Orlando. 32 Reasons to Visit Now.

Orlando is on every rollercoaster junkie’s radar. But did you also know that this city has an abundance of wineries, outdoor parks, and fine dining? Check out our list of the top reasons to head to Orlando today.

 

Where to Stay

Before you go, know that Orlando is split in half by the 408 Expressway. Everything south is touristy but contains the well-known attractions. Everything north is the “local” Orlando (think hipster/tech culture with modern restaurants & bars and nature). We typically recommend visitors stay in the Walt Disney World-Bonnet Creek or International Drive-Convention Center areas for their prices and easy access.

 

What to do in Orlando

Where to Go

  • Walt Disney World. It’s on all your minds so we’ll say it first. If you’ve never visited Disneyland’s younger (but much much bigger) sibling, then it’s time. You can easily spend weeks exploring all four of the property’s theme parks (not to mention its two water parks) but if pressed for time, we recommend the Magical Kingdom.
  • Universal Orlando. Thrill-seekers can make a beeline for the Island of Adventure while those looking for less stomach-churning drops can head to Universal Studios (slightly more family-oriented rides).
  • SeaWorld Orlando. Aquatic-themed rides, dolphin shows, animal exhibits and fireworks displays put SeaWorld Orlando on par with its more-visited neighbors. Don’t forget to see the penguins!

 

Orlando SeaWorld

SeaWorld Orlando

 

  • Orlando Eye. At 400 ft, the Eye is the tallest ferris wheel on the East Coast so you’ll snag an incredible view of Orlando & Cape Canaveral from the top.  Plus, at 20 minutes long you’ll have plenty of time to soak it all in.
  • Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center. This recently-renovated state-of-the-art facility will elevate any theater experience (and all of the seats have great views). Check the calendar to see what will be in town during your visit.
  • Orlando Science Center. The science center is a great place for kids and adults alike to learn in a creative and engaging way. Dino-fans can hit the fossil dig while future engineers can get hands-on and build their own creations in the Engineering room.
  • Take a beach day. While Orlando itself lies inland, it’s just an hour’s drive to the Atlantic and white sandy beaches.
    • Cocoa Beach. Head southeast to hit Cocoa Beach. Surf in the shallow waters, wander the pier, or explore the lush beachfront Lori Wilson Park.
    • Daytona Beach. Or drive northeast up to Daytona. Besides the world-famous speedway, you’ll find hard packed sandy beaches (which the locals drive on) and an exciting boardwalk.

 

Cocoa Beach

Cocoa Beach – photo via @thehaleymonster

 

Activities

  • Wekiwa Springs. A 7,000 acre park centered around the springs. Come for a day of swimming in the river, kayaking, or hiking. Boat out to Wekiva Island and post up in an adirondack chair with a drink in hand.

 

Wekiva Island Orlando

Wekiva Island – photo via @b_meyerdirk

 

  • Winter Park. This area that was once considered a winter retreat, has now become a full city. Come to shop on Park Avenue, tour Rollins College, or explore one of the city’s 70+ parks. While you’re there…
    • Take a boat tour. Sit back and relax while an entertaining guide takes you around Winter Park’s lakes, explaining the natural habitats and the region’s history.
    • Spend a morning at the Farmers Market. Every Saturday morning from 7am ’til 1pm, the city of Winter Park holds a farmers market. Search the stalls for fresh produce, baked goods, or refreshing lemonade.
  • Lake Eola. Grab a swan-shaped paddleboat and skim over this lake in the center of Downtown Orlando (while avoiding its native residents, actual swans). Once tired, head to one of the many restaurants and bars surrounding the lake for some well-deserved nourishment.

 

Lake Eola Swan Boat Orlando

Lake Eola Swan Boat – photo via @jodydare

 

  • WonderWorks. An amusement park with over 100 interactive exhibits. Experience everything from a 5.3-level earthquake to 74-mph hurricane winds to a 3-story indoor ropes course to laser tag.
  • Thornton Park. Visit this charming neighborhood (cobblestone streets included) just east of Lake Eola for awesome restaurants and shopping. Grab a green juice and enjoy the change of pace while sitting on a patio.
  • See some sports. Visit Camping World Stadium (aka Orlando Citrus Bowl) to catch a college football game or Amway Center for an Orlando Magics game.
  • Lakeridge Winery & Vineyards. Attend a free and informative tour of the winery followed by a wine tasting. Plus, Lakeridge hosts many small festivals throughout the year so once you’ve picked a glass, head out to the grounds and enjoy it while a live band plays on the lawn.
  • Bonus: For the best view in town, visit the top of the Disney Contemporary Resort.

 

Where to Eat & Drink

Eat

  • 4 Rivers Smokehouse. Hands down the best BBQ in Orlando. The smoky pulled pork is perfectly crispy on the outside while still tender and juicy inside. Paired with a flaky biscuit and you’re in BBQ heaven.
  • Gnarly Barley. Order the Barley Brisket Bacon Sandwich and a side of jalapeño-spiced mac & cheese, and join the regulars out on the patio.
  • Vanbarry’s Public House. A wide selection of drinks, a slew of games to play while you wait, and delicious pub-style eats. Bonus: before your food arrives, your waiter will drop off a free jar of house-made pickles for you to nosh on (yes, pickles).
  • Hawkers Asian Street Fare. Expect tapas-style shared plates at this Orlando hotspot. Try as many of the dishes as you can but be sure to get the Roti Canai (bread with a curry dipping sauce) and the kimchi fried rice.
  • Pig Floyd’s Urban Barbakoa. With a modern but welcoming interior, Pig Floyd’s serves up tasty Latin and South American- style barbecue (think Mexican street corn and yuca fries instead of your average biscuits). Go all out and get both the ribs and the brisket.
  • The Greek Corner. A picturesque local gem with flavorful authentic Greek food. The lemon-y baked feta appetizer (served hot with a side of warm pita) tastes as if it was sent straight from heaven.
  • The Hammered Lamb. The perfect atmosphere for grabbing happy hour and watching a game. And if you come for brunch, add the Bloody Mary to your order. It comes topped with basically an entire charcuterie plate. Meal and a drink all in one.
  • Gringo’s Locos. A dive-y joint with modern Tex-Mex. Order some Double Ds (i.e. tacos with a hard shell interior & soft shell exterior) and a side of creamy queso.
  • 903 Mills Market. Perfect spot for a lazy Sunday morning. Our fave is the breakfast pizza (eggs, sausage, bacon, onion, & tomato smothered in cheddar & cream cheeses). And who can say no to a $10 pitcher of mimosas?
  • Le Gourmet Break. If Parisian breakfast is your jam, make your way to Le Gourmet Break. Go plain and order a buttered French baguette or spice things up with a savory 3 cheese crepe.

 

Beers around Lake Eola

Beers around Lake Eola

 

Drink

  • Pharmacy. Unexpected and original drinks in a speakeasy-style setting. Tell one of their “pharmacists” what ails you and in return you’ll get a tasty cure. Do yourself a favor and add a side of Taleggio Fritters (semisoft, ripened Italian cheese that’s been battered and fried).
  • Latitudes Rooftop Tiki Bar. Sip on colorful tropical drinks atop a wooden deck overlooking downtown. Plus, great $3 drink specials until 7:30pm.
  • Treehouse. A cozy attic bar with really good cocktails. To enter, find the unmarked green door downtown “where two trees meet.”
  • Redlight Redlight Beer Parlour. A beer-lover’s dream with 20+ beers on draft and hundreds more in bottles.

 

 

Comments

  1. Orlando Person

    The 408 doesn’t split Orlando into touristy and local. The Conroy Rd (Mall at Millenia) exit on I-4 does that.

    The Dr. Phillips Center isn’t a renovated building. It’s brand spankin’ new with more on the way.

    Otherwise, thanks for showcasing the non theme park areas of Orlando. We are more than theme parks.

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