A non-touristy guide to Orlando, FL
When most people think of Orlando, they think of Disney, hurricanes and perhaps even the crazy PCB spring-break stories they heard on the news. But the sunshine state has so much more to offer than oranges and alligators. During the past few weeks I've taken the liberty to explore my hometown with a new perspective of traveler eyes (while skipping the touristy stuff). Here are my favorite things to do, places to eat, drink and day trips from the city... not to mention some rad drone footage of the sunshine state.
What To Do In Orlando
A Stroll Along Park Ave: Whether you're craving Turkish food, fresh chocolate fudge, an upscale wine tasting or the perfect Sunday brunch spot, Park Ave has it all! The boutique shopping is not exactly the most affordable for clothing or art, but the ambiance and large rose garden make the sightseeing worthwhile. Also check out the new SUN RAIL for those looking for a metropolitan way of transportation.
Scenic Boat Tour: Discover the city by boat on Lake Virginia, the backyard to many elite summer houses during the 1800's. You cruise through scenic canals and get a touch of Florida wildlife along the way. Boats depart each hour from 10am to 4pm daily.
Sporting Fans: The city offers games by the Orlando Magic, Solar Bears and Orlando City and local college teams (basketball, hockey and soccer). NBA Season (Orlando Magic), normally runs form October through April. MLS season (Orlando City) Normally runs March through September. Although Orlando might not have a baseball team, Tampa is a short drive away and they offer an MLB and NFL team to watch; The Tampa Bay Rays (MLB) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (NFL) - seasons run from March through September.
Mead Gardens / Turkey Lake Road: These are my favorite two patches of nature in the city to have a picnic, photoshoot, or even camp. Mead Gardens offers an outdoor pavilion (available for weddings, birthday party bookings, and wild life habitat informational walks for children). At Turkey Lake Park located in Dr Phillips, you'll find farm animals, fishing, boating and tent camping sites available for a day in nature.
Winter Garden Farmer's Market: I love giving new, smaller farmers markets in town a chance. You'll find more personable vendors and just as tasty treats up in Winter Garden on a Saturday morning.
Orlando Museum of Art: Located in Loch Haven Park, this cultural preservation is just minutes from Downtown and displays many contemporary American artists.
Explore Lake Nona: This district is out near Kissimmee but worth the drive. The hip and upcoming neighborhood is filled with great bars, trendy new restaurants and my FAVORITE salon in the world, Jacq & Jack (a his and her concept salon with an ultra-mod espresso bar). Check them out for a hair, massage, facial, beard and nail services.
Bike the West orange Blossom Trail: This lovely 22 mile trail runs throughout Clermont + winter Garden area and is the perfect place for a job or bike ride. You can even hop off at Plant Street Market and stop by Crooked Can Brewery for a beer after in celebration!
Top Restaurants in Greater Orlando
East End Market near Orange Ave
Fish Co in Winter Park
Moghul near University of Central Florida
Tako Cheena in downtown
Christini's Restorante Italiano in Dr Phillips
Bar Taco in Dr Phillips
Barnies Coffee Kitchen in Winter Park
Paloma Coffee in Windermere
Dandelion Communitea Cafe near Mills
Most Notable Bars
Tim's Wine Market in Windermere
Boathouse at Disney Springs
Mathers Social Gathering in downtown *FAVORITE*
Imperial Bar at Lake Ivanhoe
Rocco's Tacos in Dr Phillips
Better Than Sex Dessert Bar near downtown
Anywhere on Wall Street downtown is where to get smashed. They do a block party every weekend.
Orlando consists of several notable neighborhoods to explore, but I'll talk about my favorite, the GEM of the city, Winter Park. This historical city holds the first college in the state of Florida, Rollins College. As an alumni I might be biased, but this area is by far the most charming and welcoming area in town.
Winter Park Favorites
Prato consists of handcrafted Italian cuisine with string lights and plants hanging from the ceiling. Add a fresh egg on any pizza and try the local beers! Service quality is iffy, because the place is constantly packed.
Luma is an upscale restaurant on the perfect people watching corner, consisting of delicious meals, but small portions for a pretty penny (save for fancy date nights). With a completely modern aesthetic and year-round alfresco dining, you've gotta at least grab a cocktail here once. Okay, and let me not forget the TRUFFLE MASHED POTATOES.
Cocina 214 is a contemporary Mexican, award-winning restaurant serving vibrant food in an elegant setting. Try my personal favorite, "the diablo" for a half margarita / sangria slushi. This joint is THE PLACE to be on Cinco de Mayo, throwing it's guests out in the street with a local DJ and games.
Alfond Inn This bar and rooftop pool make for a secret stop in town. mainly used for Rollins College events, this place is the perfect spot for bloggers looking for a diverse photoshoot location near to down town.
CFS Colombian Coffee Shop is a perfect student hang out spot, offering typical breakfast arepas by a Colombian staff, accompanied by dulce de leche lates and a motivating globalesque workspace.
FAVORITE LOCAL SHOPS
Instanaturals - This Orlando based company has spoiled my skin oh so much the past few months. Check out my favorites from them: coconut oil and the vitamin C facial serum.
Rifle Paper Co - This infamous stationary and greeting card store has a unique history and founded by a woman and her ex rocker husband in Orlando (can't spoil too many details, but take a few minutes in their shop at Hannibal Square to learn more).
Oddities Store on Lake Ivanhoe is full of bizzare antiques and questionable yet memorable historic gifts.
Spical Circle and Avalon are my two favorite wiccan / pagan / spiritualist shops in town for books, candles, essential oils, herbal tinctures, and all things GODDESS!
Wekiwa Springs is the best gem of nature in central florida. with a cheap admission fee, you can grab a beer and alligator tacos and head down the spring in a kayak rental. Don't forget to utilize the trail hikes to catch a glimpse at deer, snake and more wildlife.
Casadaga Town is a spiritualist camp where you can get a psychic reading, tarot cards read, or crystals galore!
Mount Dora is a very underrated town near by with a badass antique market for pro thrifters. It's being recently redeveloped and acquiring an up and coming, trendy energy you shouldn't sleep on.
Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral is a must for rocket launch lovers and a perfect date night idea. Enjoy NASA's space center educational park for children.
Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Whales is known for its beautiful architecture and quiet nature. A picnic lover's must see!
Strawberry Festival in Plant City has THE HANDS DOWN BEST strawberry shortcake in the world (don't at me!). Pick berries in the late summer time with friends for a delicious treat.
Ybor City in Tampa is Cuban neighborhood where you can find authentic rolled Cuban cigars. Home to the pirate festival, Gasparilla.
Blue Springs State Park + Crystal River to see and swim with manatees in the not so cold winter. Best accommodation is Plantation Inn.