Want to do Orlando like the locals? Wekiva Island is a popular spot for Orlando-area residents to get away, destress, and party hard – Florida-style. (It’s one of my favorite spots when I want to have a relaxing day in the sun without the hustle and bustle of the theme parks or trekking all the way out to the coast.)
Tucked in a suburban Longwood neighborhood, away from the normal tourist destinations, it’s easy to miss if you don’t know it’s there. Wekiva Island features a beach-like atmosphere with soft sand and warm clear-ish waters. While you’re there, grab some food from Without a Paddle, a drink from the bar, and relax in a lounge chair on the boardwalk. Want something to do that’s more active? Rent a paddleboard or canoe and go up and down the river! It’s a short paddle to Wekiwa Springs State Park, or you can cruise the river and observe the wildlife.
- Get there early, particularly on the weekends and/or when it’s warmer. The parking lot fills up often by 11AM and there is no street parking available.
- Admission is $1 on weekends, free on weekdays. Have that and your ID ready when you start heading in. If you intend to drink while there, you’ll need to get a wristband at the entrance. (Be prepared for a bag check as well.) You’ll also want to arrange a designated driver or some sort of shuttle service to and from the park if you think you may have more than a couple drinks.
- No outside alcohol is allowed. No exceptions. They do, however, have a decent bar there with relatively fair prices (for Orlando, anyways.) I’ve heard rumor that they’ve recently added unicorn drink floats
- Cabana rentals are available but often book weeks (sometimes even months!) in advance. They’re totally worth the expense if you have a group, even a small one. It’s great to be able to take a break in the shade with some relative peace. Plus, they provide a cooler with ice in it for you, so you can bring your own (sealed) water bottles in to keep you hydrated. There are also designated grills for the cabanas as well in case you want to bring in your own food.
- Don’t want to do the cooking? No worries – they have a food truck with some amazing food. Seriously. Try the basil pesto fries. They’re topped with parmesean cheese and absolutely delicious.
- STAY AWAY FROM THE WEEDS. It’s for your own safety. There are still gators and snakes lurking in there. Only swim in the designated areas. The wildlife usually leaves people alone there. They don’t like all of the noise and commotion associated with them. Once you’re away from those areas though, you’re in the gators’ territory.
- Don’t speed on your way in! Cops like to hide in various spots up and down the road. It’s very easy to get a ticket for that matter.
- If you have your own kayak or paddleboard, feel free to bring it! There is a small fee to launch it from their facilities, but it’s less expensive than renting one while you’re there.
- Is your dog friendly? Bring them! Dogs are allowed here. You’ll see them all over the place, including in the water. It gives your dog a chance to socialize (and if I’m there, gives me a chance to get a step closer to my life dream of petting every dog.)
- Have fun! It’s a party-like atmosphere at Wekiva with loud music and plenty of alcohol flowing, particularly as the day goes on and the families start to head home. If you like talking with those around you, it’s an easy environment to make new friends.