grounds and large live oaks. Although the ranch was built specifically with elephants in mind, it is also home to several other animals including zebras, birds and turtles.

Since 2008, owner and co-founder Patricia Zerbini has offered educational programs for elephant lovers as well as for professionals in the elephant field, to learn more about these incredible mammals and observe them as they roam in their free-style enclosures. Guided tours offer guests an opportunity to get up close and personal with the elephants, as guides share information on the animals and how they are cared for. More in-depth tours are also available for those aged 12 and older, allowing visitors the chance to have unique interactions with the elephants including feeding and riding them. There are also demonstrations, a museum and gift shop. All visits to the ranch are by appointment and tours can be booked for individuals, families or large groups.


Silver Springs State Park

Conveniently situated near both the Florida Turnpike and the I-4, this popular tourist attraction is an hour-and-a-half drive north of Orlando.

Home of the largest artesian spring in the world, Silver Springs has an impressive history, dating back more than 10,000 years. Archaeologists have identified mammoth bones and primitive tools revealing that the earliest humans in North America lived and hunted around Silver Springs. It was later inhabited by the Timucua, followed by Spanish explorers and missionaries as well as the Seminoles. By 1850, Silver Springs had become a commercial distribution center for Central Florida. In the years right after the Civil War, Silver Springs’ popularity soared with tourists flocking to the area. Then, in the late 1870s, Silver Springs made history with the introduction of their famous Glass Bottom Boat tours and in 1971 it became designated as a National Natural Landmark.

It is easy to feel as though you are stepping back in time as the historic shops and boat dock, designed by famed architect Victor Lundy in the late 1950s, still greet visitors today. It may also look familiar to visitors as it has been the filming location of over 20 movies, including Rebel Without a Cause and Creature from the Black Lagoon, and countless television shows. In addition to the boat tours, visitors are also able to hike, kayak and canoe, camp, visit the Silver River Museum and explore The Cracker Village, a replica of a 19th-century pioneer settlement.


Ichetucknee Springs State Park

Located in Fort White, a two-and-a-half-hour drive north of Orlando, lies the Ichetucknee Springs. Declared a National Natural Landmark by the U.S. Department of the Interior in 1972, the Ichetucknee River’s gorgeous scenery of shaded hammocks, cypress, oak, maple and pine trees guide visitors through its waterways which are fed by nine springs and contribute close to 233 million gallons of spring water to the Santa Fe River.

In addition to its beauty, Ichetucknee’s history goes back hundreds of years, specifically to the 17th century. One of Florida’s 33 first-magnitude springs used consistently by Native Americans, the Mission de San Martin de Timucua, was a village that was one of the major interior missions serving the important Spanish settlement of St. Augustine. In the late 1800s, the area became the central station for North Florida’s phosphate industry with its abundance of limestone at, or just below the ground service. Small service mines are still visible to this day throughout the park.

Ichetucknee Springs State was purchased by the state of Florida in 1970 from the Loncala Corporation to preserve one of the state’s outstanding natural wonders. The park offers a wide variety of outdoor activities, such as swimming, tubing, scuba diving, birding, hiking and paddling. Notable upcoming events include Storytime & Hike with a Ranger, and a Time Machine Tour, a journey by van to the site of the 17th-century Mission de San Martin de Timucua in the Ichetucknee forest.


St. Petersburg/Clearwater

The approximately two-hour drive southwest of Orlando is well worth it, as St. Petersburg and Clearwater are considered among the most-loved travel destinations in the world. Between being home to some of America’s best beaches, a thriving arts community and lots of outdoor experiences, it’s no surprise that Forbes named St. Petersburg one of its “Best Places to Travel in the U.S.” for 2023. Coming to the area later this year is the highly anticipated Central Park St. Pete, a five-story, 27,000-plus-square-foot food hall that will house seven quick-service food concepts on the main level, several full-service bars, and two elevated full-service restaurants. The top level will be an events/creative arts space that will highlight local musicians and performers. There will also be a basement speakeasy as well as a full-service modern rooftop restaurant and bar.

A short drive from St. Petersburg is the picturesque city of Clearwater, offering a plethora of activities and attractions. Among them is the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the rescue, rehabilitation and release of sick and injured marine animals as well as public education, conservation and research. A visit to Clearwater is not complete without a stop at Pier 60 for an evening sunset. This nightly tradition features entertainment running from two hours before sunset until two hours after. The beautiful view of the sunset makes for a perfect way to celebrate the end of the day. This summer, the city of Clearwater celebrated the official opening of Coachman Park, which offers lots of open space for events and places to admire the intercoastal view. At the center of the park is a new amphitheater, The Sound, with covered seating for 4,000 people and lawn space for another 5,000.


The Palm Beaches

Located approximately two hours southeast of Orlando and just one hour north of Miami, the Palm Beaches offer a little something for everyone. Made up of 39 Florida cities, towns and villages, The Palm Beaches offer a uniquely tropical feel with all of the luxurious amenities of city life. The area’s beauteous landscape has a true “only in Florida” origin dating back to the late 1800s. During that time, a Spanish ship carrying 20,000 coconuts wrecked just off the South Florida coast. Locals planted the non-native seeds, growing palm trees and giving the area the tropical island feel for which it’s now known.

The spectacular coastline that travelers and locals clamor for features dozens of beaches spanning 47 miles along the Atlantic Ocean, from Jupiter to Boca Raton. Residents and visitors are able to enjoy a plethora of year-round outdoor activities, including surfing, boating and world-class golf. In fact, The PGA National Golf Club in Palm Beach Gardens has been home to The Honda Classic since 2007. The Palm Beaches also feature world-class museums and galleries as well as award-winning theater and concerts.

Although there is something to do every day of the year in The Palm Beaches, autumn is an extra special time to visit. One of the area’s popular events, Flavor Palm Beach, takes place this month. All September long, The Palm Beaches’ top restaurants and bistros will offer prix-fixe menus, providing an opportunity to experience the cuisines that define the region.