This captivating city is on the northeastern edge of Greater Orlando. One of the things that appeals to me about Oviedo is the unfettered wilderness that lies to the north and east.
Within minutes of downtown you can take an airboat trip in gator-infested waters. Or you can hike along the route of a forgotten railroad in lush tropical forest.
There’s plenty to do back in town. Oviedo has a traditional downtown, and a modern development a mile to the south, known as Oviedo on the Park.
The latter was built in the 2010s, and helped lift the city’s population above 20,000 at the last census. You’ve got well-furnished parks, lots of art, entertainment centers, and an adorable farmers’ market twice a month.
1. Black Hammock Airboat Rides
Lake Jesup, on Oviedo’s northern boundary, is one of the most alligator-infested bodies of water in Florida. When I wrote this article, there were an estimated 13,000 gators living here.
So while I wouldn’t recommend swimming on the lake, I can definitely recommend an airboat tour for a close-up look at the lake’s wildlife.
The Black Hammock, five minutes from downtown Oviedo, runs four airboats, taking up to 12 passengers on thrilling nature tours.
One of the stops is Bird Island. Aptly named, this is home to Seminole County’s largest colony of wading birds. Alligator sightings are guaranteed of course, but you’ll also see a multitude of turtles and raptors like bald and osprey.
2. Little Big Econ State Forest
One of my favorite things about Oviedo is that the wilderness begins right on the edge of the city. You’ll find trailheads for the Little Big Econ State Forest just five minutes from downtown.
The state forest is more than 5,000 acres of pristine wilderness on the course of the Econlockhatchee River and its tributary, the Little Econlockhatchee River.
There are almost 12 miles of walking trails in this property, a large portion of which are on the Florida National Scenic Trail. My ideal starting point is the Flagler Trailhead, at Lockwood Boulevard.
From here you can hike along the route of the old Kissimmee Valley Line, part of the Florida East Coast Railway. Spearheaded by the oil industrialist Henry Flagler, this was laid down in the 1910s but abandoned in the 1940s.
You can see the vestiges of trestle pilings along the river. The trail mostly stays close to the Econlockhatchee riverbank, and beckons you through some stunning oak-palm hammocks.
3. Lukas Nursery and Butterfly Encounter
A fourth-generation local business, the roots of the Lukas Nursery go back to a truck farm established in 1912 by a Czechoslovakian couple.
The nursery opened in 1973, and has since become one of the top 100 garden centers in America. What puts the Lukas Nursery on my list is the Butterfly Encounter, which has been around for more than two decades now.
Flying freely in a 4,000-square-foot conservatory is a mesmerizing assortment of butterflies. There’s even a little station where you can feed these beautiful creatures nectar. Also here is a covey of buttonquail, as well as an aviary with colorful Australian Gouldian finches.
This attraction is open all year but the best time to be here is in the warmer months, April through September, when the butterflies are more active.
4. Cross Seminole Trail
Arcing through the area for 23 miles, the Cross Seminole Trail serves Oviedo on its way across Greater Orlando’s northeastern suburbs.
The trail begins at the intersection of Aloma and Howell Branch, and runs all the way to Lake Mary. In the south you can get onto the 6.5-mile Cady Way Trail. Meanwhile, in the north you can continue your journey on the Seminole-Wekiva Trail (14 miles).
Something that thrills me about the Cross Seminole Trail is that it uses the right-of-way of the Sanford and Indian River Railroad, laid down as long ago as the 1880s.
If you want to experience some of the nature northwest of Oviedo, you can use the trail to get to the swampy woods of the Spring Hammock Preserve.
This is home to a group of majestic ancient bald cypresses. The leading light is Lady Liberty, 89 feet tall, and dating back 2,000 years.
5. Oviedo Farmers’ Market
On the first and third Saturday of the month there’s a farmers’ market on the grounds of the Oviedo Historical Society’s Lawton House.
This is a heartwarming enterprise, coordinated by volunteers from the historical society. There’s a traditional feel to this event, in keeping with the historic backdrop.
On my little tour I counted at least 20 vendors. In this selection was local fresh produce, dairy, honey, fresh bread, houseplants, and enticing homemade sweets.
Unlike a lot of farmers’ markets, this event welcomes visitors with pets. There were a couple of vendors selling dog treats and toys.
6. Econ River Wilderness Area
If you’re not ready to venture into the immense natural landscapes east of Oviedo, there’s a smaller, more manageable property in the city.
On the Seminole/Orange County line, the Econ River Wilderness Area is 240 acres of river swamp sandhills, and pine flatwoods.
A three-mile trail network will take you to the banks of the Econ River on the far east side of the property. I adored the live oaks, with their crooked branches, as well as the stately bald cypresses by the river.
I made the trip in the middle of the day so wildlife was scarce. Still, I spotted a lot of turtles, and white-tailed deer in the woods.
7. Center Lake Park
In a fast-changing part of the city, Oviedo’s Center Lake Park is the anchor for the recent Oviedo on the Park development.
The lake here is of course the center of attention, with a fountain and swan boat rentals available on the shore.
A trail encircles the entire lake, ideal for evening strolls when the sun goes down and the fountain is illuminated. There are all kinds of amenities at intervals along the promenade.
When I came by I saw a splash pad, playground, a dog park, an outdoor chess area, decks overlooking the water, and a modern amphitheater/cultural center.
As with many bodies of water in Florida, wildlife is never far away. I saw ducks, turtles, lots of fish, and a big heron scanning the water.
8. The Artistic Hand Gallery and Studio
The Artistic Hand Gallery and Studio is one of the area’s most unique art destinations. A nice departure from Orlando’s more formal galleries, this place is a lovable showcase for local creators.
Open from Monday through Saturday, The Artistic Hand features pottery, paintings, jewelry, and several mixed-media pieces that defy categorization.
In addition to its exhibits, the gallery offers all kinds of classes and workshops, from glass blowing to wheel throwing. I found it a great place to pick up a unique keepsake, and chat with the friendly owner, Del.
9. Arcade Monsters Oviedo
At the Alafaya Square shopping center, this old-school arcade has an 80s sci-fi theme, and is part of a small Florida chain.
With 150+ games in seven rooms, I’m not exaggerating when I say that Arcade Monsters has something for all gamers.
You’ve got a bunch of modern fighting, shooting, and driving games, mixed in with a lot of classic arcade machines. There’s also pinball, a lot of rhythm games, air hockey, experiential games, and a whole spectrum of consoles to play.
I liked the bar’s anime theme, and you can get craft beer and wine by the glass here. Check the website for upcoming events like an always-popular costume contest at Halloween.
10. Oviedo Bowling Center
When I went to press, this local bowling alley had just been given an update. All 24 lanes, as well as the interior decor looked in great shape when I played a couple of games here a few months back.
There’s league play seven days a week at the Oviedo Bowling Center. All the same, this facility has a lot of space for casual players.
Weekend evenings also bring special light shows. You’ve got Friday Nite Live, and All U Can Bowl on Saturday nights.
This spot has something else up its sleeve, with an awesome collection of pinball machines in the Pinball Lounge. Among the 20+ well-maintained machines is a mix of nostalgic classics like Evel Kneviel and Indiana Jones, together with newer releases.
11. The Coop Antiques
Whenever I’m in a new town I’m likely to make a beeline for the local antiques center. In Oviedo this is The Coop Antiques, a multi-dealer store at the Oviedo Shopping Center downtown.
Over 11,000 square feet, The Coop has more than 60 dealer booths, and takes care to ensure there’s plenty of variety.
I saw a lot of jewelry, mid-century furniture, model train sets, rare coins, vintage clothing, pocket watches, salvaged industrial items, and old agricultural tools.
Unlike a lot of antique malls, the pricing is reasonable. I came away with an old hand-carved oar, which is hanging on my wall as I type this.
12. District Eat and Play
Another place for adults to unwind in Oviedo is District Eat and Play at the Mall. A concept similar to Dave & Busters, this spot is a restaurant & bar, all complemented by a host of attractions.
For a brief overview, you’ve got boutique bowling, a 50-game arcade, axe throwing, GellyBall, and Pinball Alley, with a great roster of machines.
To go with all that is an Escape Room with four different challenges at any time. I came with some friends for Off the Radar. Set aboard a disabled submarine, you’ve got an hour to fix everything before the oxygen runs out.
13. Pappy’s Patch U-Pick Strawberries
With abundant sunshine, warm weather, and ample rain, Florida has a brief but bountiful berry season.
At 501 Florida Avenue, Pappy’s Patch U-Pick Strawberries is a great option for a hands-on family activity. You’ll grab a shallow box, and head out into the fields to pick your own ripe berries.
I had a wonderful time in the field, and picked up a bottle of local Happy Bee Honey from the stand.
Strawberry season typically lasts from December until late March or April. The farm has irregular opening times, depending on a variety of factors, so I’d check the facebook page before coming out.
14. Twin Rivers Golf Club
Like the best golf courses in Central Florida, a round at Twin Rivers Golf Club is a true wildlife experience. Yes, that does mean gators in almost every water hazard, and sandhill cranes oblivious to pace of play rules.
This championship course is semi-private but welcomes all public play. The layout will give players of all levels something to think about. Water is a factor on more than half the holes, and I counted no fewer than 11 doglegs.
The signature is the par-3 #7 with an island green. In the practice facility is a driving range, putting green, and pitching area, while The Grill Room is just the place to mull over your round.
15. Oviedo Mall
Just off State Road 417, Oviedo has a large enclosed mall, with close to 100 stores. The Oviedo Mall opened in 1998, and when I dropped by there was a mix of national chains and local small businesses.
Among the many famous names here are B. Dalton, Dillards, Loft, GameStop, Claire’s, and Bath & Body Works.
I already mentioned District Eat and Play, but the Oviedo Brewing Co. is also worthwhile, with a dozen beers on tap, and brick oven pizza on the food menu.
Oviedo’s only movie theater is also at the mall. The Regal Oviedo Mall has 22 screens, with stadium seating, and a lot of classic and foreign movies in the schedule.