Adjoining Kissimmee, St. Cloud is a distinctive old city on the southern shore of East Lake Tohopekaliga.
There were farms here as early as the 1880s, but the city was officially founded in 1909 as a community for Union Army Civil War veterans.
A lot of different ingredients help make St. Cloud so appealing. There’s an authentic downtown, a scenic lakefront park, and beautiful tracts of preserved nature all around.
The local swampland is also primed for thrilling airboat tours, spotting gators and other wetland species in the wild.
When I last checked out St. Cloud, the city was booming, adding more than 30,000 to its population since 2010.
1. Lakefront Park
St. Cloud at its prettiest, Lakefront Park is a long crescent-shaped space hugging the southern shore of East Lake Tohopekaliga.
The focal point for families is at the very apex of the curve, where you’ll find Lakefront Beach.
This is a joy, with a big swath of soft white sand. The water had algae when I visited, but the beach is a fine hangout more than an hour from the Atlantic coast.
Close by there’s a playground, a splash pad, picnic pavilions, grills, Crabby Bill’s seafood restaurant, and the Lakefront Park Marina.
Even though you’re in the city there’s a lot of wildlife. You’re sure to see a gator or two in the wetlands west of the beach, while ibises, herons and sandhill cranes are often sighted on the shore.
For me, there aren’t many more scenic places to watch a 4th of July fireworks show than this spot.
2. Historic Downtown St. Cloud
Framed by Florida Ave, Massachusetts Ave, 9th Street and 13th Street, St. Cloud has a lovable downtown, littered with historic buildings.
When I wrote this list, the entire townscape had just been revamped, with new brick-paved streets and sidewalks.
There’s nothing manufactured about St. Cloud’s charm. Many of the restaurants and shops downtown have been in business for decades.
There are spots for ice cream, seafood, authentic Southern cooking, steaks, pub fare, Italian, BBQ, the list goes on.
My ideal time to be here is on the fourth Wednesday of the month when the whole district is taken over by vendors.
3. Spirit of the Swamp Airboat Rides
The cypress swamps and marshes around St. Cloud offer some of the best terrain in the Orlando area for airboat adventures.
There’s a whole directory of companies providing trips, but my pick is Spirit of the Swamp Airboat Rides.
These excursions are manned by trained captains who have spent years navigating this country. So you’ll experience all the beauty and wonder of the swamps in perfect safety.
All the same, I’d advise you to pack some insect repellent and sunglasses, and keep your phone ready to capture the many sights along the way.
Every trip is different, but you’re highly likely to see alligators in the wild, as well as spectacular birdlife, from sandhill cranes to bald eagles.
4. Reptile World Serpentarium
Dating back to 1972, Reptile World Serpentarium is a premier destination for anyone who wants to get up close and personal to reptiles.
Waiting for you in this low-key building are many varieties of snakes, lizards, and turtles. And while not all dangerous to man, many of them are capable of killing by venom, constriction, and strong jaws.
My favorite part was the snake venom extraction show, while you can also hold a baby alligator and feed turtles.
For anyone suffering a case of the willies there’s a gift shop, and seating areas away from the action.
5. Royal St. Cloud Golf Links
With 27 holes, St. Cloud lays claim to one of the finest public courses in the Orlando area. The Royal St. Cloud Golf Links is a resort-quality course, with wide-open fairways and expansive greens.
There are four tee boxes, and a nice mix of challenges on all three nine-hole courses. I played the Blue Side, and two memorable holes are Devil’s Pocket (#1) and Twin Trouble (#7).
The former is a trick par-4 with a large lake that you have to clear with your drive. Twin Trouble meanwhile is a lakeside dogleg par-5, with a big risk-reward factor.
On top of all that, this spot has what is touted as the top practice facility in Orlando. At the heart of this is a lighted driving range, with real targets, along with a 120-yard short game area and three separate putting greens.
6. Lake Runnymede Conservation Area
Wedged between East Lake Tohopekaliga and the smaller Lake Runnymede there’s an idyllic 43-acre conservation area.
From the 1880s this land was used for grazing, but its human history goes back much further. On the trails here you’ll happen upon a Native American shell midden.
There’s a blend of lakeshore, wetlands, scrub and hardwood forest, ready to be discovered on more than a mile of hiking trails. For me, the obvious highlight is the stand of old-growth live oaks, hailed as one of the most spectacular in Central Florida.
With these mysterious live oaks and beautiful light, this is a popular spot for golden hour photo shoots.
7. Dan Tarrell Memorial Point
Somewhere I’ll always return to in St. Cloud is this green nub of land projecting onto East Lake Tohopekaliga, east of the marina.
Part of Lakefront Park, Dan Tarrell Memorial Point is reached via a paved trail along a causeway. There are benches by the path, and this eventually leads to a gazebo, surrounded on three sides by water.
If you want to watch the sunrise or sunset in St. Cloud, this is most definitely the place to go. No surprise, but the gazebo is a popular location for wedding and graduation photos.
For visitors the best thing to do is take a seat and soak up the views.
8. Amazing Animals
This educational wildlife attraction in St. Cloud is open for private tours, and only by appointment.
In the company of passionate and knowledgeable guides, you’ll enjoy hands-on encounters with a variety of exotic and native animals.
Many are totally adorable, like the sloths and capybara. What I appreciate about Amazing Animals is that the residents get to choose how they interact with you.
For instance, the sloth will decide how close it gets, and won’t be forced to hang on strangers. This ensures a positive experience for all parties.
You’re also encouraged to bring a camera and phone and take as many photos and pics as possible.
9. St. Cloud Twin
For me, nothing beats a small-town cinema, especially if it still serves its original purpose. That is the case at the St. Cloud Twin, which dates all the way back to 1917.
This spot has had a checkered past, closing multiple times, and reaching a nadir as an adult theater in the 1970s.
Following another interruption in 2000, the St. Cloud Twin has been open for more than 20 years and shows no signs of fading.
As well as being an historic treat, this is an economical place to watch a first-run movie, with tickets costing just $6 when I last came.
10. Peghorn Nature Park
Something a little different, this 60-acre passive park is a small slice of Old Florida on the edge of St. Cloud.
The name “peghorn” comes from the cattle that were raised in the St. Cloud area at the turn of the 20th century.
You can check out a little historical village, with replica buildings documenting local life since the 1870s. There’s a schoolhouse, a blacksmith forge, and a cannery.
Then you can head off into the remainder of Peghorn Nature Park along a trail. This passes along the edge of a large pond, with a section of elevated boardwalk over the muddier parts.
The best part for me was the community garden, with fruit trees, vegetable beds, and an old-timey outhouse.
11. The Catfish Place
If you’re searching for a truly local place to dine, I’d start with this unpretentious spot downtown.
The Catfish Place’s motto is “Where the Locals Eat”, and this cuts both ways. What I mean by that, is that you can try native Central Florida dishes here, like alligator or frog legs.
The Catfish Place has been a fixture in St. Cloud since 1973, and takes pride in its catfish, caught daily in Lake Okeechobee. This is served fried, and either boneless or on the bone (fingerling).
If you don’t mind the hassle, I recommend fingerling as it’s sweeter and juicier. For an app or sides you’ve got to go with a Southern classic like fried green tomatoes or grits.
12. St. Cloud Heritage Museum
Raised in 1922, the old Veterans Memorial Library building houses St. Cloud’s local history museum.
With free admission, this little attraction opens a window on 140+ years of history. The museum is loaded with historic photography and artifacts including items of clothing, military uniforms, antique household implements, and much more.
I was especially interested in the exhibits dealing with St. Cloud’s early days as a retirement colony for Union soldiers from the Civil War.
The building itself is a cherished piece of Civic Prairie School-style architecture. It was designed by the trailblazing woman-led firm, Ryan & Roberts, partnered by Ida Annah Ryan (1873-1950), and Isabel Roberts (1871-1955).
13. Mick Farms
A true family operation, there’s a first-generation farm out in the countryside to the south of St. Cloud.
Visiting Mick Farms, I suddenly felt a long way from the city. The main season for visitors is December through March, when you can head into the fields to pick your own strawberries.
There are also pumpkins and sunflowers in fall, while the little market stand here has a changing selection of produce in various seasons.
This might be potatoes, squashes, tomatoes, beets, a variety of onions, cucumbers, cabbages and peppers. Plus you should find milk, eggs, preserves, and fresh-baked bread on sale here.
14. All Hitched Up
This locally owned and operated St. Cloud business provides full-service horse tours and other equine-related services.
The staff at All Hitched Up offer riding lessons and trail rides to people with levels of experience. For those who’d rather not take the reins themselves, there are carriage tours available as well.
A trail ride is another great way to appreciate the Central Florida wilderness. Kids and first-timers can start with a gentle 30-minute ride under the live oaks.
If you want something a bit more adventurous, you can saddle up for an extended ride through Lake Lizzie Nature Preserve.
This involves an exhilarating stretch through the lake’s wetlands, so be prepared to get wet, as I most certainly did.