Located in the heart of Orlando, Universal CityWalk is an “Epicenter of Awesome.” This is the brand’s slogan, which I agree is spot on. Thrill seekers have to walk through CityWalk to access Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure, but CityWalk is much more than a gateway to park hopping. With endless food, drink and entertainment options, CityWalk is a must-do amongst tourists, but did you know that there is also quite a local’s scene happening there too? You need to check it out! Here’s a guide to experience CityWalk (and beyond) as a city resident:
Eat Like a Local
Start your afternoon wasting away in Margaritaville where it is always 5 o’clock. Drink up the live music, which may or may not include Jimmy Buffet covers, and a refreshing cocktail. Or, better yet, try several by ordering a margarita flight for a sampling of four flavors. This restaurant has both indoor and outdoor seating and is the perfect spot for laid-back conversation and people watching. The menu has seafood, American fare and robust gluten-free offerings.
If Italian is your cuisine of choice, Vivo Italian Kitchen is the cucina for you. Its pasta dishes are homemade and bursting with flavor. The menu includes a mix of traditional Italian plates and out-of-the-box specials. Portion sizes are perfect for sharing so you can nibble on multiple items. The cannoli is the star of the show… weighing in at an impressive two pounds!
Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar offers an interesting restaurant name and, more importantly, interesting dishes. This eatery serves up juicy burgers and unconventional rolls – hence the blended name of Cowfish. Allow your taste buds to explore sushi rolls topped with pulled pork and bento boxes featuring sliders, fries and sushi. This place is meant for adventurous foodies! Pair your meal with a to-die-for milkshake, like the Marshmallow Crisp, made of rice krispies and mallow cream with vanilla ice cream and crispy toasted marshmallows.
Whether you need a morning carb fix or late night treat, Voodoo Doughnut is sure to please your palate. Serving more than 50 types of sinfully delicious doughnuts, this place has a total wow factor! The Bacon Maple Bar dominates as a popular choice because it’s the perfect combination of salty and sweet. You can savor Voodoo Doughnuts in other cities, except the Universal Orangesicle. This masterpiece is an exclusive flavor to the CityWalk location. Oh, and don’t shy away from the vegan menu too.
CityWalk has over 25 dining locations so plan to feast again and again. Be sure to try Antojitos Authentic Mexican Food, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., The Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen and others.
Drink Like a Local
If you’re a karaoke crooner, set your sights on CityWalk’s Rising Star. This place has a wide selection of drinks paired with fantastic entertainment. This is not your average karaoke bar, as singers’ belt out tunes with the accompaniment of a full band. Go head… sing your favorite hit song on stage after you’ve had a little liquid courage. Many local talents frequent this spot and have quite a following. Maybe you’re the next rising star!
For strong drinks and a fun atmosphere, Pat O’Brien’s dueling piano bar is where the party happens every night from 5 pm to 2 am. Lead by extremely talented performers, you’ll be inclined to participate in the sing-alongs! Definitely try the Pat O’Brien’s Hurricane. Made with 151 rum, this signature cocktail packs a punch in a souvenir glass. While all are welcome for lunch and dinner, after 10 pm, Pat O’Brien’s has a 21 and up age requirement and $7 cover charge.
Catch the game and cheers to your winning team at NBC Sports Grill and Brew. Sit by a foosball table and watch one of the many big screens around this bustling restaurant. With over 100 bottles and drafts on the menu, you’ll guzzle in delight with plenty more crafts to come back for another time.
Also Try Nearby
Recently opened, The Mexican Camel is a unique Mexican meets Middle Eastern restaurant right outside of Universal. This hip spot is similar to the popular Chipotle chain in that you order at the counter and create your own bowl, pita, tacos or salad. Food is made fresh in-house and packed with flavor. Try their chicken kabob and hummus for a melt in your mouth experience. The staff is friendly and the vibe is relaxed. Mingle with the local owners who have such passion for what they do. Nothing like locals supporting locals!
For even more food options within the vicinity, head to Restaurant Row. This stretch of Sand Lake Road in the Dr. Phillips neighborhood is one of Orlando’s most popular food meccas. It has a diverse assortment of upscale independent restaurants, high-end chains and casual-but-cultural eateries to satisfy every taste preference.
Located within the Artegon Marketplace, Cinemark Orlando shows films in XD which stands for Extreme Digital. It’s sort of like IMAX but, perhaps, better. The higher sloped auditorium has a specialized sound system, a huge wall-to-wall screen and state-of-the-art projector capable of 35 trillion colors. Talk about movie madness! There’s also a Cinemark movie theater right at CityWalk (which soon will have Cinemark Luxury Loungers and an XD auditorium).
Get your fix of retail therapy at Orlando International Premium Outlets. With 180 stores featuring top brand names, you can shop ‘til you drop. Because everyone loves discounted pricing, expect crowds. Tip: Forgo hunting for a parking space by taking the I-RIDE Trolley.
Crawl, Walk, Stay
A fun way to be a tourist in your own town is to embark on a DIY restaurant and bar crawl at CityWalk. For your convenience, book an overnight room and, for your safety, book an Uber or designated driver. Great area hotels choices include the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel at the Entrance to Universal Orlando, Hampton Inn & Suites Orlando International Dr. North and Hampton Inn Orlando Near Universal Blvd/International Dr.