Did you know that there is more to Orlando, Florida than a famous cartoon mouse, a famous orca whale, and a famous British wizard?
Then, please, allow me to introduce you to the real Orlando in this “More Than Mouse Ears” series.
First, we focused on the creative and collaborative culture emerging from DOWNTOWN ORLANDO. Today, let us survey Orlando by neighborhood to understand its varying personalities and pick up where we left off by walking east from Lake Eola down Washington Street.
This spunky downtown neighborhood is characterized by adorable bungalows and darling parks. Located around the intersection of Washington Street and Summerlin Avenue is a solid selection of dining and drinking establishments and boutique stores, which makes for a popular hangout among locals. Just a stones throw away from Lake Eola, Thornton Park is an ideal location to enjoy a unhurried meal or happy hour special with friends.
MILLS 50 DISTRICT
Although not quite as scenic as other Orlando neighborhoods, the Mills 50 District is a hodgepodge of ethnic eats and small businesses. Thanks to a vast selection of Asian restaurants, this is where to get your fill of authentic dishes like dim sum, phở, bánh mì, and boba tea. Also, several delicious dives that specialize in Asian-fusion concoctions are located around these traffic laden streets. Parking challenges aside, Tako Cheena is my favorite fusion restaurant in town; every taco on their menu is an explosion of flavor.
AUDUBON PARK GARDEN DISTRICT
A number of notables are tucked away in the Garden District, an unassuming neighborhood running along Corrine Drive.
The historic and educational grounds of Harry P. Leu Gardens are perfect for easy sauntering, botanical wonderment, and occasional movie-watching on the lawn. Make sure to view my visit to Leu Gardens, which features some of the gorgeous camellias in bloom during the winter months – natural southern charm at its finest!
A relatively new establishment on Corrine Drive is the East End Market, a designer’s dream market that houses a collection of vendors who sell specialty goods, such as fresh baked breads, gourmet sushi, local produce, and perfectly potted succulents.
If you get parched after wandering around the Garden District, stop at Redlight Redlight or Stardust Cafe to grab a craft beer or coffee drink. As you sip on your brew, you will be joined – almost undoubtedly – by a few hipsters. Don’t let their coolness intimidate you; you are cool, too… at least, that’s what I always have to tell myself!
LOCH HAVEN PARK
Orlando’s long-established cultural complex is home to art museums, theaters, and a science center. The buildings are scattered across 45 acres, which include a large lawn for outdoor events and family picnics, three lakes, and romantic oak trees.
My friends with children tell me that the Orlando Science Center is Orlando’s best kept secret for families. Even though I can’t personally attest to that fact, I believe them. They go all the time, and the kids absolutely love it!
This little stretch of Orange Avenue offers a quirky collection of shops, restaurants, and activities, an interesting microcosm within the downtown sphere.
My fellow Bird Nerds will not be disappointed by taking a walk along Lake Ivanhoe. Talented Yogis can practice their skills while balancing on paddle boards. Antique Junkies can strike it rich, and Vegans will rejoice over menus devoted solely to their dietary decision. Night Owls can take a seat on for-sale items after ordering from The Imperial Wine Bar, which is stationed inside Washburn Imports, an exotic furniture store. With a list like that, it would seem that Ivanhoe Village has a little something for everyone.
Here’s the deal: technically speaking, Winter Park is its own city and not a part of Orlando. However, I’m putting politics and tribal pride aside to include Winter Park on this list, because it is a distinguished community within the Greater Orlando area and a personal favorite of mine. In fact, I always encourage my Airbnb guests to visit Winter Park, because I love it so much!
So, Winter Park folks, you can relax. I know you’re not technically in Orlando.
Some of you just happen to live three miles from my own front door…
Winter Park’s main artery of delight can be found on Park Avenue, which flows out of the charmingly posh campus of Rollins College. Along the brick streets, you’ll find high-end stores, excellent restaurants, and an enjoyable ambience. The Saturday Farmers’ Market makes for a lively scene each weekend, while the annual Winter Park Sidewalk Art Festival features a remarkable assortment of art and artistry in displays that cover every inch of WP’s Central Park.
Given her rich history and notoriety, Winter Park deserves to have her own story told on Global Heartbeat. So, stay tuned!
MORE THAN MOUSE EARS
To say that Orlando has a lot going on would be a severe understatement, and by no means is this a comprehensive listing of all of Orlando’s neighborhoods. Hardly! This series is an honest endeavor to highlight areas of interest around town and to draw attention to the fact that there is more to Orlando than Mickey Mouse. Whether you are an Orlandoan or a potential visitor, I hope that you are inspired to uncover some of Orlando’s secrets on your own, and I encourage you all to keep the conversation going in the comment section below!
Hey readers! Have you visited any of Orlando’s downtown neighborhoods? Would you consider taking time to explore the real Orlando on your next visit to Central Florida?
Orlandoans, what makes The City Beautiful special to you? In which parts of town do you enjoy spending time? Where do you like to eat? What do you like to do? In your opinion, how is Orlando MORE THAN MOUSE EARS?