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Orlando is great and all, but visiting Florida and never leaving O-Town would be like dining in a five-star restaurant and stopping after the first course. After you’ve had your fill of theme parks, expand your vacation with one of these trips within a two-hour drive of Orlando.

St. PetersburgIf you visit on a weekend, start by browsing the Saturday Morning Market — one of the Southeast’s most thriving outdoor marketplaces featuring local foods, handmade items, live music and more. Then spend a few hours at the Dali Museum — as in, Salvador — or browsing the art galleries along Central Avenue. As the sun sets, settle in for an alfresco dinner at one of the many eateries along Beach Drive (we like the rooftop Birch and Vine restaurant).

Drive time from Orlando: about 1 hour, 40 minutes.

Take in some culture at the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg. Photo credit: Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater.

Take in some culture at the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg. Photo credit: Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater.

TampaBefore it gets too hot, start off at Lowry Park Zoo, once named the country’s most family-friendly zoo by Parents magazine. At noontime, make your way to trendy South Tampa for lunch (we’re partial to Datz gastropub), followed by a lazy drive down Bayshore Boulevard to gawk at the waterfront mansions. At night, head to the Ybor City historic district for some of the best people-watching in town.

Drive time from Orlando: about 1 hour, 15 minutes.

Tampa is just a short drive from Orlando. Photo credit: Visit Tampa Bay.

Tampa is just a short drive from Orlando. Photo credit: Visit Tampa Bay.

Central Florida: Explore Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales, an estate that features lush plant life (bring your good camera), a “singing” carillon bell tower and historic architecture. If you prefer fauna over flora, then venture onto a vehicle or camel tour of Safari Wilderness Ranch in nearby Lakeland. And we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the Legoland Florida in Winter Haven; it offers rides and amusements without the insane wait times of Orlando’s theme parks.

Drive time from Orlando: about 1 hour, 5 minutes.

Cinderella wishes she could live at Bok Tower Gardens. Photo credit: Visit Central Florida.

Cinderella wishes she could live at Bok Tower Gardens. Photo credit: Visit Central Florida.

Clearwater Beach: Cocoa Beach is the closest shoreline to Orlando, but the Gulf of Mexico coast has the softest sand you’ll find in Florida. It’s worth the drive — not only for Clearwater Beach’s powdery-soft “sugar sand,” but also for a visit to Clearwater Marine Aquarium, the setting of the Dolphin Tale movies; your kids will worship you. Afterward you’ve rubbed elbows with Winter the Dolphin herself, head back to the beach for the nightly Sunsets at Pier 60 celebration, a family-friendly festival that includes street performers, vendors and more.

Drive time from Orlando: about 1 hour, 50 minutes.

The Gulf of Mexico Beaches, including Clearwater Beach, boast the softest sand you'll find in Florida. Photo credit: Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater.

The Gulf of Mexico Beaches, including Clearwater Beach, boast the softest sand you’ll find in Florida. Photo credit: Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater.

Kennedy Space Center: Roller coasters are one thing. Then there’s, you know, NASA. Take a selfie with space shuttle Atlantis,get an idea of how it feels to go into space during the simulated Shuttle Launch Experience and learn the wacky, wonderful history of America’s space program. It’s also worth splurging for Lunch with an Astronaut — a buffet meal that includes an audience Q&A with a veteran astronaut. This is your chance to get to the bottom of life’s important questions, like “How do they use the bathroom in space?”

Drive time from Orlando: about 1 hour.

Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is out-of-this-world fun. Photo credit: Visit Orlando.

Kennedy SpaceCenter Visitor Complex is out-of-this-world fun. Photo credit: Visit Orlando.

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Tagged: Beach, Family, Florida

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