Summer has just begun, but parents everywhere are already looking for ways to keep their kids active and entertained – and more importantly, off the couch and screens. Volusia County and the surrounding Central Florida area offer tons of entertaining options for families with kids and adults of all ages. Here are some of our favorite options, all within about one hour of Volusia County.
These mini day trips and afternoon adventures will keep your kids active, educated and entertained all summer long!
Driving time is measured from Daytona Beach, FL
1. Salt Springs @ Ft. McCoy, FL
1 hour, 13 minutes away
Summer has officially arrived in Florida and there are really only two ways to cool off – stay in the air conditioning, or head out to the water.
Seeing as Florida is nearly completely surrounded by the stuff, it isn’t hard to do and there is no shortage of fresh water either. If you want a cool, refreshing day, but still want a little salt in your hair for the true beach vibe, then Salt Springs is the place for you.
Salt Springs piqued my interest with its name alone. Florida springs are fed from the underground aquifer through sinkholes and fissures in the earth’s surface. They are all the same consistent temperature around 74 degrees and each pump out millions of gallons of crystal clear, fresh water daily. That doesn’t exactly scream “salty.”
The water in Salt Springs passes through underground salt deposits as it makes its way to the surface, picking up small amounts of potassium, magnesium and sodium, giving it a slightly salty taste, but still clear and cool.Situated in Ocala National Forest, Salt Springs isn’t one of the most well-known watering holes in our area like Blue Springs, so luckily, it doesn’t get quite as crowded on an average weekend. In the event that it does start to fill up or you want to join our quest to spring into summer, there are a few in the area to choose from. Salt Springs is part of a small system of springs that feed into Florida’s second largest lake, Lake George. Your nearby options include Alexander Springs, Juniper Springs, Silver Springs and Silver Glen Springs, making it easy to spring hop.
Most of the water is between two and five feet deep, with large limestone rocks in the deeper areas to stand on. The three boils, or openings to the underground aquifer, are surrounded by the rocks, making it easy to stand and peer down through the clear water into the 20-foot deep cavern below.
Salt Springs is enclosed on three sides and surrounded by a concrete wall and lush vegetation, with stairways to enter the water. The shallows are surrounded by massive oaks, providing plenty of shade for the little swimmers. Plus, it doesn’t hurt to have a classic floppy hat for fun in the sun!
Camping and canoe rentals available
Read more and see photos of Salt Springs by clicking here.
2. Brevard Zoo in Melbourne, FL
1 hour, 15 minutes away
While Florida has a few zoos to choose from, our family’s favorite has always been the Brevard Zoo in Melbourne. Even though it is smaller than other parks, it packs a big punch with its unique blend of up-close animal interactions and laid-back atmosphere for a relaxing, yet thrilling, day.
If you’re sticking to a budget, the wallet-friendliest and quickest interactions with the animals you can add to your day include snagging a cup of feed for the lorikeets, who are known to hop right onto your hand or shoulder for a snack. You can also grab some lettuce leaves and feed the giraffes.
One of the biggest things that sets this zoo apart from all others throughout the country is that you can get active on the water, right inside the zoo. Brevard Zoo is the only zoo in the nation that offers guided kayaking excursions right through animal habitats. You can set your course through Expedition Africa, or go off on your own adventure through the natural waters of Wild Florida.
There are plenty of play areas for kids, including a huge animal-themed playground that takes you into the human-sized habitats of gopher tortoises and other Florida creatures, as well as a splash area alongside a large aquarium.
Open daily from 9:30 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Tickets: $24.95/adult; $22.95/senior; $15.95/ child ages 3-11; children under 3 are free *Purchase tickets online to reserve a day and guarantee admission
Read more and see photos of Brevard Zoo by clicking here.
3. Reptile Discovery Center in DeLand, FL
29 minutes away
The Reptile Discovery Center in DeLand is a unique facility dedicated to exposing the public to hundreds of reptilian species – not only from Florida, but around the world. Home to one of the country’s largest collections of venomous snakes, you’ll come face-to-face with dangerous species you would hope to never encounter otherwise.
The Reptile Discovery Center is also home to Medtoxin Venom Laboratories, where Carl and Mara carefully raise, care for and handle a collection of around 750 venomous snakes from around the world. Each week, they perform venom extractions on numerous snakes and the venom is sent to pharmaceutical companies around the world to create lifesaving antivenom.
This process isn’t just behind closed doors, though. It’s included in admission! In addition to exploring dozens of the world’s deadliest creatures in the serpentarium, the center offers a front seat to live venom extractions twice a day. Safely tucked away behind glass, Carl and Mara intensely focus while they handle the likes of coral snakes, western diamondbacks, southern copperheads, cobras and more.
Prior to the extractions, you’ll get to meet some of the gentler, and significantly less dangerous, residents.The presentation also includes details on how the Medtoxin Lab works and the process of caring for and working with these animals.
If snakes really aren’t your thing, don’t write this place off just yet. The center offers a safe, controlled space to get to know reptiles and amphibians from around the world, and maybe even face some of your biggest fears. Outside the serpentarium, the Discovery Trail through the woods leads you down a path of even more (non-venomous) creatures. Here you’ll find massive alligators, an assortment of turtles and tortoises, and enormous constrictors and lizards from around the globe.
REPTILE DISCOVERY CENTER
Thu – Sat: 10 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.; Sun: 10 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Venom extractions at 11:30 a.m. and 3 p.m.
$11.50/adult; $9.50/child (kids 3 and under are free); $9.50/senior
Read more and see photos of the Reptile Discovery Center by clicking here.
4. Marineland in St. Augustine, FL
51 minutes away
On its opening day 83 years ago, well before TV commercials and social media, what was then known as Marine Studios welcomed a whopping 30,000 guests under the historic arch entrance that stands today. That day in June of 1938 it became the world’s first oceanarium, and was founded by Douglas Burden, C.V. Whitney and Ilia Tolstoy, who were involved in the movie industry. While the seaside attraction was open to tourists, it often served its purpose as a movie set, with ten films taking place at Marineland over the years from 1939 to the most recent, “Bernie the Dolphin,” in 2018.
In the 1940s, the park gradually expanded the dolphin shows for the public from simple feedings and viewings to exhibits of their complex behaviors, wondering and delighting audiences. They also welcomed Spray, the world’s first dolphin to be successfully born in human care. It wasn’t until the 1950s that the name was changed to the now iconic Marineland and became the state’s leading attraction (pre-Mickey) with around 500,000 guests per year.
After years of sitting on the beach and millions of tourists and hoards of kids on field trips passing through, natural wear and tear of the original structures took over and in the early 2000s a massive renovation took place. While a lot of what you may remember as a kid remains, the main change was the modern 1.3 million gallon facility used to house the dolphins.
Now under the ownership and management of the Georgia Aquarium, Marineland Dolphin Adventure provides both unique opportunities for scientists and researchers, but also an environment where guests can join the dolphins in their habitat and make connections and lifelong memories.
In water encounters are 30 minutes and provide even more hands-on interactions with the marinelife. Swimming programs are also available for a truly once in a lifetime experience. Visit Marineland online for details and restrictions for each program. Plenty of photos are taken of your interaction and are available for purchase. The rest of the park features other marine wildlife for viewing including sea turtles and sharks. Interpretive exhibits provide educational details on the creatures that call the park home. The real stars of the show are of course the dolphins, however. If you do not plan to participate in a program or have already completed one, a large stadium style seating area is available to watch the programs or watch the dolphins not currently “working.”
MARINELAND DOLPHIN ADVENTURE
9600 Oceanshore Blvd., St. Augustine 32080
Open daily from 9 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
General Admission: $14.99/adult; $13.99/senior; $7.99/child; (4 and under free)
Meet and Greet: $59; Encounter: $99
Swim Adventure: $149 and up
Read more and see photos of Mainland by clicking here.
5. Juniper Springs Recreation Area
1 hour away
Juniper Springs is a perfect place to go for a sunny afternoon together. With a relatively short drive to the Silver Springs area, about an hour and a half north of Orlando, you can pack a lunch and hit the road.
Although they are very close together, Juniper and Fern Hammock Springs are very different. Both are located in the Ocala National Forest, and are managed by the National Parks Service. Juniper Springs is a smaller swimming hole, and even in the heat of the summer doesn’t tend to be as packed as other popular springs, making for a quaint and quiet spot. The park offers a general store with snacks (yay, ice cream!) and other amenities, as well as camping.
This recreation area also features an interesting millhouse. While on the exterior it appears to be part of Florida’s pioneer past, it has a much different story to tell. The Juniper Springs recreation area was actually part of President Franklin Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps – an effort to provide much needed jobs for young men and create trails, roads, bridges and recreation areas across the nation, helping to revitalize the country. The millhouse was built to regulate the water outflow from the swimming area to keep it static and in turn, the water wheel provided free electricity for the area’s buildings and campgrounds.
Fern Hammock Springs is not open for swimming but the beautiful views are worth the walk through the woods to get there. Here you can look down from the bridge overhead into the spring boil bubbling up and take in the crystal-clear water.
Juniper Springs is also the headwaters of Juniper Creek, giving access to a seven-mile canoe run. This run can take four to five hours, depending on your skill level, and requires you to maneuver through tights spaces, sometimes paddling under or stepping over tree branches in the process.
Whether you’re up for a quick hike, a camping trip or a challenging kayak run, Juniper Springs has a lot to offer for your family or some time to yourself.
Day Use Fee: $5.50/person
Canoe/Kayak rental available
Read more and see photos of Juniper and Fern Hammock Springs by clicking here.
6. Gatorland in Orlando, FL
1 hour, 14 minutes away
Gatorland, in the heart of Orlando, was established in 1949 by Owen Godwin, and is certainly nothing new. At the time of its inception, “The Florida Wildlife Institute” was nothing more than a $300 investment allowing a close-up view of wildlife in its native habitat – essentially a cleared out pit left after Godwin supplied dirt for the new highway. Many people had some reservations that you may share today. Why pay to see what we have approximately 1.3 million of in our home state? Gators can be found in every county in Florida, so why not head to your local watering hole to check one out?
The answer is simple. Would you like to wrestle a 14-foot, 500-pound dinosaur? I didn’t think so. There’s a reason why you don’t stick around for too long when you see a wild alligator, and that’s because those things are downright mean. They haven’t survived this long by being cute and cuddly.
Gatorland is one of the only places where you can not only see alligators, crocodiles and other absolutely terrifying species up-close and personal, but you can watch them in a completely native habitat.
Unlike a zoo, the 110-acre park is largely free of cages. Some of the more ornery and scaley residents, such as Chester the large dog eater from Tampa, require their own bachelor pad for the protection of the park’s other animals.
Gatorland has remained true to its roots as a wildlife preserve, after all these years, by offering the incredible experience of the Breeding Marsh.
This allows you to step into a literal gator love nest from the safety of a boardwalk directly over the water, without the fear of having a limb removed. The marsh is so natural that it was used in the filming of “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.”
You can get a bird’s-eye-view of the park with the Screamin’ Gator Zip Line. Over the course of five lines, totaling 1,200 feet, you can zoom over parts of the Breeding Marsh and other gator enclosures.
There are several ways to get even closer and have a real wildlife encounter.
For a more involved experience, you can try your hand at being a Trainer for a Day, or tag along with the professionals during Adventure Hour, the gators’ feeding time.
This blast-from-the-past park offered a full day of things to see and experience, and kept the Old Florida feel that we all know and love.
Monday – Sunday: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Read more and see photos of Gatorland by clicking here.
7. Crayola Experience in Orlando, FL
1 hour, 13 minutes away
Crayola Experience Orlando is just about an hour away and is a kiddo’s arts and crafts haven. If your little ones (or you!) are crayon-crazy, this is definitely the colorful place for you. The 70,000-square-foot space is like an indoor theme park dedicated to the classic Crayola crayon, and all of its artsy companions!
Admission to the coloring capital can seem a little steep for one day, but when you compare it to other Orlando attractions and take into account that you can easily spend that entire day creating and exploring, it packs a lot of bang for your buck. Your tickets include two tokens which can be used on a number of activities like the crayon wrapping, a Model Magic Clay Station and other colorful supplies like markers and boxes of crayons. More tokens can be purchased if you’d like as well. Admission also includes one of Crayola’s newest products, a Scribble Scrubbie Pet that can be colored and easily washed to color all over again.
The walls of the massive art-filled playground are lined with endless facts and photos detailing the history of the Crayola company and its art supplies – even a ticker tracking the trillions of crayons that have been produced over the years at the factory. Two free shows are offered throughout the day. One details the process of creating crayons from start to finish in a mini stage factory, complete with your own to take home after they’ve made it through the assembly line. Another details the science and magic of color in a fun interactive show.
The rest of the creative space combines classic coloring techniques like a colossal crayon caddy and painting space, and new technology including interactive screens and surfaces that will have everyone in the family dancing and wiggling away.
Crayola Experience Orlando
(located inside The Florida Mall)
Mon. – Fri.: 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.; Sat. – Sun.: 10 a.m. – 8 p.m.
Admission (3+): $24.99/person (save $3 by purchasing online)
Read more and see photos of Crayola Experience by clicking here.
8. Cheyne Ranch, Oveido, FL
1 hour, 2 minutes away
Cheyne Ranch in Oviedo offers the chance to fuel every kiddo’s horse obsession while giving a glimpse of farm life with hands-on experiences and a small taste of the work that goes into caring for the animals. Each private tour is approximately 1.5 hours and is exclusive to your family.
The Cheyne family graciously opens their home to visitors for this experience, with mom, Sally, leading the way and her four teenagers assisting. Not only do you get the chance to meet their beloved animals, but you are welcomed into their daily activities and soon feel right at home on the ranch. Because these tours are fit into their busy family schedule, I recommend booking in advance if you are hoping to visit on a particular day to ensure they don’t sell out. Sally also works closely with special needs classes, giving the students invaluable real-life experiences.
The ranch is also home to 10 cuddly rabbits with two massive swings set up in the “Bunny Zen Room,” just for snuggling. The chance to pile on the fluffballs while you sit back and relax is a welcome reward for your “hard” work thus far!
Older kids are able to get involved in even more barn activities, so Cheyne Ranch is the ideal place for everyone in the family to learn responsibility, especially when it comes to pet ownership. On return visits, the longer pony and horseback rides take you to neighboring properties.
CHEYNE RANCH – OVIEDO, FL
Private tours by appointment only (address will be given at booking)
$25/family with 1 – 2 children + $10 per additional child
Read more and see photos of Cheyne Ranch by clicking here.
9. Daytona Beach Zipline Adventure
In the heart of Daytona, just down the street from the famed Daytona International Speedway, there’s something lurking in the trees in Tuscawilla Park.
Tuscawilla wasn’t always a go-to destination in the area, but a Central Florida company has brought a new sense of adventure to the park. Zoom Air first entered a contract with the city of Daytona in April of 2012 to develop the park into an aerial adventure with zip lines, ropes courses, wooden bridges and nets that are woven into the pre-existing trees without disturbing the natural areas below. It’s easy to drive by without realizing that people are climbing, swinging and flying through the treetops.
Daytona Beach Zipline is a surefire way to bring out your inner child and make you feel like you’re back in summer camp. The park offers a self-guided treetop tour reminiscent of those team building activities where you had to climb trees and scoot across logs as a kid.
Each of the three courses; Lagoon, Reef and Point Break, consist of several “games,” which aren’t as easy as they sound. A game is a tree-to-tree activity, or any element used to get you from one tree to the next. These are where you will begin to discover every muscle in your body you never knew you had. In addition to zip lines, a game can be a cable or ropes bridge, tight wires or “dancing” logs suspended from ropes that freely swing as you attempt to cross. All three courses give you the chance to tackle up to 12 zip lines and 45 games.
While all of this can sound a little intimidating, Daytona Beach Zipline isn’t just for accomplished athletes. It’s a great way to for anyone to spend time together and burn some calories in the process – a burn that we felt for a couple days afterwards. All three courses take about two to three hours to complete, and can burn up to 2,000 calories, which means you can afford to go out for ice cream afterwards!
Get a bird’s eye view of Tuscawilla Park and a whole new perspective on zip lining, Daytona Beach Zipline is an adventure you don’t want to miss!
Daytona Beach Zipline Adventure
Located in Tuscawilla Park – 1000 Orange Ave., Daytona Beach, 32114
Open Thursday through Monday from 10 AM – 3 PM (closed Tuesday and Wednesday)
Read more and see photos of Daytona Beach Zipline Adventure by clicking here.