• Zip-lining at ZOOm Air, part of Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens, Sanford (Flickr credit: Rain0975)

    Zip-lining at ZOOm Air, part of Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens, Sanford (Flickr credit: Rain0975)

  • Meet brightly-coloured creatures at Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens, Sanford (Flickr credit: elvissa)

    Meet brightly-coloured creatures at Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens, Sanford (Flickr credit: elvissa)

  • Old Florida is a way of life in Sanford (Flickr courtesy: pdxjeff)

    Old Florida is a way of life in Sanford (Flickr courtesy: pdxjeff)

Central Florida is synonymous with Orlando’s giant parks. So when you’ve exhausted those and crave simpler things, take a drive up to Sanford.

Just half an hour north of Orlando International Airport, Sanford is a peaceful port town that sits at the shore of Lake Monroe. The pace of life is a little slower here, but there’s still plenty to do on the water or in the historic downtown area. Walk over its red brick streets, from antique to thrift shop to ‘mom and pop’ café, and feel like time has stood still.

Charming 19th Century buildings have found new lives as quaint B&Bs a few blocks from downtown, where guests can sit in wicker chairs on the porch and watch the world go by. In the evening, friendly bars and restaurants spring to life, and the city’s numerous indie galleries (including Gallery On First, Hyder Gallery and String Theory Creations) theatres put on special events.

There’s a monthly art walk (4th Friday, 6-9pm) where you can meet local artists and buy their work, a small weekly farmers’ market, and a monthly street party (Alive After 5) where delicious craft beers, live music and smoky BBQ food can be enjoyed.

Easily explored on bike or foot, the town is perfect for families with its car-free downtown streets. Look up Limo Cycle, who provide tours on curious multi-person pedaling machines. Great if there’s a few of you, or if the thought of meeting new people while sweating doesn’t bother you. Lake Monroe is known for its bass fishing, so there are plenty of tour companies with competitive daily rates. You may even catch something.

There are scores of family-friendly parks across the city, and the Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens (celebrating 40 years in July) houses domestic and slightly more unusual animals such as the fossa, a curious hybrid of cat, monkey and weasel. Plus you can take to the treetops with ZOOm Air, a network of zip-wires and rope bridges.

If the laid-back ambience of Sanford begins to tire, Daytona Beach is only a 45-minute hop on the I-4. Considering that you can reach downtown Orlando in under an hour, Sanford is the ideal base for families who don’t want their holiday to be defined by the parks. Sure, you could dip in with a day trip or two, but sometimes a holiday needs to be about relaxation, a slower pace of life. And free parking.