• Meghan Pecaut

#TravelTuesday: A Former Local’s Favorite 7 Spots in Orlando

Ava Landry was an engineering intern at Orlando's Universal Studios in 2020. During her time there, she got to discover some really great non-theme park activities in Orlando. Read up to find out some great spots to visit next time you go to Orlando!

Hey y’all! I’m Ava, and I am (sadly) a former short-time resident of Orlando, Florida. As a person who has always loved theme parks, I have been to Orlando a LOT. Though I’ve always loved visiting, I never really got to explore it until I moved there for an internship in Spring 2020. While I was there, I absolutely fell in love with the area and all of its gems! Here are some of my favorite non-theme park spots.

*Disclaimer: some of these spaces may have different COVID policies

1. Disney Springs

Kind of a cop-out, but hear me out: Disney Springs is absolutely one of my favorite places to stop by when I need to kill a few hours. I know most people know about it, but I just wanted to reiterate how much I love it. I used to go all the time after work to grab a coffee and listen to the variety of free live music. There are great food options for any budget (my favorites are Chicken Guy, B.B. Wolf’s Sausage Co., and the Polite Pig), as well as coffee from Joffrey’s (Disney’s coffee brand)! Another plus is the awesome shopping. They have some well-known brands like Free People, Anthropologie, Uniqlo, and Zara, but also have some awesome specialty stores! Don’t miss World of Disney, DisneyStyle, or my personal favorite, the Art of Disney! If you want some classic “Disney magic” without having to actually go to a theme park, this is the place for you!

2. East End Market

East End Market is a marketplace in Audubon Park that is absolutely precious! They have several small business vendors for food, handmade goods, coffee, and home décor. They also have one of the locations of my favorite ramen restaurant ever, Domu (get the Richie Rich, you won’t be disappointed)! It is such a fun spot to explore!

3. Stardust Video & Coffee

If you’re trying to feel some ~main character~ vibes, Stardust is the place for you! Me & my friends stumbled on this place while waiting for our table at a nearby restaurant, and I really felt like I entered the set of a teen coming of age story. It’s a coffee shop that also has food & cocktails, as well as a video rental service! They also have a room with a live event space & an adorable photo booth. It’s really unlike any other coffee shop I’ve been to!

4. Downtown Winter Garden

I probably spent more of my weekends here than anywhere else. Winter Garden is a city in the Orlando area that has a precious downtown stretch of shops, restaurants, and an amazing farmer’s market on Saturdays. It also is where another one of my favorite spots, Crooked Can, is! Crooked Can is a brewery with craft beer & food options & a beautiful lawn for people to hang out on. The street has a ton of small shops to explore and is a lovely place to spend the day.

5. Lake Eola Park

Lake Eola Park is right in the center of Downtown and has some awesome views of the city. It’s a really pretty spot to walk around and is close to a lot of the fun downtown. You can also rent paddle boats!

6. Tibet Butler Preserve

Tibet Butler Preserve is a really fun place to spend an afternoon! They have several easy walking trails through Florida’s landscape, complete with an overlook of a marsh that surrounds Lake Tibet. It’s a really beautiful look at Florida wildlife that everyone in your family can do, and doesn’t take a ton of time.

7. Hamburger Mary’s

This is the best place that I have ever accidentally ended up. A bit of backstory, me & a friend were looking for places to eat Downtown before seeing a concert at the Amway Center. We saw that this was a cheap option, so we decided to try it. When we got to the restaurant, we were told that Drag Bingo was in an hour. We were both confused but pleasantly excited about where we had ended up. Hamburger Mary’s is a bar and burger restaurant that is known for their hilarious drag performances and lively entertainment including Broadway Brunch, dinner shows, and Drag Bingo! Their burgers were phenomenal (even though the names on their menu may make you blush)! It’s an awesome place to go for some great food, humor that is a bit sassy, and some amazing performances.

Honorable Mention: Lakeland Antique Mall

Sadly I never got to actually visit this spot and it is a bit of a drive (hence the honorable mention), but I have heard nothing but great things! The Lakeland Antique Mall is about an hour from Orlando and sells antiques from different vendors. The cool part, though, is that they often have a pretty big selection of real theme park and movie props! Their selection is awesome, and it’s been described as a must visit for a pop culture fan.

This is in no way an exhaustive list, and I’m sure a true local would tell me there were a ton of things that I left out, but these were just some of the places that made me absolutely love Orlando. It’s such an amazing place to visit, and has so much more to it than just theme parks (even though we love those too)! Thanks for reading!

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