Must Visit Small Towns
Celebration (15.3 miles:- 25 minutes)
Celebration is a small town with a population of around 7,500 which was originally developed by the Walt Disney Company 18 years ago. Disney has since divested most of its control of the town but the touch of Disney is still unmistakeable.
Every time we are on holiday at the villa we make sure we visit Celebration and it is without doubt one of our favourite places to spend time having a meal, walk and an ice cream! The drive through Celebration to its town centre is a pleasure in itself looking at the colonial style homes. There is a large free car park just off the main high street behind the shops and fire station.
The town centre which is centred around a very pretty lake is lined with small cafes, bars, restaurants and boutiques. There is even a cinema. On the first occasion that we went, we bought a delicious sandwich each from the deli and then took them down to the edge of the lake which has cute little wooden rocking chairs and benches dotted around it which are perfect for enjoying the sun and the view. There are baby gators and terrapins in the lake and a lot of bird life. We loved seeing an osprey fly overhead with a fish in its mouth.
There are walking and biking trails and bikes can also be hired at the far side of the lake behind the Bohemian Hotel.
Definitely not to be missed is the amazing ice cream parlour which has all types of ice cream and confectionary on sale to tempt you with. Perfect to take your ice cream and sit by the water fountain outside, which children love to play in and avoid getting wet, as it fires jets of water in to the air.
When we were on holiday in November 2017, with some friends, we decided to explore Celebration by bike for a change rather than having a walk (which is what we have done every other time). I would have to say that it turned out to be one of the most enjoyable things that we did during the holiday. We hired bikes through Kissimmee Bike Rental which is located at the far end of the main lake in a car park near to the Bohemian Hotel. We chose to pay extra for a guide to come with us and were very glad we did because until taking the tour we had no concept of just how big Celebration actually is. It was absolutely beautiful cycling along, at a very nice leisurely pace, seeing some amazing wildlife along the way. The woods have boardwalks all the way through them which makes the cycling so easy, as do the paths all the way around the various lakes. The houses in Celebration were a sight to behold too, and we even cycled down the road on which Desperate Housewives is filmed. Having enjoyed a bike ride here so much I would make it a must do activity on future visits, although next time we will probably just hire some bikes without a guide with us and go off and explore by ourselves. I really do recommend this for people of all ages.
Winter Park (38.5 miles:- 1 hour)
Winter Park, situated north of Orlando is a beautiful arts and culture filled city and was highly recommended to us by a friend living in Orlando as a great place for a day out. We have visited on each of the last occasions that we have been in the area as it is a relaxing place to go to stroll along the small shops, and enjoy a meal at a table on the pavement that is lined with family run cafes and restaurants. The feel of Winter Park with its alfresco dining and style of architecture is very European.
Park Avenue which is the main artery running through Winter Garden runs from Rollins College at one end to the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of Natural Art at the other end.
You will find a delightful mix of family owned jewellery shops, cafes, restaurants and boutiques alongside other larger stores such as Pottery Barn, all of which are lovely to browse around. There is even a cigar shop which is interesting even just for the rich smell coming from it.
There are more than 70 parks in Winter Park and throughout the year they host various events and festivals. The Central Park Rose Garden which is across the road from the restaurants on Park Avenue has a railway line running straight through the middle of it and a station where passengers catch the Amtrak trains and Sunrail Trains. A great way to visit Winter Park from our villa is to travel 15 minutes down the road to Poinciana train station (which has free parking) and from there you can travel by train to various destinations including Winter Park.
Winter Park Scenic Boat Tours can be taken from the dock at the east end of Morse Street (about 5 minute's walk from Park Avenue). Here you can take a very pleasant boat tour that goes across three of the seven lakes on the Winter Park chain and enjoy views not just of the impressive buildings in the area but wildlife too. We went on the Scenic Boat Tour with friends last week, February 2019, and really enjoyed it very much. The houses that line the various lakes are incredible, some being around $15 million dollars! It was great combining a trip seeing such palatial properties, the famous Rollins College and of course lots of beautiful birds to spot too. As a boat trip it is quite different to some of the others which we like to do such as an airboat ride or a river cruise as this one in Winter Park was about the area as much as the wildlife. It is lovely how the lakes are linked by canals which the boats travel down to get from one lake to another.
Winter Park is also very well known for its Farmer's Market which is located two blocks west from Park Avenue. It is the number 1 produce and plant market in Central Florida. Held every Saturday morning throughout the year from 7 am until 1pm except the 3rd Saturday in March when it is closed for the Winter Park Sidewalk Art Festival.
St Augustine (139 miles: 2 hours 17 minutes)
Saint Augustine is the oldest city within the borders of continental United States and was established in 1565 by a Spanish Admiral.
We went for the day when we were staying at the coast at Daytona from where the drive was just over an hour. It was a very scenic drive along the coast up the A1A. From Orlando it is quite a drive but it is a wonderful place so really worth trying to get there.
As the oldest city there is of course a lot of history and it is very well set up for tourism as it does attract a lot of visitors. We started our day by driving to the parking next to the Old Jail Complex at 167 San Marco Avenue where there is free parking for those who go on the hop on hop off trolley bus tour. This trolley bus tour takes an hour if you do the whole loop without getting off and there is full commentary from the driver about the history and places of interest.
Before starting the trolley bus tour we went into the Oldest Store Museum and the Old Jail. Both were guided tours and really interesting and fun. They are both located in the old town next to each other. We really enjoyed them.
Saint Augustine is a truly beautiful place and there are so many things to see either on the trolley bus tour on on foot. It would be hard to see everything in one day. St George Street is where the boutique shops, cafes and restaurants are and it is a very nice area to stroll along.
We thoroughly enjoyed all that we did during our day but the highlight for us both was a guided tour around Flagler College which started at 2pm and lasted about an hour. There were about 30 people on the tour and the guides are students from the college. Our guide was very knowledgeable and an excellent presenter. The history of the college which was formerly a hotel is interesting and the building is stunning.
Winter Garden (30 MILES:- 40 MINUTES)
Winter Garden is a pretty little town slightly north west of Orlando. It is situated on the West Orange Trail which is a 250 mile coast to coast cycle track and so we decided it would be ideal to combine visiting the area with a cycle ride.
We hired 6 bikes from Bikes and Blades which is 5 miles north of Winter Garden and the cycle route is easy going, scenic and flat! About two miles from the starting point you will come to a church on the left. If you turn left and cycle past the church you will come to the entrance of a wildlife area and you can park your bikes and walk the 1/3rd mile along a boardwalk through the trees to a lake which is a really good “pitstop”.
Arriving in Winter Garden itself we found there are plenty of places to park bikes. It is not a large town, and is (from what we saw) mostly a main street with various restaurants, small shops, coffee bars and a museum. All very nice.
We had lunch at a restaurant called Moon Cricket Grille which was recommended to us by a waitress at a coffee shop we visited. We all enjoyed our lunch, and they even have 99 beers to choose from!
We will definitely visit Winter Garden again although next time we would like to go on a Saturday as that is the day that they hold their weekly Farmers’ Market. We also want very much to visit Plant Street Market which is an indoor, artisan market which is also attached to an award winning craft beer brewing company but I only became aware of Plant Street Market since doing further research on Winter Garden following our first visit.
Much as we loved the combination of cycling and visiting the town, next time we will just drive to Winter Garden as that will give us more time to explore.