Tavares is the county seat of central Florida’s Lake County and is a key component in the Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford metropolitan area, which is responsible for a large portion of the tourism dollars that flow into the state every year.
Tavares has a population of about 15,000 residents and is very near to the geographic center of the state; it’s relatively equidistant between the Atlantic and Gulf coasts as well.
Visitors staying in Tavares will have easy access to many of the state’s most popular theme parks, and some popular state and natural forests as well.
Below are 15 things to do in and around Tavares, Florida.
1. Children’s Splash Park
Located inside Tavares’ Wooton Park, Children’s Splash Park is a popular and inexpensive attraction that’s often overlooked by out-of-state travelers. It’s the perfect place to spend a few hours frolicking and beating the hot Florida sun.
The park is open from mid-May until the end of August annually, and admission costs just a few bucks.
The splash park has all the fun amenities you’d expect and features a cool seaplane motif that goes well with the town’s history.
For kids under four, swim diapers are required, and during peak times, the park often fills to capacity, so plan accordingly.
2. Hurricane Dockside Grill
Located on West Burleigh Boulevard in Tavares, Hurricane Dockside Grill is a laid-back dining destination that’s known for its comfortable atmosphere, great views, and hearty traditional fare.
They’re particularly known for their burgers, fresh fish sandwiches, and hot appetizers that go great with a cold beer, and they often host live music in the afternoons and the evenings.
It’s not uncommon to have to wait for a table, but most visitors just order a drink or two and relax on the deck until one becomes available.
To avoid the crowds, consider visiting for lunch or an early dinner during the week.
3. Central Florida Railroad Museum
Over the years, railroads have played significant roles in the economy and development of Florida; the Central Florida Railroad Museum is a must-visit destination for train enthusiasts and historians interested in getting a unique insight into the area’s history and how it was shaped by the railroads.
The museum is located in nearby Winter Garden in an old train depot from a now-defunct railway company. It’s staffed by knowledgeable locals who are great resources, especially for those new to the area.
The museum’s exhibits include equipment, old photographs, and accounts from those who worked on the lines in decades past.
4. Discovery Gardens
Discovery Gardens are Lake County’s premier destination for those looking to take in a variety of cultivated gardens, featuring both native and exotic species of plants, flowers, and trees.
The garden’s distinct areas include more than 20 uniquely themed sections spread over nearly seven acres. There are usually a variety of items in bloom during the spring and early summer months.
The grounds are connected by well-marked trails, and along the way, there are informative plaques, so visitors will learn about the things they’re seeing in addition to appreciating their beauty.
The staff offer a number of classes and events throughout the year, so check their website for specifics.
5. Ladybug’s Gifts and Sundries
During the summer months in central Florida, the weather can get downright oppressive; it’s always a good idea to keep a few indoor activities close at hand for when a little air-conditioning is required.
Ladybug’s Gifts and Sundries definitely isn’t the kind of place you’d want to take a group of rambunctious boys, but for a relaxed girl’s afternoon, it’d be a great stop.
Ladybug’s sells a vast array of gifts, collectibles, cards, and balloons; for those in need of a last-minute birthday present, it’s the place to go.
They’ve got things appropriate for men, women, and children, and provide gift wrapping as well.
6. Tavares Community Theater Company
The Tavares Community Theater Company has only been around since 2014, but in that short time, it has attracted quite a loyal following.
The theater’s staff are dedicated to providing Tavares with a cultural and artistic entertainment venue that they may not have access to otherwise.
The theater facility is undergoing renovations, with the ultimate goal of providing a permanent and state-of-the-art facility that seats nearly 150 visitors and offers many year-round productions – ranging from dance and live music to dramatic theater and comedy.
The theater is located in the quaint, trendy riverfront area, and the best way to keep abreast of their schedule is by checking their website periodically.
7. Lake Apopka
Central Florida is a particularly lake-filled area of the Sunshine State, and one of the area’s largest lakes is Lake Apopka.
Located near Winter Garden just a short drive from Tavares, the lake offers outdoorsy travelers a variety of recreation options, including fishing, boating, hiking, and bird-watching.
There are several accessible public areas around the lake, and a variety of multi-use trails as well.
The lake is a fantastic place for a picnic, an afternoon stroll, or to take in an iconic Florida sunset, and there are some dining, retail, and entertainment venues nearby as well.
8. Trout Lake Nature Center
Comprised of more than 200 acres, Trout Lake Nature Center in Eustis is an educational and natural attraction that’s particularly popular with local families and vacationers with kids in-tow.
The lake is the park’s centerpiece, and the extensive grounds are best explored by the boardwalk and network of trails that are clearly marked and easy to navigate.
Along the way, there are picnic and covered seating areas, educational displays, bridges, and docks jutting out into the water.
It’s common to see a variety of wildlife too, and the center’s staff offer demonstrations, courses, lectures, and other educational and recreational activities.
9. West Orange Trail
For much of the year, the weather in Florida is nearly perfect. For activity-minded travelers, that means plenty of opportunities to experience the state’s natural beauty and burn a few calories in the process.
The West Orange Trail includes nearly 20 miles of trails that stretch from Oakland to Winter Garden; they wind through a variety of natural habitats and developed urban and suburban areas.
The multi-use trails are free to use and feature a variety of convenient access points. Along the way, you’ll find gardens, bridges, shaded seating areas, and fabulous vistas of Lake Apopka.
10. The Winter Garden Heritage Museum
Winter Garden is just a short drive from Tavares. Of all central Florida’s historic towns, it’s known as one of the most quaint and scenic.
The Winter Garden Heritage Museum was founded in 1998. Since then, it has been dedicated to preserving and promoting the area’s interesting history. For visitors without the time to visit a variety of historical attractions, it’s a great place to get a thorough overview relatively quickly.
The museum is open from 1 until 5 PM every day and includes sections on Native Americans, pioneers, and the tourism and citrus segments of the economy.
11. Jack Kerouac House
Jack Kerouac was one of the heavyweights of the literary movement referred to as ‘The Beat Generation’ that swept the country in the post-World War II era.
Kerouac was most famous for his book, On the Road; in many ways, it was adopted as the movement’s most iconic work.
In the latter part of his life, Kerouac lived in Orlando, and his home is now a museum that’s open to the public.
The house is a Florida Heritage Site, and also a place where writers and literary enthusiasts from around the world go to pay homage to one of the 20th century’s most influential writers.
12. Universal CityWalk
Orlando’s Universal CityWalk is a premier destination for visitors who’ve had their fill of overcrowded theme parks.
Though it shares the same name with Universal Orlando Studios, CityWalk is a separate attraction. It has been known to keep families busy and occupy more of their time than they’d initially planned.
The walk is an extended promenade area similar to a boardwalk. Along the way, walkers will have access to a variety of great restaurants, abundant entertainment attractions like mini-golf and an IMAX theatre, and even some bars and nightclubs.
The walk features a variety of live entertainment in the afternoons and evenings as well.
13. The Wheel at ICON Park Orlando
It’s been said that Florida is so flat that you can stand on a tuna fish can and see from one side of the state to the other.
That’s probably a slight exaggeration, but for those who’d like to get a bird’s eye view of the area without booking a helicopter tour, there’s no better way to do it than on the Wheel at ICON Park Orlando.
The wheel is a massive Ferris wheel that towers hundreds of feet over the ground. Its gondolas are stabilized and climate-controlled, and offer visitors unrestricted views. On cloudless days, it’s even possible to see Cape Canaveral on the Atlantic coast.
14. Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge
Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is comprised of nearly 150,000 acres of pristine, undeveloped land that are home to an amazing variety of plants and animals.
The refuge is located on a barrier island between the Indian River and the Atlantic Ocean, and it’s just north of Cape Canaveral.
The refuge’s visitor welcome center is located just off Max Brewer Memorial Parkway and is an easy and scenic drive east from Titusville along the Indian River Lagoon Scenic Highway.
At the visitor center, guests will get an overview of the refuge’s layout and activities. Previous guests have noted that spending two or three hours onsite is about the right amount of time.
15. Rock Springs Run State Preserve
Though it’s located off the beaten path more so than other area attractions, Rock Springs Run State Preserve is an outdoor lover’s paradise, and is just a short drive from Tavares in Sorrento, Florida.
The preserve features a variety of nature trails that are open to hikers, bikers, and horseback riders. It’s common to see a variety of animals, especially during the morning and evening hours when they’re usually most active.
The park is open daily from 8 AM until 6 PM, and there are primitive campsites available, but they’re not easy to get to, so are therefore best left to the fit and fearless.