Most people go to Orlando for vacation, and you can easily spend a week seeing the sites and experiencing the amusement park rides. But there’s plenty to do in Florida around the city as well. On this one tank trip from Orlando you’ll experience a bit of history, space exploration, plenty of time outdoors, and (of course) the beach
This trip is 276 miles and takes just over 6 hours of drive time. As always, your mileage (and time) may vary.
Orlando is well known for their many theme parks, and it’s a great place to stop with the family. Visit your favorite Disney or Universal park, but be sure to see some of the other fantastic things in the city before you head out. Take an airboat ride through the everglades, visit the natural springs at Wekiwa Springs State Park north of town, or explore the flora and fauna at Leu Gardens. Then it’s time to fill up the gas tank and head out of Orlando on our one tank trip.
Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex
The first stop on our one tank trip from Orlando is the Kennedy Space Center. This famous NASA facility is about an hour’s drive east of Orlando and offers visitors a glimpse into the space program. Check out the Shuttle Launch Experience or walk among actual rockets in the Rocket Garden. You can also watch the 3D IMAX films, read the stories of the heroes and legends of early space pioneers, and visit the memorial to fallen astronauts.
There are also several guided tours available that take you to the iconic places within the complex and explain the history of the space program. If you come on the right day, you might even be able to see a rocket launch! The Kennedy Space Center website has a calendar with launches and events that happen throughout the year.
The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is typically open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. though hours vary throughout the year. You can visit their website for hours and to buy admission tickets and passes.
Canaveral National Seashore
Just north of the Kennedy Space Center lies Canaveral National Seashore. This barrier island is the longest stretch of undeveloped Atlantic Coastline in the state of Florida. Spend some time outdoors exploring the dunes and lagoon habitats of this 58,000 acre sanctuary. The seashore has two beaches to enjoy, Apollo Beach and Playalinda Beach, for those that want to surf, swim, or relax on the sand. Or explore Turtle Mound or Seminole Rest Historic Site, ancient Timucua Native American shell mounds.
The seashore offers opportunities to hike, fish, swim, kayak, and watch for animals. And if you come on a day when Kennedy Space Center is launching a rocket, you can even watch the launch from the beach. Canaveral National Seashore is open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Blue Spring State Park
Next up it’s time to poissibly see some manatees! Blue Spring State Park is one of Florida’s manatee refuges and during the winter months the animals make their way to this park. The crystal clear spring is off of the St. John’s River and even if you come during the wrong time of the year for manatee spotting, it’s still an amazing place to spend an afternoon. Visit during the spring months to marvel at the fireflies, swim, snorkel, and tube in the summer, or spend time on the water all year.
The park offers canoe or kayak rentals, or you can take a guided river boat cruise to learn about the ecology of the river. And of course there’s plenty of hiking and cycling trails to explore. Don’t miss the half-mile-long boardwalk with lookouts over the water. You’ll see all sorts of animals including fish, birds, and even alligators.
Ocala National Forest
The next stop on this one tank trip from Orlando is Ocala National Forest. Ocala is one of three national forests in Florida and covers over 387,000 acres. It’s comprised of four different wilderness areas to explore, which gives you a choice of activities and landscapes. With over 600 ponds, lakes, rivers, and springs, water sports are a popular pastime. Spend your day kayaking, canoeing, swimming, fishing, or snorkeling. Or stay on land and hike or mountain bike through the forest. Ocala is full of wildlife to watch for like otters, tortoises, bald eagles, and ospreys.
The Florida Black Bear scenic Byway goes through the national forest, and is a great way to see the beautiful scenery from your vehicle. You might even see a Florida black bear! The national forest is open 24 hours a day, but day-use and recreation sites may have set hours.
After spending all that time outside, it’s time to visit a city. And St. Augustine, Florida is the next stop. St. Augustine was founded in 1565 by Spanish explorers and is full of history. Wander down the cobblestone streets and explore the museums and buildings in the National Historic Landmark District. Or take the Old Town Trolley around the city which lets you get on and off as much as you want while guides tell you about local history.
Popular spots to visit include the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park, Fort Matanza, and the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum. If you’ve had enough of city sights and want to hit the beach, visit St. Augustine beach to relax and play in the surf.
Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve
The last stop on our one tank trip from Orlando is the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve. This protected section of land along the coast is just north of St. Augustine and is a great place to learn about the local environment and animals. Stop at the GTM Visitor Education Center to view the interpretive exhibits, aquariums, and hands on experiences. They also offer guided exploration hikes and educational programing throughout the year for all ages.
Then head outside to explore the 9 miles of nature trails through the preserve. You can also kayak or stand up paddleboard through the marshes and estuaries, and there are several beach access points for fishing. Birdwatchers won’t want to miss this stop as it’s part of the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail and is full of opportunities for excellent birdwatching.