I just returned from a great trip to Orlando. I lived there before moving to SF and I was back in town visiting friends & family this past week. I feel like a lot of people roll their eyes at me when I say I’m excited about going back and that I really miss it. I guess it’s hard for people to see past Mickey Mouse and the massive tourist industry that has been built up there (myself included on many occasions). With that in mind, I wanted to share a brief guide to the lesser known sites that I personally find much more enticing than Denim World and yet another TGI Friday’s. You should check them out if you happen to be in the area for work or pleasure.
-Stick to the downtown area north of Disney and check out Lake Eola. It’s a beautiful area perfect for walks and weekend picnics. You can even take a swan paddle boat out around the lake. It can be fun, but I warn you that it was more work than I was expecting. They also have a couple of gondolas that you can reserve for a ride with champagne & strawberries or even a lobster dinner. The cheesy romantic in me has always thought that could be pretty fun.
-Be sure to check out Thornton Park right next to Lake Eola. It’s a quaint neighborhood with brick streets, lots of unique shops, restaurants, and bars. One of my favorites is Il gelatone- an amazing gelato place!
-There are many great restaurants in the area. Some of the moderately priced, very yummy places that I like are: Bravissimo- a tiny little Italian restaurant tucked into a quiet neighborhood downtown. I’m not sure how they worked out the zoning on that, but… The White Wolf Cafe is another unique cafe filled with antiques and a self proclaimed “bohemian” atmosphere. They have great food and nice seating on the sidewalk where you can get some good people watching in. My absolute favorite is Season’s 52. They’re menu changes completely with each season and slightly each week to include the freshest ingredients possible. They employ healthy preparation techniques- avoiding butter and nothing is fried. All of the entrees are within a healthy calorie count and that includes a small dessert to finish things off.
-The downtown has a pretty big nightlife scene. The Social is a great place to catch a concert. They usually have a steady stream of good bands coming and I found that I could almost always get tickets. It’s a small venue too so you can get right up close to the band and really enjoy the show.
-Of course the beach is only an hour away so you can always take advantage of that.
-Just outside the city limits, check out Blue Springs State Park. Manatees hang out there in the cooler months and you can swim and tube down the river in the summer.
-South of the city, I highly recommend Bok Tower. I had the opportunity to discover it on this last trip. It’s a tall bell tower positioned on the highest hill in Florida, in the midst of acres of beautiful gardens. It’s another perfect place for a picnic or a quiet place to read a book and the carillon concerts each day are really incredible.
I could go on and on. The important thing to remember is Orlando isn’t all about Disney. You might have to look a little harder for the more unique experiences, but they’re there if you care to search. I only lived there for a year and a half, but the city and of course the people that I met there will always stay dear to my heart.
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