As I mentioned last week, juggling grad school with a full-time job means that vacation days are often limited. Because of that, I love to take advantage of my weekends by playing tourist in my own backyard! Central Florida is well-known for its tourist activities — and I’m definitely a fan of the theme parks! — but there are so many other awesome ways to explore the area without standing in long lines or breaking the bank.
This weekend, I’m sharing five of my favorite (non Disney-themed) activities in Orlando and some of the surrounding cities, all of which you can enjoy for under $20. Check them out and share your own favorites in the comments!
1. Take a marshmallow-making workshop at Wondermade.
Yes, you read that correctly! Wondermade is a locally-owned café that sells handcrafted marshmallows in a variety of flavors, along with hot chocolate, coffee, ice cream, and more. Any time I bring a friend to Downtown Sanford for the first time, we always have to stop at Wondermade. Throughout the year, they host Friday night workshops, where attendees can enjoy hot drinks and treats, learn about the marshmallow-making process, and make their own. The workshops are just $15 per person and perfect for a date night or a night out with friends.
2. Gaze at the stars at Buehler Planetarium.
Also in the “Orlando North” region, Buehler Planetarium is located on the Sanford/Lake Mary Campus of Seminole State College, and hosts shows every weekend. I first visited the planetarium in December 2015 for the Star of Bethlehem show, and had such a great time that I returned for the Winter Sky Festival a few weeks later! The planetarium hosts interactive shows and presentations relating the night sky to mythology, upcoming holidays, scientific phenomena, and more. Admission is $6 for adults (only $4 for poor grad students like me!). You can access their calendar of events here.
3. Stroll through Leu Gardens.
Not far from Downtown Orlando, Leu Gardens is home to about 50 acres of beautiful plant life. Entry is only $10, unless you visit on a free “First Monday”. Leu Gardens also hosts classes and community events throughout the year.
4. Visit the Morse Museum.
One of my favorite museums in Central Florida is the Morse Museum, which is home to the world’s largest collection of Louis Comfort Tiffany’s works. I’ve always been a fan of Tiffany glass, so my favorite area of the museum is the Chapel, which was constructed for the 1893 World’s Fair. Located on Park Avenue in Winter Park, the Morse Museum is ideally located for a day of good food and shopping, but is also a perfect destination on its own. Admission ranges from $1 to $6, but is occasionally free.
5. Pick berries at a U-Pick farm.
I don’t know about you, but I absolutely love visiting local farms and picking my own fruit! This activity is entirely dependent on the time of year, but it’s fun to come home with your own hand-selected produce. My favorite farm in the area is Tom West Blueberry Farm in Ocoee (check out last year’s recap here!). Admission is free — all you pay for are the berries you pick! During blueberry season, they have other free activities taking place on the farm as well. I’ve gone out to Tom West for the past two seasons and will be returning next year for some delicious Emeralds! A few other local U-Pick farms to consider include Pappy’s Patch in Oviedo and Sledd’s in Mims for strawberries.
What are your favorite inexpensive activities in Central Florida? Share your suggestions in the comments section below!