When it comes to summer vacation, there’s a lot of pressure to do it right. You want to strike the right balance between experience and education … between familiar things and new to-dos … between relaxation and sock-rocking fun.
If you’re looking for a summer vacation destination that lets you have all of those things, then check out Central Florida. Known for the option to “choose everything,” Central Florida is your summer fun zone, jam packed with amusements and amusement parks, museums and cool educational experiences, not to mention delicious things to eat and drink (and a few adults-only perks … after all, vacations to super fun places are for the whole family, right?).
1. Stay and play (or just enjoy the day) at LEGOLAND Florida Resort
Love for LEGOs transcends generations, which is why LEGOLAND Florida Resort is a must-do in Central Florida’s Winter Haven. Splash around at the water park and squeal, giggle, and ride at the amusement park. Make sure to check out the new LEGOLAND Beach Retreat opening April 7, as well as the new NINJAGO section of the park that just opened in January.
If you’re really into LEGOS (and you like perks such as early park access, Master Model Builder sessions access, and an in-room treasure hunt), then plan to stay at the LEGOLAND Hotel.
2. Live for the moment at Bok Tower Gardens
Take time to stroll through the beauty of nature at the National Historic Landmark, Bok Tower Gardens. Designed by famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead Jr., the landscape garden is a natural showcase of romantic recesses, peaceful resting areas, and stunning views of the “Singing Tower” Carillon. The gardens are also part of the Great Florida Birding Trail; you can see over 126 bird species.
Recently, Bok Tower completed a major expansion to include the Hammock Hollow Children’s Garden, the Edible Garden & Outdoor Kitchen, and more.
Make a day of it at Bok Tower. Bring a book, your camera, and a picnic lunch. Children can climb, learn, and explore in the children’s garden.
3. Get wild at Safari Wilderness Ranch
There’s no need to travel half way around the world to go on safari when you’ve got Safari Wilderness Ranch in Lakeland. Get up close and personal on this African-style safari in Central Florida. Choose from any one of these cool experiences:
- Customized vehicle safari
- Camel expedition
- Kayak safari
- Horseback safari
- Llama trek
You can also add perks like feeding ring-tailed lemurs, feeding budgies, and feeding a guinea pig colony to your itinerary. See zebra, water buffalo, antelope, and other Asian and African animal species.
4. Expand your horizons on Central Florida’s museum scene
Experience art, architecture, and creative playtime at Central Florida’s several museums. As promised Central Florida allows you to choose a little something for everyone.
- Explorations V Children’s Museum located in downtown Lakeland is a hands-on space for growing minds. There are multiple temporary exhibits as well as permanent ones covering the sciences, art, music, math, history, and culture. Special events and games (like supermarket math or building a body) are fun ways for kids to learn and be entertained.
- Polk Museum of Art is a Smithsonian Institution affiliate that features a wide collection of contemporary and modern art. This free museum is considered one of the top 10 art museums in Florida. With its variety of pieces ranging from pre-Columbian to Asian, European, and American Decorative Arts, it’s easy to see why.
- Frank Lloyd Wright Architecture is undeniably one of the most fascinating examples of buildings as functional art, which is why the collection of Frank Lloyd Wright Architecture at Florida Southern College is a must-see. Considered one of “the Most Beautiful Campuses in the nation,” Florida Southern College boasts 13 Frank Lloyd Wright structures.
5. Savor the flavor with Central Florida’s unique bites
Part of the fun of going on vacation are the culinary adventures, but it’s kind of difficult when you don’t know the lay of the land. To help out, we’ve compiled a list of delicious places to eat that aren’t your usual suspects.
- Harry’s Seafood Bar & Grill has a distinctly flavorful menu inspired by the City of New Orleans. Just as you were transported to the wilds of Africa when on safari, let Harry’s transport you to the Big Easy with dishes like Shrimp and Scallop Orleans, Grilled Chicken Baton Rouge, Crab Crusted Blackened Red Fish, and French Quarter Beef Tenderloin.
- Peebles BBQ in Auburndale is a family-owned local’s favorite and has been in business since 1947. That’s a long time to perfect their menu, which has all of the classics like beef, chicken, pork, and sausage amidst beans, slaw, salad, and other sides.
- Harry’s Old Place in Winter Haven boasts casual lakefront dining. Have a drink and delicious fried seafood favorites like grouper fingers, oysters, scallops, clams, shrimp, catfish, and more. Start with duck fingers or gator bites, and don’t miss the homemade seafood chowder.
- Texas Cattle Company in Lakeland has been in the business since 1973 and claims to have the best steaks anywhere. We certainly don’t disagree. Cooked over Florida citrus and oak wood, these custom steaks will have you wishing you lived up the street.
6. Have a little adult-only time on a brewery tour
Whether you’re on a couples vacation or a friends vacation or your kids are old enough to hang out at the hotel solo, we totally recommend a little adults-only time at one of the local breweries. Take a tour at any of these cool places and sip and savor the “you time.”
7. Skip the hotel and get a vacation rental home instead
While there’s nothing wrong with a hotel stay, when you come to Central Florida, consider making yourself at home by staying in a home. Vacation rental homes are a hot option because you spend the same (or less) than you would on a hotel, and you’re mere minutes from the front gates of many local parks (including drumroll, please … Disney).
There are more than 7,000 homes to rent (no that’s not a typo), and you can choose the features and amenities (from pool to in-house cinema), as well as the size. Many homes can support large family vacation groups, which means that rather than staying a few doors down from your favorite cousin at a hotel, you’re in the same digs.
Of course, no matter where you stay, Central Florida is Florida’s fun zone. There’s so much to go, see, and do. It’s the summer vacation that gives you a little slice of everything.