A surplus of sunshine, sandy beaches and family-friendly theme parks entice tourists to vacation in the Sunshine State, but it is the latter that invites more than half a million Mickey Mouse ear-wearing visitors to Central Florida each year. Outside of the parks, Orlando offers everything from innovative eats to an inspiring art scene, but did you know that in the sprawling city’s backyard, you can find endless options for adventure?

Kissimmee is a city long overlooked as nothing more than a place to rent a hotel or a stop for outlet shoppers, but the destination delights travelers who appreciate off-the-beaten-path adventure — with or without the kids in tow.

Downtown Kissimmee is a growing historic commercial district home to a remarkable variety of small businesses, ranging from Puerto Rican and Jamaican restaurants to quirky antiques stores, but it is the surrounding areas that prove perennial appeal. The swamps, marshes, rivers and 100,000 acres of wetlands are at the mouth of the Florida Everglades, meaning you get access to the rich biodiverse landscape and the creatures that call it home. Explore the area of Kissimmee by bike or by boat; see the sights from a hot air balloon, or trek in the trees. The only requirement for this itinerary? No kids allowed.

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The natural wonders of Kissimmee invite travelers to explore and adventure outside of the theme parks.

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Kissimmee is the county seat of Osceola County, and at the center of town sits a historic courthouse that dates back to 1890.

Bike in Celebration

Flawlessly manicured lawns, sherbet-color storefronts, and charming streets make up the small community of Celebration, which was developed by the Walt Disney Company just west of Kissimmee. The best way to explore the picture-perfect town is by bike. Celebration Bicycle Tours will leisurely guide you down scenic trails and waterfront pathways, and through the neighborhoods for a closer look at the exquisite architecture. After the tour is over, you can hang onto your bikes for the afternoon and pedal to Market Street for lunch.

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When it comes to restaurants, Florida regulars will recognize the famous and delicious Columbia Restaurant, a family-run establishment with seven locations across the state, but we opted for something less familiar: Imperium Food & Wine. Although not your typical seafood-focused Florida restaurant, the wine bar serves a hearty lunch that hits the spot. If you are looking for something lighter, try a sandwich at Market Street Café. After lunch, take a stroll through town.

For somewhere to stay, consider the stylish Bohemian Hotel Celebration, an upscale, boutique hotel with charming plantation-style architecture and sophisticated finishes that combine old Florida and contemporary styles. We will meet you on the lakeside terrace.

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Colorful storefronts in Celebration evoke an old Florida feel that puts a smile on your face.

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The town center features a colorful strip of storefronts, as well as a glistening lake.

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Miles of trails wind through Celebration, creating the perfect roadmap for a biking tour of the town.

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Bohemian Hotel Celebration is an ideal place to stay in this quaint town.

Balloon Over Kissimmee

Nothing beats the thrill of an early morning hot air balloon ride over a scenic landscape as the sun rises. Our imaginations lead us to believe that a sunrise balloon ride over Kissimmee would bring the same delight we’ve found in other balloon rides, but we can’t say for certain as our scheduled trip was canceled due to weather. Even despite the cancellation, the balloon ride is still getting a shoutout because Orlando Balloon Rides came so highly recommended, and we can only imagine it would have lived up to our expectations. Mark it on your must-do list and let us know how it is — we will hope you have better weather.

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See the sights of Kissimmee from a hot air balloon — if the weather lets you! Image: Orlando Balloon Rides

Boat on Lake Tohopekaliga

Many don’t know that the headwaters to the Florida Everglades are in Orlando, making the swamps, marshes and rivers gems of the area. One way to see the area’s natural beauty is by exploring the wetlands on Lake Tohopekaliga by boat — airboat to be exact. Cruise across the waters, and keep your eyes out for wildlife, such as alligators and cows, during an hour or half-hour tour. We found the half-hour tour to be sufficient, but we would consider returning for a sunset tour, which lasts an hour.

In addition to tours, Boggy Creek Airboat Rides offers entertainment through the Native American Village, Gem Stone and Fossil Mine, Alligator Oasis, tiki bar and Boggy Bottom BBQ restaurant. While many of the entertainment offerings cater to kids and families, you’ll likely find yourself lingering at the Native American Village to hear stories from the Big Mountain Family.

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The name Kissimmee comes from Native American origin. Learn more about the native history of the area at the Native American Village.

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We expected to stumble across alligators, but the cows and trees in the open water caught us by surprise.

Adventure in the Trees

Something that will get your heart pumping and adrenaline going is a trek in the adventure park. Fearful this adventure would resemble company retreat team building or the awkward bonding activities of early college, I dubiously approached the situation. Moments later, I was racing through the pine trees eager to complete each course. Orlando Tree Trek Adventure Park is a family-owned operation tucked away in a natural 15-acre pine tree forest that invites folks of all ages to take part in nearly 100 aerial games. You can tackle challenging obstacles 50 feet off the ground, and we promise you will enjoy every bit of stepping on suspended bridges, cruising down zip lines and climbing across wobbling walkways.

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If you’re up for a challenge, trek in the trees!

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More challenging and fun than it appears at first look, a visit to Orlando Tree Trek Adventure Park is a must.

Visit Disney Springs

For just a taste of Disney, wander through Disney Springs, formerly known as Downtown Disney. Entertainment abounds in this destination, which is complete with dining and shopping. An approachable mix of touristy and tasteful, Disney Springs is an outdoor promenade that beckons those looking for an eventful night out (no admission required). Stroll the winding streets and shop for gifts to bring to those back home, and as the sun sets, choose a dining destination from the long list of notable restaurants and bars, which is not an easy feat.

Follow our recommendation of avoiding the temptation of corndogs and wafting smells of pizza in favor of an exploration into Spanish eats at Jaleo by José Andrés. The diversity of Spanish flavors is explored in an impressive menu. If for no other reason, order the paella to hear the kitchen announce when it is ready to reach your table.

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More approachable than the parks, Disney Springs is an impressive display of entertainment.

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The sun sets as a couple takes a romantic ride across the water.

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A low-quality picture of a high-quality meal shows that we were more interested in tasting the food than photographing it.

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The Salt Air Margarita must not go without mention.

Travel Logistics

Kissimmee earned the title of the Vacation Home Capital of the World® thanks to its vast collection of home rentals, ranging from villas to mansions. At Reunion Resort vacation rentals, you get access to the resort and its many amenities, including a waterpark and pools, golf courses, tennis center, spa and restaurants. Rent a 13-bedroom home with Disney themed bedrooms and a private swimming pool, or a more modest house that sleeps a smaller group.

Our last piece of advice: Be sure to rent a car. While adventuring is right around the corner from Reunion Resort, it will be more convenient (and cost-effective) to avoid taking Ubers.

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At the resort, a course attracts golfers of all abilities to putt beneath the palm trees.

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This view from the resort’s restaurant bar showcases the many acres that Reunion Resort occupies.

For more information or to plan your trip to Kissimmee, visit experiencekissimmee.com.

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