Tens of millions of fun-seeking tourists flock to Orlando each year. Unfortunately, many arrive with tunnel vision, with only its popular, world-famous theme parks on their radar. But there’s plenty of weird and wacky fun to be had a short hop away from those stomach-churning rollercoasters, costumed cartoon characters, and the inevitable mile-long lines that they invite.
Here are 10 obscure — and less crowded — spots to have fun in Orlando, Florida.
I was kindly provided complimentary hosting by many locations mentioned, but all opinions are my own.
1. Beer Spa
Enjoy beer? Love percolating in hot tubs? Then combine the two for a wildly unconventional, relaxing, and rejuvenating experience. Based upon a concept imported from central Europe, clients soak in thermal tubs filled with foamy, moisturizing hop brews blended from beer ingredients. Each private, intimate room has a fireplace, infrared sauna, hay lounge (to stretch out and cool down post-sauna), a wide selection of background music, and your own self-serve beer tower! (Beer’s complimentary during your visit. Wine and sangria are available for a nominal fee.) Indulge by the hour, or upgrade to a longer session — if you can keep your balance!
2. Dezerland Auto Museum
If you love cars, the silver screen, celebrities, or all the above, be sure to check out this collection of two thousand historic and classic vehicles — including many screen-used and celebrity-owned models. See original Batmobiles, the DeLorean from Back to the Future, Thomas Magnum’s red Ferrari, the Ghostbusters Ecto-1, the world’s largest collection of James Bond vehicles, and much more! Pay a few dollars extra for the VIP tour and enjoy photo ops while sitting in a handful of driver’s seats. (And this is just a sample of real estate tycoon Michael Dezer’s mind-blowing 7,000-show-car collection!)
3. Chocolate Museum & Cafe
Learn the history — and the indulgence-justifying nutritional benefits — of one of the world’s most popular treats; it’s far more interesting than you might suspect. Admire a collection of 6-foot tall, solid chocolate sculptures (among them, the Statue of Liberty, Taj Mahal, and Big Ben) and sample a wide variety of freshly made gourmet delicacies. (Their hot chocolate’s simply unbelievable!) Be sure to loosen your belt a notch here.
4. Clean The World
This interactive (and free) museum features an extensive collection of soaps and detergents — including popular brands like Pears, Tide, Palmolive, Ivory, and Dial, as well as classic advertising dating back centuries. Hidden out back is a bustling operation that recycles used soaps, shampoos, and cleaning supplies from hospitality industry partners like Hilton. Donate a few hours of your time to sort, blend, and package these recycled products (as seen on Discovery Channel’s Dirty Jobs) to help provide clean water, sanitation, and hygiene to struggling communities in 127 countries worldwide.
5. Leu Gardens
This 50-acre botanical oasis, nestled on Lake Rowena amidst Orlando’s sprawling metropolis, boasts over 40 diverse plant collections. Toss away the map — it’s a futile effort to try to guide you through the spider web of twisting paths. Just surrender to the garden’s corn-maze design and have fun navigating its gorgeous corridors. You’ll feel as though you’re lost, hiking through the jungles of Jurassic Park. It’s open 9 a.m.–5 p.m. daily.
6. Cocktails And Screams
Fans of the macabre, and creepy things that go bump in the night, should plan to visit Cocktails and Screams — a spooky-themed bar in downtown Orlando that might just be owned by the Addams Family themselves (there’s even a room dedicated to them). Enjoy ominous-sounding drinks like Hocus Pocus, Scarlet Fever, Neurotoxin, and Horny Devil in this dark, eerie atmosphere. Don’t miss their speakeasy room, The Craft, hidden at the back (reservations required). Decorated with supernatural memorabilia collected from around the world — including a haunted ventriloquist dummy — it’s guaranteed to send a few chills up your spine. You’ll also meet some talented mixologists there too. Costumes are optional.
7. Gator Golf Adventure Park
Ever played mini-golf with gators before? Snap up the experience at Gator Golf Adventure Park, an 18-hole odyssey that encircles Gator Lagoon, crawling with over 200 of these steely-eyed predators. (For once, you’re best not to keep your eye on the ball!) Daily interactive feedings allow daring guests to get up close and personal with the Floridian ambassadors.
8. St. John’s River Eco Tours
If you haven’t yet had your fill of alligators, jump aboard a 35-foot hybrid pontoon boat on St. John’s River Eco Tours for a scintillating 2-hour nature extravaganza. Be sure to keep your binoculars and cameras at the ready; you’re bound to see plentiful wildlife while cruising along this Amazon-like setting. Alligators are generally abundant (I counted 28 on my last trip!), and you may also spy manatees, turtles, armadillos, otters, and a shopping list of wading birds and birds of prey. You’ll also learn the fascinating history and ecology of this important waterway, and the efforts being taken to preserve its flora and fauna.
9. Goat Yoga
Wanna feel like a “kid” again? Then register for Goat Yoga at Alaska Farms. Set on 10 acres of rural farmland, a stone’s throw from modern buildings, goat yoga provides the opportunity to work out in the company of some very cute outdoor gym buddies. According to its founders, baby goats help to nurture a sense of peace and relaxation. They also poop and pee all over, but replacement mats, and clean-up crews, are readily available. Goats also climb, jump, and chew as they scamper about — brace yourself accordingly. Despite all this, classes fill up quickly, so book early!
10. Lake Eola
You won’t find many big cities where you can pedal a swan boat around a downtown lake. But Orlando’s a magical city, don’t forget. Enjoy nature’s quiet beauty pedaling around Lake Eola, near Orlando’s city center, while admiring the spectacular urban views surrounding you. (Rentals are available until 7 p.m., allowing nightscape viewing as well.) You can also walk or jog the 0.9-mile path encircling the lake, take in a concert or play at the adjacent Walt Disney Amphitheater, or peruse the busy farmers market (bursting with foods and crafts) which takes place here every Sunday from 10 a.m.–3 p.m.
5 Day Trips Just A Short Drive From Orlando
Grab a rental car and enjoy a few more unique spots just a short drive (under 2 hours) away.
1. Silver Springs State Park
Head to Silver Springs State Park for a 90-minute glass-bottom boat cruise along Silver River. Here, you’ll glide over Mammoth Springs — one of the largest artesian springs ever discovered. Wowing visitors with captivating views of underwater life (including 32 species of fish, alligators, and manatees) since the 1870s, this ride was once Florida’s #1 attraction (pre-Disney). You’ll see statues of Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades in the waters far below — props from the 1960s TV show I Spy. Many other popular movies and TV shows were also filmed on location here.
Pro Tip: Look for monkeys swinging amongst the trees — one of the few spots in Florida where you can enjoy this exciting spectacle!
2. Old Sugar Mill Pancake House
Flip and design your own all-you-can-eat pancakes at the Old Sugar Mill Pancake House, a 100-year-old barn, replicating a 1830s sugar mill, at De Leon Springs State Park. Warm up your table griddle and start pouring batter! Add berries, nuts, chocolate chips, or whatever your heart desires. But pace yourself; you’ll probably feel explosive by the time you leave. Open 8 a.m.–4 p.m. daily, you should get there early to avoid long waits.
The residents of Cassadaga will likely know you’re coming long before you get there. That’s because this town, founded in 1875 and known as the “Psychic Capital of the World,” is home to dozens of “certified” mediums and healers. Spend an hour hiking a self-guided walking tour: wander the streets admiring tiny ornaments and sculptures along the whimsical Fairy Trail. An inspiring service is offered at Colby Temple on Sunday mornings, but be sure to stick around for the “Messaging Service” that follows. Whether you embrace their spiritual beliefs or not, it’s a hoot watching mediums select (supposedly) random people from the audience and complete “readings” on them.
4. Blue Spring State Park
If you’re a fan of those big, cuddly-looking sea cows, otherwise known as manatees, there’s one spot you can’t miss: Blue Spring State Park. They’re so plentiful here that you’ll literally find them crawling over top of each other, with day counts often reaching into the high hundreds (a sign at the entrance displays the day’s current manatee count). They congregate in these waters during winter months (November–March) when spring waters remain at a steady 72 degrees Fahrenheit.
Pro Tip: While visiting any of the four above attractions, stop by local favorites Chicas Cuban Café or Bake Chop in DeLand. Both offer mouth-watering meals at wallet-pleasing prices. You’ll thank me later!
5. Renninger’s Flea Market & Antique Center
Looking for a deal… or something hard to find? Put two random words together and you’ll likely find it at Renninger’s Flea Market & Antique Center in Mount Dora. Held every Friday–Sunday, this event, with over 700 vendors and 200 antique stalls — not to mention some of the most delectable burgers, empanadas, and donuts around — is a veritable bargain-hunter’s dream come true.