Thinking about a weekend Florida getaway? Then think outside the Orlando theme park area, just an hour outside, to quaint and quirky Seminole County (aka Orlando North) where the outdoor entertainment is nature-based versus manmade, and the food is as globally inspired and diverse as the cuisine in Epcot.
If flying rather than driving into Sanford Friday evening, you are equidistant between Orlando Int’l Airport (MCO) and Daytona Int’l Airport (DBA). But your best option is to fly into Orlando Sanford Int’l Airport (SFB), which is serviced by Allegiant Air from nearly 80 locations. Lodging options abound (and most are roughly 30% less than hotels by the theme parks) with a range of brand hotels, all-suite accommodations, and B&B offerings ranging from a treehouse to a floating bungalow to a firehouse or yurt, and more!
Now let’s get started, there’s no time to waste and so much to see and do!
After checking into your hotel, make tracks to First Street, Sanford. Here a four-block area offers a wide selection of sidewalk cafés and brewpubs to enjoy a bite and a pint while watching the world go by. A sampling includes: Sanford Brewing Company, Deviant Wolfe Brewing, Wops Hops, and Inner Compass Brewing. If you see the historic trolley, jump on board the free conveyance and disembark where it strikes your fancy. Got a bit more energy to expend? Then sign up for the Limo Cycle Tours where you (and up to 14 others) pedi-peddle making stops for tastings of select bites and microbrews (must reserve in advance).
Back at your hotel, sleep well, for tomorrow is another (busy) day.
8:00am. Get yourself a hearty breakfast, because you’ll be burning calories all day. Tennessee Truffle in downtown Sanford is a true original, which started as a pop up restaurant four years ago and is now serving Southern-fusion breakfast/lunch/dinner and winning awards along the way. Best bets include: Nashville Hot Quail with scallion waffle, red onion chutney and smoked maple or the Shrimp and Grits with grilled Florida shrimp, Antebellum Anson Mills grits sous-vied, a Lake Meadow Naturals farm egg, orange and celery salad.
Did you know that until the mid-1900s, Sanford, nicknamed “Celery City,” was the Celery Capital of the world!
9:00am. Hit the road heading to a secluded recreational enclave, Wekiva Island in Longwood, a LEED Platinum Certified facility where you can rent canoes, kayaks, paddleboards and meander along the Wekiwa River to spy otters, egrets, turtles and more, or fish for trout, swim, play pick up volleyball, or just lounge in an Adirondack chair. Great food truck bites (including gluten-free and vegan) and full bar on property will keep you sustained as you enjoy Florida’s natural springs.
2:00pm. Still seeking thrills? Then head over to Seminole Aerial Adventures at the entrance of the Central Florida Zoo for fun filled treetop obstacles and ziplines that will challenge your body and mind.
3:30pm. Time to head back to the hotel to freshen up for happy hour.
5:30pm. Check out Washburn Imports which is, you guessed it, an import store by day (and a designers dream space) which transforms into The Imperial a hopping hotspot at dusk serving small bites, specialty cocktails and a global selection of beer and wine.
6:30pm. We told you there was international cuisine on the menu. So dine tonight at Hollerbach’s Willow Tree Cafe serving the freshest expertly prepared German food in Central Florida. Enjoy a memorable meal and experience German Gemuetlichkeit, a sense of well-being and happiness that comes from enjoying the company of friends old and new while savoring authentic Bavarian food and drink. Willow Tree also offers traditional beer hall entertainment and around the corner are their gourmet German deli, Magnolia Square Market, and Hollerbach’s Outfitters stores. Pick up your take home souvenirs here. Prost!
8:30pm. Need a sweet ending? Head across the street to Wondermade Cafe where homemade gourmet marshmallows (think Bourbon, Key Lime, Root Beer and other flavors) and ice creams (including Salted Caramel, local favorite Cornbread, and Maple Bacon) will satisfy your sweet tooth. Visitors can also get their hands sticky with hands-on family workshops, couples date night workshops, and kitchen tours.
After, work off the schnitzel, spaetzle and s’mores with a stroll down to the Riverwalk along Lake Monroe. Depending upon the hour, you may see the Barbara Lee, an authentic paddle wheeler lunch and dinner cruise, returning to the dock of the St. John’s Rivership Company.
Breakfast. If you’re an early riser, The Townhouse Restaurant in Oviedo is open from 6:00am and has been serving up hearty breakfast (lunch and dinner too) since the 1950s. Pork chops and eggs, Country fried steak & eggs, Biscuit and gravy platters, 5 versions of Eggs Benedict, omelets galore and more. It’s on the way to your first morning activity, so hit the road!
10:00am. What’s a trip to Florida without an airboat ride? Black Hammock Airboat Rides, on Lake Jesup, Florida’s most alligator populated body of water, will scratch that itch. After the 30- or 60-minute tour you can hold a baby gator for an Instagrammable memento.
11:30am. Want to really get down with nature? The Geneva Wilderness Area is a 180-acre site in East Seminole County. The Geneva site contains an array of native Florida plant communities from Mixed Hardwood Swamp and Mesic Flatwoods, Scrubby Flatwoods and a lake system, all supporting an equally diverse collection of wildlife. A hike through these habitats can reward visitors with sighting gopher tortoise, white-tailed deer, wild turkey, grey fox, sand hill cranes, and other wading birds. The Ed Yarborough Nature Center features exhibits and displays that highlight the diverse ecology of Central Florida.
LUNCH Here’s when the choosing gets difficult. There are just too many options for lunch. However, one out of the box recommendation is The Smiling Bison. Farm to table aficionados flock to this restaurant whose menu offers natural bison burgers and ribeye, but also nods to the fresh seafood on its doorstep with items such as grouper cheek rolls and local red snapper. Combine drinks and dessert with the “tekeyla lime pie,” a tipsy twist on the Florida treat made with tequila custard, toasted meringue and black sea salt.
And here’s another…Unlike in the days of yore, folks are trying to break into The Old Jailhouse in Sanford – for a great meal that is. The 1890s building, which started off as a livery, and served as the Seminole County Jail in the early 1900s, is now serving up fare from the American Sunbelt. Their slogan: Kitchen & Spirits Behind Bars. The designers kept a lot of the original décor from the lock up days including barred windows, and period chandeliers.
So you’ve got an hour or so to spare before checkout and heading home. Then call up Ride Lime. to schedule a guided tour in a lime green 8-person golf cart providing an oral history of Sanford’s residential and commercial districts, and the movers, shakers and shenanigans that made it what it is today!
Got more than a weekend to check out the Central Florida sites? Visit www.DoOrlandoNorth.com for a larger than life selection of recreation, entertainment, lodging and dining options.