Southern charm and oak trees covered in Spanish moss still dominate Lakeland, but there's culture here. Find mind-blowing beauty among the largest collection of Frank Lloyd Wright architecture at Florida Southern College (111 Lake Hollingsworth Drive, Lakeland, flsouthern.edu) and admire the masterful white jewel that is Florida Polytechnic University (4700 Research Way, Lakeland, floridapolytechnic.org). Drink espresso, pour-overs and siphon brews that remind you of Orlando coffee shops at Concord Coffee (1037 S. Florida Ave., Lakeland, concordcoffee co.com) or sip your tea, pinky up, at the fancy Lavender N' Lace Tea Room (430 N. Lake Shore Way, Lake Alfred, lavendernlacetearoom.com).
Minutes away from Orlando's bustle, time has stood still in Apopka's wildlife enclaves, making it one of the best places to find the old Florida that used to be. Float down a lazy river at Rock Springs Run (400 E. Kelly Park Road, Apopka, ocfl.net) or spot 362 bird species at Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive (2803 Lust Road, Apopka, sjrw md.com). Find a cute little cactus for your greenhouse at Florida Cactus (2542 Peterson Road, Apopka). Treat yourself to some sugar at Aunt Gingibread's Bakery (409 S. Park Ave., Apopka, facebook.com/auntgingi breadsbakery) with one of their homemade tarts or get fried – fish, that is – at The Catfish Place (311 S. Forest Ave., Apopka, mycatfishplace.com).
Explore your hidden divination skills by going on a trip to the mystical town of Cassadaga, also known as the "Psychic Capital of the World." Sit in the stone Devil's Chair at Lake Helen Cemetery and buy crystals, herbs, smudges and charms at the Cassadaga Psychic Shop (460 Cassadaga Road, psychicshopcassadaga.com). After you've gotten an aura reading, head to the haunted, lodge-style Cassadaga Hotel (355 Cassadaga Road, cassadagahotel.net) for drinks, elegant decor and mediums on call.
New Smyrna Beach
New Smyrna Beach is a favorite day- or weekend-long excursion for Central Floridians. The sleepy seaside town of New Smyrna Beach offers a plethora of choices for foodies, drinkers or beach bums. Find unique pieces from local and visiting artists at Arts on Douglas (123 Douglas St., arts ondouglas.net) in the town's historic downtown, or harness a little of the magic of New Smyrna's most famous artist, Bob Ross, at the Bob Ross Art Workshop (757 E. Third Ave., bobrossartwork shop.com). Dig into a platter of fresh crab or a fried grouper sandwich at JB's Fish Camp (859 Pompano Ave., jbsfishcamp.com) or indulge in scenic dining at the homestyle Italian restaurant The Garlic (556 E. Third Ave., thegarlic.net). Wash it all down with a cold Shark Attack IPA from local microbrewery New Smyrna Brewing Co. (112 Sams Ave., newsmyrnabrewing.com).
Sanford is lovely all on its own without the tourist term "Orlando North." Take SunRail and see this city's magnetic appeal firsthand at the Jeanine Taylor Folk Art gallery (211 E. First St., Sanford, jtfolkart.com) where local folk artists are highlighted, and explore the intersection of good coffee and vinyl at Rabbitfoot Record Store Café (307 E. Second St., Sanford, rabbitfoot.rocks). Fuel up with upscale Southern cuisine at The Tennessee Truffle (125 W. First St., Sanford, 407-942-3977, facebook.com/thetennesseetruffle) and marshmallow s'mores at Wondermade Café (214 E. First St., Sanford, wondermade.com); catch a buzz at one of the several local breweries (we like Wop's Hops, 419 S. Sanford Ave., wopshopsbrew ing.com). To end the day, sail down the winding St. Johns River on an authentic sternwheeler named Barbara-Lee with the St. Johns Rivership Co. (433 N. Palmetto Ave., Sanford, stjohnsriver shipco.com).
A quick trip west of Orlando takes you to historic downtown Winter Garden, filled with live oaks, historic buildings and creative minds. Find leopard-spotted pizzas from Michael's Ali Coal-Fired, farm-to-table cuisine at Five Thymes Five and expertly rolled sushi at Jodo, all steps away from each other at the Plant Street Market (426 W. Plant St., Winter Garden, plantstmarket.com). After your day of shopping and sipping and strolling, come inside for a film, a concert or a live staging at the Garden Theatre (160 W. Plant St., Winter Garden, gardentheatre.org). Nosh on casual-but-upscale bites at the Tasting Room at the Chef's Table at the historic Edgewater Hotel (99 W. Plant St., Winter Garden, chefstableattheedge water.com).
Home to Stetson University, DeLand feels like the real-life version of a tight-knit community like Stars Hollow. Get your caffeine fix at DeLand's newest coffeehouse, Trilogy Coffee Roasting Co. (136 W. Georgia Ave., DeLand, trilogycoffee.com) and grab a taco at Neighbors Artisan Taqueria (112 W. Georgia Ave., DeLand, neighborsdeland.com). Guzzle down brews made in-house at Persimmon Hollow Brewing Co. (111 W. Georgia Ave., DeLand, persimmonhollowbrewing.com) and capture your Instagram selfie in front of the DeLand Wings (100 block of South Woodland Boulevard, DeLand, facebook.com/delandwings) near Artisan Alley.