Tips & Advices

These Central Florida small towns offer the perfect weekend getaway

This canopy of moss-draped Live Oak trees is along Avenue of the Oaks in Floral City, FloridaThis canopy of moss-draped Live Oak trees is along Avenue of the Oaks in Floral City, Florida — Photo courtesy of Skye Rodgers

Just a short drive from the cities of Tampa and Orlando, there’s an area of Central Florida that feels worlds away from the crowded outlet malls and theme parks. With quiet back roads and moss-covered trees, the charming small towns of Inverness and Floral City are brimming with hospitality.

Situated along the expansive Tsala Apopka chain of lakes, these picturesque and tranquil destinations invite visitors to take a step into the past and explore some of the area’s hidden gems.

Travelers of all ages will enjoy this short road trip that features the perfect combination of outdoor adventure, relaxation and community — and much of it can be explored on two wheels!

Stroll around downtown Inverness

The historic Citrus County Courthouse is in the heart of downtown Inverness, FloridaThe historic Citrus County Courthouse is in the heart of downtown Inverness, Florida — Photo courtesy of Skye Rodgers

Start your weekend with a stroll around historic downtown Inverness. Although quite compact, this lively area packs a powerful punch with a surprising number of boutiques, restaurants and nightlife options. This includes several bars offering live music and a thriving community theatre, the Valerie.

At the heart of downtown is the Citrus County Courthouse. This iconic symbol of small-town America is famous for playing a central role in Elvis Presley’s 1961 movie, “Follow that Dream.” Inside, you can learn more about the city’s history in the Old Courthouse Heritage Museum.

Sip a local brew at Nine State Brewery. It’s family-owned and offers the quirky combination of delicious hand-crafted beer and authentic Korean delicacies. The dumplings are a local favorite. However, if wine is more your style, be sure to check out the nearby winery, Twysted Vyne.

Visitors as well as locals enjoy dining at Stumpknockers in downtown Inverness. Offering a slice of Old Florida, this restaurant features vintage memorabilia and hunting trophies displayed on their paneled walls. Popular menu items include traditional fare like ‘gator nuggets and fried catfish. Follow up with a delicious dessert at Pinecones Ice Cream Parlor with its fun, 1950s-style diner vibe.

Coffee lovers adore Cattle Dog Coffee Roasters. This local shop brews over 20 flavored coffee varieties, as well as fresh pastries and sandwiches. It’s also a great cafe to visit on weekends, as they serve up a creative and delicious brunch.

Bicycle the Withlacoochee State Trail

The Withlacoochee State Trail is one of Florida's longest paved rail-trails at nearly 50 milesThe Withlacoochee State Trail is one of Florida’s longest paved rail-trails at nearly 50 miles — Photo courtesy of Skye Rodgers

Take advantage of the Florida sunshine with a cycling trip on the scenic Withlacoochee State Trail. This 46-mile rail-trail is easy enough for all levels of bikers and runs through both Inverness and Floral City. It’s a fantastic way to explore the local park system, as it offers plenty of places to stop along the way and sightsee, eat and even shop.

You can bring your own bike or rent one at several local operators in Inverness and Floral City. If the distance is a little daunting, you can even rent an electric bike to travel the miles in minutes — leaving more time to explore the destinations along the way. Select E-Bike is centrally located and adjacent to the trail.

Begin your ride near downtown Inverness by enjoying the lovely views of Lake Henderson at Wallace Brooks Park. From there, travel south to Fort Cooper State Park. Take some time to explore the meandering trails of this 700-acre park, as it offers spots for relaxing, hiking, admiring nature and learning about Florida history.

The Ferris Groves produce stand is located in Floral CityThe Ferris Groves produce stand is located in Floral City — Photo courtesy of Skye Rodgers

If you continue rolling south on the trail, you will arrive at a legendary roadside produce stand, Ferris Groves. An ideal place to rest and grab a snack, this family-owned citrus and strawberry farm is famous for its delightful milkshakes. This shop, open from November to mid-April, also offers a selection of seasonal fresh fruit and a variety of preserves, jams, jellies and other goodies.

Before you reach Floral City, be sure to veer off the trail and pedal down East Orange Avenue (known as “Avenue of the Oaks”). This historic street is shaded by exquisite ancient trees. Their branches are dripping with Spanish moss, which form a leafy canopy overhead. You can also visit the Floral City Heritage Museum and Country Store to learn about the area’s historical significance (and browse local souvenirs). If another pit stop is in order, check out the Shamrock Inn, a casual landmark that serves Irish-inspired pub grub.

Visit country fairs and local markets

The Inverness Market at the Depot offers a variety of local produce and artisanal itemsThe Inverness Market at the Depot offers a variety of local produce and artisanal items — Photo courtesy of Skye Rodgers

Depending on when you visit, you may be lucky enough to run into a local event or market. Inverness hosts “Market at the Depot,” on several Saturdays each month in Liberty Park. Featuring scenic views of Lake Henderson, this market showcases a wide array of local produce and artisan products — including fresh-picked mushrooms, homemade jams and jellies, handcrafted jewelry, housewares and more.

In addition, there are many other local events to enjoy all year round. Some of these include the Floral City Strawberry Festival in the spring, July 4th celebrations in the summer, the Inverness Country Jam in the fall and Floral City Heritage Days in December. Throughout the year, there’s food events, bass fishing tournaments and vintage car exhibitions. Be sure to check the local calendar before you travel to find out what’s happening during your visit.

Spot wildlife from an airboat

Airboat rides are a great way to see local wildlife along the Withlacoochee RiverAirboat rides are a great way to see local wildlife along the Withlacoochee River — Photo courtesy of Skye Rodgers

A trip to Inverness and Floral City would not be complete without getting out on the water. While you can kayak, canoe, pontoon or motorboat, one of the most exciting ways to explore the area is by airboat.

Since there are extensive wetlands surrounding the Withlacoochee River and Tsala Apopka chain of lakes, airboats are one of the most practical options to get around these waterways — and many locals rely on them. In fact, this area covers over 20,000 acres and includes 15 lakes, so there are numerous fishing spots and islands that can only be reached by airboat.

One way to get a taste of the airboating lifestyle is with a ride from Wild Bills Airboat Tours. Traversing the sawgrass swamps, the boats cruise slowly at first, allowing guests to spot local wildlife. On this boat ride, it’s not unusual to see deer, alligators and waterfowl. On the return trip, things speed up — so passengers can enjoy the thrill of moving atop the water and through the narrow grassy channels.

After your adventure, check out the nearby Cove Pub and Grub that caters to airboat visitors. Located on Lake Henderson, there are scenic views to enjoy and some of the best chicken wings you’ve ever had. Try smothering them in their famous “Debbie” sauce!

Where to stay on your getaway

As an off-the-beaten path destination, there are few hotel or motel options to choose from. One affordable and convenient option is the Central Motel. This is a clean, friendly and well-maintained motel that is centrally located, only minutes from downtown Inverness. It’s also adjacent to the Withlacoochee State Trail, which is ideal for bikers. Or you might opt for one of several RV parks and fish camps that offer more rustic accommodations.

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