Orlando’s famous theme parks aren’t the only reason to visit Central Florida—there’s also plenty to see and do in the surrounding area. With The Westin Lake Mary, Orlando North, as your base, you can spend your days playing golf at any number of top courses, getting up close with Florida wildlife, shopping and dining in style and of course relaxing on some of the Sunshine State’s most beautiful beaches.
Central Florida has gone green with the expansive number of golf courses and putting ranges that appeal to both novices and pros like Mike Bender, one of Golf Digest’s top five teachers who operates the Mike Bender Golf Academy in Lake Mary.
Here you can enroll in half-day (or up to three-day) programs with customized instruction on putting, swinging, trouble shots, even fitness analysis to bring your game up to par.
Another prominent name—legendary golfer Gary Player—is behind the course at the private Alaqua Country Club in Longwood. The nearby Legacy Golf Club at Alaqua Lakes offers two other diverse settings—the waterway Garl Course and the dense forest of the Fazio Course—as well as junior leagues. The refined main dining room in the accompanying Heathrow Country Club is a perfect spot for lunch or dinner with a view.
The semi-private Timacuan Golf & Country Club in Lake Mary features a redesigned 7,000-yard course and mini-verde putting greens that are regarded as some of the best in the Orlando area.
Some of the best family memories happen during vacations, especially when you arrange memorable adventures like hand-feeding giraffes or nearly touching the clouds in the aerial adventure course at the Central Florida Zoo in Sanford.
If you want to frolic with manatees and gators instead, book a date with Adventures in Florida. The kayaking enthusiasts offer a wide range of excursions from wildlife treks to full moon and bioluminescence night time paddles along the Blackwater Creek and river ways in the Little-Big Econ State Forest.
With so much surrounding water in Central Florida, you can also enjoy unique experiences like going back in time with a lunch or dinner cruise on the lively Barbara-Lee Sternwheel as it traverses the St. Johns River to a soundtrack of live zydeco. Relaxing cool springs await at the Wekiwa Springs State Park in Apopka, where you can also snorkel and rent canoes and kayaks, or make a weekend of it with private campgrounds.
If “road” trips are more your family’s style, rent a bike and trek through the 14-mile Seminole Wekiva Trail along the old Orange Belt Railway or reserve a 15-passenger Limo Cycle, a “team-building tour bus” that revs up solely through your pedal power. Tours are available in Sanford or Port Canaveral. Just make sure to reserve Thursday nights for the Alive After 5 monthly street party when local restaurants, art galleries, gift shops, antique stores and nightlife mingle in downtown Sanford.
What would a trip be to Florida without visiting its famous white sand beaches? Iconic Daytona Beach, only 40 miles outside of Lake Mary, offers 23 miles of shoreline with free access for anyone who wants to take morning swims or night time strolls (you can even drive on the hard-packed sand).
A boardwalk is filled with rides, arcades and food vendors. The area is also famously home to NASCAR and races at the Daytona International Speedway, as well as the LPGA. More than 50 arts and music festivals in the Daytona Beach Bandshell are scheduled throughout the year.
If you are looking to catch some waves, plan a day trip to New Smyrna Beach, located 35 miles from Lake Mary and called one of the best surf towns by Travel + Leisure and National Geographic magazines.
You can also plan other water activities, including fishing, sailing, scuba diving, motor-boating and kitesurfing. A thriving arts community and food truck haven provide even more reasons to visit beyond the beach.
Carnivores will want to head to Shula’s 347 Grill inside The Westin Lake Mary, named after NFL Hall of Fame coach Don Shula. A 16 oz. aged Cowboy Steak with a side of blue cheese chips will do the trick, but save room for the Key lime pie.
At Hollerbach’s Willow Tree Cafe in Sanford, you can have a true German experience with old-world specialties like cured sausages, drafts served in tall glass boots and live polka (if you have a party of six or more make your reservation early).
Terramia rounds out the week with a big Italian Sunday dinner featuring trattoria specialties like paninis and brick oven pizza and tiramisu that no one will be able to refuse.
You’ll need to get creative with packing your luggage so you can save space for some of the specialty items you’ll find in Lake Mary. At charitable boutique Walk on Water you can purchase jewelry, clothing and accessories while giving back to the community.
The store is located in the shopping/entertainment mecca Colonial Town Park where Am Star Cinema and restaurants such as Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse and Japanese staple Amura provide the perfect recipe for dinner and a movie.
In Sanford, Seminole Towne Center boasts national retailers like Macy’s, Dick’s Sporting Goods and M.A.C., among dozens of others, while Alamonte Mall in Alamonte Springs has Dillard’s, Apple, Sephora and more than 150 additional shops and restaurants.
If you would rather shop local, wake up early on a Saturday morning and head to the Lake Mary Farmer’s Market where you can browse among plants, local honey and homemade pet treats from small vendors and artisans.