Need an Authentic Florida weekend away that combines relaxation, adventure and fun? Try Seminole County, situated between Orlando and Daytona Beach, for a weekend that can slow life’s hectic pace with a scenic small town, a natural oasis, and plenty of real Florida ambience--or thrill you with exciting outdoor adventures.
Sanford, a New Old Town
Base your stay in Sanford, a charming walkable community that has re-imagined itself by embracing its historic past while attracting locally owned businesses and restaurants.
The town of Sanford sits on the southern shore of Lake Monroe, once a thriving steamboat port on the St. Johns River and a distribution point for Central Florida commerce, including cattle, citrus, turpentine, lumber, seafood and agriculture (it was known as the “celery capital of the world”).
Begin your weekend retreat at a quaint bed and breakfast, one that will change the way you envision a getaway weekend. The 1891 Victorian Higgins House in Sanford is situated off the bucolic Centennial Square and surrounded by historic churches and old homes. This impeccably kept inn is within walking distance of historic downtown Sanford.
Innkeepers Patty and Mike Ribera will make your visit extra special with a stay in beautifully appointed rooms matched with their warm hospitality and Patty’s signature gourmet breakfast. The Riberas provide plenty of insider tips for your Sanford visit, but you may just want to sit on the old-fashioned porch and sip a cocktail and let this serene and quiet neighborhood remind you of days long ago.
Designated on the National Register of Historic Places, the Higgins House is ideally located blocks away from the pedestrian friendly downtown with refurbished 19th-century buildings and eclectic shops, art galleries (check out the Jeanine Taylor Folk Art), craft breweries (Wops Hops Brewing, Sanford Brewing Company) and locally owned restaurants including the ever-popular German Hollerbach’s Willow Street Café, known for authentic German food and music. For lunch, try the Colonial Room for a Southern classic home-style lunch, or Moon’s Subs for the best burgers in town.
For a sweet treat, try a Key lime cup cake or a slice of butter pecan cake at Mattie’s Delectable Desserts. At sunset, stroll or even bike Sanford’s waterfront and marina along the Riverwalk that rims the shore of Lake Monroe. Later, stop in at The Alley for local blues and jazz or try Little Fish Huge Pond to catch a younger vibe. And if you get the munchies, Fuel, next to the Alley, offers down-home, tasty barbecue (try the smoked mac 'n' cheese and prize cornbread). And before leaving Sanford, load up your cooler at the Sanford Avenue Real Deal Seafood. This is the place for locally caught seafood, including blue crab and local fish. Add some veggies from Bags Produce, the outdoor stand specializing in fresh market greens and boiled peanuts.
Outdoor Fantastic: Springs, River Kayaking & Airboats
After a little relaxation, you may want to take it up a notch and try some outdoor adventure. Seminole County has plenty of options to choose from, but no trip to the area is complete without a visit to Wekiwa Springs State Park for a dip in the refreshing, bubbly springs or an adventurous paddle ride down on the scenic Wekiwa River.
A popular trek is a paddle ride on the Wekiva River, a designated wild and scenic waterway that connects to the St. Johns River. Many trip options are available to intrepid paddlers through the park’s outfitter, Nature’s Adventures. Kayaks, canoes and paddleboards are available for rental. The most popular journey is a simple 2-hour roundtrip journey to Wekiva Island, a local “watering hole” bar and restaurant.
Those who start during the early morning are more likely to avoid the crowds and capture the best gifts of the river--wildlife sightings. Canopied towering oaks, sweet gums, sabal palms, resurrection ferns and water hyacinths line the shallow river as swallowtail butterflies flit about. An array of birds will greet most paddlers, including swallow-tailed kites flying above, and herons and egrets wading on the shoreline. You are also likely to see otters, turtles and alligators, all creatures that inhabit the Wekiva Basin ecosystem.
For landlubbers, there’s plenty to explore at Wekiwa Springs State Park, whether hiking, horseback riding or biking through the pine flatwoods, sandhill and scrub areas, among seasonal wildflowers with unique plants and animals. Be on the lookout for Florida black bears, white-tailed deer, and fox squirrels (black faces and white ears).
No matter what you do in or around Wekiwa Springs State Park, you’ll experience a perfect oasis steeped in the simplicity of real Florida.
And for those who like to whip it up and go for the thrill ride, head to Oviedo’s Black Hammock Fish Camp. This “real Florida” attraction, situated on Lake Jesup, offers airboat rides through Central Florida marshlands to spot Florida wildlife including the largest lake population of alligators in North America.
Board an airboat and hold on tight while the boat captain takes you on an adventure tour in search of gators and birds. Explore hidden areas inaccessible by vehicle. Get a peek behind the reeds and explore hard to reach spots where gators are likely to nest. Sail past Bird Island, considered the largest nesting spot for birds on the Lake, where passengers are likely to spot bald eagles and huge colonies of Florida birds.
Time to Let Go
Whether seeking relaxation or adventure, after this trip you’ll agree that North Orlando’s Seminole County has much to offer. And whatever you choose will surely be fun.
Florida native Robin Draper is a columnist, author and owner of the award-winning “Blog of the Year” and “Best Travel Blog” website, AuthenticFlorida.com. For more travel updates, visit to the website and sign up for the free weekly enewsletter.