There’s more to Florida than the beach. There are charming communities with stroll-worthy downtowns, riverwalk parks shaded by live oaks draped in Spanish moss, great ethnic and mom & pop eateries, charming B&Bs and ornate Victorian homes, plus festivals and seasonal events for kids of all ages. This is Orlando North. and a visit to eclectic Sanford is the perfect way to experience it.
One such picturesque Central Florida charmer is Sanford, just minutes from Orlando, and well worth a visit. The quaint town borders beautiful Lake Monroe, and has become a haven for creative culinary, craft beer and spirits, art galleries, boutique shopping, live performances, and festivals. Incorporated in 1877, Sanford deftly combines authentic old Florida with the latest trends and cultural innovations. And it’s eminently walkable. Here are our top picks to check out.
Get Out and Get Active
Where should you get outside in the fresh air on your visit to eclectic Sanford?
• Whether you’re an urbanite or country-raised, a Horse Experience at Hidden Palms ranch in Sanford will gain you an up-close understanding of the quote “The essential joy of being with horses is that it brings us in contact with the rare elements of grace, beauty, spirit, and freedom.” Bring the kids (age 5 and up) for a one hour encounter to brush a horse, learn horse safety, “tack up,” and a mini riding lesson leading up to a horse ride. One to three participants; $75/first person/one hour ($15 for each additional person). Guided trail rides for up to five riders are also available for booking where eagle, osprey, hawk and even whitetail deer sightings occur.
• CabaYoga LLC is an alternative holistic horse and yoga integration training and events program developed by founder Caitlin Terry. Here, trainers provide equine partners for ground and mounted yoga practice to help find balance and fearlessness. Equine yoga classes are offered 7 days a week. For more information, visit, www.cabayoga.org. Stay connected to CabaYoga: facebook.com/CABAYOGA/ . View photos of CabaYoga and Dark Horse Farm here.
• Cheer on Baseball, Softball, Soccer and Lacrosse Tournaments at the Boombah Sports Complex at Seminole County, 3450 E. Lake Mary Blvd., Sanford
• Awesome giraffe feedings, interaction with one-horn Indian Rhinos, “Barnyard Buddies” petting, along with exotic animal exhibits, plus a ride on the Miniature Train or a whirl on the Animal Carousel. And if you need to beat the heat for a spell, you’re invited to frolic in the Tropical Splash Ground. All found at the Central Florida Zoo, 3755 NW Hwy 18-92, Sanford
• Test your balance, strength, endurance, and derring-do at Seminole Aerial Adventures, part of the Central Florida Zoo. Traverse rope-suspended platforms and bridges, climb ladders and conquer other tests. And what’s an aerial escapade without zip lines? Seminole Aerial Adventures offers three separate courses for youngsters and adults.
Great Eats and Sweets
Where to eat on your visit to eclectic Sanford. We have you covered.
• Tennessee Truffle – The Southern-fusion restaurant is renowned for its rave reviews, ever-changing menu, and commitment to fresh, locally sourced ingredients. Chef Nat Russell puts a contemporary spin on Southern classics, dishing out plates such as Nashville Hot Quail with scallion waffle, red onion chutney and smoked maple; Shrimp and Grits with grilled Florida shrimp, Antebellum Anson Mills grits sous-vied, a Lake Meadow Naturals farm egg, orange, and celery salad and shrimp cuison; and Summer Pound Cake with macerated Plant City strawberries, buttermilk ice cream, popping sugar and lemon verbena syrup. This is not your grandmother’s Southern food restaurant.
• Unlike in the days of yore, folks are trying to break into The Old Jailhouse in Sanford – for a great meal that is. The 1890s building, which started off as a livery, and served as the Seminole County Jail in the early 1900s, is now serving up fare from the American Sunbelt. Their slogan: Kitchen & Spirits Behind Bars. The designers kept a lot of the original décor from the lock-up days including barred windows, and period chandeliers.
• The Smiling Bison – Farm to table aficionados flock to this restaurant and bar whose menu offers natural bison burgers and ribeyes, a must for any restaurant named after these bovine beasts, but also nods to the fresh seafood on its doorstep with items such as grouper cheek rolls and local red snapper. Combine drinks and dessert with the “tekeyla lime pie,” a tipsy twist on the Florida treat made with tequila custard, toasted meringue, and black sea salt.
• Hollerbach’s Willow Tree Cafe – Book a one-way flight to Deutschland at this beloved local restaurant. In addition to serving a fantastic selection of imported German wines, beers and schnapps, the seasonal menu features traditional delicacies such as bratwurst platters, Wiener schnitzel and a giant pretzel known as a “riesenbreze.” Willow Tree also offers traditional beer hall entertainment and a gourmet German deli. Prost!
• The Rivership Barbara-Lee. How does enjoying lunch or dinner while cruising the St. Johns River on a restored 123-year old paddleboat sound? We thought so. The Barbara-Lee departs from historic downtown Sanford and offers an array of cruises, from luncheons to dinner-dances. She measures 105 feet and features wrought-iron railings and massive wooden paddle wheels. This five-story “sternwheeler” accommodates up to 194 guests. All enclosed decks are climate controlled, but we encourage you to spend at least part of your trip out in the fresh air and sun.
• Boba Babes – Fill up on tasty waffles and gourmet teas at this fresh Sanford eatery. The milk, teas, and ingredients are all organic, the honey is locally sourced and the restaurant’s organic sugar is made in house.
• Wondermade Cafe – Dessert lovers rejoice! Wondermade’s shop in historic downtown Sanford features a sweet array of Wondermade gourmet marshmallows and ice creams, including exclusive store-only flavors. Visitors can also get their hands sticky with hands-on family workshops, couples date night workshops and kitchen tours.
Beers from Local Craft Breweries
Now for the info on the breweries for your visit to eclectic Sanford.
• Sanford Brewing Company – This combined eatery, pub and brewery seats more than 100 people and serves up a massive menu of fresh brews and locally-sourced food. Try one of their hand-crafted beer, meads, ciders or specialty sodas while listening to local musicians and soaking in the sidewalk seating sun.
• Deviant Wolfe Brewing – Deviant Wolfe opened its doors in early 2018 and committed itself to “promoting balance in life through adventure, community and great beer.”
• Wops Hops – Sanford’s first microbrewery is located in the landmark Stokes Fish Market in historic downtown Sanford and specializes in brewing English-style ales, American IPA’s, German lagers and ales and experimental fruit and spiced ales using only the finest ingredients. The founders believe “craft beer is an art” and takes great pride in sharing it with their ever-growing community of loyal customers.
• Inner Compass Brewing – Inner Compass’ simple, straightforward brewery opened in fall 2015 and offers craft beer fans delightful brews and plenty of outdoor seating. They currently have a crisp Kolsch, velvety Stout, reimagined Saison and a medium body IPA on tap.
Sanford’s Intriguing History through Museum Tours
Here’s how to explore history on your visit to eclectic Sanford.
• Goldsboro Historical Museum. Proudly celebrating Florida’s second oldest “all-Negro Town” in the State of Florida, Goldsboro Township (incorporated into Sanford in 1911), offered residents its own US Post Office, City Government, Tax Collector, jail and business district. The museum showcases Goldsboro’s rich history and culture, with an emphasis on the early pioneers. 1211 Historic Goldsboro Blvd., Sanford. Goldsboro Museum
• Learn the fascinating history of Henry Shelton Sanford, founder, and developer of Sanford, the Seminole County seat, through over 55,000 items and personal papers at the Sanford Museum. The Museum also includes a Sports Gallery that highlights the achievements of native sons and Hall of Famers who called Sanford home while with the New York Giants’ farm system in the 1950s. Exhibits on local history, agriculture, riverboats and the Naval Air Station in Sanford round out the collections. 520 E. 1st Street, Sanford.
• The Museum of Seminole County History. Built in 1925 as a retirement home, this venue features 22 rooms of exhibits and historic artifacts, furnishings, photos and more. Learn about the role that paddlewheel steamships and railroads played in the area’s development, along with its agriculture, and what life was like in the 1800s and 1900s. There are traveling exhibits and a year-long calendar of events, plus a plethora of paranormal activity too. 300 Bush Blvd., Sanford. Museum
A Few Extras
Want a few extra things to do on your visit to eclectic Sanford?
• Wayne Densch Performing Arts Center. The cultural beacon of quaint downtown Sanford — you can’t miss its neon sign — this art deco theater hosts plays, live music, dancing, movies, festivals, and other special events. The building, which dates back to 1923, has been on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places since 2001. There’s an eclectic mix of programming and the sightlines are terrific. With a capacity of only 490, there isn’t, as the saying goes, a bad seat in the house.
• Bright Star-gazing at the Emil Buehler Planetarium at Seminole State College, 100 Weldon Blvd., Sanford
• Check out Washburn Imports which is, you guessed it, an import store by day (and a designer’s dream space) which transforms into The Imperial a hopping hotspot at dusk serving small bites, specialty cocktails and a global selection of beer and wine.
• So you’ve got an hour or so to spare before checkout and heading home. Then call up Ride Lime to schedule a guided tour in a lime green 8-person golf cart providing an oral history of Sanford’s residential and commercial districts, and the movers, shakers, and shenanigans that made it what it is today!
Where to Stay?
Where should you stay on your visit to eclectic Sanford?
• Nestled amid stately historic districts, bed-and-breakfasts like Higgins House Victorian B&B in Sanford, with its 19th-century ambiance, can set the stage for a relaxing visit. Alternately, Seminole County has a generous selection of affordable hotels, including Springhill Suites in Sanford, along with the Westin and Marriott in adjacent Lake Mary along with many other national brands. Also in Sanford check out the Elliott House at 444 S. Elliott Ave.
• Sanford’s Floating Cottage is a combination houseboat and tiny cabin. This quaint property on the St. John’s River in Sanford, lulls guests to sleep with the lapping sounds of the calming waters. Amenities include a queen loft bed beneath a cathedral ceiling and a full-size sofa bed in the first floor entertaining quarters. The kitchen features a gas stove, full-size refrigerator and ice dispenser. Recreational amenities include kayaks for exploring the waterfront, and you can walk just a few blocks from the marina to enjoy the galleries, shops, eateries, bars, brewpubs and entertainment venues of historic downtown Sanford. Floating Cottage, St. Johns River, Sanford, airbnb.com/rooms/18295922.
About Orlando North, Seminole County
Teeming with old Florida charm and young Florida vibrancy, Orlando North, Seminole County offers visitors nature-based attractions, eclectic dining, a booming microbrew scene, plus a year-round calendar of festivals and events. With over 2,000 waterways, you’ll discover a wide array of thrilling outdoor activities from paddling in clear freshwater springs and rivers to air boating among alligators or zooming through an aerial zip line course. It also features an array of sports and training facilities for amateur tournament play, including the 102-acre Boombah Sports Complex at Seminole County. And getting here is easy via Orlando Sanford International Airport (SFB), Orlando International Airport (MCO), aboard the Amtrak Auto Train, or via auto on I-95 and I-4; and you’ll save 30% on accommodations over Orlando and beachfront hotels. All this and it’s less than an hour’s drive to area theme parks and beaches. CLICK HERE for more information on Orlando North and a visit to eclectic Sanford.