Fun things to do in Sanford, Florida! Visit historic sites, check out the many bars and breweries, and chow down at amazing restaurants.
We think there are a lot of great things to do in Central Florida. And when we say that, we mean more than just Disney World. We’re not knocking Disney in any way; in fact, we think Disney is pretty awesome. We’re just saying there is more to the area. Thanks to house sitting, we’ve been able to get to know a lot of great cities in Central Florida. One of which is Sanford!
Honestly, we hadn’t heard of Sanford before we house sat there. We quickly realized, though, that it is a very close-knit community where everything is about supporting local businesses. There are always fun events in Downtown Sanford that support local shops and restaurants and you’re just as likely to see locals as you are tourists.
After our house sit in Sanford ended, we quickly made plans to return because we knew we wanted to get to know the city even more. We got our chance after house sitting in Ocala. Now, after visiting twice, we wanted to put together this list of fun things to do in Sanford so that others could also grow to love this city the way we have.
Where Is Sanford, Florida?
Sanford is in East Central Florida, along the southern shore of Lake Monroe. Sanford is about a 30 minute drive north of Orlando along I-4. If you’d rather fly in, Sanford does have its own airport: Orlando Sanford International Airport (SFB). And if you’d like to spend some time on the east coast before or after your trip to Sanford, the popular beaches of Titusville and Daytona are only 45 minutes away.
Fun Things To Do In Sanford
Now that you know more about the city of Sanford and where it is, let’s get into the good stuff. Here is our compilation of fun things to do in Sanford…
We think every visit to Sanford should start at the Sanford Museum. It’s not a huge museum, but it’s bigger than it looks from the outside. We think it’s one of the best museums in Florida. And you start learning about Sanford’s history before you even step inside. If you look closely, the top of the columns at the museum’s entryway have celery sculpted into them. This is because Sanford is known as “Celery City.”
Fun Fact: After the Great Freeze of 1895 destroyed much of the citrus in the area, farmers looked for another cash crop and discovered that celery grew well in the area’s soil. Soon Sanford was nicknamed “Celery City” and became the “celery capital of the world.” After the 1950s, however, celery growing declined and the last celery farm in Sanford closed in the 1970s. Sanford is still very proud of its celery history, though, and nods to it can be seen all over the city.
Once inside the museum, visitors will see an impressive collection of artifacts, including the library and papers of city founder Henry S. Sanford. There are also other exhibits and artifacts that tell the city’s history. One of the museum’s most popular exhibits is their sports collection. It highlights the achievements of local sports stars as well as others who played in town, including Willie Mays and Jackie Robinson.
Walk Along 1st Street
Downtown Sanford’s main thoroughfare is 1st Street. On this street are shops and restaurants. It’s also where many of the city’s events take place. Walking along 1st Street is fun, even if there isn’t an event going on. There’s an exciting energy and it’s a great place to people watch. Make sure to check out Downtown Sanford at night too!
There are also many historic buildings on and around 1st Street. The Downtown Commercial Historic District is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and includes 25 buildings. The buildings all have markers that tell the history of the building and about its architecture. You can also pick up a pamphlet at the Visitor Center that has a map showing where the 25 buildings are so you can do a self-guided walking tour.
Sanford Marketplace At Magnolia
As we mentioned earlier, Sanford is all about supporting its community and local businesses. A great place to see this in action is at the Sanford Marketplace at Magnolia, which takes place every Saturday from 10 AM to 3 PM. You’ll find all kinds of fresh foods and locally crafted items.
Another fun thing to do in Sanford is to visit the Riverwalk along the southern shore of Lake Monroe. There are plenty of places to sit and enjoy views of the water and many boats. You can also walk, run, or bike along the completely paved trail. It’s been recently expanded and is now almost five miles long.
Veterans Memorial Park
Also along Lake Monroe is the Veterans Memorial Park. It is dedicated to those who have served our country and there are signs throughout the park with interesting facts and history. It’s a really nice park and a great place to reflect.
Schedule A Photo Shoot
While we were in Sanford, we became friends with Daniella, the amazing photographer behind Mastropieces Photography. We had a mini photo session and had such a blast. She’s amazing at her craft and knows all of the best places to take pictures in Sanford. We really recommend scheduling a photo shoot with her while you’re in town.
Rent A Bicycle
Downtown Sanford is very walkable, but another fun thing to do in Sanford is to rent a bicycle and ride all around town. We recommend renting from Bicikleta Bike Shop. They are super passionate about bike riding and really know everything there is to know about biking in Sanford.
The shop also has bikes for sale or can do repairs to your bike if you already have one. They also have fun gear and apparel. We especially love that they are minority-owned: Puerto Rican, Salvadoran, and German! One of the owners is a woman, and their mechanic is a woman. Talk about representation! We’re all for supporting this kind of establishment. Plus, they’re just really nice and helpful people.
We also appreciated that they had a tandem bike available to rent since Vicky can’t ride a bike (yes, it’s true, calm down). With the tandem bike, however, Mark sat in front and controlled the steering, the brakes, and the gears. We had a lovely time riding around town and along the Riverwalk.
Rent A Golf Cart
A more unique way of getting around town is with a golf cart. You can rent one with Sanford Tours & Experiences. They have a lot of options, depending on your needs. You can rent a golf cart for a few hours, or for the whole day. They even have six-seater golf carts. Please note that although Sanford is a golf cart-friendly community, there are some streets that don’t allow golf carts on them. Don’t worry, though, you’ll be told which streets to avoid before you head out.
Historic Sanford Memorial Stadium
Less than a mile from Downtown Sanford is the Historic Sanford Memorial Stadium. Built in 1951, it was once the spring training facility for the New York Giants. Currently, it is the home of the Sanford River Rats of the Florida Collegiate Summer League. Although extensive renovations were made to the stadium in 2001, it kept its classic architecture which was typical of stadiums built in the early to mid 1900s.
Best Restaurants In Sanford
There are a lot of great Downtown Sanford restaurants, and it seems like more keep popping up every time we visit. Below are a few of our favorites…
Hollerbach’s Willow Tree Café
One of the best restaurants in Sanford is Hollerbach’s Willow Tree Café. Open since 2001, it serves traditional German cuisine. While Vicky was in the Army, she was stationed in Germany for three years. Needless to say, she was excited to have a proper schnitzel again!
Hollerbach’s did not disappoint. We had the Käse Schnitzel, which is schnitzel covered in Swiss cheese. The dish came with two sides so we chose French fries and Spätzle. Everything was great and very filling.
The Original Christo’s
Another great Downtown Sanford restaurant is The Original Christo’s. Christo’s is all about good, affordable food that the whole family will enjoy. They have a pretty extensive menu that includes burgers, ribs, sandwiches, and salads. We were told by multiple people, however, that we had to try the pizza. And who are we to argue?
So, we got a large Build Your Own Pizza with pepperoni and ricotta cheese. It was delicious! The cheese was great and what really impressed us was the crust. It’s often an afterthought but at Christo’s they season it and it is just finger-licking good.
The Old Jailhouse Kitchen & Spirits
One of the most unique restaurants in Sanford is The Old Jailhouse. Yes, it was actually once the town’s jail! Nowadays, the building is beautifully preserved and the restaurant serves mouthwatering dishes.
To start, we had the Jailhouse Fries. The fries came with herbed goat cheese, parmesan, and truffle oil. We could see why our waiter recommended them! Next, we had the Boodle Noodles. It came with house fettucine, wild mushrooms, and peas in a sauce made with gouda and pecorino cheese. Wow. Everything was just amazing.
No matter what Sanford restaurant you visit, make sure to leave room for dessert! Wondermade is a fun candy and ice cream shop that specializes in marshmallows. They are served toasted on sticks, sandwiched in s’mores, or in a cup of hot chocolate. We were there for the handcrafted ice cream, though.
After some deliberation (they have a lot of great flavors), we chose the Peanut Butter Cup ice cream. Every bite was packed with flavor. We enjoyed our large cup outside while people watching.
Palate Coffee Brewery
If you really want to start your day in Sanford off right, visit Palate Coffee Brewery. They have all kinds of coffees as well as yummy snacks that are made fresh every morning. On the day we visited we had a delicious cinnamon roll! Something else that we love about this coffee shop is that they donate all profits to Love Missions, an organization that aims to abolish human trafficking.
Sanford Pizza Company
Because we love pizza, we had to check out a second pizzeria while in town. Sanford Pizza Company is located right on the Riverwalk, so it is a perfect place to grab a quick bite after visiting the Veterans Memorial Park. Our Margarita Pizza was really good; the ingredients tasted really fresh and the slightly thin crust had a nice crunch to it.
If you’re not sure what you want, or if you’re traveling to Sanford with kids and everyone wants something different, head over to Henry’s Depot. This awesome food hall is located in what was once a railroad depot. Originally built in the 1800s, it’s undergone extensive renovations and is now home to eight food vendors and one cocktail bar.
They also have live entertainment and events almost every day of the week. It’s a really fun place to hang out! We liked that they had seating throughout the inside, but also a nice open patio area.
Bars And Breweries In Sanford
Another fun thing to do in Sanford is to bar hop and enjoy its many breweries. If you’d like to partake in some libations, keep reading!
Note: Always drink responsibly and use ridesharing services to get home!
Celery City Craft Beer Garden
A favorite Sanford brewery is Celery City Craft Beer Garden. They have over 50 beers on tap, wine, cocktails, and a Korean-inspired sushi kitchen by Sushi & Seoul. They also offer beer flights, which Mark was very happy about. We enjoyed the flight outside while listening to a stand-up comedy show. Flights run between $8 and $12, depending on what you get.
Dees Brothers Brewery
Sanford’s newest brewery is Dees Brothers Brewery. With a focus on comfort, they have a great lounge area that’s all about relaxation. They also have food, free arcade games, and live performances on weekends. Oh, and they have craft beer! You can get a flight starting at $11, depending on the beer you get.
Brix & Mortar Urban Winery
If wine is more your thing, you have to visit Brix & Mortar Urban Winery. We love the clean and classy vibe they have. We also really love that they have wine slushies! They are perfect on a hot Florida day. We had a Strawberry-Kiwi slushy that was divine, along with four other wines, as part of a flight that cost $15.
Sanford really has everything, even its own distillery. Loggerhead Distillery was created by two engineers that shared a passion for the art and science of distillation. They were also raised in Florida, so they try to incorporate Florida elements into their products as much as they can. In fact, they named their distillery “Loggerhead” after the threatened species of sea turtle that nests on Florida’s shores. They even donate a portion of bottle sales to non-profit partners that have programs for ocean protection and cleanup.
During our visit, we took advantage of their free samples and tried a variety of their products. We ended up buy bottles of their Blonde Rum and their Apple Pie Moonshine. Mark still talks about that moonshine to this day. We definitely recommend stopping by this great distillery. Plus, they’re veteran-owned!
Tuffy’s Bottle Shop / Lounge
Oh man, we wish we’d gotten to spend more time here. Tuffy’s is big and broken down into different areas, all of which look fun and cool. At Tuffy’s bottle shop, we had a glass of cider that was delicious (they also serve beer and cocktails). Then we walked around and found Suffering Bastard, a tucked away tiki bar. It looked really awesome inside, but because it’s small, it’s recommended you make reservations ahead of time.
As we continued exploring, we stumbled upon a lounge area with games and murals. Then further along we found a large beer garden area. Here we also found Swine & Sons, a sandwich shop known for its chicken sandwiches. As we walked by, everything smelled delicious. Continuing along, we rounded a corner and found Tuffy’s Music Box. There was a band playing and a large open space where people were dancing. Everyone kept telling us to go to Tuffy’s and we quickly learned why!
Final Thoughts On Sanford, Florida
Like we said at the beginning of this article, we’ve really grown to love Sanford. The community-vibe is just awesome and businesses really do their best to work together and support each other. And for a smaller city, there are a lot of things to see and do. So the next time you’re in Central Florida, make sure to put Sanford on your list of places to visit.
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