While oranges may have originally put Orlando on the map, making it the largest inland city in the state of Florida back in the late 1800s and the early 1900s, it was the development of Walt Disney World that really brought this once-sleepy area into prominence. The announcement, in 1965, that Disney would build its ambitious theme park in this sun-kissed part of Florida changed the history of the state forever. Although Disney naturally continues to dominate the landscape in central Florida, there are many other interesting historical, cultural and nature activities and attractions to enjoy there.

Sightseeing and Attractions: Orlando’s Best Kept Secrets

There’s no doubt about it: Disney is a vacation goer’s paradise, especially if children are in tow. However, there’s more to this part of the state than cartoon characters and theme park rides. If you are willing to dig around a little bit, the natural and historical attractions of the region are bound to surprise you. Consider including one of these prime spots on your trip:

Bok Sanctuary

About 25 miles south of Walt Disney World, one can enjoy an escape from the hustle and bustle of Orlando by stopping by the Bok Sanctuary. Although it doesn’t feature very prominently on many local maps or brochures, the Bok Sanctuary is an idyllic place. Stunning plants and flowers populate the gardens here, and you can enjoy a fantastic view from one of the highest manmade points on the Florida peninsula as well.

Barberville Pioneer Settlement

It’s easy to forget that there was life before Disney, especially in a state where the media giant dominates to such a high degree. Still, you can step back through time and see how early settlers in the area once lived by visiting the Barberville Pioneer Settlement. Lovingly restored buildings bring the reality of life in Florida during the 1880s-1930s into living color.

The Fountain At Lake Eola Park

There’s a unique attraction right in downtown Orlando that most people are sure to enjoy: The fountain at Lake Eola Park. It is located in a manmade lake and really stands out among the rest of the cityscape. There are several restaurants, cafes and shops in the immediate area so it’s easy to make an afternoon out of stopping by. Be sure to bring your camera, because it’s quite a sight!

Harry P. Leu Gardens

Botanical gardens are always a nice way to learn more about the flora of a region, and Orlando’s Harry P. Leu Gardens are always nice to visit. Not only can you roam around checking out the gorgeous plants, you can also explore the plantation that is located on the grounds as well. On a nice day, a visit to this prime location is always a treat.

Best Kept Secrets For Families & Couples

It would seem like nobody should have any trouble finding ways to occupy the kids when in Orlando. Still, if Disney’s attractions aren’t enough – or if you’re looking for a way to spend time alone together as a couple – you should think about including one of the following during your visit:

Area Wineries

Oenophiles will be thrilled to learn that there are many great wineries in the Orlando area. If you only have the time to visit one of them, though, you should put the Lakeridge Winery at the top of your list. It is located in nearby Clermont and offers tours and tastings. Compared with the congestion and crowds of greater Orlando, a visit here can be a breath of fresh air.

Orlando Museum of Art

There are many great ways to escape the craziness of Orlando, and a visit to the Orlando Museum of Art is one of the better ones.. This respected institution boasts American, African and pre-Columbian art among its fine collection; works from the 19th and the 20th centuries are both represented here.

Wekiwa Springs State Park

If you think that the kids need a bit of a break from all of the excitement of Disney World, swing by Wekiwa Springs State Park. There, you can enjoy many fun activities including canoeing, hiking, snorkeling and swimming. Admission is also far cheaper than it would be for a regular water park, which is a bonus for budget-conscious families.

Eating - Sample the Local Cuisine

If one word sums up the local cuisine in Orlando, it’s “eclectic.” “Family friendly” would probably also be an apt description, as the vast majority of restaurants in and around the city are clearly geared toward families with children. Everything imaginable is represented here, from steakhouses to sushi bars; chances are, everyone in your traveling party can find something they like within a very small area.

When To Go & How to Get There

If you’re going to be flying into Orlando, then you’ll probably do like the vast majority of other visitors do and arrive at Orlando International Airport. This is a full service airport where cheap fares are par for the course. If arriving by car, Interstate 4 – or I-4 – is probably going to be your best bet.

If you’d like to enjoy all of the fun of Orlando without nearly as many crowds, then you should aim to visit during the winter. December and January are excellent months to visit the area, as the weather is warm without being too hot and humid, and the crowds are much sparser. Should you arrive in the summer, keep in mind that it’s going to be very hot!