Walt Disney World wasn't always the main tourist attraction in Orlando (or Florida, for that matter). Long before "The Most Magical Place on Earth" opened in 1971, the Sunshine State was already a popular travel destination thanks to its warm climate, vibrant flora and fauna, and wide-open land. Eventually, savvy entrepreneurs began opening roadside attractions in order to tempt visitors to pull off the highway and spend money. A lot has changed a lot over the decades, but a few of the original tourist attractions still remain.
Founded in 1949, this family-owned 110-acre theme park is not to be missed. Known as the Alligator Capital of the World, Gatorland is a collection of unusual experiences. Here, you can zip-line over 130 alligators, pose for a picture with live reptiles, walk through a free-flight aviary, visit a petting zoo, and so much more. Be sure to get your picture at the iconic entrance, a 14-foot high, open alligator mouth that was built in 1962. $29.99 admission.
2. Citrus Tower
The family-owned Citrus Tower was built in 1956 on one of the highest hills in Florida, and sits 226 feet (approximately 22 stories) above the town of Clermont. Visitors can head up top to the observation deck and take in the sweeping views of the orange grove fields below. A new generation of the family now owns the iconic tower and is working on adding new enhancements, like a coffee shop in the lobby and fireworks on holidays. $10 admission.
3. President’s Hall of Fame
The President’s Hall of Fame is packed with a huge variety of authentic Americana items, but most people come to see the miniature White House. The detailed mini-version of the President’s home was created in 1962, and it was once showcased in the Smithsonian. Inside the exhibit, you'll find wax figures and animatronics, along with outdoor replicas of Mount Rushmore and the Lincoln Memorial. The Citrus Tower is right next door, which makes it easy to see both attractions in one day. $15 admission.
4. Orange World
You can’t miss the World’s Largest Orange in Kissimmee on Highway 192. Orange World has been open since 1971 and the family-owned business grows, packs, and ships citrus fruit and other goods from the Indian River Region of Florida. There's also a huge store filled with Florida-themed souvenirs and gifts.
5. Monument of States
The unusual Monument of States in Kissimmee is unlike any other attraction in the Orlando area. Dr. Charles Bressler-Pettis, a tourism promoter in the area, wrote letters to the governors of every state after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. Dr. Pettis wanted to celebrate a unified America and requested a local rock from each state to create a tribute. By 1943, he had samples from all 48 continental states, including a rock that President Franklin D. Roosevelt sent from his Hyde Park estate. The 50-foot tall, 30-ton pyramid includes rocks from all 50 states and 21 foreign countries.