What was once a sleepy suburb halfway between Daytona Beach and Disney is now bustling with activity. Sanford, Florida is a northern suburb of Orlando that is becoming its own destination beyond the world-famous theme parks. Wellness travel enthusiasts can find a variety of adventures here.
A revitalized historic downtown district along the shores of Lake Monroe is drawing tourists and locals alike. Sanford offers the perfect combination of access to upscale amenities and services while also preserving natural lands and waterways.
Sanford is my hometown. It is where I can walk out my front door and in a matter of minutes access paved and unpaved trails for hiking, running, or walking. Lake Monroe and the Wekiva and St. John’s Rivers are only a few miles away. An assortment of national restaurant chains are just down the road, but the real gem of Sanford is its historic downtown with new locally owned restaurants, craft breweries, and businesses opening regularly.
Here are my top 5 picks for naming Sanford a wellness travel destination.
Black Bear Wilderness Area
To experience a pristine natural setting head to Black Bear Wilderness Area. Tucked away down a neighborhood side street, you can still find Old Florida on this 1,650 acre preserve bordering the St. John’s River and Wekiva River Basin. Within the wilderness area you can see cypress swamps, oak and pine forests, and wild citrus trees. The preserve is home to a large variety of wildlife and black bear sightings are common.
A narrow, technical 7-mile loop trail takes you back in time over historic canals and levees leftover from Sanford’s agricultural beginnings in the 19th century. For a 2-mile round-trip trek, walk out to the St. John’s River overlook and back. Several boardwalks have been constructed along the trail to preserve the wetlands underfoot. The trail is rough, uneven terrain with lots of roots and burrows. It is often very muddy and slippery. Wear hiking or trail running shoes for traction, bring water, and douse yourself liberally with bug spray.
Walking, Running, & Cycling
Seminole Wekiva Trail
The Seminole Wekiva Trail is a paved, multi-use trail spanning 17.5 miles (one-way) through Sanford and neighboring Lake Mary, Longwood, and Altamonte Springs. The Markham trailhead is located in Sanford and is part of the Florida National Scenic Trail. From here, you can walk, run, or cycle through a canopy of moss-draped oak trees with gated communities on either side of the trail.
Restaurants and other services are available along the section running parallel to International Parkway. Stopping for brunch at Another Broken Egg or Peach Valley Café along the route is a popular option for morning wellness adventurers. There also are numerous lunch/dinner spots along the route for afternoon and evening exercisers.
This paved trail is also ideally located along the business/technical corridor of Sanford/Lake Mary making wellness travel easily accessible before and after work hours. The weary business traveler can still get in a few miles on a beautiful shaded trail.
Kayaking, Canoeing, SUP, & Sailing
Tucked away down another side street leading to a gated community is Wilson’s Landing, a county park with access to the Wekiva River. A largely undeveloped and scenic waterway, the Wekiva River is home to manatees and alligators. The Florida Black Bear may be spotted along the shoreline. The Wekiva River is a wellness travelers dream.
A boat launch is available at Wilson’s Landing with Wekiva Outfitters on-site if you need rental equipment. They have half and full day rentals of kayaks, canoes, and paddle boards. Self-guided or guided tours are available along with a variety of distances. Pack a lunch to enjoy at several natural beaches along the way.
U-Sail Central Florida
Located at the Lake Monroe Harbour Marina in the historic district, U-Sail Central Florida offers one-day or multi-day sailing lessons for a unique spin on wellness travel. Lake Monroe is a 9,406-acre fresh water lake with an average depth of 6-7 feet with light to moderate winds. The marina was the first in Florida to receive the prestigious eco-friendly designations of Clean Marina, Clean Boatyard, and Clean Retailer ensuring the pristine natural beauty of Lake Monroe and the adjacent St. John’s River. Look for manatees and alligators in the water.
Local Food Movement
Locally-Sourced & Locally-Owned Restaurants & Craft Breweries
Sanford boasts an up and coming local food movement in the historic district for the foodie wellness traveler. Chef-driven scratch kitchens using locally sourced ingredients are taking over former warehouses, banks, gas stations, and even the old jailhouse. The Smiling Bison, The District, and The Old Jailhouse Kitchen are local favorites with fresh ingredients.
Wellness-minded beverages and food can be found at Roots Raw Juice Bar. Here you can find delicious cold pressed juices, live juice, and smoothies along with salads, wraps, and acai and pitya bowls packed with raw nutrients, vitamins, enzymes and antioxidants from fresh organic fruits and vegetables. Don’t miss out on this place!
Sanford is also becoming the “it” destination for craft breweries and a first-of-its-kind cidery. Celery City Craft, Sanford Brewing Company, Wops Hops Brewing, and Tuffy’s Bottle Shop are some local favorites.