One of the benefits to life in the military is the opportunity to explore new parts of the country or world. In this case, my family was able to spend three years enjoying life in Central Florida: the heart of the Sunshine State.
Our time in Central Florida comes to an end in the fall when we’re moving to Maryland. And as excited as this New England native is to return to a land of mountains and winters, there are some things that I’ll definitely miss about living in Florida.
Do you have favorite things to do and places to visit? Share what you love about living in central Florida in the comments!
5 Favorite Things About Central Florida (That I’ll Miss Terribly When We Leave!)
1. Wekiva Island and Wekiwa Springs State Park
Wekiva Island is one of my favorite spots to visit year-round. It’s a quintessentially Floridian spot in the summer: swim suits, kayaking, beach volleyball, a food truck serving gator tacos, corn hole, music, and an outdoor bar that breathes summertime life into the air. In the winter months, it’s still one of my favorite places to visit because it’s quieter (especially in the late morning,) so it’s a perfect time to grab a drink from the bar, walk over to one of the Adirondack chairs lining the water, and curl up with a good book.
Wekiwa Springs State Park was one of the first places that my husband – a Florida native – took me to when we first moved here. He knew that the natural springs were something that I’d never seen growing up in New England (home to dark-as-night water and certainly no place where manatees roam.) Since my first visit, Wekiwa Springs has been something that I show every friend and family member who visits me in Florida. Visitors can snorkel in the crystal clear waters of the spring, relax along the grassy hill surrounding the spring like Nature’s amphitheater, or walk around the trails of the larger park area. For extra fun, you can even kayak (or take a canoe) between Wekiva Island and Wekiwa Springs.
2. Downtown Winter Park
Also on my list of “Things to Do When Hosting Out-of-State Visitors” is always a visit to downtown Winter Park. There are faster ways for me to reach to downtown, but I drive the same route from Casselberry every time, and it has become my own architectural “Tour de Winter Park”: head south down Temple Drive, turn right onto Palmer Avenue, and then continue south on Park Avenue into the heart of downtown. I grew up on the Connecticut shoreline, so I’m no stranger to rows of impressive houses, but the mixture of Spanish/Italian/Southern architecture in Winter Park is another feature that’s entirely unique to Florida, and I will sincerely miss the beautiful homes under the Spanish moss when we leave.
Winter Park is also home to some of my favorite places to eat, since it’s a perfect town for enjoying a post-meal walk and the town hosts a wide array of cuisine styles and flavors. If I’m craving Southern home-style cooking, then I’m heading to The Coop. When I want to share a platter of incredible humus, babaganoush, and other Turkish appetizers (with a side of the softest hollow bread you’ll ever taste,) then I’ll grab a friend and visit Bosphorous. If I want the sort of artisan pizza that I can usually only find in New Haven, Connecticut, I’ll grab the ‘prosciutto e fichi’ pizza (prosciutto, fig jam, Gorgonzola) at Armando’s. And when I want to sit outside on a hot summer night and transport myself back to Spain, then I’ll order some wine and tapas at Bulla Gastrobar.
3. Watching rocket launches (and living by the space coast in general)
It’s an incredible experience to stand in my driveway and watch the glow of a rocket just minutes before it leaves the Earth’s atmosphere. Each rocket launch – even from the distance of our house in Casselberry – has been a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Witnessing rockets or seeing the local news station report another launch as if it were no big deal are things that are unique to Central Florida, and I’ve appreciated the chance to live just an hour away from the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex and the Space Coast’s history of exploration.
4. Beaches on either side of the Florida coast
The first beach that I ever visited in Central Florida was Playalinda Beach on the Atlantic coast. Located in the Canaveral National Seashore, Playalinda Beach is my favorite beach to visit when I want a quieter experience than some of the more crowded beaches of Cocoa Beach or Daytona Beach. There aren’t any surf shops or smoothie shacks since it’s a national park, but the serenity and the more natural landscape is worth a relaxing day on the ocean. And if you want to enjoy a post-surfing drink, Playalinda Brewing Company at their Hardware store in downtown Titusville. They have two locations, but the Hardware Store is a true gem in Florida, located in an old hardware store with high ceilings, hints of original brick behind the bar, and a quirky indoor vibe that combines the laid back nature of the beach with the rustic class of the old store’s first days.
When I want to enjoy a beach day and a date night – all in one – then I head to New Smyrna Beach. The main street in this town (Flagler Avenue) combines art galleries with smoothie trucks, causeway overlooks with ocean views, and a small town with a beach attitude. It’s a great place for kids and parents alike, because you can set up shop at the beach and still walk into town for a reviving ice cream cone before heading back to the surf. One of my friends and I spent a moms day out in New Smyrna Beach, enjoying mimosas and looking over the waterway from the back patio of The Grille at Riverview.
And finally, because one of the perks to living in Central Florida is that I can pick which beach suits my fancy on any given day, I can also head to St. Pete Beach when I really want to feel my toes in the powder-soft sand. St. Peter Beach is exactly what this New England native imagined when she first heard that her family was relocating to Florida: white, soft sand and clear-blue water that was roughly the temperature of a bath. I’m a bad Floridian and I still haven’t made it out to Anna Maria Island (which, from what I’ve heard and seen, has breathtakingly beautiful beaches and is quieter than St. Petersburg and surrounding area). But, until I actually see it in person, I have to say that St. Pete Beach is my favorite for that built-up, manicured Florida beach.
5. The endless entertainment of I-Drive
In addition to never having visited Anna Maria Island, I have another “Bad Floridian” confession: I enjoy the theme parks every year or so, but they are a bit too much for me.
My favorite perk of the theme park area? Anything and everything on I-Drive.
I love that I-Drive has everything for anyone, all condensed into one area. If I want to go shopping, the outlets are right there. If I want to gorge myself on my favorite sundae of all time from a restaurant where I worked in high school tat has since left my home state entirely, then I grab a Reese’s Cup sundae from Friendly’s. And if I want to experience a fun and completely wild date night or group night out, then I have options from TopGolf to Zombie Outbreak, or we can try to solve a mystery at The Escape Game.
ICON Orlando 360 is one of my favorite places to visit within the I-Drive area because it has something for everyone without ever having to leave one spot. Families can enjoy the SEA LIFE Orlando Aquarium or SKELETONS: Museum of Osteology. There’s also the massive ICON Orlando Ferris wheel for views of Orlando and the theme parks, and Madame Tussauds for anyone who wants to stand with Pitbull and sit with Abraham Lincoln. And when a full day of sea life and historic figures winds down, simply walk outside to the collection of restaurants and bars in the back courtyard.
What are your favorite things about living in Central Florida?
Do you have any hidden gems of Central Florida? What makes you love to live here? And when we come back to visit – what should we make sure to see? Share your favorites in the comments below!