About 15 miles north of Orlando’s Central Business District, Lake Mary is one of Florida’s fastest-growing communities.
The city was incorporated in 1973, and has burgeoned since 2000. Over time the cityscape has been endowed with lively mixed-use developments.
I adore the leafy downtown area, and Colonial Town Park, a whole dining and entertainment district. In March, there’s a bustling arts fair at Colonial Town Park, hosting more than 200 artists.
Lake Mary is at the junction of two multi-use paved trails, winding through Greater Orlando. You’re also just minutes from the wilderness of Lower Wekiva River Preserve State Park, while the SunRail commuter rail connects Lake Mary with downtown Orlando
1. Colonial Town Park
In the very north of Lake Mary is a lifestyle center with an upmarket ambience. Covering almost 40 acres, Colonial Town Park opened in the 2000s, and blends shopping, dining, entertainment and wellness.
There are also a lot of events here, like the Lake Mary-Heathrow Festival of the Arts, which I’ll come to later in this list.
Most of all, this spot is a dining destination, with options running from Mexican to Japanese, pizza, subs, Asian fusion, fro-yo, and modern American.
Yet another reason to come is for the AmStar Cinema 12, which comes with stadium seating and luxury recliners.
2. Central Park at City Hall
Tying downtown together is a delightful public park on the grounds of the City Hall. Central Park is a perfect little hangout, with tree-shaded paths, picnic areas, and a pond to the south.
Within a short walk there’s a roster of local businesses both east and west of the park. I counted a craft brewery, a coffee shop, a juice bar, a pizzeria, a bar & grill, and boutiques for children’s clothing, and bridal wear.
You’ve got all you could want for a relaxing evening downtown. Meanwhile, if you come on a Saturday you’ll be in time for the farmers’ market, which I’ll cover later on.
3. Lake Mary Heathrow-Festival of the Arts
The big local event to keep in your diary is a juried art show on the first weekend of March. First held in 1986, the Lake Mary-Heathrow Festival of the Arts, the event helps raise money for Seminole County high school scholarships.
In doing so, the event is a marvelous showcase for regional artists and crafters. There are more than 200 attending every year, competing for a range of prizes, including the coveted Best in Show. When I was in town, this award was worth $2,500, so not exactly pocket change.
Children certainly won’t be bored at the festival, as there’s a hands-on art village, with all kinds of free art experiences, sponsored by Disney.
4. Lake Mary Museum
This little local history museum brims with fascinating exhibits charting local history going back to the mid-19th century.
The building itself is an artifact. This was raised in 1926 by developer Frank Evans as a community center and the HQ for the Chamber of Commerce.
Showcases are filled with interesting artifacts, from military objects to historic photographs, newspaper clippings, maps, official documents, and pieces of ephemera.
There are also worthwhile temporary exhibits to catch, with work by local artists, and an annual quilting and fiber art exhibit at the start of the year.
5. Lake Mary Farmers’ Market
I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Farmers’ markets are as abundant in Florida as golf courses. They’re perfect places if you’re exploring an unfamiliar area or want to support local businesses.
In the shadow of the City Hall at Central Park, the Lake Mary Farmers’ Market takes place on Saturday mornings.
On offer is a changing assortment of fresh produce, orchids, baked goods, kombucha, nuts, pet supplies, and a range of crafts, from handmade soap to suncatchers.
Dogs are welcome on a leash, and there’s often live music and activities like free zumba classes.
6. Lower Wekiva River Preserve State Park
In just 15 minutes from Lake Mary, you can reach the southern entrance to this primordial environment of blackwater streams and wetlands.
My ideal starting point is Katie’s Landing, located around the midway point in the Wekiva River. Here you’re almost exactly eight miles from the headspring and the junction with the St. Johns river.
At this spot can launch kayaks and canoes, and choose between paddling upstream or downstream.
Upstream you’ll have to deal with a light current, but as consolation the scenery is astonishing, Downstream you get an easy journey, as the river tapers and currents help you drift along.
On your journey you’re sure to see a wonderful variety of birds, from sandhill cranes to eagles, as well as alligators, turtles and fish.
7. Cross Seminole Trail
Trailhead Park at the NE corner of W Lake Mary Blvd and Rinehart Road, can be the first step on a journey through the northern parts of Greater Orlando.
More than a route through suburbia, the Cross Seminole Trail leads you to some truly spectacular places. Close to the northern terminus here is the Spring Hammock Preserve.
There you’ll enter an area of hydric hammock swamp, growing some immense bald cypress trees. One is Lady Liberty, dating back 2,000 years and pushing 90 feet tall.
The Cross Seminole Trail continues for more than 20 miles, joining the Cady Way in Winter Park.
8. Liberty Park
If you’re hunting for a secluded oasis in Lake Mary, my tip is this park on the shore of Crystal Lake. Extremely pretty, Liberty Park is intended for passive activities like nature walks and picnics.
There are lots of soaring pine trees here, and a nature trail takes you into the swampier areas by the lakeshore. One magical spot is a footbridge with a clear vista of the lake through the trees. It’s a special place to be early in the day.
Liberty Park’s one active amenity is a disc golf course, laid out in 2019, and featuring 9 holes with DISCatcher Pro targets.
9. Seminole Towne Center
The closest enclosed mall to Lake Mary is just a couple of miles to the north in Sanford. Seminole Towne Center opened in 1995, and had more than 80 tenants when I put this article together.
For nationwide retailers you’ve got Dillard’s, Dick’s Sporting Goods and JCPenney, as well as Pandora, Hot Topics, Kay Jewelers, Sunglass Hut, and Bath & Body Works.
These are accompanied by a variety of local shops and services, and a branch of the Elev8 Fun indoor entertainment center. At the latter you’ll find mini golf, laser tag, an arcade, go-karts, a ropes course, and more.
10. Planet Obstacle
Dubbed the World’s Largest Indoor Obstacle Park, Planet Obstacle is primed for children with energy to burn.
Among the attractions when I was here was a trampoline park, bumper cars, ropes courses, Ninja Warrior courses, climbing walls, zip-lines, a trampoline basketball court, and a 26-foot vertical slide.
Planet Obstacle is especially popular when the weather isn’t conducive to being outside. If you’re bringing toddlers, there’s also a wonderful space for little ones up to two years old.
Naturally, this is a go-to for birthday parties for kids up to 12 or so. When the time comes to recharge, the Sky Café has a surprising amount of healthy options, as well as alcoholic beverages for parents.
11. Seminole Wekiva Trail
Merging with the Cross Seminole Trail in Lake Mary is another paved multi-use trail making its way through several communities, as far south as Altamonte Springs.
Just west of Lake Mary, the trail makes a bee line for the beautiful east banks of the Wekiva River. You can begin your trip here at the Markham Trailhead, and this section is part of the Florida National Scenic Trail.
South of this point, there’s a tangle of mountain biking trails in Markham Woods, an eastern satellite parcel of Wekiwa Springs State Park.
Much of the Seminole Wekiva Trail is on the old corridor of the Orange Belt Railway. Operating between 1888 and 1893, this was one of the longest narrow-gauge railroads ever built.
12. Emil Buehler Planetarium
Found on Seminole State College campus, the Emil Buehler Planetarium is a cutting-edge astronomical facility that opens to the public for a host of shows and events
On the schedule are striking full-dome presentations introducing you to brand new space science research, or exploring cultural significance of astronomy around the world.
And if there’s something unusual happening in the night skies, you can also visit for one-off evenings to learn more. With comfy seats and air-conditioning, I can’t think of many better ways to spend an evening.
For my part, I was here for a show celebrating the 50th anniversary of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. The music was set to dazzling visuals of the Solar System and beyond.
13. Lake Mary Sports Complex
Lake Mary’s premier outdoor recreation space is packed with facilities for a range of sports. The ballfields here are home to the city’s youth baseball and girls’ softball programs.
There are also tennis courts, batting cages, basketball courts, a modern children’s playground, and a skate/bmx park, all served by a concession stand.
To my mind, maybe the most impressive facility of all is the splash pad, Trailblazer Park. This is a godsend for parents in summer, with shaded seating areas on the edges.
The splash pad is open on weekends May through mid-October, and daily during school breaks in this period.
14. Mystique Escape Room
Another thing to check out at Colonial Town Park is an escape room attraction. There are four rooms at Mystique, designed for up to ten players.
I played the horror-based Crypt of the Vampire, and was blown away by the depth of the theming, and how intuitive the puzzles were.
As with all escape rooms, you have an hour to solve the mystery and escape the room. Such is the level of care given to everything, from the story to the props, that it’s easy to get swept along by the experience.
Lake Mary reached a milestone in 2014 with the opening of this commuter rail network. The city is one of 16 stations on the line, serving Greater Orlando, particularly the northern suburbs.
The station is just a short walk from Central Park in Lake Mary, and the train is a sedate way to get to nearby communities. To illustrate, you could use SunRail to get to places like Winter Park.
This city is renowned for its thriving, upscale downtown, and cultural institutions like the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art. There’s also a stunning chain of lakes, linked by canals and waiting to be discovered on boat tours.