About This Episode
Sanford, Florida has begin to carve itself out as a destination spot on its own. Sanford, Florida has become a mecca for fine dining, unique locally-owned shops and is becoming world-renowned for micro-breweries and local hand-crafted beer. Historic downtown Sanford, Florida and the brand news multi-million dollar riverwalk are must-see attractions when you visit the Central Florida area.
Sanford is home to Seminole State College of Florida and the Central Florida Zoo and Botanical Gardens. Its downtown attracts tourists with shops, restaurants, a marina, and a lakefront walking trail. The Orlando Sanford International Airport, in the heart of the town, functions as the secondary commercial airport for international and domestic carriers in the Orlando metropolitan area.
The opening of Walt Disney World in October 1971 shifted the economy of Central Florida away from agriculture, military installations, defense/aerospace industries, and the NASA manned and unmanned space programs, and further towards tourism, service industries and residential development, the center of which is Orlando. But because of Sanford’s former preeminence as a trade center, the city retains a significant collection of older commercial and residential architecture, on streets shaded by live oaks hung with Spanish moss. Its location on Lake Monroe and access to the navigable waterway of the St. Johns River has made it Central Florida’s additional center for numerous marinas, allowing access for pleasure boats and commercial vessels to and from the Atlantic Ocean and the Intracoastal Waterway via Jacksonville and Mayport to the north.
If you have watched my series on the History of Orlando, you will already know that the cities of Sanford and Orlando have enjoyed a bit of a rivalry in the past (click the link above to learn more about that). But, it may be that Sanford has carved its own place as a Central Florida destination worth visiting on its own. Around 18 miles northeast of downtown Orlando, the city of Sanford, Florida sits on the southern shore of Lake Monroe at the head of navigation on the St. Johns River.
Today downtown Sanford is bustling with a multi-million-dollar Riverwalk and marina, and a revitalized downtown that features some of the best dining and shopping in Central Florida. Join me for a tour of historic Sanford, Florida – which has retained its small-town roots, but which has lately enjoyed a renaissance as a mecca for shopping, dining and world-class micro-breweries.
We will start off our tour of historic downtown Sanford, Florida with a trip to the popular Riverwalk pedestrian and bicycle trail which is quickly emerging as a popular Central Florida waterfront attraction. This path is a favorite location for rollerblading, biking, walking and even fishing! Featuring shady gazebos and swinging benches, you can even dock your boat at the free Sanford Marina day slips, only two blocks from the brick-lined streets of Historic Downtown Sanford.
The Monroe Harbour Marina is home to some of Central Florida’s wealthiest yacht owners as well as more casual boaters who love taking day trips on the St. Johns River – which flows north to Jacksonville and the Atlantic Ocean.
For a modest fee, you can enjoy a “real” Florida experience by taking a cruise aboard the Barbara Lee – the only fully restored authentic sternwheeler sailing on the St. Johns River.
This pleasurable 3-hour trip sails up Lake Monroe and the river featuring live entertainment, a narrated guide pointing out wildlife, areas of interest and sharing the history of steamships that sailed river, beautiful shore side scenery and a sumptuous meal – all included in the price of your ticket. Contact the St. Johns Rivership Company for more information about their lunch and dinner cruises.
After your leisurely cruise, head over to Sanford’s historic First Street shops and restaurants.
We will start at one of my favorite local hangouts for breakfast – The Colonial Room Restaurant. Originally established in 1977, The Colonial Room serves up affordable home-style food in an atmosphere that leaves you feeling like family. My favorite breakfast is the Triple Special which is guaranteed to leave you satisfied.
Just up the street you will find one of the most unique dessert shops in the world – Wondermade is a confectionery that specializes in home-made marshmallows, but not just any run-of-the-mill marshmallows – we are talking gourmet flavors like Irish Cream, Salted Honey, Gingerbread, Key Lime Pie, Lavender, and Birthday Cake. Wondermade also has a selection of hand-crafted chocolates and made in house ice cream flavors like vegan chai, Mexican hot chocolate, avocado, Nutella, cornbread and my favorite, which you must try once in your life, banana pudding ice cream!
If you want something that is out of this world, you must try Wondermade’s s’moresicle – a frozen marshmallow hand fired and dusted with graham cracker atop a base of chocolate pudding.
If you ask, they will prepare their world-famous hand fired s’more using one of their gourmet marshmallow flavors, milk or dark chocolate sandwiched between your choice of graham cracker or their own made-in-house waffle cake. Of course, it is not a real s’more, until you give it a smoosh.
If you like to shop for unique, vintage, hard-to-find and one-of-a-kind items, you must visit Lilly’s Vintage. This is the kind of store you can spend hours getting lost in as you find hidden gems. Lilly’s Vintage will entice you with jewelry, art, silver, porcelain and ceramics, textiles, dolls, books and hard to find albums – you name it, you will find it here. Shopping at Lilly’s Vintage is treasure hunting on another level – and only in downtown Sanford.
If you have a passion for craft beer and adventure, there are award-winning craft micro-breweries in downtown Sanford to please anyone’s taste. In fact, Sanford is recognized nationally as a mecca for micro-brewing and craft-beer. You’ll find no less than 15 locally-owned bars and gastropubs, beer gardens and micro-breweries all within walking distance in downtown Sanford. It is the home in Central Florida for the ultimate bar crawl.
From velvety milk stouts, German Kölsch, Belgian ales, IPAs, ciders and porters, you will not lack for your favorite suds.
My favorite micro-brewery is located in the historic Stokes Fish Market building. Named Wops Hops, it is Sanford’s first micro-brewery. Do not let the name fool you. This Italian-owned micro-brewery playfully celebrates Italian heritage and offers Sanford’s finest hand-crafted beers. I recommend you try their Ode to Joy, an amazing chocolate, coconut, almond porter.
And you must sample Mama Linas Artichoke Hearts. These family secret recipe patties will forever change what you think is possible with the simple artichoke.
Thanks for coming with me to tour historic downtown Sanford, Florida. This beautiful town should be on your must-see list, the next time you visit Orlando.