When most people think of Orlando, they think of the huge theme and adventure parks. Is there more to this part of central Florida than costumed characters, movie sets, and teacup rides? Absolutely. Once you stray off the beaten path, there are wonderful, quaint and even quirky towns awaiting discovery. Here are five that may entice you to take a drive.
The first Cassadaga Spiritual Camp was founded in the last 19th century. Since then, it has grown to 57 acres and includes a welcome center, hotel, library, auditorium, bookshop and healing center. You can find the “psychic capital of the world” just a short drive north of Orlando. Cassadaga is a destination for psychics and seekers alike. Book an overnight stay at the Cassadaga Hotel, which boasts on its website that it is haunted by friendly spirits. The hotel also offers lectures, classes, meditation circles and can arrange healing and wellness appointments. Private practitioners in town offer astrology and tarot readings, crystal healings, and other services.
The smallest town to be the spring training home for a Major League Baseball team, Dunedin has a population of 36,000. Get tickets to a pre-season Toronto Blue Jays’ game or watch a minor league game any time of year. Located about two hours southwest of Orlando, Dunedin is also known for its beaches. Honeymoon Island is a popular destination in the Gulf of Mexico and a refuge for many plant and animal species. Enjoy its clear green water and white-sand beaches. The Pinellas Trail runs 39 miles through Pinellas County, from Tarpon Springs to St. Petersburg—walk, jog, bike, or skate along this scenic rail trail.
Just north of Orlando, you can find historic Eatonville, with a population of 2,300. The town was one of the first self-governing all-black municipalities. Beloved American writer, folklorist and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston lived in Eatonville while growing up. Her novel, “Their Eyes Were Watching God”, is set in the town. You can visit The Zora Neale Hurston Museum of Fine Arts, which showcases African-American art or take a drive through the Eatonville Historic District and see the restored Moseley House, dating to 1888. Eatonville hosts an annual Zora Neale Hurston festival, celebrating her life, work and legacy.
4. Tarpon Springs
About 2 hours west of Orlando by car, Tarpon Springs is the sponge capital of the world. Its first sponge-diving business began in 1880, shortly after the town was settled. Tarpon Springs has a population of about 25,000 and the largest Greek-American community in the United States. This coastal town has miles of beachfront. Spend some time at the 155-acre Fred Howard Park on the Gulf of Mexico or take an evening stroll out to Sunset Beach. Visit the Tarpon Springs Heritage Museum or The Safford House Museum to learn about the town’s past. Then stop by The Greektown Historic District for its island flair and many restaurants serving traditional Greek food.
5. Winter Park
Winter Park is a community of 25,000 northeast of Orlando that features a scenic old town area for shopping and dining. Since Winter Park is pedestrian and cyclist-friendly, you can stroll or bike its tree-lined streets in safety. Explore its chain of lakes on a scenic boat tour or play a round of golf. Visit The Morse Museum, which houses the world’s most comprehensive collection of works by Louis Comfort Tiffany, the famed glass artist, and jewelry designer. The Hannibal Square Heritage Museum exhibits some of Winter Park’s rich African-American history. The Kraft Azalea Garden is located on a lake—pack a picnic and enjoy Winter Park’s secret garden.