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.
2022 brought even more fun to experience here — from camping at a safari to a brand new theme park — there’s always something happening. Here are 33+ awesome things to do in Central Florida that you and your family will love.
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THE ABSOLUTE COOLEST PLACES TO STAY IN CENTRAL FLORIDA
The accommodations in central Florida cannot be beat! No matter what you’re looking for, you’ll find an amazing place to stay here.
- Our family-favorite theme park option: LegoLand Florida Resort is our go-to hotel 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, the Pirate Island Hotel? We’ve got the deets on how to choose – click here for info on how to decide!
- Our favorite unique getaway in Central Florida: 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 – click here for detail info.
- Best for Families near Disney Springs: The Wyndham Bonnet Creek Resort in Lake Buena Vista, FL has so many kid-friendly activities, they’re going to want to stay here forever! With a restaurant, water park, outdoor pool, spa center, and mini-golf course, you’ll never run out of things to do here. (It’s close to Disney Springs, too.)
- Best for Families near Universal Studios: This DoubleTree by Hilton in Orlando is located directly across from the entrance to Universal Studios! It features first-class amenities, numerous free services and is close to all the area’s main attractions.
- Best for Families near International Drive: The Hyatt Regency Orlando is located right the heart of International Drive in Orlando — so you’re centrally located to all the fun attractions the area has to offer. Guests can beat the heat in one of the property’s two resort pools, one featuring a waterslide, waterfall, splash pad and separate kiddie pool. It also offers four full-service restaurants, two bars, a 24-hour grab & go market, and room service.
TOP-RATED THINGS TO DO IN CENTRAL FLORIDA
SAFARI WILDERNESS RANCH
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 Savanna 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 breeds 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.
NEW IN 2022! Safari Wilderness recently launched an option for a few special guests per night to stay
in 10 beautifully appointed safari tents!
The safari base camp consists of nine tents for Classic Safari Camping, each of which sits on its own mobile wooden deck for guest safety and comfort, and offers a panoramic view of the animal herds on the veldt.
Guests looking for a few more creature comforts can opt for the Premium Camping experience. The Overlook, centrally located and with an unobstructed, 360-degree view of the entire property, is the site of the premium safari tent. On top of a tall wooden deck, the Overlook has a private bathroom with air conditioning and a shower, as well as the best game viewing location on the property. Sounds amazing!
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.”
PEPPA PIG THEME PARK
The World’s First Peppa Pig Theme Park opened Polk County in 2022!
The new stand-alone park is located just steps away from the front gate of LEGOLAND Florida Resort. The park combines six interactive rides and themed playgrounds with character shows, an indoor cinema and a colorful splash pad that celebrates “muddy puddles” jumping fun. Every corner of the charming new park is crafted with preschoolers in mind.
One of the best things about the new Peppa Pig Theme Park is that it opened as a Certified Autism Center.
In addition, little piggies and their families can enjoy brilliant views from Peppa Pig’s Balloon Ride. Guests can enjoy the ride from whimsical baskets, crafted to look like a hot air balloon and are specially designed to allow children who use wheelchairs to roll on to the “balloon basket” without needing to transfer from their wheelchairs. The Muddy Puddles Splash Pad has been developed with kid-friendly accessibility in mind, as well.
The Legoland Florida Resort and Water Park in Winter Haven, is the perfect addition to Central Florida family vacation.
Here you’ll find a creative collection of LEGO-inspired rides and attractions that promise fun for everyone, from the “pink knuckle” thrills of roller coasters such as The Dragon, The Great LEGO Race, Coastersaurus and Flying School to interactive adventures including LEGO NINJAGO The Ride, Lost Kingdom Adventure and Kid Power Towers.
NEW IN 2023! Pirate River Quest, a fun treasure hunt, will debut in early 2023. The family-friendly treasure hunt adventure, led by a pirate in search of a lost treasure, takes guests through the uncharted waters of the legendary Cypress Gardens to discover the secrets protecting its canals.
We have shared tips HERE for saving money on LEGOLAND Florida tickets. It’s our favorite of all the Florida theme parks, with roller coasters, shows, a water park, and so much more.
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.
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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!
Stay Here: Westgate River Ranch
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 $10 to $45, each provides an interesting and educational look at the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright. (You can also take a self-guided tour — a souvenir map will cost you $5.) We strongly advise you to make reservations online to ensure your spot on these popular tours.
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER
3, 2, 1…BLAST OFF! Enjoy the many exhibits, shows, and attractions at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, including Space Shuttle Atlantis, Shuttle Launch Experience, Rocket Garden, and Heroes & Legends featuring the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame presented by Boeing.
Experience the exhibit “Journey to Mars: Explorers Wanted”, which includes a live interactive theater presentation about the Red Planet. Head to the Apollo/Saturn V Center via a Kennedy Space Center Bus Tour, which features a fully restored, massive Saturn V rocket, one of only 3 in the world. At Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex you’ll have the opportunity to explore the world’s largest collection of astronaut memorabilia.
Looking for online tickets to attractions or cool tours offering insider info? Get Your Guide is our family’s go-to resource for online purchases. Find Kennedy Space Center tickets here.
THE WHEEL AT ICON PARK
See Orlando from a completely different perspective while enjoying a ride on the The Wheel at Icon Park!
Admire aerial views of Orlando and beyond from the East Coast’s tallest observation wheel. Soar 400 feet into the sky in a clear capsule, taking in sweeping views of the city and central Florida landscape, including lakes, theme parks, and even the Atlantic coast on a clear day. Each capsule is equipped with an iPad that offers information about the sights and the surrounding environment.
The best part? It’s air conditioned! Get your tickets to The Wheel at Icon Park here!
SEA LIFE ORLANDO AQUARIUM
The SEA LIFE Orlando Aquarium offers you the chance to come “face-to-fin” with sharks, stingrays, sea turtles and more. You can prepare for a world of glittering scales, humongous tentacles, and razor sharp teeth on this thrilling underwater encounter.
Home to Florida’s only 360° underwater tunnel, SEA LIFE Orlando has touch tanks, 9+ exhibit areas, thousands of sea creatures and fun behind-the-scenes tours. You’re guaranteed to have a blast here.
Looking for even more fun in Central Florida? Try one of these fun experiences!
- Take a Boggy Creek Airboat Ride. Enjoy a fast and fun ride through Florida’s Everglades Headwaters with a U.S. Coast Guard Captain. Keep your eyes peeled for alligators, turtles, and birds in this natural wonderland.
- See Manatees on a 3-Hour Kayak Tour. Enjoy a kayaking tour in Blue Springs State Park, the winter home of one of Florida’s largest manatee populations. Spend some time paddling and some time walking along the spring-side trail.
- Visit the Crayola Experience. Crayola Experience is where the magic of Crayola comes to life. With 70,000 square feet of attractions, take a guided tour through the Crayola Experience, Orlando’s most colorful family destination for interactive, creative play.
EXPLORING CENTRAL FLORIDA IN THE OUTDOORS
CIRCLE B BAR RESERVE
Circle B Bar Reserve in Lakeland 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.
Another one of Lakeland’s most beautiful natural attractions is Hollis Garden. This pristine park is a hidden gem, with winding paths that lead through an array of flowering trees and plants. Sixteen distinct gardens span the one-acre site, each one highlighting a different type of vibe. You’ll find thousands of vibrantly colored blooms here, with trees and shrubs that reflect the beauty of a wild tropical rainforest.
Visitors can also enjoy picnics or strolls through the park and snap photo ops with gorgeous contrasting colors. In fact, many wedding parties choose to have their photos taken here, as it provides the perfect backdrop for these special moments. Look for sculptures, fountains, and other works of art scattered throughout the grounds, or pack a sketchpad to capture all the beauty on paper.
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.
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. You’ll find 12 launch points throughout Desoto, Hardee and Polk counties.
This easy to moderate paddling trail takes you through a moss-draped cypress swamp, hardwood forest and hammocks. You’ll find the blackwater river is a dark tea color.
Paynes Creek Historic State Park is a great place to explore the river — from either the water or land.
LAKE KISSIMMEE STATE PARK
Lake Kissimmee State Park has over 13 miles of trails to hike, along with opportunities for boating, canoeing and fishing. The park offers living history demonstrations.
You’ll find three lakes here — Kissimmee, Tiger and Rosalie. Wildlife loves to call this state park home, so keep an eye out for deer, eagles, cranes, turkeys and bobcats!
The park has full-facility campsites as well as a primitive camping facility.
LAKE MIRROR PARK
A great thing to do in Lakeland is visit Lake Mirror Park. This gorgeous park features a grand promenade, perfect for strolling or biking along the waterfront. The walk is roughly one mile long and offers lovely views of Lake Mirror. Of course, the famous swans are never far from view, but you’ll also find geese and other birds here.
A gorgeous fountain sits at the center of the lake, and various beautiful sculptures are scattered throughout the path. Adjacent to the park is the aforementioned Hollis Garden, an idyllic park filled with lush greenery and vibrant flowers. Both walkers and runners can be spotted here, so mind your step, and enjoy some of the best Lakeland scenery.
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.
Spend a little time outdoors for a self-guided tour through the orange groves around the property! Opened seasonally, from October through May.
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.
They fly 7 days a week (weather permitting) in the Orlando, Davenport and Kissimmee area — and they only do one flight a day, in the early morning, so make sure to make reservations! It’s such a unique way to see Central Florida from above.
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: 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
FLORIDA AIR MUSEUM
Discover the world of aerospace at the Florida Air Museum in Lakeland. At Florida’s official aviation museum the family will experience unique educational experiences with flight that include displayed aircrafts and flight simulators.
You’ll see exhibits such as Florida Aviation History, Howard Hughes, Air Show Performers and Pioneers, and the Discovery Zone is always a kit for adults and children alike. It’s open 7 days a week.
POLK MUSEUM OF ART
Located at Florida Southern College in Lakeland, the Polk Museum of Art features rotating exhibits from local, national, and international artists. The museum strives to make modern and contemporary art more accessible to all audiences, so they feature both traditional and experimental pieces in their exhibitions.
Tours of the museum are available, as well as educational and family-friendly events. The art gallery hosts intimate concerts and film screenings, so you can enjoy some of your favorite films on the big screen in a unique setting.
Admission is free.
BARTOW AIR BASE MUSEUM
Bartow Air Base Museum in Polk County is a free museum that showcases memorabilia from WWII. You’ll find exhibits, displays and artifacts, and aircraft on display.
The museum is open 7 days a week from 9-5.
FLORIDA CHILDREN’S MUSEUM
The popular Explorations V Children’s Museum moved Bonnet Springs Park and is now known as the Florida Children’s Museum.
Located in Lakeland, FL, the Florida Children’s Museum features two floors of amazing interactive galleries and plenty of hands-on activities for the kids. The new state-of-the-art facility features 47,800 square feet of exploration.
Find galleries such as Watermelon Seeds, Design Park, or City Play — where kids can dress up and be part of a little city (adults can dress up too)!
You’ll find plenty of special programs and events held here throughout the year as well.
HISTORIC DUNDEE DEPOT MUSEUM
Climb aboard a 1968 red caboose at the Historic Dundee Depot Museum. It’s open Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays from 10am-2pm.
HOMELAND HERITAGE PARK
See 19th century pioneer life at Homeland Heritage Park in Homeland, FL. This park is home to unique structures like an 1800s farmhouse, school and church.
Take a tour of the area, or attend one of the events they have here throughout the year.
DAVIDSON OF DUNDEE
Davidson of Dundee is a great shop that makes candies and jellies out of citrus juice since the 1960s. Take a free tour and watch candies, chocolates, marmalades and jellies being made. (Pssst! They give out free samples!)
All of the sweet treats here are made in copper kettles — the old fashioned way!
SILVER MOON DRIVE-IN THEATRE
Silver Moon Drive-In Theatre in Lakeland, FL is open seven nights a week, giving your family a unique way to take a break from attractions while enjoying a first-run movie.
They’ve been showing movies here for over 70 years — and they don’t intend to stop anytime soon! They have two screens, and host double features every night.
Orlando Fringe will open “Fringe ArtSpace,” a year-round performing arts venue, in downtown Orlando on Jan. 11, 2023. The 9,100 square foot space will include two performing theatre spaces: a main stage with 166 seats and a black box with 40-60 seats.
The programing will feature a mix of traditionally programmed theatre and concerts as well as a studio series with weekly, monthly and pop-up events like workshops, classes, readings, performances and artistic explorations.
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 is located at Silver Springs State Park. Here you can enjoy a glass bottom boat tour, kayak the 5-mile Sliver River, explore the museum, and so much more!
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MORE INFORMATION FOR YOUR TRIP TO FLORIDA
- YOUR FLORIDA VACATION
- ORLANDO: 27 Super Fun Things To Do In Orlando For Adults
- ST. AUGUSTINE: 33 Sensational Things To Do In St. Augustine For All Travel Types
- ORLANDO WITH KIDS: 42 Things To Do In Orlando With Kids (Besides The Theme Parks)
- KISSIMMEE: 26 Amazing Things To Do In Kissimmee, Florida
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