So recently I had a friend in from out of town and he asked me, “Well what’s to do around here besides Disney & Universal?” Are you kidding me? There’s so much to do it’s hard to make a choice. From restaurants to shopping, there’s a ton of things hip and happening around here!
Let’s start by eliminating any large theme parks, golf courses, chain restaurants and major shopping meccas or we’ll be here forever. So want something fun and funky to do? Here’s my list.
Weekends Downtown– You ready to get your party on? Then head downtown on a Friday or Saturday night for people watching and some adult beverages. Beware it is a crowded younger scene at Wall Street Plaza but feel free to go to Tanqueray’s Bar which has, since 1984 been serving up live bands and a smoke filled old bank vault every night.
(Update: Marriott Traveler did a great video to give you and idea of what Downtown nightlife is like http://traveler.marriott.com/orlando/la-vida-local-last-call-in-downtown-orlando/ )
Harry P. Leu Gardens – Is botany your thing? Because Leu Gardens is a gorgeously landscaped 50 acre park perfect for a romantic stroll. Don’t miss Date Night Movie where you and your date watch a movie under the stars. Blankets and picnic baskets welcome.
ZoomAir at the Sanford Zoo – Get ready to zoom through the trees at fast speeds! Your Zoom Air adventure starts with a short lesson on zip lining then you’re free to go exploring through the trees. Much like that rickety bridge in that Indiana Jones movie, you make your way through rope and cable bridges and zipline across to other bridges. Not for those scared of heights. P.S. While you’re in Sanford, stop by the quaint downtown for boutiques, antique shopping and great food.
Road Trip: Clermont – Must see attractions just west of Orlando include the Citrus Tower, a mid-century observation tower with a charming Old Florida gift shop. Right next door is the Presidents Hall of Fame and gift shop for those into memorabilia and artifacts from all of the U.S. Presidents. A few miles down the road is the Lakeridge Winery. Complimentary winery tours and wine tastings are offered seven days a week. For the best time don’t miss the ‘I Love Lucy-esque’ Annual Harvest Grape Stomp in August.
East End Market – Feed your inner foodie and head to East End Market for some specialty food, furniture and flowers from a variety of vendors. If you’re a nut for cheese like I am, head to La Femme du Fromage for artisan cheeses.
Park Avenue in Winter Park – The abundance of shops and restaurants on Park Avenue is rivaled only by the excellent people watching. Park Avenue’s a mix of well-dressed wine sippers, college kids and families. At the center of it all is the park for which it is named surrounded by great architecture and grandiose homes. Not to miss, the Annual Winter Park Arts Festival in March each year with a Florida artist showcase in October.
Winter Park Farmers Market – Every Saturday Winter Park Farmers Market is open for business. Tons of fresh veggies, plants and gourmet food are available. Stop by the cheese shop, the smoothie booth and Florida orange juice booth for sure.
Little Vietnam – In the middle of the quirky and delightful Mills 50 district of Downtown Orlando is Little Vietnam. This area is an assortment of unique shops and restaurants and the best Asian Food markets around. If you love Boba tea, Banh-mi or Pho, this is the place to be. My pick? Nha Trang Subs for Banh-mi, a Vietnamese style sub sandwich.
The Milk District – Named for the unmistakeable presence of a large milk factory in the center of it, the Milk District features a lot of great places to drink and play. Since 1958 Sportstown Billiards has been a great place to shoot pool, get a craft beer and smoke a cig. And don’t forget Tasty Tuesdays Food Truck round up. If you’re out that way during the day do not miss a stop at Pom Pom’s Teahouse & Sandwicheria or Jimmy Kimmel’s favorite, Beefy King (you do yourself a dis-service if you do not get tater tots with your beef sammich.)
Orlando Museum of Art – The Orlando Museum of Art features a variety of artistic collections and traveling exhibitions from around the world. With 10 or more galleries on display at all times plus great events and art programs, consider an annual pass. Admission is only $10 for adults for the day.
Ripley’s Believe it or Not – Quaintly called the odditorium, Ripley’s Believe It or Not is a museum of the weirdest collection of oddities on the globe. The Orlando odditorium features shrunken heads, an authentic vampire killing kit, a shooting gallery, and a wild spinning vortex tunnel.
Sleuth’s Mystery Dinner Shows – In the mood for a good whodunnit? Sleuth’s features a live action mystery play right before your eyes. Ticket includes the show, meal and adult beverages as the characters play out a mystery. The crowd then guesses who they think the murderer is in the cast. A lot of fun and laughs are to be had during the performance. Multiple shows are available to see throughout the month.
Orlando Shakespeare Theater – In the mood for a theatrical production? Orlando Shakespeare Theater features two theaters which show unique stage shows for adults and children too.
Aloma Cinema Grill – A pitcher of Beer and fries during a movie? Sign me up. Aloma Cinema Grill shows the latest releases in a cool comfortable table seating atmosphere. Dinner and a movie all in one place!
City Walk – While technically a part of the Universal Theme Park universe City Walk is a world in and of itself. Stop by Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville for a frosty margarita, or enjoy the nightlife at multiple bars. There’s also great shops and restaurants to enjoy all without the price of a ticket. Parking is normally $16 and free after 6PM.
Disney Springs – Another offshoot of a popular theme park is Disney Springs, formerly known as Downtown Disney which is always bustling with shops, restaurants and great venues like Cirque du Soleil, House of Blues, and Planet Hollywood. Be sure to visit the Lego Store, Ghirardelli’s for your free chocolate sample and the Harley Davidson shop. Again, no park tickets needed to enjoy some Mickey.
(Note: Right now they are under construction and the place is packed and parking will give you heartburn)
Pointe Orlando – In the heart of International Drive is Pointe Orlando a bustling center with food, shopping and entertainment. Take the little ones to WonderWorks to enjoy an afternoon of fun and games. (Yes it’s that crazy upside down building) Adults can enjoy the Improv comedy club or grab a cocktail at the upscale Blue Martini or a drag show at the Funky Monkey. Fancy lads and ladies in a kilt? Head to The Pub for authentic British Isles atmosphere. This place has more awesome restaurants than I can list. While you’re in the area stop by the Orlando Eye a 400 foot tall giant Ferris wheel and enjoy breathtaking views of all of Orlando.
Lake Eola – Downtown Orlando’s heart is Lake Eola. With a one mile walking trail around the lake, it is great for taking in the Lake Eola wildlife. Those big swans in the center? They’re paddle boats that you can rent and enjoy the lake ON the lake. Be sure to check out all of the crazy sculpture as you go. Eola Sunday Market is a great farmers market with multiple booths and variety of food, plants and flowers. And on other days Relax Grill is a perfect spot to grab some grub and watch people go by with a lake view.
Ivanhoe Village – Known affectionately by locals as Ivanhoe Row, Ivanhoe Village is a unique bit of Downtown Orlando. Put on a pair of comfy shoes so you can hit up great places like the Lake Ivanhoe circuit workout, The Hammered Lamb for gyros, White Wolf Cafe for brunch or Gargi’s Lakeside for fine Italian food. Cool shops like Boom Art, Rock N Roll Heaven, and tons of antique shops round out the fun.
Black Hammock Adventures – You haven’t done Florida until you’ve been on an airboat ride. Relax and do some bird watching and gator spotting as you zoom along on a high powered boat. Black Hammock has airboat rides, a tiki bar and a restaurant. So fill up the gas tank and head over to Oveido, just northeast of Orlando.
Old Town – The highlight of Old Town is their weekly car cruises which feature great old cars making their way up and down the main drag. There’s also a carnival, dozens of unique shops, restaurants and live music.
(Update: Old Town is getting a facelift!)
Fun Spot America – It’s HUGE! hollers the spokesman on TV for this fun place to spend the day and play. Fun Spot has multi-level go carts, thrill rides, roller coasters and arcade games. Tickets are just $39.95, a deal considering what you pay elsewhere.
Enzian Theater – Film buffs take note! The Enzian believes film is life and features throwback films and independent features and is the only not-for-profit cinema in the US. Eden’s Bar, the on-site watering hole features daily specials and a full bar. The Enzian is also the home of the Florida Film Festival, a yearly event in April.
Theater Downtown – An all volunteer production takes place at Theater Downtown throughout the week. With edgy, odd and humorous shows to meet your theatrical needs, Theater Downtown is a great place to see classics and unique shows alike.
Cornell Fine Arts Museum – Located on the campus of Rollins College, Cornell Fine Arts Museum features an Old Masters collection along with other artworks throughout the ages.(They have a Bourgereau, my favorite painter) The nearby Alfond Inn also features a contemporary collection.
CityArts Factory – A up close and personal collection of art is featured at this downtown venue. Art is available for purchase. CityArts Factory has free admission Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m
Celebration Town Center – So nestled among Disney property is the picturesque town of Celebration. At the heart of the town is Celebration Town Center, a great place to eat, shop and walk around. Some have said that the atmosphere is a throwback to a more simple time in history where beautiful homes are surrounded by white picket fences and the local ice cream shop is the place to be. The eerie perfection of your surroundings will quickly fade as you find yourself shopping, eating and enjoying the picturesque area. Oh, and don’t miss Octoberfest at Celebration!
(Photo Credit: Devin Esterbrook)
Wekiva Island – If being outdoors is your thing you MUST visit Wekiva Island. Camping, hiking, canoeing and swimming are a great way to beat the summer heat here in Orlando and Wekiva has it all. The crystal clear cool spring fed water is as refreshing as it sounds. You can rent paddleboards, canoes, and kayaks and there are on site bathrooms, outdoor bar, volleyball court and more.
Morse Museum – The Morse Museum is home to a beautiful collection of the works of Louis Comfort Tiffany, renowned glass maker, potter and jeweler. The museum also features other works by well known artists. Do a double and head to the Mennello Museum of American Art for Free Family Day on the Second Sunday of each month.
Day Trip: Mt. Dora – Looking to get away for the day and go shopping? Then Mount Dora is the place for you. This historic village is a great place to eat, shop and wander. Be sure not to miss the Rusty Anchor 1 Hour Sunset Cruise or the summer concert series at the historic Lakeside Inn.
Skydive Space Center – Ready to jump out of a perfectly good airplane? Great! Head over to Skydive Space Center! Your tandem jump will be over the gorgeous Space Coast which includes views of the Atlantic coast and Kennedy Space Station. Don’t forget to pull the cord!
The Great Escape Room – Are you smart? Crafty? Good at deduction? The Great Escape Room will test your skills to see if you can figure out how to break free before your time is up! Part scavenger hunt, part puzzle this Sherlock Holmes themed brainy activity will have you and your friends puzzling and puzzling until your puzzler is sore.
Orlando Science Center & Crosby Observatory – The Orlando Science Center is the perfect place for the science geeks in all of us. There are multiple interactive and educational exhibits for folks of all ages. T-Rex towers over visitors in the Dino Lounge and other exhibit halls. Located inside OSC is the Crosby Observatory. Fun things to do include looking through the 10-inch lens of the telescope to see deep sky objects including planets, moons and galaxies. Right now on exhibit is Mummies of The World… creepy!
Orlando City Soccer – We finally have a soccer team! While the new stadium is being built you can catch Orlando City Soccer at the Citrus Bowl. Go put on a purple shirt and join the rowdy fun. Single tickets start at $35.00. Go Lions!