If you’re looking to escape for a bit, there are many day trips that are absolutely fantastic. You can watch rockets launch into the sky, swim around with manatees in pristine hot springs, take a high-speed airboat ride, or explore historic neighboring cities, just to name a few.
We’re sharing 6 day trips that won’t take you all day to get to, along with our choices of where to eat and imbibe in each. So, whatever you’re in the mood for, hop in the car and let’s go!
Be an Astronaut For The Day!
You don't have to be a budding astronaut to appreciate the attractions at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) Visitor Complex (www.KennedySpaceCenter.com - (855) 433-4210).
This famous NASA facility has historic launch pads, rocket exhibits, astronaut encounters, 3D IMAX films, and a poignant memorial to NASA's fallen heroes. Arrive at the center as early as you can, as there's enough here to keep you busy for the full day.
Favorite exhibits include watching a live launch, the Space Shuttle Atlantis exhibit, the Shuttle Launch Experience, and the Apollo/Saturn V Center (where you can easily spend a few hours exploring the exhibits). Must-do upgrades include the Astronaut Training Experience (ATX) and Mars Base 1.
Although astronauts need to eat dehydrated food, you don’t. Our favorite local diner destination is Dixie Crossroads (https://DixieCrossroads.com – (321) 268-5000), where we eat some many Corn Fritters; we can barely finish the Dixie Specular Combo!
Explore Historic St. Augustine
Founded in 1565, Saint Augustine (www.VisitStAugustine.com - (904) 825-1000) is the oldest continuously inhabited European-established settlement in the contiguous United States. Established 55 years before the Pilgrims by Spanish explorer Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles of Spain. Amazing landmarks fill the historic downtown, and the Colonial Quarter is a living history taking you back in time.
The hop-on/off trolley is a great way to explore the town. Top stops include the Pirate and Treasure Museum, Lightner Museum, Castillo de San Marcos, and don’t forget to explore picturesque St. George Street for charming boutique shops, antiques, and great food. You can even sail aboard the Schooner Freedom (https://www.SchoonerFreedom.com - (904) 810-1010).
All that exploring will make you thirsty, and our pick for ‘cocktails with lunch’ is Forgotten Tonic (https://forgottentonic.com – (904) 827-9055), where our favorites are the Baked Brie and “I Can’t Even” cocktail.
An Airboat Ride, Drive-thru Safari Adventure, and Gator Park
Travel deep into the protected swamps, marshes and rivers that make up the Headwaters of the Everglades on one of Wild Florida Airboats and Gator Park (https://WildFloridAirboats.com - (407) 957-3135) high-speed airboat as you get an in-depth look at the gators, birds, eagles, trees, and plants as you glide through endless miles of beautiful wilderness.
Next, drive your own car through a Safari Park with more than 100 exotic animals and native Florida wildlife. You can even hand-feed giraffes from a platform high above the safari park with incredible views and check out the pond dedicated exclusively as a home for all the “nuisance” alligators trapped by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
To close out the day, explore the Gator Park where you can see albino gators, meet Crusher the monster alligator, get hands-on during a personal animal encounter with sloths, lemurs, porcupines, and gators, and explore the Hawk Swamp boardwalk through a pristine Florida cypress swamp ecosystem.
Wild Florida’s own Chomp House Grill is a barbeque restaurant with smoked chicken, pulled pork, burgers, hotdogs. Our pick for lunch is a Swamp Slushy and Swamp Platter with fried catfish and gator – Just don’t tell Crusher!
The Manatees Of Crystal River
If you're a wildlife lover, few experiences are more thrilling than a face-to-face encounter with an endangered 1,500-pound West Indian Manatee. These gentle giants, sometimes called sea cows, swim in the warm waters of the Crystal River (https://Read.WG.Life/CrystalRiver).
Remember to ‘Mind Your Manatee Manners’ (https://Read.WG.Life/MindYourManateeManners) as a felony to touch a manatee. Your best choice to swim and snorkel with the animals in their natural habitat is with an expert guide. River Ventures (www.RiverVentures.com – (352) 564-8687) has a 3-hour Swim with Manatee Tour and a Paddle with Manatee Tour. You can usually spot the manatee at any time of year, although November through March is the prime time when they come here to escape cooling sea temperatures.
For dinner, check out the Seagrass Waterfront Pub and Grill (352-503-2007), where you can relax like a manatee and enjoy a Bacardi Yum Rum Runner and Parmesan Scallops.
Cycle the Withlacoochee State Trail
The 46-mile long Withlacoochee State Trail (http://Read.WG.Life/Withlacoochee) on Florida’s central Gulf Coast is a perfect way to discover a part of Florida few get to see. The former stretch of railroad track managed by the State of Florida is part of their “rails-to-trails” program and follows the course of the Withlacoochee River from Dunnellon to Floral City on a paved recreational trail that’s perfect for hiking, biking, and skating.
The trail is flat and ideal for all levels of cycling and fitness skill, and horseback riding is also available on a separate trail which parallels portions of the paved trail. The quiet Withlacoochee offers some of the most stunning vistas of old Florida along the Tsala Apopka, a chain of freshwater lakes, marsh, cypress swamps, and pasture extending for miles in every direction. Currently, the Trail is the longest paved rail-to-trail in the state and extends through three counties – Citrus, Hernando, and Pasco.
Close to the Crystal River and a great starting point to ride (or walk), the trail is in Inverness. You can rent bikes from Dave’s Cycle World (352-637-5757) for everyone in the family. History lovers will enjoy a visit to the Old Courthouse Heritage Museum (https://CCCourthouse.org) features a local history museum and is famous as a filming location from the 1961 movie “Follow That Dream” starring Elvis Presley. Citrus County Speedway (www.CitrusCountySpeedwayAndTrack.com) is a unique figure-8 racetrack that hosts several popular races throughout the season.
After a long day on a long trail (46-miles long to be exact), dinner calls for something fresh and cool; sushi. Kawa Sushi (https://www.KawaSushiInverness.com - (352) 765-3337) where the Spicy Girl Roll and an ice-cold Ichiban is the winning combination.
Visit The "The Sunshine City"
Saint Petersburg, which sits between the Gulf of Mexico and Tampa Bay, is known for holding the title of “most consecutive days with sunshine” at 768 days! Downtown St. Petersburg is the city’s heart, home to great shopping, restaurants, bars, and cultural attractions. "The Sunshine City" offers a great mix of cultural and outdoorsy attractions. Baseball fans can catch a Tampa Bay Rays game at Tropicana Field (https://www.MLB.com/Rays/Ballpark).
St. Pete is home to The Dali (TheDali.org – (727) 823-3767), which has the largest collection of Dali’s work outside of Spain and well worth a visit. Exploring the beautiful Vinoy Park with tall banyan trees, outdoor cafes, iconic museums is a great spend of the afternoon. While in the park, don’t forget to visit the historic Vinoy hotel (just note that this hotel is said to be haunted, although we have never experienced any ghosts).
A few blocks from Tropicana Field, in the Grand Central District, is Trophy Fish (http://TrophyFishStPete.com - (727) 258-7883), where the menu changes daily according to what the catch of the day and the cocktail menu has won multiple awards. We just close our eyes and point to the menu!