Enjoy This Thrilling, Hidden Gem Island Retreat Without Even Leaving The US

Florida has a plethora of hidden gems. You can visit cities like Miami and Tampa and have a delightful time, but why fight the crowds when you don't have to? Numerous alternatives can give you the fabulous beach day you're looking for, and one of your best options is Wekiva Island in central Florida. This spot is great for families and groups of friends looking to have a fun time under the sun.

This island, not to be mistaken for Wekiva Springs, is located along the Wekiva River and it's only a 20-minute drive from Orlando. While it's not surrounded by the ocean, it's still a great vacation spot, complete with cabanas and palm trees. You can sit back and relax in the sunshine or in the shade of a rented cabana, take a dip in the water that stays around 72 degrees Fahrenheit every season, or paddle away for the afternoon at this picturesque river beach surrounded by beautiful the flora and fauna of Florida.

Fun in the water, fun on the land

Wekiva Island has great opportunities for water sports, as you can rent a kayak, canoe, or paddle board for the day. Prices range from $45 to $50 and are $5 cheaper if you rent after 12 p.m. — note that all of them must be returned before 6 p.m. Launches for the boats are an additional $10. You can also bring your own fishing gear and fish from your kayak, canoe, paddle board, or whatever kind of boat you bring yourself (no fishing is permitted from the shore). Or if you'd rather stay on land, you can play yard games like corn hole or take advantage of the volleyball court. "We rented kayaks/canoes to go up river to the springs and loved it," a reviewer wrote on TripAdvisor. "They have a great dock to help people in and out of canoes/kayaks. We had a great time paddling up the river [...]"

Cabanas are another option, and they're great if you have a large group and want to stay in the shade. There's a variety to choose from, so no matter your group size, you'll find one that's just the right fit. They range from $100 per day to $600 per day, and prices vary depending on when you visit: they're more expensive on weekends and holidays.

Where to eat

When you inevitably get hungry, or you simply want an ice-cold drink, you can stop by Without a Paddle Cafe for a delicious meal no matter the time of day, or The Tooting Otter for some beer and wine. Note that you cannot bring alcoholic beverages onto the island, you must buy them from The Tooting Otter. Food also is not permitted unless you rent either a cabana or one of the boats.

Wekiva Island is open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. from Sunday to Thursday in the summer and 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. You can escape the cold on a trip here because the island is open year-round. The winter hours are 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. This hidden hideaway offers you all the delights of a beach day (on a river) and enables you to skip the typical Florida tourist traps. It's popular among locals, so come see why they all flock here.