Next time you’re looking for a change of pace in central Florida, try spending a day in one of the small towns outside Orlando, where you can explore old-fashioned ice cream parlors, top-notch museums and more.
An early-19th-century boomtown near St. John’s River, Sanford is vibrant once again, this time with microbreweries, farm-to-table restaurants and even puzzle-filled adventures by Escape Artists (115 N. Oak Ave.; 321-200-5304; escapeartistssanford.com; escape rooms, $28 a person). Start by exploring bustling First Street, strolling the Riverwalk or taking in Sanford’s Victorian homes. At Hollerbach’s Willow Tree Café (205 E. First St.; 407-321-2204; willowtreecafe.com; lunch for two, $40*), you may find yourself singing along to oompah music. And don’t miss an outing with Sanford Food Tours (855-756-9386; sanfordfoodtours.com; tours, from $40 a person) to sample great dishes around town.
Winter Garden, about 17 miles west of Orlando, offers a mix of trendy and family-friendly spots scattered among brick roads and faux gas lamps. Many cafés and boutiques on Plant Street are housed in buildings from 1915 to 1940. You can cool down at Scoops Old Fashioned Ice Cream Store (99 W. Plant St.; 407-656-3369; historicedgewater.com; ice cream for two, $6), inside the 1927 Edgewater Hotel, or at Crooked Can Brewing Company (426 W. Plant St.; 407-395-9520; crookedcan.com; drinks for two, $15), a microbrewery at Plant Street Market (426 W. Plant St.; 786-671-1748; plantstmarket.com), a two-year-old food hall designed to look a century old. Kids can enjoy the market’s grassy play areas or the free spray park about a block east.
Once a quiet hilly area covered with citrus trees, this suburb west of Winter Garden has a burgeoning downtown filled with cute shops and eateries. On Sundays you can check out the Farmer’s Market & Merchant Faire (685 W. Montrose St.; clermontdowntownpartnership.com). Another highlight: the Clermont Historic Village Museum (490 West Ave.; 352-593-8496; s-lchs.org; admission, free). Seven buildings dating from 1885 through World War II have been refurbished and give visitors a sense of how the area has evolved.
With its wrought-iron railings and quirky storefronts, Mount Dora has long drawn antique hunters. Now travelers are driving 30-some miles from Orlando to see the Modernism Museum (145 E. Fourth Ave.; 352-385-0034; modernismmuseum.org; admission, $8), which displays pieces that bridge the gap between sculpture and furniture, and to dine at its restaurant, 1921 by Norman Van Aken (142 E. Fourth Ave.; 352-385-1921; 1921nva.com; dinner for two, $100), the newest venture from the James Beard Award–winning celebrity chef. Want to see the whole town? Hop on a Segway tour with Central Florida Glides (430 N. Alexander St.; 352-460-2039; centralfloridaglides.com; tours, from $49 a person).
*Estimated meal prices do not include drinks, tax or tip.
NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.