Fun, fun, fun!! You can spend weeks exploring all the things to do in Central Florida for families beyond just Universal and Walt Disney World. In fact, there is so much to do that you might want to add a few days to your next Disney trip venturing a bit west into Polk County and the heart of Central Florida.
However, be warned, there are so many unique things to do in Central Florida that you may just want to plan a trip without even visiting Mickey at all.
Top-Rated Things To Do in Central Florida
For a wildlife experience like no other, take a trip to Safari Wilderness in Lakeland. Safari Wilderness is much different from your typical safari excursion, a.k.a., Disney’s Savannah in Animal Kingdom, and you’ll be glad it is! Located on 260 pristine acres and surrounded by 870 square miles of watershed, we immediately felt transported out of Central Florida and into Kenya itself.
They limit the number of visitors at one time, so you can enjoy the dozens of breads of exotic animals that roam the area with no lines or waiting, and no distracting crowds.
There are a number of options available to explore the park, depending on how adventurous you’re feeling. We went with the customized safari vehicle, complete with a driver/very knowledgeable guide. If you want to get really up close and personal, you can tour the area on an ATV or kayak, also with a guide. To take it to the next level, ask about the camelback adventure and go Ishtar-style.
There are so many animals to observe, and yes, feed, right up close. We saw zebras, water buffalo, elands, warthogs, and red lechwe’s to name a few, and every animal just seems to clean and happy to be roaming this expansive and natural area. It was so nice to see.
But the highlight of our visit was the ring-tailed lemur feeding. When we heard we’d be feeding actual lemurs, we just assumed we’d pass a few morsels through a cage. Oh, no. We got right in there with these adorable little creatures and fed them hand to hand.
They are cuter than you could ever imagine, softly grabbing ahold of your fingers like a human infant and drawing your hand up to them to take a bite. This was a completely unforgettable experience for our family that you will not want to miss.
The Safari Wilderness Ranch is accredited by the Zoological Association of America and rated by Fodor’s International Travel Guide as one of the “Top 10 Safaris in the USA.”
The Legoland Florida Resort and Water Park in Winter Haven, is the perfect addition to Central Florida family vacation. We have shared tips for saving money on LEGOLAND Florida tickets. It’s our favorite of all the Florida theme parks, with roller coasters, shows and a new 10th Birthday Celebration coming in 2021.
Bok Tower Gardens
The Hammock Hollow Children’s Garden at Bok Tower Gardens is a must visit for families. The new section of this National Historic Landmark provides a unique hands-on exploration of the gardens.
Of course, don’t miss walking the grounds and seeing the 200-ft tall tower. It was built in 1929 on the highest elevation in peninsular Florida. Inside it houses a collection of carillon bells that ring beautifully on the hour every day. Pro tip: Bring some change for the fish food – the kids will love feeding the koi swimming around the tower.
Westgate River Ranch
Westgate River Ranch is an authentic kid-friendly guest ranch where families can experience the Old Florida cowboy lifestyle as a day visitor or overnight guest. Here you can go horseback riding, take swamp buggy rides, and watch the longest running championship rodeo in the USA.
One of our most memorable Florida stays was in the glamping tents here (click thru for 17 tips and tricks for your stay.) Next time, I’d love to splurge on a teepee stay!
Frank Lloyd Wright Tours
A creative treasure that many do not know about is the Frank Lloyd Wright Tours on the Florida Southern College campus in Lakeland, Fl. There are four tours, ranging in price from $7 to $55, each provides an interesting and educational look at the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright. We strongly advise you to make reservations online to ensure your spot on the tour.
Exploring Central Florida in the Outdoors
Circle B Bar Reserve
Circle B Bar Reserve is a treasured central Florida environmental area providing numerous family recreational opportunities from bicycling trails to bird watching and fishing. The kids will love the Polk County Nature Discovery Center.
Hollis Garden is a free 1.2 acre botanical garden with over 10,000 different plant species.. The patterned flower beds and ornamental fountains are a beautiful sight to see.
Ridge Island Groves
While in Central Florida we suggest touring the citrus groves and pick your own berries at Ridge Island Groves. Try your hand at hydroponic gardening with a take home do-it-yourself kit available at the gift shop. Take a tour of the groves and pick your own fruit to enjoy the homegrown taste of Florida.
Sightsee through the waterways of Central Florida with an Eco Tour from TMC Guide Services.
Take an airboat tour along the shoreline of Lake Kissimmee with Floridian captains from the family-owned marina at Grape Hammock Fish Camp. In addition to the boat tours, Grape Hammock is a top-rated Fish Camp in the state, and the perfect place to see the Old Florida.
Canoe or kayak through the serene environment that surrounds the Peace River Paddling Trail.
Lake Kissimmee State Park
Lake Kissimmee State Park has over 13 miles of trails to hike, opportunities for boating, canoeing and fishing. The park offers living history demonstrations.
Lake Morton Bird Sanctuary
Lake Mirror Park is known for its promenade and glassy appearance. This is a great place to take a morning or afternoon walk, feed the ducks then play in Barnett Family Park to let the kids run off some energy. If you have little ones, Sunflower Preschool Playground provides shaded play designed for children under 5.
Waldo Wright’s Flying Service
Fly high in the sky in Central Florida with Waldo Wright’s Flying Service. Enjoy seeing Central Florida from a new perspective in a biplane, stearman or a seaplane. No age limits, and prices are very affordable.
Natural Growers Grove House
Kids will love the free orange juice samples while everyone takes in the history of Florida’s official fruit at Florida’s Natural Growers Grove House.
Lake Hollingsworth is an urban lake and focal point of Lakeland, Fl. The home of to the annual Orange Cup Regatta provides a walking trail, wonderful bird sightings and is home to some historic landmarks.
You can enjoy a self-guided walking tour of the outdoor Public Art found throughout Munn Park, Lemon Street Promenade, Curtis Peterson State Building and around Lake Mirror.
Hot Air Balloon Ride
Balloons & Beyond will provide the adventure of a lifetime with a sunrise hot air balloon flight over Central Florida.
Top Places to Hike in Central Florida
Lakeland Highlands Scrub
Down a quiet dirt road you will find the Lakeland Highlands Scrub that offers two short and easy multi-use loop trails.
SUMICA is located in Lake Wales offering nine miles of nature views among pine flatwoods, oak hammock and marsh habitats.
Crooked Lake Sandhill
Crooked Lake Sandhill is one of the best examples of a sandhill ecosystem remaining in Polk County. This 25-acre land is home to four rare animals: sand skinks, scrub lizards, eastern indigo snakes and gopher tortoises.
Tiger Creek Preserve
On the Eastern edge of Lake Wales Ridge, known as one of the “ancient islands,” is Tiger Creek Preserve. Hiking through this diverse biological hotspot will get you up close with many endangered plants and animals.
Green Swamp Wilderness Preserve
The Hampton Tract of Green Swamp Wilderness Preserve provides approximately 30 miles of wet hiking trials.
Colt Creek State Park
Colt Creek State Park covers over 5,000 acres in the Green Swamp Wilderness Preserve with more than 12 miles of marked trails. The park is home to the American Bald Eagle, white-tailed deer, wild turkey, bobcat, feral hogs and Sherman’s fox squirrel.
Must-Visit Museums and More
The Florida Air Museum
Discover the world of aerospace at The Florida Air Museum. At Florida’s official aviation museum the family will experience unique educational experiences with flight that include displayed aircrafts and flight simulators.
Polk Museum of Art
Admission is always free at the Polk Museum of Art (free family workshops)
Bartow Air Base Museum
Bartow Air Base Museum is a free museum that showcases memorabilia from WWII.
Explorations V Children’s Museum
You’ll find hands-on exhibits covering three floors. The museum focuses on using the five senses to explore and learn.
Fantasy of Flight Collection Museum
This gem is the home of the World’s Greatest Aircraft Collection. Guests get up close with vintage aircraft like the 1945 Grumman Duck.
Historic Dundee Depot Museum
Climb aboard a 1968 red caboose at the Historic Dundee Depot Museum.
Homeland Heritage Park
See 19th-century pioneer life at Homeland Heritage Park. This park is home to unique structures like an 1800s farmhouse, school and church.
Webb’s Citrus Candy Factory
Webb’s Citrus Candy Factory provides a free fun family experience touring the candy factory and tasting their famous goat’s milk fudge.
Davidson of Dundee
Davidson of Dundee gives free tours to watch candies, chocolates, marmalades and jellies being made. Plus free samples!
Silvermoon Drive-In Theater
Silvermoon Drive-In Theater is open seven nights a week, giving your family a unique way to take a break from attractions while enjoying a first-run movie.
3 Must-Explore Day Trips
Kelly Park/Rock Springs
Our friends introduced us to Kelly Rock Springs, and our tubing adventure here was one for the books – so fun! Start at Rock Springs Bar and Grill just a few minutes away to rent a tube if you don’t have one.
Pay to get in the park, and then enjoy the free-flowing natural spring, which stays at 68 degrees year round. The water is the clearest I’ve ever seen…and it’s easy to make the loop again and again, taking a break for a picnic on the greenway at the end of the run.
Wekiwa Springs State Park
With emerald springs feeding the Wekiwa River and lush tropical hammocks, this unique park just minutes from downtown Orlando is perfect for observing abundant wildlife or cooling off on a summer day. The blue waters of Wekiwa Springs have made it the county’s longest-running tourist attraction, only about 15 minutes from Winter Park, FL.
Silver Springs State Park
Another of Florida’s gorgeous springs, here you can enjoy a glass bottom boat tour, kayak the 5-mile Sliver River, explore the museum, and so much more!
Where to Stay in Central Florida
There are so many things to do in Central Florida, that you may just need to spend the night. The Legoland Hotels are the only thing cooler than spending the day at Legoland Florida Resort. The hotels are located in Winter Haven, Florida – right at the theme park. Want to stay at the original Resort? The Beach Retreat? Maybe the newest addition, Pirate Island Hotel? We’ve got the deets on how to choose – click here for info on how to decide!
Westgate River Ranch
Get closer to nature with a stay at Westgate River Ranch Resort. This authentic dude ranch offers a number of accommodation types from tent and teepee glamping to lodge suites and cabin rentals. With a rock wall, miniature golf course, zipline, archery range, boat rentals and more, you will not get bored.
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Disclosure: 365 Atlanta Traveler is a Visit Florida Digital Marketing Program Partner. This post was originally written by Travel Writer Mandy Carter, but has been significantly updated and revised since its original publication. Thanks to Central Florida and Visit Florida for hosting us. Opinions here are all our own.