How to Spend a Day in St. Cloud, Florida
You might be thinking that St. Cloud is in Minnesota rather than Florida. There are two of them, and both take their name from the wealthy French commune just outside Paris.
The St. Cloud we’re visiting today is a small but fast-growing city in Central Florida that enjoys a quieter life just outside the shadow of Orlando and Disney World. Kind of like the neighboring Kissimmee, It’s one of those places that you maybe haven’t heard much about but will be glad you took the time to discover.
Spend your time wisely with us as we guide you through a fun-filled day in St. Cloud, Florida.
History of St. Cloud, Florida
Old soldiers and sugarcane have a lot to do with the history here.
After the Civil War, an entrepreneur from Philadelphia named Hamilton Disston bought 4 million acres of drained swampland and used part of it to develop what became one of the largest sugarcane farming operations in the country.
In 1909, 35,000 acres were purchased for use as a home to a large concentration of Union Army veterans, giving St. Cloud the early nickname of “the Friendly Solder City.” More than 400 of these former soldiers are buried at Mount Peace Cemetery, which was established in 1910.
St. Cloud and its surrounding communities draw visitors year round, partly because of the weather. Summer brings the sun worshipers while winter brings loads of snowbirds seeking relief from the harsh cold back home. It’s sunny and warm with a chance of afternoon showers for much of the year, with temperatures rarely below 38°F or above 94°F.
Today’s estimated population is estimated at around 60,000, which is dramatically more than the 35,183 counted in the 2010 census.
You’re going to be hearing a lot about East Lake Toho. That’s short for East Lake Tohopekaliga, a body of water that’s five miles in diameter and covers almost 12,000 acres. It plays a big part in the community’s identity and lifestyle.
Are you ready to get to know St. Cloud a lot better? Let’s get going!
Morning in St Cloud, Florida
Everyone in St Cloud, Florida knows this is a great place to start your day. Step inside the family-friendly Village Inn (4571 13th St.) and you’ll be greeted with the inviting aromas of Southern breakfast favorites made from scratch.
They’ve been doing it right in various locations since 1961 with pleasing dishes in a pleasant environment. Besides your classic eggs, bacon and hash browns, popular choices include buttermilk pancakes, crepes and the popular V.I.B., which lets you create your own Village Inn Breakfast combo.
Tour the Gatorland Orlando
You’ve heard about alligators and crocodiles, and here’s your chance to experience them up close. Florida has them both in the wild, but you’ll find it safer to encounter them at Gatorland Orlando, an actual theme park devoted to these amazing and frightening creatures.
You can feed the gators (or even sample some gator nuggets) at this 110-acre attraction that’s just a half-hour’s drive from St. Cloud. The 110-acre park literally has thousands of these reptiles on display.
There’s also an aviary and a nature walk and exhibits on the elusive Florida panthers. You can also learn about legends of the Florida swamps and take a risky and adventurous ride on the Screamin’ Gator Zip Line.
Afternoon in St Cloud, Florida
The specialty at The Catfish Place (2324 13th St.) is obvious, but if you’ve still got gators on your mind, you might consider the Florida Cracker Special, which includes their signature fresh-caught catfish fillets alongside gator tail, turtle, and frog legs.
Other choices at this unassuming and efficient eatery include shrimp, scallops and oysters (broiled or fried) as well as burgers, home-style fried chicken and pork tenderloin. Side dishes run along the lines of mashed potatoes and gravy, coleslaw and corn on the cob.
It’s the classic Southern stuff that draws big crowds that include some occasional famous faces.
After such a satisfying mid-day meal, hopefully the weather will be perfect for some time outdoors. You’ll get a good taste of St. Cloud, Florida’s natural beauty and its heritage with a visit to Peghorn Nature Park (2101 Peghorn Way).
Take a quick hike on the boardwalk nature trail at this small and well-tended park that locals love and cherish. Get a glimpse into the early days of the community with a tour of a re-created pioneer village that includes an old schoolhouse and blacksmith’s shop.
Just 4 miles away, on the southeastern edge of Lake East Toho, lies another natural gem. Make some time to explore Lake Runnymede Conservation Area and you’ll be rewarded with a view of one of the most stunning stands of ancient live oak trees in the region.
Songbirds will flutter overhead in the thick oak canopy as you walk along one of two hiking loops through this amazing grove of trees that are more than 500 years old.
Spending Your Evening in St Cloud, Florida
Head to Lakefront Park Marina for fun, casual dining at Crabby Bill’s (1104 Lakeshore Blvd.) and catch a panoramic view of the water.
The restaurant’s founder is from New Jersey, where his family at one time sold blue crabs along the side of the road. Like many people, Bill Loder came to Florida to visit and decided not to leave. Today his small chain serves up the fresh flavors of Florida while showcasing seafood specialties from other areas, too.
Find a seat indoors or out and settle in with a cold beer or cocktail. Grab a grouper sandwich or dive deeper on the menu for a Maine lobster roll, West Coast fish tacos or Greek-style grilled octopus.
Locals love to gather for drinks at Drunken Parrot Saloon (3447 13th St.) a neighborhood bar with karaoke on Thursday nights and local bands on weekends. They say it’s always five o’clock somewhere – and it definitely feels like it here.
Scott and Teresa Everett just marked their 10th anniversary in business, and they can also celebrate the fact that their friendly little lounge has become a modern institution for a certain segment of St. Clouders. They offer a big selection of beers and mixed drinks from their full bar, and smoking is confined to the back patio.
Stargaze at Lakefront Park
Back at water’s edge, Lakefront Park is a perfect place of stargazing. During the daytime, its two-mile recreational pathway is buzzing with bikers and runners and sightseers. Nighttime, when things quiet down, is the right time for savoring the peaceful experience of looking up to enjoy the dark blue skies and try to spot Saturn and Jupiter.
If your timing is right, you might see the International Space Station fly over or even catch a rocket launch – NASA’s Kennedy Space Center is just 40 miles away as the crow flies.
Where to Stay in St Cloud, Florida
If you are looking for a tranquil setting near the water, Lake Toho RV Resort (4715 Kissimmee Park Rd.) is an excellent choice. Full hookups and power, and sites are grass with concrete pads. Some overlook Lake Toho while others face a small pond that may indeed have a couple of resident alligators. (So keep a close watch on your pets.)
The campground is well maintained by its friendly staff. You might share the space with some long termers, and maybe some fishermen, too. You can rent a boat here or take an air ride on the lake. Fun place!
A Day in St. Cloud
It might seem like a cliché, but in many ways a visit to this small city on the shore of East Lake Tohopekaliga feels like a step back in time.
It’s just enough removed from the congestion of the more popular tourist spots that it helps you understand why Florida exploded as a tourist destination in the 20th century. At the same time, it’s convenient to those hotspots as well as to the Atlantic Coast. All of these things make St. Cloud, Florida an awesome place to spend a day!
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