This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Orlando North, Seminole County. All opinions are 100% mine.
Are you in need of some future travel inspiration? My travel bucket list has grown exponentially over the last few months. At the very beginning of March, Andy and I made a day trip to Sanford, and already can’t wait to get back there. It is a great alternative or add-on to Central Florida theme parks and beaches. I’m so glad we got to enjoy this trip, before life got crazy. Living in the Tampa Bay area, when we’re not on the beach my family often heads over to Central Florida on weekends. We enjoy visiting the various theme parks and attractions that Orlando has to offer, but sometimes the crowds get to be too much. What we enjoy the most are the many outdoor activities Florida has to offer such as kayaking, nature trails, and various water sports. Little did we know that driving just a little further north into Seminole County would offer so many fun new experiences and nature and outdoors.
You can have a fantastic time in Orlando without visiting a theme park.
Our day trip took us to the historic city of Sanford, known as the county seat of Seminole County. Sanford is a beautiful and very scenic riverfront community which sits on the southern shore of Lake Monroe where it flows into the St. Johns River. We had reservations for a lunch cruise with St. Johns Rivership Co. but got into town a couple of hours early so we could do some exploring. When visiting a new place, I try to pop into the local town or city museum. Fortunately, the Sanford Museum is located near the heart of Historic Downtown Sanford and just a two minute drive from the marina where the Rivership Barbara-Lee is located.
Visit Sanford Museum for free.
The Sanford Museum first opened in 1957 as The Henry Shelton Sanford Memorial Library and Museum, and has since been expanded twice. One thing you’ll learn while visiting the museum is that the city of Sanford was established as a transportation hub in 1870 by the American diplomat, attorney and investor, Henry Shelton Sanford. Mr. Sanford is also considered a founder of the Florida Citrus Industry.
On display in the museum are European and American paintings, personal objects, furniture and books from 1820-1890. The Chase Gallery, built in 1993 in honor of S.O. and Margaret Chase, houses exhibits on local history such as city planning, agriculture, local celebrities and more. There is even a sports collection on exhibit highlighting the achievements of Sanford natives including sportscaster Red Barber, and a number of stars from professional baseball, football and boxing.
The museum grounds are lovely and with a view of Lake Monroe. If we didn’t already have lunch cruise plans already, I might have considered having a picnic right there.
St. Johns Rivership Co. Lunch and Dinner Cruises
The highlight of our day trip to Sanford was a 3-hour lunch cruise with St. Johns Rivership Co. Our time on board the Rivership Barbara-Lee was so relaxing and fun. The 105 feet long Barbara-Lee is the only authentic sternwheeler sailing the St. Johns River.
The ship was built in 1986 and has been extensively refurbished prior to its inaugural St Johns cruise in 2012. With massive wooden paddle wheels and ornate wrought iron railings, this ship was unlike any that Andy or I have previously been on. The five-story rivership will accommodate up to 194 guests and on the day of our cruise, it looked to be nearly sold out though it did not feel crowded.
Our reserved seats were on the Grand Salon Deck, the largest of the dining areas, where we had a view of the main stage and dance floor. The wall of windows gave us an excellent scenic view of the river. Our deck also had a well stocked bar. I highly recommend the Bloody Mary cocktail if you feel inclined to enjoy an alcoholic beverage.
The lunch menu had 7 or 8 main courses to choose from including prime rib, salmon, a couple of chicken dishes, lasagna and more. Prior to lunch being served, there was an appetizer buffet and some time to explore the various ship decks and enjoy the gorgeous view along the St. Johns River. It was a cloudy day, but warm and we really enjoyed spending time outdoors and being on the water. I really enjoyed watching the paddle wheels and spending time on the Captain’s Deck which is the topmost deck. It is an open-air deck with benches and the captain’s steering cabin.
The food was good. Prior to lunch, a salad course was served, along with warm bread. We really enjoyed the Prime Rib and Chicken Marsala. Both of our entrees came with mashed potatoes and green bean vegetable side. The Red Velvet Cake for dessert was delicious. The service was excellent and the live music was very enjoyable. We had such a lovely time on our lunch cruise, and it is something we would definitely do again.
Historic Downtown Sanford, Florida
Just across from the St. Johns River waterfront is First Street, where quirky shops, galleries, cafes had us very pleasantly surprised. Our list of places to eat and shop, and things to do grew very long after just a few minutes of driving down 1st Street in historic downtown Sanford. The city has a very cool vibe and one of the regions hottest food scenes, due in part to the many craft beer taps.
We spotted a whimsical shop called Wondermade where they sell handcrafted marshmallows. I couldn’t resist popping in for some treats to bring home with us. My daughter LOVED both the S’mores and Cookies & Cream Marshmallows. And, I “might” have purchased a couple of yummy adult varieties – Bourbon and Stout Beer. They were SO good.
There’s so much more to do in Orlando North, Seminole County.
On our drive both to and from Sanford we spotted the Central Florida Zoo, quite a few scenic walking trails and various opportunities for the water sports we enjoy so much. On the drive home, Andy had me looking up Sanford real estate. I kid you not. We have been considering relocating to a little more south of Tampa Bay, but who knows, we may find ourselves going east to the Orlando North, Seminole County area. At the very least we’ll be heading back for an extended weekend or vacation very soon.
Whether you live in Florida or are planning your next Florida vacation, I highly recommend heading just north of the theme parks to visit Orlando North. There is so much to do, including plenty of free and reasonably priced outdoor activities. It’s truly some of the best of what Florida has to offer.
Be sure to check back with me for more fun in Orlando North in the coming months. Our day trip ended up being a much needed parenting break for me and Andy. But, I’m hoping to do a family trip to Seminole County this spring or early summer for some kayaking and paddle boarding on the Wekiva River and St. Johns River. And, of course to try some of the restaurants we spotted in Downtown Sanford. Hopefully, we’ll even squeeze in a visit to the Central Florida Zoo. My daughter would love that!