I love road trips, and lucky for me, there are oodles to choose from around The Sunshine State. One of the coolest places to see, along the shoreline of Lake Monroe, is Sanford. Enjoy a historic, walkable downtown, great murals, tasty food, and a fabulous zoo in this lesser-known city that has experienced a dynamic renaissance. Here is what I recommend doing on a fun road trip to Sanford, Florida.
Getting There and History
Sanford is 30 minutes northeast of Orlando and sits on the South shore of Lake Monroe in the state’s central part. I try to add a visit to Sanford when flying in or out of Orlando and don’t have a super early flight time.
The original thought behind the city plan was for Sanford to be the “Gate City of South Florida.” By the early 1900s, it became that vegetable farming, transported by water and train, was a massive entity in Sanford.
Dining in Sanford
I love German food, so as I drove past an eye-catching authentic German restaurant in Sanford, I had to stop. Right call, Hollerbach’s Willow Tree Cafe is the ultimate for German eats. Sit on the spacious outdoor patio or inside the festively decorated eatery. The menu is one-of-a-kind and shares typical German dishes and what they consist of, helpful for newbies.
From the fat, salty pretzel with cheese sauce and spicy mustard to the Wiener Schnitzel with cabbage and Späetzle, everything at Hollerbach’s is superb. You’ll love the selection of draft, canned, and bottled beer, too. Check out the live music offered Friday through Sunday.
A second option is The Original Christo’s, also with indoor and outdoor seating. Opened in 1971, this favored by locals restaurant has a wide array of choices and a case full of eye-catching desserts. Choose between breakfast, lunch, and dinner—burgers, pizza, and ribs—plus quite a few attractive appetizer options.
I highly recommend the Greek Nachos, piled high with feta cheese, lettuce, gyro meat, Kalamata olives, pepperoncini, onions, and tomatoes, then drizzled with a classic Tzatziki sauce. They are so addictive and yummy!
There are several other unique restaurants around downtown Sanford, and each time I visit, they increase largely in number. You’re sure to find something for every taste here, as well as the Ritz Theater at Wayne Densch Performing Arts Center which offers concerts, production shows, films, and special events.
You’ll love the historic areas of Sanford, namely the tree-lined Historic Downtown. You’ll find a few blocks radius of antique stores, quaint cafes, galleries, and murals. Pay attention to the plaques (Pathways) that document the detailed history of a building or area.
Due to Sanford’s World War II ties, there is a stately Veterans Memorial Park with a picturesque display. I loved the vibrant blooms and displays of Bird of Paradise flowers around the waterfront. There is also a really nice children’s play area and splash pad at Fort Mellon Park. Offerings for adults include fitness trails, tennis courts, public restrooms, and BBQ grills.
Stroll or take a bike ride along the RiverWalk for epic views of beautiful Lake Carola and boat traffic. Sanford has access to the St. Johns River, where it flows north in this area, so boating, standup paddleboarding, fishing, and kayaking are super popular activities. A pay option on the historic St. Johns River is a lunch or dinner cruise aboard the Barbara-Lee, a beautiful sternwheeler. Most cruises last three hours and leave from the homeport on Lake Monroe.
Window shopping is fun, but browsing inside the store is so much better. A few you will want to check out in Sanford are Magpie’s Modern General, Maya Books and Music, and The Rosie Lee Co.
Palate Coffee Brewery, a small-business on a mission to help fund the abolishment of human trafficking, is not only an attractive space but brews a quality cup of Joe. The maple nitro cream cold brew is sensational, or if you prefer a hot drink, Berkeley’s Chai is delicious.
For those wanting a stiffer drink, the craft beer scene is over-the-top at Sanford Brewing Company. The pet and child-friendly venue is attractive and has a great selection of brews, including my favorites, Razzmatazz (a spiced beer), and Killa Vanilla Porter. Sanford Brewing also has food (burgers, wraps, sandwiches) and a fabulous macaroni & cheese menu with creative combinations such as taco Mac, Philly Mac, and Tuscan chicken.
For an Instagram-worthy tiki drink or classic/craft cocktail, try Bitters & Brass or The Imperial at Washburn Imports.
Visit the Zoo
Sanford is home to the Central Florida Zoo and Botanical Garden, a walkable zoo with a great selection and fun for the entire family. The zoo roster includes amphibians, mammals, birds, reptiles, and invertebrates, with favorites being the sloth, lemurs, spider monkeys, and North American river otter. I could honestly sit there for hours watching the otter play and swim feverishly without ever tiring out.
Kids will love the bungee bounce, giraffe feeding option, carousel, and splash pad, while adults may prefer the keeper chats. Barnyard Buddies Children’s Zoo is a fun space to get hands-on with llama, donkeys, alpaca, goats, and chickens. Feed for the animals is available for $2 per portion.
Sanford: A Place to Get to Know
Sanford is a beautiful little city with a growing tourist and visitor scene. Stop by for a visit when traveling in the area or schedule a day trip to discover a new part of the Sunshine State.
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