Sitting next to the beloved Blue Spring State Park, Orange City was settled by Europeans in the mid-19th century. The name of course comes from citrus growing, although the thousands of acres of groves were lost in the Great Freeze of 1894-95.
Orange City has a large historic district with a number of buildings dating back to the 19th century. There’s a low-key downtown area here, while you’ll find a cluster of shopping centers in the south of city by Enterprise Road.
Naturally, Blue Spring State Park is a huge attraction, and I love how the experience changes by season. In summer the 72° waters are perfect for swimming and tubing.
In winter hundreds of manatees make their way upstream to the spring. There were almost 730 when I was here, and it’s a wonderful ecological accomplishment considering only 14 made the journey in 1970.
1. Blue Spring State Park
The centerpiece of this wonderful park is a first-magnitude spring discharging more than 100 million gallons in the St. Johns River every day.
Thanks to preservation efforts since the 70s, Blue Spring State Park has earned a lot of fame for its manatees. These gentle animals migrate to the spring in winter, attracted by the pleasant 72 ° waters.
The year I wrote this article there had been a record herd, with more than 720 manatees making the trip.
In the summer, the park is a fine place to cool off, whether you’re swimming, snorkeling or tubing in the pristine waters. There’s a boardwalk on land, and you can take part in a whole host of activities and tours, which I’ll talk about in more detail later in this list
2. Thursby House
Located in Blue Spring State Park, Thursby House (1872) is a unique historic attraction. This residence has been preserved as a museum and interpretive center.
Inside you can find out about many different strands of local history, from the steamships to railroads, and citrus growing.
Louis Thursby embodied much of that history. When he arrived with his family in 1857, he promptly established a citrus farm and small port for river steamships.
The house has been preserved to near-original condition and still includes period furniture and housewares.
Something that intrigued me about this site is that the building is on top of a midden, a remnant of Native American habitation in the park going back 6,000 years.
3. St. Johns River Nature Cruise
Florida’s longest river system has played a huge role in the history, economy, and development of the area. It’s one of those natural wonders that really should be explored and enjoyed while in the area.
Operated by Blue Spring Adventures, the St. Johns River Nature Cruise departs the state park dock. These Two-hour trips take place twice daily, at 10:00 am and 1:00 pm.
The tour includes historical narration and a slew of fantastic natural sights, including lush aquatic plants and towering bald cypresses.
You’ll get the chance to view a variety of wildlife, like birds, turtles, gators, and even manatees if you visit in winter.
4. Blue Spring Adventures
Based at the state park, the company that provides boat tours on the St. Johns River also offers a wide menu of rentals, tours and private cruises.
These are available at both Blue Spring and neighboring properties like Highland Island State Park. So, you can rent canoes, and kayaks for self-navigated trips along these sparkling watercourses.
If you want a little guidance and context, there are guided kayak tours along the St. Johns River, as well as Segway tours on land.
5. Stetson Mansion
Whatever your plans, I think everyone should make time for this astounding Victorian residence a few minutes north in DeLand.
If the name sounds familiar, the John B. Stetson House was built for the famous hat manufacturer (1830-1906), and his wife Elizabeth..
Completed in 1886, this is held as Florida’s only true Gilded Age mansion, and brims with fittings unheard of at the time. Along those lines you’ve got Edison electricity, indoor plumbing, steam heat, and a call bell system.
The hat baron hosted numerous business magnates, movie stars, presidents, and even European royalty here.
Not surprisingly, it’s full of priceless art, Tiffany stained glass, and one-of-a-kind antiques. Still a private residence, the Stetson Mansion is open for tours November through April, with special Christmas tours in the holiday season.
6. Orange City Historic District
Centered on the intersection of Highway 17 and Graves Avenue, there’s an historic district preserving the original settlement incorporated in 1882.
This is roughly one square mile, bounded by Orange Avenue in the east and Carpenter Avenue in the west. The historic district was designated in 1997, and has more than 200 contributing buildings.
There’s an abundance of frame and masonry vernacular architecture here from the turn of the 20th century. A prominent early building is the 1876 Heritage Inn, still in business when I was here.
Also look out for the Erwin Hotel (1926) at 244 East Graves Avenue, the Town Hall (1928), and the 1919 Dickinson Memorial Library, both close by.
7. Orange City Blueberry Fest
For two days in April, Valentine Park near the entrance to Blue Spring State Park is the setting for the city’s annual Blueberry Fest.
Naturally, blueberries and blueberry-oriented treats like shortcake and fudge are at the heart of this event. But there’s much more going on, and more than I can list in one entry.
For an idea, you’ve got arts & crafts, axe throwing, sack races, a pie eating contest, face painting, pony rides, corn hole, and a free petting farm.
The year I wrote this article, a wholesome highlight was an amazing frisbee dog show with a super-talented border collie.
8. Family Fun Town
This family fun center is right in the historic heart of Orange City along Highway 17. Family Fun Town’s lineup of attractions includes a mini golf course, a go-kart track, batting cages, and an arcade.
For me, go-karting and mini golf were the standouts. The track is more than 800 feet long, and even though there’s a lot of tight turns, you have a lot of opportunities to overtake.
Each race lasts around five minutes, and costs $10. Meanwhile, the mini golf course has been designed with a lot of care, and is in a rolling environment, with a stream and waterfall, and lighting for night play.
9. Veterans Memorial Park
Across Highway 17 from Family Fun Town, this park is home to the city’s utilities building. Opened in 1991, Veterans Memorial Park is mainly for passive activities.
Still, there is a quarter-mile exercise trail, which I discovered was paved with 100% recycled material. Added to that is an ADA-compliant children’s playground, including a splash pad. You’ve also got picnic tables throughout, with two pavilions that have water and electricity.
Orange City’s annual Movie in the Park takes place here, with family movies on the first Friday evening of the month, January through May.
10. Lelo’s BBQ Puerto Rican Cuisine
A real local success story, Lelo’s BBQ is all about Puerto Rican eats in a quick, counter serve setting.
To my mind, the emphasis here is less about authenticity, and more fusion and accessibility. That’s no criticism, because PR food in any format is delicious.
The two main main items are boricua rotisserie chicken, and mofongo. For the uninitiated, the latter is mashed plantains, served with a broth. This comes with pork, chicken, or yucca.
Sides include yellow rice, red beans, extra broth, fries, yucca, sweet plantains, and veggies. For dessert you’ve got tres leches cake, and flan.
11. Fire on the Bayou
Another independent restaurant that deserves your attention in Orange City, is this cherished Southern-style spot.
Focusing on New Orleans specialties, Fire on the Bayou is small, family-run, and takes pride in its personable service.
All of the famous Cajun mainstays are here in their most authentic form. I’m talking, étouffée, andouille sausage, jambalaya, seasonal crawfish boils, gumbo, sides like red beans and rice, and desserts like bread pudding.
If you want a medley, go for the NOLA, which has jambalaya, gumbo, and sausage and red beans and rice.
12. The Deltona Club
Playing about 7,000 yards from the blue tees, this public course is one of the longest in the area.
Something that struck me about the Deltona Club is the absence of water. Instead the challenge here comes from some truly epic bunkers, and the kind of elevation changes you don’t often find at courses in Florida.
If you’re in search of golf tuition, the resident pro here has decades of experience and has instructed PGA Tour players. Also on site is a cafe with a menu of burgers and sandwiches.
13. Epic Theatres of Deltona
Strictly in Deltona, this 12-screen multiplex is directly on the line with Orange City. When I went to press, Epic Theatres of West Volusia had been open for just over a decade.
Everything still looked new on my visit, and if there’s a release coming up that is known for its special FX, I’d try to see it at the Epic XL auditorium.
Although you don’t get the luxury recliners that have arrived at most cinemas in recent years, this location has cozy leatherette seats. These have a stadium configuration and rock, rather than recline.
14. AMF Deltona Lanes
In the commercial corridor along Enterprise Road there’s a classic bowling alley with 40 lanes. What I saw at AMF Deltona Lanes was a clean, unfussy complex for league play, parties, date nights, families, and games with friends.
There’s cosmic bowling on weekends, with blacklight, lively music and a nightclub vibe. Throughout the week meanwhile you’ve got a range of specials, including unlimited bowling on Monday nights for just $15.49, when I compiled this list.
There’s a few arcade machines at Deltona Lanes, as well as a laneside menu with interesting options like Moscow Mules and oven-fired pizzas.
15. Orange City Racing and Card Club
The closest poker room to Orlando can be found in Orange City. At the Orange City Marketplace, this facility has a 40-table room for games like Omaha Hi/Lo, Seven Card Stud and Texas Hold’em. For the latter there’s a host of weekly and monthly tournaments for all levels.
Playing here, you’ve got tableside food and beverage service, and you can even enjoy a massage mid-game.
The Orange City Racing and Card Club also features simulcast racing from premier thoroughbred tracks across the country, as well as off-track betting from tracks in the UK via a live channel.