Best known for Mickey, Minnie and Cinderella’s castle, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, the controversial splash of Shamu, and copious amounts of sunshine, heat, and humidity.
Yes, the gang’s all here… and we really do love them! BUT unless you live in Central Florida, you may not realize that Orlando has so much more to offer its residents and visitors than large aquatic mammals, amusement parks, and oversized spaces to host Megacon conventions and high school sports tournaments.
In fact, Orlando is on the cutting edge of cuisine, art, architecture and entrepreneurial innovations, a slice of local pride that landed The City Beautiful in the lucky #13 spot on the NY Times’ list 52 Places to Go in 2015 last month!
I have lived in Orlando for over four years now. As a local Airbnb host, I have the opportunity to share with my guests some of ‘the other’ aspects of this city, a city that is bursting with creativity, a city that is much, much more than mouse ears.
Today and for the first post in this series, I’d like to introduce DOWNTOWN ORLANDO.
Stately business buildings, historic church steeples, and high-end apartments dominate the downtown skyline – an impressive sight, indeed, for this once tiny town. Even more remarkable than downtown Orlando’s shiny exterior are the ways in which the creative culture is breaking through the polished corporate veneer.
For example, formerly lifeless buildings, such as the Church Street Exchange, have been resurrected by the power of collaboration. Tech companies, art galleries, and a few fashion enterprises are moving in to this elegant superstructure, which is quickly becoming a haven for hipsters and a center for unconventional work spaces. If only we could all have ping pong tables and IKEA couches in our offices…
The artistic arena in downtown Orlando has also undergone a major metamorphosis over the last five years with the addition of two colossal structures. The newest kid on the block – and directly across from City Hall – is the long-awaited, state-of-the-art venue: The Dr. Phillips Center for Performing Arts. This appealing architectural vision is home to two theaters, music classrooms, dance studios, and exquisite event spaces. The next phase of the project will add a symphonic hall on the north side of the building, another dramatic dimension of this palace for the performing arts.
The other heavyweight player in downtown’s entertainment industry is The Amway Center, which opened in the fall of of 2010. Home of the Orlando Magic and the host for big-named concerts (T Swift, please come soon!), Amway draws large crowds from all over Florida. For more intimate productions, locals enjoy downtown Orlando’s smaller entertainment venues like The Social and the SAK Comedy Club.
While chain sandwich shops, pizza joints, and local cafes abound, innovative dining options, such as The Rusty Spoon, Kasa, and Artisan’s Table, have put downtown Orlando on the culinary map. Also, locals know that downtown bartenders are shaking up imaginative cocktail creations at trendy taprooms like The Woods on Orange Avenue.
Without a doubt, the downtown heartbeat has picked up tempo in recent years thanks to considerable revitalization efforts. An assortment of clubs and bars present party-goers with a vibrant and varied nighttime scene, especially on the weekends. Disclaimer and Warning: While there’s plenty of trendy, there’s also plenty of trashy. Unless you are not terrified by scantily clad women stumbling through the streets like a zombie apocalypse, whatever you do, do not – I repeat, do NOT – go downtown on Halloween! Seriously. The lack of clothing coverage is utterly frightening.
On a much lighter note, the official symbol of The City Beautiful is Lake Eola and its signature fountain. The surrounding park is a hub for families, festivals, and regular events like the Sunday Farmers’ Market. Where else can you paddle a swan boat around, nap next to a Chinese pagoda, and then sip on a cold brew from an outdoor patio in February? Is it too absurd to say that Downtown Orlando could be the place where some dreams really do come true?
Hey Orlando friends, what can you share about downtown Orlando? Where are your favorite restaurants, bars, venues? Visitors to The City Beautiful, what aspects of downtown Orlando have surprised you?