Top Fun Things To Do In Sanford Florida
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Conveniently located between the exhilarating attractions in Orlando and the pristine shores of Daytona Beach, Sanford is the perfect central Florida getaway. Sitting on the banks of the beautiful Lake Monroe, Sanford is a charming place. With a riverfront that’s lined with boats and a historic downtown, it provides plenty of things to do in Sanford, Florida.
The historic downtown offers up a host of charming restaurants and cafes, plus a lovely riverwalk lined with boutiques, antique shops, and plenty of stunning views across the lovely Lake Monroe.
Nature lovers can enjoy easy access to the lake and other wilderness areas around Sanford, while those traveling with the little ones in tow will appreciate the zoo, free trolley ride, and sweet treats available all over town.
No matter what brings you to this picturesque city, you’ll find plenty of entertainment options to keep you busy for days on end. Here are the 17 best things to do in Sanford, Florida.
Central Florida Zoo
Whether you’re young or young at heart, the Central Florida Zoo is one of the best things to do in Sanford. The zoo is home to hundreds of unique animals, including giraffes, rhinos, alligators, and more, and there are frequently interactive programs like feedings and zookeeper chats that allow you to get up close and personal with these fascinating creatures.
On hot days, you can bring your bathing suit along and cool off in the Wharton-Smith Tropical Splash Ground, or hang out in the lush botanical gardens as you search for butterflies and caterpillars. Although the zoo is smaller in comparison to nearby Orlando attractions, it has so many things to do including seeing the animals, the splash pad, and the zipline courses. It is the perfect place to visit for the whole family.
Stroll Along the Riverwalk
The Sanford Riverwalk follows Lake Monroe’s shoreline through town, giving visitors a great overview of the city from a paved trail. The path is five miles long and connects to the longer Florida Coast-to-Coast Trail (C2C), a 210-mile trail that stretches from St. Petersburg all the way to the Space Coast.
Take an evening stroll for a great view of the sunset across the lake, or spend the day exploring various sites along the trail, including Veterans Memorial Park, the Sanford Museum, and downtown Sanford.
Downtown Sanford/ Magnolia Square
Historic downtown Sanford has a little something for everyone. Amble along the picturesque First Street (the main strip of the downtown area), and you’ll find a cornucopia of offerings, from microbreweries and craft cocktail joints to art galleries and historic theaters.
There is also a collection of antique stores, boutiques and charming cafes along Magnolia Square, plus a monthly street party with live music and local vendors dishing out tasty food.
One of the best ways to experience this historic downtown is to take a tour where you will learn all about the fascinating history and see the old jail house and fire station.
St. John’s Rivership
Searching for unique things to do in Sanford? Hop on a St. Johns Rivership cruise and float down the St. Johns River on an authentic sternwheeler. This is the only boat of its kind on the river, with five decks, a massive paddlewheel, and other original appointments.
As you journey along the river, your guide will point out various wildlife like alligators, herons, and ospreys, plus points of interest along the scenic shoreline. Cruises also include multi-course meals and live entertainment. There are various different cruises available, including luncheons, dinner dances, and even 21+ river party cruises.
Veterans Memorial Park
Situated along the scenic shores of Lake Monroe, Veterans Memorial Park is a great place to spend some time while exploring Sanford. The park is dedicated to those who have served the country and features various monuments, information kiosks, and memorial bricks. There are also benches with views of Lake Monroe, making this a great stopping point if you’re meandering along the Riverwalk.
Grab An Ice Cream
No trip to Sanford is complete without a stop at Wondermade. Wondermade is your one-stop shop for sweet treats in town, with handcrafted ice cream and marshmallow treats.
The shop is perfect for adventurous foodies thanks to unique flavors like avocado, cornbread, and bacon flavored ice creams. It’s also great for those who prefer the classics, with plenty of iconic treats like s’mores, hot chocolate, and a classic roasted marshmallow on a stick.
Get a taste of local life at Sanford’s farmer’s market. The market is held every Saturday, rain or shine, from 10 am to 3 pm along downtown Sanford’s First Street.
You’ll find all the classic farmer’s market staples like fresh produce, baked goods, and handcrafted items, plus unique offerings like home decor, floral arrangements, jewelry and more.
Even if you’re not in the shopping mood, the farmer’s market is one of the best things to do in Sanford. You can grab some street food, chat with locals, and enjoy live music in addition to perusing the stalls.
You’ll no doubt work up an appetite after a busy day exploring Sanford. When you’re ready for a bite to eat, you’ll find a host of options at Henry’s Depot, housed in the old train station. This 8,000 ft food hall features seven restaurants and a cocktail bar – perfect for indecisive eaters or groups who can’t agree on one specific spot for lunch. Henry’s Depot also hosts a variety of events throughout the year, from live music performances and hog roasts to pet adoptions and holiday brunches.
Ride the Free Trolley
Sanford is by and large a city accessible by rail. A commuter rail connects this small city to Orlando at the Sun Rail station west of town, and a free trolley system connects this station to the central downtown area.
Even if you’re not using it for transportation purposes, a ride on the free trolley is one of the best things to do in Sanford. The service loops through downtown and the historic districts about a dozen times a day (not operating on Sundays), providing visitors with a fun and unique way to see the city.
Wayne Densch Performing Arts Center
Situated along South Magnolia Avenue in Sanford’s historic district sits the Wayne Densch Performing Arts Center, a local piece of culture that has made its way onto the National Register of Historic Places. Formerly known as the Ritz Theater at the height of its popularity in the 1920s, the Wayne Densch Performing Arts Center is a must-see in Sanford. The marquee and expertly restored interior will have you drooling over days past, while the new lights and updated acoustics make events here a truly magical experience.
An ever-rotating showcase of talent graces the stage at Wayne Densch Performing Arts Center, including Broadway shows, cover bands, movie showings, and community theater performances.
The best way to get a feel for a new place is by learning about the local history. The Sanford Museum first opened in the 1950s and has expanded several times since then.
There’s a collection from the Sanford family (the founders of the town), plus artifacts relating to the town’s history, including local celebrities, city blueprints, and more. There is no fee to enter the museum, so this is one of the best things to do in Sanford if you’re on a tight budget!
Rent a Bike
Renting a bike is a great way to explore Sanford. You can hop on the Riverwalk and cycle the full five miles, or continue onto other connecting trails to see some of the wilderness that surrounds the town.
Sanford’s historic district is also a great place to cycle through, especially if you appreciate architecture. The whole district is listed on the National Register of historic places, and there are over 400 buildings of interest, including houses, a hospital, and a school. The area is full of beautiful nature as well so stop by the beautiful manicured lawns and enjoy the nature this charming town has to offer.
If you’re not traveling with your own set of wheels, you can rent bikes from the Bicikleta Bike Shop, located downtown along Magnolia Avenue.
Fort Mellon Park
Fort Mellon Park provides a place for a family outing to the park or a place to celebrate special events. The splash pad is one of the top ways to cool off for kids of all ages on those hot Florida days. With picnic tables and shaded pavilions available to rent for parties, it’s one of the best places to enjoy a day in the park. Best of all the park has great views of the lake providing visitors a picturesque setting in the city of Sanford.
Indulge On Delicious Food
Sanford is quickly becoming a foodie paradise, with plenty of great options for varying preferences. Drawing people from all across the region, Hollerbach’s Willow Tree Cafe is one of the best restaurants in town and a great option for lunch or dinner. This German restaurant stands three stories tall (with a rooftop garden to boot) and still faces lines out the door frequently, so you can bet that the food is worth waiting for.
One of the most popular dishes at the restaurant is the Schnitzel which you can get in a few different ways, whether you want it plain or topped with a mushroom gravy, Swiss cheese and ham, or Cheddar and bacon. For dessert, their cakes are delicious, including the Bienenstich cake which has a soft custard middle and is topped with almonds. (Be sure to ask if they can warm it up, it’s so much more delicious that way!)
Other noteworthy places to dine in Sanford include farm-to-table restaurants like the Tennessee Truffle and The District, the food hall at Henry’s Depot, and other cuisine from a range of different countries and cultures.
Lower Wekiwa River Preserve State Park
Central Florida is known for its wild and unspoiled nature, and the outskirts of Sanford offer some great opportunities for diving into said nature.
Lower Wekiva River Preserve State Park sits about 20 minutes northwest of Sanford and features a system of blackwater streams and wetlands that play host to a variety of critters, including black bears, river otters, alligators, cranes, and more.
There are a variety of trails for hiking, plus a canoe launch at Katie’s landing. You can arrange for pick up downstream with Adventures in Florida, or just save enough energy to paddle back upstream (the current is fairly mild here).
Stay On A Houseboat Airbnb
The famous tiny houseboat is one of the more unique things to do in Sanford. It was made famous after being built on HGTV’s Tiny House Hunters TV show in Season 4, Episode 12. The houseboat is docked in the beautiful Monroe Harbour Marina in downtown Sanford.
This unique stay includes the whole house on the water with 500 sq ft of tiny living. The houseboat remains parked in the marina, but it’s still a fun experience at a reasonable price point (around $ 150-200 USD), depending on the season.
Nearby, there are plenty of restaurants within walking distance after which you can enjoy a stroll along the riverwalk.
Blue Springs State Park
Situated along the shores of the St. Johns River, Blue Springs State Park is a Florida gem known for its most popular residents – manatees. The balmy, 72-degree water makes the springs lovely for all types of wildlife (including the endangered West Indian manatee), and there are also miles of hiking trails, diving and swimming opportunities, and a well-equipped campground if one day here simply isn’t enough.
The springs are the perfect day trip from Sanford and one of the best places in Florida to see manatees.
Black Bear Wilderness Area
Sanford is surrounded by natural splendor, and exploring the Black Bear Wilderness Area while in town is a great way to reconnect with nature.
A series of trails and boardwalks take visitors through a lush marshy area, where you’ll encounter a variety of native flora and fauna, including (you guessed it) black bears! Other creatures that call this area home include river otters, alligators, and a wide variety of bird species.