SEMINOLE COUNTY, FLORIDA: FROM PARANORMAL TO NATURE
By Kathleen Walls
Tourists heading for Central Florida make the mistake of thinking just Disney, theme parks, and tee shirt shops. One county bordering the theme park madness has so much more to offer. Seminole County bills itself as “North Orlando.” For my money it is one of the best destinations in the state. Here’s why.
From kayaking and limo cycling to ghost tours and German cuisine, travel writer Kathleen Walls discusses her adventures in Seminole County on Big Blend Radio.
Central Florida Zoo and Botanical Garden in Sanford, Florida is Central Florida’s shining jewel for wildlife. There’s Rae, a rescued American Bald Eagle injured as a fledgling when she fell from her nest and broke her wing. Two bear siblings, Ella and Guignard, were captured as cubs in 2014 and kept as “pets” by two loggers. The cubs were too used to humans to return to the wild. They now reside at Central Florida Zoo. We met Herby, the chicken, Jake, the alpaca, Kookie, the goat, Morton, the llama, and other livestock in the petting zoo. The zoo is home to over 400 animals, from over 150 species. The zoo garden is interspersed throughout. The kiddy area with its splash pond, ZOOM Air Adventure Park with its zip lines, and the mini-train line are local favorites.
Black Hammock Airboat Rides in Oviedo is another way to get close to Florida nature on Lake Jesup which has the largest concentration of alligators in the U.S. We saw several as we skimmed over the waters. We saw two pair of eagles and a lot of wading birds. Our captain was very knowledgeable. That airboat skimmed across what was previously pasture lands and we spotted some cows in water up to their udders but still finding a few blades of grass that protruded above the waterline.
Wekiva Island is a river haven where you can enjoy the river your way. You can rent a canoe, kayak, paddleboard or bring your own small boat. Nothing over 25 HP is allowed to use the dock. You can fish from certain areas. You can reserve your own cabana. Carrie Vanderhoel, part of the management team, explained their mission to keep the Wekiva River natural. They have Leeds Platinum certification. Visit the cute semi-outdoor bar called the Tooting Otter and a food service and bar located under a large tent pavilion. The area abounds in wildlife, alligators, otters, deer, bear, and lots of birds.
I chose to kayak. The river was quiet and I saw a few alligators and tons of wading birds. The land was pure Old Florida. I paddled down as far as the entrance to Wekiwa State Park. I saw one unusual item as I went down river, a cement bridge that looked like it was made for traffic but was fenced off. Steve Doris, a local man who kayaked the Wekiva since he was a kid, was paddling alongside me and at one point he told me of the bridge’s origins. George Dougherty, a local developer planned to develop and build an airport in what are now protected wetlands. Dougherty had the bridge built but that was as far as it went. Luckily for Mother Earth, the development plans fell apart. The bridge did not. It stands today much as it looked 60 years ago.
Back on land, I feasted on coconut shrimp, French fries, and slaw. It’s amazing what delicious food a small trailer food service can produce.
If you are looking for more urban fun, you can ride the Free Trolley to take you around Sanford’s historical downtown.
If you haven’t tried a Limo Cycle Tour you’re in for fun. The Limo Cycle is a 15-passenger tour bus with 10 pedal seats. You pedal as if on a bicycle. Don’t worry if you are feeling lazy, it has an electric motor to assist half-hearted pedaling. What a way to pub crawl downtown Sanford’s busy nighttime entertainment area and not have to worry about drinking and driving. That nightlife is varied and rich. Quiet daytime restaurants become lively musical venues at night. You could visit the Sanford Brewery or Celery City Brewery. You could take a lunch or dinner cruise down the river on the showboat Barbara-Lee.
Sanford Ghost Tour is another way to explore Sanford’s after-dark scene. This tour walks you around the nighttime streets with stories about paranormal activities. Gary Holmes, your guide who also owns Sanford Homebrew Shop, is very knowledgeable in Sanford lore. The Ghost Tour includes lots of history but there’s one important part of American history that is often overlooked. Goldsboro’s Historic Museum, Crooms Academy, Art Center, Garden, Page Jackson Cemetery, and Francis Oliver Cultural Center tell the story of the second African American community in Florida. Learn how white leaders during the Jim Crowe era in 1911 dissolved Goldsboro’s charter and forcibly annexed it into Sanford.
There’s no shortage of foodie hotspots. Willow Tree Café is a trip to Germany without leaving Florida. Food is served family style, from giant pretzels to Esbein, slow-cooked pork shank; Jager Schnitzel, pounded sliced chicken breast topped with rich brown mushroom sauce; German Potato Salad; Weinkraut; and finished off with dessert like German Chocolate Cake. Entertainment provided by Jimmy and Eckhart, a German band, can hold their own with any in Vegas.
Among the other dining venues you don’t want to miss are Route 46 Entertainment District, Tennessee Truffle, Lonnie’s Fusion Cuisine across from the Lake Mary Farmers Market. You haven’t appreciated marshmallows until you visit Wondermade. They’re known around the world for making unusual marshmallow combinations.
Shopping and entertainment cross paths at Imperial. It’s an antique shop by day and a lounge by night. Altamont Mall is a super mall with anything you want. It’s just one of the malls in Seminole county. For fresh food and produce visit one of the many Farmer’s Markets.
And that is just for starters. Visit and unearth your own travelers’ treasures in Seminole County! See www.DoOrlandoNorth.com to plan your Seminole County adventure!
Kathleen Walls is publisher/writer for American Roads and Global Highways at www.AmericanRoads.net. A member of the International Food Wine & Travel Writers Association (www.IFWTWA.org), her articles and photographs have appeared in numerous magazines and online publications. Her in-print travel books to date are: ‘Georgia’s Ghostly Getaways’, ‘Finding Florida’s Phantoms’, ‘Hosts With Ghosts’ and ‘Wild About Florida: South Florida’, ‘Wild About Florida: North Florida’, and ‘Wild About Florida: Central Florida’. She has several travel guides online as well. Her fiction, which often leans heavily on her travels, includes ‘Last Step’, which was made into a feature movie of the same name by Forbes Productions, ‘Kudzu’, ‘Under A Bloody Flag’ and ‘Under A Black Flag’.