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    Day Trips from Orlando: Rocket Launches, Psychics, Scrub Jays

    By Kevin Mims

    Head in any direction from Orlando and you’re in for a fantastic day trip. Whether it’s history, arts, culture, sports, or nature that you seek on your Florida vacation, you can find it at one of these 10 family-friendly, day-trip destinations.

    Here are 10 great day trips from Orlando.

    Blue Spring State Park, 34 miles

    Besides being a prime destination for families to swim, canoe, and kayak during Florida’s warmer months, Blue Spring State Park in Orange City also happens to be one of the best family-friendly places to view manatees from November to March.

    During this season, the spring closes to human activities so manatees can take refuge from the cold in the 72-degree waters. The park’s human visitors take to the long, accessible boardwalk for an elevated view of the clear water and the sea cows, fish, and turtles.

    The park, which is home to Florida’s endemic scrub jay, has a 3.6-mile hiking trail that offers plentiful birding and wildlife viewing opportunities. Don’t forget to check out the park’s gift shop and the historic Thursby House.

    Kennedy Space Center, 52 miles

    There is nowhere in the world quite like Kennedy Space Center, “Florida’s gateway to space.”

    The NASA center on Merritt Island, where every American manned flight into space has launched since 1968, has been welcoming visitors for 40 years. If you’ve ever wanted to know what it feels like in the astronaut’s seat, take a ride in the shuttle launch experience. See spacecraft first-hand in the Rocket Garden, take a bus tour of the complex, meet an astronaut, and watch a rocket launch.

    Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, 56 miles

    Not far from Kennedy Space Center but a destination all its own, Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge draws birders and nature lovers from all over the world.

    More than 330 bird species have been found there, and the park’s regular tours are just one way to see them. Black Point Wildlife Drive, which visitors can drive themselves, offers some of the best wildlife viewing along seven miles of marsh and flatwoods.

    The refuge is central to the annual Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival, one of the biggest events of its kind anywhere.

    Bok Tower, Lake Wales

    The Bok Tower in Lake Wales is renowned for its landscaped gardens and the music emanating from its 60-bell carillon.

    - Chris Joy

    Bok Tower Gardens, 56 miles  

    There’s a lot to love about Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales, from the bloom-filled gardens to the 205-foot, Art Deco-style singing tower, to the historic Pinewood Estate.

    Families can walk the gardens together while listening to music that drifts down from the tower’s 60-bell carillon.

    For younger visitors, Hammock Hollow Children’s Garden offers play areas, climbing features, and art stations. Souvenirs and more are available at Bok Tower’s gift shop, and hungry bellies can be filled at the Blue Palmetto Cafe.

    Daytona Beach, 57 miles

    Beach, NASCAR, concerts, museums, boating, fishing — Daytona Beach has it all. As one of the closest Florida beaches to Orlando, it’s an ideal day trip destination from the City Beautiful.

    Daytona has 23 miles of Atlantic shoreline, numerous museums and cultural centers, a historic lighthouse, and plenty of places to shop. Perhaps its most famous feature is the Daytona International Speedway, where the annual Daytona 500 takes place. Tours of the Speedway include a stop at the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America.

    Cassadaga, 35 miles

    For an adventure into the spiritual, head north from Orlando to Cassadaga, an unincorporated area of Volusia County known as the “Psychic Capital of the World.”

    Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp has been active for more than 100 years and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Many mediums and healers live within the 57-acre camp, which includes 55 homes, parks and meditation gardens, and a bookstore. The camp and the nearby Cassadaga Hotel welcome visitors and offer tours and psychic readings.

    snorkeler in clear water of Juniper Springs, Ocala National Forest

    Imagine the sensory thrill of 72-degree, clear-as-glass water on a warm day. Juniper Springs is one of several freshwater springs in Ocala National Forest.

    - Julie Fletcher

    Ocala National Forest springs, 70 miles

    The Ocala National Forest is well-known for its clear-as-glass freshwater springs, and they happen to be within easy driving distance of Orlando. So pack a picnic lunch, grab the sunscreen and snorkeling gear, and head to one of these hidden gems:

    • Alexander Springs: First-magnitude spring for swimming and snorkeling, Timucuan Trail and interpretive site, and picnic area.
    • Salt Springs: Easy two-mile hiking trail, springs with shallow and deeper areas, and picnic area.
    • Juniper Springs: Swimming spring with iconic millhouse, trails, dense woods, and picnic area.
    • Silver Glen Springs: Family-friendly with shallow swimming areas, hiking trail, and plenty of room for picnics.

    Frank Lloyd Wright Visitor Center, 57 miles

    Famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright designed many of the buildings at Florida Southern College, southeast of Orlando, and the school boasts the world’s largest single-site collection of his work. Florida Southern College offers tours to the public, including accessible tours and a “Wright After Dark” tour.

    Rock Springs, 33 miles

    Come to swim, wade, or tube — how you enjoy Rock Springs, one of the most scenic springs in Florida, is up to you. Located at Kelly Park in Apopka, Rock Springs is a popular place to enjoy nature and cool off from the Florida heat. To beat the crowds, get here early in the morning and enjoy the unspoiled natural setting surrounding the spring and a chance to see deer and other wildlife.

    St. Augustine, 108 miles

    For a day trip full of history, culture, and coastline, head northwest to St. Augustine, “the nation’s oldest city.”

    Founded by the Spanish in 1565 and the site of a Timucuan village long before that, St. Augustine is home to numerous historic sites, including Fort Mose, the first free African-American settlement in the United States, the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, and the Spanish Military Hospital Museum.

    Head the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Heritage Museum for a view of the Atlantic.

    For a hair-raising adventure, take part in a ghost tour or haunted pub crawl.

    Places to Remember

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