Take a DAYcation

Feel like you’ve gone far, far away without being gone for more than a day.

Perfect if:

• You need a change of scenery but have to be home in 12 hours.

• You desire an escape from strip malls and big-box stores.

• You want to relax amidst old Florida charm and natural wonders.


Bypass the tourist traps of O-Town and head up U.S. 441 to the breezy lakeside town of Mount Dora in northeast central Florida. Charming vintage architecture, large canopy oak trees and a variety of specialty shops line the streets; just outside of town, the sprawling Renninger’s Antique Center is a prime destination for antique hounds and flea-market fiends. Lake Dora is named for Dora Ann Drawdy (1819-1885), who homesteaded in the mid-1800s and so charmed federal surveyors that in 1846 they named the lake after her; in 1883, the small but growing town was named for the lake. The Alexander House, renamed the Lakeside Inn in 1903, opened in 1883 as a two-story hotel with 10 rooms and became a popular winter retreat for hunters, fishermen and boaters; the hotel remains in operation today. Donnelly’s 1893 Queen Anne-style home is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Trip tips

• The 1981 film Honky Tonk Freeway was filmed in Mount Dora, and many local buildings were temporarily painted pink for the film’s set.

• For eats, try The Frog and Monkey (411 N. Donnelly St, 352-383-1936) or The Goblin Market, which feels like you’re eating in someone’s cozy private library (331 N. Donnelly St., 352-735-0059)

• To get there from Tampa, take I-75 N and FL-44 E, or I-4 E and Florida 429 Toll N to US 441. Driving distance: 106 miles.


Nestled off the Gulf of Mexico and due west of Gainesville off State Road 24, Cedar Key is that elusive paradise seafood restaurants try to conjure up with fishing nets, pelicans and rustic decor. It’s the real deal (with real rust), its shops, galleries and restaurants housed in old edifices that lurch over the gulf like arthritic anglers. One of the oldest ports in the state, Cedar Key supplied seafood and timber products to the northeast when Florida’s first railroad connected it to the east coast. Today, it’s a refuge for artists and writers, where you can stroll the main island’s historic streets and dine at renowned seafood restaurants; Tony’s Seafood Restaurant (597 2nd St., 352-543-9143) is famous for its chowder. Annual festivals include the Fourth of July Celebration and the October Seafood Festival.

Trip tips

• Don’t forget to explore backwater bayous, too. Boat guides can take you on offshore trips to outer islands, and federally protected sanctuaries accommodate white pelicans, roseate spoonbills and bald eagles.

• The Cedar Key Bed and Breakfast (810 3rd St., 352-543-9000) is a historic and lovely option with a wraparound porch if you’re too tired to drive home.

• To get there from Tampa, take FL 589 Toll N and US-19 N/US-98 N to SR 44. Driving distance: 135 miles.


Head south to a sleepy island retreat and experience “Florida the way it was meant to be.” Gasparilla Island includes a state park and the idyllic town of Boca Grande. It’s part of a chain of Gulf Coast barrier islands separated from the mainland by Charlotte Harbor and Pine Island Sound. At the center, you’ll find the restored Boca Grande Lighthouse built in 1890, an ideal destination for swimming, snorkeling, fishing and nature walks. The lighthouse has a visitor center and is open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday May-July and September; closed in August and on holidays. Two picnic areas include pavilions for shade and scenic views. Get to Gasparilla Island while the getting is good: The Wall Street Journal selected it as one of the 10 Best Places for Second Homes.

• Boca Grande provided the backdrop for Denzel Washington’s movie, Out of Time.

• The town’s favorite restaurant is The Pink Elephant (491 Bayou Ave., 941-964-0100), known by locals as “The Pink.”

• To get there from Tampa, take I-75 S to US-41 S to FL-776/Englewood Rd. to County Road 775/Placida Rd. to Boca Grande Causeway (private toll). Driving distance: 103 miles.


With its picturesque canopies and rolling hills, Lake Wales has been voted the friendliest small town in Florida by travel publications. The town’s most famous tourist attraction, Bok Tower Gardens, is located at the highest point in peninsular Florida — 298 feet. Its centerpiece is the 205-foot neo-Gothic/Art Deco Singing Tower carillon designed by Milton B. Medary and named after Pulitzer Prize-winning author Edward William Bok (1863-1930); its ornate exterior was crafted by stone sculptor Lee Lawrie. Concerts from the 60-bell carillon are at 1 and 3 p.m. daily, and the lush, meandering garden designed by famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. will make you feel like you’re in Florida’s version of Eden. One of the best spots to observe the Gardens’ native birds, wildlife and wetland plants can be found inside the small wooden nature observatory called the Window by the Pond.

Trip tips

• Nearby, the historic Chalet Suzanne (3800 Chalet Suzanne Lane, 863-676-6011) transports you to Switzerland, and Spook Hill provides Florida’s goofiest car-rolling-uphill optical illusion.

• Dine at Manny’s Original Chophouse (210 State Road 60 W, 863-678-0370) for a festive and kitschy atmosphere and variety of options.

• To get there from Tampa, take the Crosstown Expressway to I-75N to FL-60 E. Driving distance: 55 miles.

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