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This Florida College Town is Perfect for Art and Nature Lovers

From tubing the springs to a weekly artisan market, DeLand is a budget-friendly getaway that shows off Old Florida at its best.

By Cheryl Rodewig on January 5, 2022

Jeff Adkins

Locals know Florida is more than beaches and theme parks. It’s historic downtowns and crystal-clear springs, murals and farmers markets. We call it “Old Florida,” and it’s exactly what you’ll find in DeLand.

Between Orlando and Daytona Beach, this mid-sized college town (population ~35,000) is home to Stetson University and an award-winning downtown that boasts a thriving culinary and arts scene. It also has great access to nature thanks to several parks nearby, including one famous for all-you-can-eat pancakes. Yes, you heard that right.

Whether you’re looking for a quick getaway or maybe something more, here’s what to love about DeLand.

DeLand, FL art mural at Painter's Pond Park
Cheryl Rodewig

Art and History Downtown

Begin your visit in the heart of the city.

Walkable and scenic, the downtown area is an Instagrammer’s delight. Discover pocket parks and quaint alleys. Admire 1920s landmarks like the courthouse or the Athens Theatre, a restored vaudeville venue that hosts diverse performances year-round.

Check out the Museum of Art exhibits, or take advantage of all the free art outdoors.

Even the utility boxes downtown are wrapped in public art.

And, of course, a selfie at the DeLand Wings is a must. The most famous pair are downtown, near Persimmon Hollow Brewing Co. (which has some pretty cool murals of its own), but there are five others around Volusia County, including bi-plane wings, peacock feathers and fairy wings.

If it’s Friday night, get to the Artisan Alley Farmers Market. Over 40 local vendors sell wild honey, woodwork, jewelry, farm-fresh produce and more.

Downtown theater in DeLand, FL
Cheryl Rodewig

Affordability and Great Location

Right off I-4, DeLand is only an hour from Disney World and 30 minutes from the coast. But part of what makes this destination special is the variety of things to do nearby. You can watch a lavish musical or kayak the St. Johns River. Dine on gator or açai bowls. Browse trendy boutiques or explore the psychic energy of a spiritualist camp.

It’s all pretty affordable. Several activities, like the art walks and farmers market, are free, while admission to parks, museums and historic sites is typically a nominal fee, around $6 or less. There’s plenty of free parking downtown, too.

Where to stay: The Holiday Inn Express & Suites Deland South has a primo location, less than 10 minutes from downtown and close to the interstate. It’s thoroughly modern (just opened last year) with well-appointed, spacious rooms. Travelers will appreciate having everything included: breakfast, wi-fi, gym, pool. And rates are competitive, another reason your DeLand vacation won’t break the bank.

Cobb Salad at The Table restaurant in downtown DeLand, FL
Cheryl Rodewig

A Growing Foodie City

You won’t go hungry — or thirsty — here. For a classy dinner, try The Table. The restaurant, which just launched a new bakery concept this summer, features inventive and even healthful entrees, like vegan bolognese, in an unforgettable setting. Sip a cocktail outside by a waterfall over a giant manatee mural.

Urban Brick is best-known for its Italian pies (they also do cauliflower crusts), but don’t overlook their salads, which are just as good. Other favorites include BakeChop, which spotlights local ingredients, and the splurge-worthy, global cuisine at Cress.

For your java fix, swing by Boston Coffeehouse. The decor is quaint, and the pastry case will dazzle you.

Beyond downtown, visit the internationally renowned Kermit’s Key West Key Lime Shoppe. Indulge in the chocolate-covered key lime pie on a stick — 20% cheaper than you can get it in the Keys!

To slake your thirst, hit up the CoolCraft Trail, featuring everything from breweries to vineyards to coffee roasters to a meadery, all across West Volusia.

Blue Springs State Park in DeLand, FL
CherylRodewig

The Great Outdoors

DeLand has three state parks in its backyard, each offering something a little different.

  • Blue Spring State Park is a winter retreat for hundreds of manatees. Cool off in summer with swimming or tubing, and don’t miss visiting the 1870s Thursby House.
  • At De Leon Springs State Park, you can rent canoes and kayaks, marvel at the ruins or stroll the nature trail. But first, put your name on the list at the Old Spanish Sugar Mill, where you can cook your pancakes tableside. It’s popular. Arrive early.
  • Right in DeLandHontoon Island State Park still feels remote. Take the ferry over for fishing, birdwatching and shady picnics by the river.
De Leon Springs State Park near DeLand, FL
Cheryl Rodewig

Further south on the aptly named Spring-to-Spring Trail, see Gemini Springs and the nearly fluorescent Green Springs. While you’re in the area, stop by Highbanks Marina on the St. Johns River. They have boat rentals and, even better, the Swamp House River Front Grill, serving some of the finest gator, seafood and ribs around.

Also close by, the DeBary Hall Historic Site boasts 10 sprawling acres surrounding an impressive Victorian hunting lodge. A guided tour is just $5.

One Last Tip

Ready to explore this historic yet hip college town? One final tip before you go — if you’ll be there around the holidays, be sure to tour the Stetson Mansion. This Gilded Age estate offers guided history tours from February through July, but they pull out all the stops for Christmas with lavish decorations you have to see to believe.

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