Florida has a long history of being a beautiful place for a family vacation. From the crashing waves on the coastal shorelines to the warm sunshine that peaks through the palm trees, Florida in itself is a destination worth seeing. For many years people have been flocking to this area to escape the cold and with good reason. Today there are several amazing destinations and attractions to visit in and around the Orlando area that will take you back to the roots of the area and guess what? Many of them are free!
Botanical Gardens: Florida Institute of Technology
Located about an hour southeast of Orlando, in a city called Melbourne, sits a beautifully groomed botanical garden that made me feel as if I was walking through retro Florida. My family and I were able to appreciate several different plants and vegetation that are natural to the area.
As we sat on a perfectly positioned bench overlooking a small creek, we were able to watch little lizards scurry past, feel the damp tropical air and smell the fragrance of untouched Florida nature. This calming experience is open to the public free of charge and is located on the campus of the Florida Institute of Technology.
TIP: Free parking is available. Look for the visitor parking signs near the wooden bridge into the campus.
Walt Disney World has been one of the world’s most popular destination it opened back in 1971. However, what not many people know is that you can visit a section of Disney for free.
Downtown Disney is a reflection of the Walt Disney World parks with its fun decor and design, clean sidewalks, live performances, shopping and exciting culinary options. Parking and admission to Downtown Disney is free and can offer the entire family a day of fun and adventure.
While this destination is a bit of a drive from downtown Orlando, it ended up being one of the most remembered stops on our trip through the area.
Fort Matanzas, a U.S. National Monument, sits about 90 minutes’ drive north of Orlando. It was once the home to Spanish soldiers who protected the southern mouth of the Matanzas River as the European nations fought for control over the New World. During our visit, we were able to go inside the fort, view the living quarters and crawl up a ladder through a man hole to the roof top observation deck.
Yes, it was a little intimidating but well worth the effort. After our visit to the island we stretched our legs by hiking along the included nature trail on the mainland park grounds. In addition, there are many free things to do in St. Augustine.
TIP: The fort is available to visit by guided tour only. Free boat tickets to the island are available in the visitors center at the fort entrance and on a first come, first served basis per time slot. Ferries depart every hour.
Barrier Island Sanctuary
This stop is not only free to public, but also educational! Located in Melbourne Beach about 80 minutes southeast of Orlando, this 34-acre sanctuary invites visitors to explore Florida’s natural mammal habitats through interactive displays, educational films and a wooded boardwalk along the coast that winds through the wild and natural vegetation of the area.
In the lobby my kids were fascinated with weighing themselves on a large scale and seeing which creature from the habitat matched their weight. Outdoors on the boardwalk we were able to view different lizards up close, enjoy beautiful foliage and discover large mammal bones that have washed ashore over the years. I couldn’t believe how large whale bones really are!
Since it’s first rocket launch in 1950, Cape Canaveral has been a destination of wonder as people from around the globe gather to see this amazing act take place. While this attraction only happens on scheduled dates, we were lucky enough to be in the area during one of the launches.
Cape Canaveral is about 52 minutes east of Downtown Orlando. However, the spectacular view from that launch can be admired for many miles away. We were all amazed as we watched the Earth light up and a spark carry on into the sky then disappear with a blink of an eye.
TIP: One good place to watch the launch from is Melbourne Beach, Florida.
If there is one thing I will remember most about Florida, it is the postcard worthy beaches. These bright, sandy hot spots offer tropical blue waves and warm white sand just waiting for someone to dig their toes into.
The best part about visiting the Florida beaches is that they offer free entertainment for the whole family. During our trip I was able to relax and listen to the sound of the waves crashing ashore while my children happily spent their time building a sandcastle with a mote around my feet. Plus, when we tired of one beach or it got too crowded, another beach is always just a jump away.
A few of our favorite beach areas were Cocoa Beach, Melbourne Beach and Daytona Beach.
What are your favorite retro florida destinations? Tell us about them in the comments.
Find more free things to do directly in Orlando Florida.
Staying in Daytona for awhile? Here is a list of free things you can do after visiting the beach.
Find more adventures to have in St. Augustine after visiting the fort.