Yes, Orlando’s theme parks, from Universal to Disney, are the big draw. But, to fully experience the city, here are 10 memorable ways to explore the area like local.
Explore the Main Street districts
Orlando’s Main Street America Program is comprised of nine unique districts full of personality. Explore Thornton Park for al fresco dining, Sunday brunch and happy hour-hopping, or see an eco-conscious community in action in Audubon Park, home to Leu Gardens and a multitude of sweet shops. Mills 50 is a hub for budget-friendly eats, where colorful wall murals span the walls of some of Orlando’s best Vietnamese eateries.
Feast on food truck fare
The Milk District is a magnet for foodies every Tuesday 6:30-10pm. During the Tasty Takeover, 10-plus food trucks corral minutes from downtown Orlando behind a string of bars and boutiques to dole out inventive eats. Try poke, made-to-order donuts, tamales, tacos and more. Take your feast inside one of the eclectic bars and pair your meal with a refreshing craft brew.
Collect stamps in your (beer) passport
Launched in 2017, the Central Florida Ale Trail is Orlando’s official (and free!) beer trail program. Ask for your free Ale Trail map at any participating brewery, and then follow the trail to 19 participating craft breweries, collecting stamps at each location. Once you’ve completed the trail, receive a commemorative growler good for $1 off fills. Highlights include Orange County Brewers, downtown’s first craft brewery, and Orlando Brewing, Florida’s only certified organic brewery.
Tour Lake Eola on a Sunday
Pretend you’re an Orlandoan for the day by spending a leisurely Sunday at Lake Eola Park. Cruise around the lake in a swan paddleboat while visiting with the resident swans and marveling at the city backdrop, and then meander over to the Sunday farmer's market taking place from 10am-4pm. Peruse local art and produce alongside food vendors and a beer and wine garden. A community outdoor yoga class is offered every Sunday at 11am in the northeast corner of the park.
Cheer on the local teams
You won’t have to travel far to support Orlando’s local sports teams. From spring to fall, join the march to Orlando City Stadium to root for the local MLS team, Orlando City. The stadium features North America’s first safe-standing supporter section, known as The Wall, which is where you’ll find the city’s most passionate soccer fans. Nearby, Amway Center is home to the Orlando Magic NBA basketball team and the Orlando Solar Bears ECHL hockey team.
Hit the springs
Planning a visit during the warm spring and summer months? Cool off with the locals at Wekiwa Spring State Park, where the 72-degree cold spring serves as one of the area’s best summertime swimming holes. If floating down crystal-clear water in a tube sounds more your speed, let the 3/4-mile tube run at Kelly Park gently whisk you to the park’s 68-degree cold spring.
Catch a show
Orlando’s vibrant attractions extend beyond the theme parks. Downtown, immerse yourself in the city’s culture by catching a Broadway show or musical performance at the state-of-the-art Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts. Laugh until it hurts at SAK Comedy Lab, where the audience helps guide the evening’s improv comedy show, or check out the zany Blue Man Group. Add an art spin to the night with a local Shakespeare production at the Orlando Shakespeare Theater.
Wander Leu Gardens
Sometimes we need to take a little break from it all. Located in the Audubon Park district, Harry P. Leu Gardens is a picturesque 50-acre oasis complete with themed gardens and waterfront views. Pack a picnic and your favorite bottle of wine for the monthly outdoor movie night on the first Friday of most months.
Sip crafty cocktails
You’ll have to call ahead for the day’s password before entering Hanson’s Shoe Repair, a cozy speakeasy in downtown Orlando. Continue your speakeasy-style evening at The Courtesy and Mathers Social Gathering, the latter of which has a secret entrance and is housed inside a 19th century historic building.
Visit a local market
Take a bite out of Orlando’s diverse culinary scene with a progressive meal at a local market. East End Market houses a handful of food and artisan vendors plus a lush outdoor courtyard. Stand in line for an ooey-gooey cookie from Gideon’s Bakehouse, deemed “Earth’s Best Cookies” by TravelPulse, or savor a cheese board from artisanal cheese shop La Femme du Fromage. Alternatively, head west to Winter Garden to explore Plant Street Market. Here you’ll find a craft brewery, sushi, coal-fired pizza, mini donuts, BBQ and more.
By: Stephanie Patterson