For foodies and beer enthusiasts looking to walk in the shoes of locals, Mickey Mouse’s big black boots are far from the perfect fit! Orlando’s iconic character is out of sight in the quaint, shady areas off of downtown. Three walkable neighborhoods – Thornton Park District, Milk District and Hourglass District – are among the trendiest sections to eat, play and stay.
These neighborhoods are a part of Orlando’s inviting “main streets” developments. Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer explains, “The Orlando Main Streets create, define and strengthen our existing neighborhoods. They focus on enhancing assets such as distinctive architecture, a pedestrian-friendly environment, personal service, local ownership and a sense of community. Walk or bike down any of our Main Streets and you can feel the vibrancy.”
THORNTON PARK DISTRICT
Thornton Park, the historic neighborhood that cuddles up to downtown Orlando, features brick-lined streets and open-air patios ─ perfect for people-watching and basking in the Florida sun. An easy walk from Embassy Suites by Hilton Orlando Downtown leads you to more than 50 locally-owned specialty shops, services and dining destinations. Staycation at this property beside Lake Eola for close proximity to the best of Orlando’s district neighborhoods.
Part unassuming neighborhood tavern and part art gallery, the Falcon Bar and Gallery is a Seattle-style grunge bar tucked away in this intimate community. The dark, black and red bar is lit mostly by lights illuminating the diverse range of art that line its walls. Dim nooks accented by oil paintings make for great corners for intellectual conversation late into the night.
While Thornton Park is just outside of downtown Orlando, Benjamin French Bakery & Café will transport you to Europe with piping hot espresso and flaky croissants. Or, for a midday meal, opt for a slice of quiche, a crisp glass of white wine and freshly baked pain au chocolate. Between the mossy brick streets and the sidewalk dining, this little eatery seems to be taken straight out of a Parisian arrondissement.
Alfresco dining is the norm in Thornton Park, no matter the occasion. Serving contemporary American cuisine, Dexter’s is among the city’s best brunch bets. Start with Cha Cha Chips served with lava mustard and sweet chili sauce, and enjoy endless mimosas with your choice of raspberry, mango, peach, orange, cranberry or pineapple juice. For a light lunch or happy hour snack, grab a roll at Shari Sushi Lounge. Make a date night reservation at Soco to indulge in modern southern fare. And nosh on late night grub at Graffiti Junktion with burgers and brews.
Plan your visit to Falcon Bar to align with either open mic night or the Falcon Flea Pop-Up Market, an event showcasing local makers and artists on the last Sunday of the month. Find more artistic expression at Thornton Park’s 2nd Thursdays Wine and Art Walk. Just sip, stroll and feel cultured.
The Milk District, named affectionately in honor of the historic T.G. Lee factory that defines the main drag, is brimming with murals and entrepreneurs. New and old combine harmoniously as long-standing pubs rub shoulders with hip, new places and chic juice bars.
If you’re in the mood for a milk stout versus milk, head to Sideward Brewing, situated in a refurbished 100-year-old warehouse. This family-owned brewery is brand new to Orlando’s burgeoning craft beer scene, but its masterminds are hardly green. Sideward’s master brewer comes with a decade of brewing experience. His innovative, style-bending beers span “crispy lagers, aromatic IPA’s, big stouts and bubbly ciders.”
For a larger selection of drinks and patio seating, wander to Barley & Vine Biergarten which features 25 rotating craft beers on draft, 150 craft bottled beers, plus wine, mead and sake. Other destinations serving adult beverages include the Milk Bar Lounge, a cozy bar with weekly live music and board games; Whiskey Lou’s, the district’s longstanding dive bar; and Southern Night’s, a LGBTQ-friendly dance club.
To soak up your brews, stumble just 50 feet from Sideward Brewing to arrive at Stasio’s Italian Deli and Market. Discover Rome-inspired counter-service of traditional eats, like house-made meatballs, spicy Italian sausage or a crispy panini featuring prosciutto, soppressata and capicola. Or, do as the Italians do and throw back an espresso and munch on cornetti while standing at the counter. Stasio’s also sells high-end, imported products for those looking to host an impressive Italian meal.
Vegetarians, vegan and omnivores alike flock to Market on South. This earthy cafe off South Street boasts a killer brunch, on-tap kombucha and a cashew mac-n-cheese that will have you questioning your allegiance to dairy. The market space is shared by two local businesses, Dixie Dharma Cafe and Valhalla Bakery. The latter bakes up the city’s best vegan donuts and the former serves a southern-inspired menu of fried green tomatoes, jackfruit BBQ and biscuits and gravy. Settle into the backyard patio beneath the shade of a towering live oak while enjoying a local brew and an ethical meal.
Hidden in a humble strip mall, Pom Pom’s Teahouse and Sandwicheria is filled with local anime art and equally colorful food and tea offerings. This beloved spot serves up funky made-to-order sandwiches using local bread, seasonal ingredients and flavor combinations of Asian, Italian and Indian influences. Open 24 hours on Friday and Saturday, satisfy late night cravings with the Fu Man Chu, an exotic chow featuring pulled pork, arugula, goat cheese and ginger cranberry chutney.
The Milk District has some famous eateries too. Se7en Bites, a breakfast/brunch/lunch spot, appeared in a Food Network episode of “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” with Guy Fieri. And visiting celebrities, including Jimmy Fallon, have dined at Beefy King, an Orlando institution that’s been preparing roast beef sandwiches since 1968.
Food and fun come together in the Milk District. Á La Cart, a mini food truck venue and craft beer bar, hosts an outdoor movie night every Monday. On Tuesday nights, the Tasty Takeover event brings out about 13 food trucks for a grand epicurean block party.
Catch a concert, comedy show or other live performance at The Plaza Live. This former movie-theater is now an intimate venue with notable names, up-and-coming indie bands and the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra all gracing its marquee. Local bars also boast entertainment. Bull & Bush has a dart league and comedy night, while Sportstown invites patrons to “drink, rack, repeat” by playing billboards and other games.
Additionally, outdoor fun can be had at the Orlando Skate Park and Dickson Azalea Park. Located right on the edge of this district, Dickson Azalea Park is a historic and tranquil urban escape ideal for a spontaneous photo-shoot and bird-watching. The calming sounds of trickling water and blooming azaleas in the early springtime offer a welcoming hideaway.
Located where South Bumby Avenue and Curry Ford Road intersect, the evolving Hourglass District has arrived on the scene as Orlando’s spunky young ‘hood, known for vegan eats, unpretentious brews and real food prepared with fresh ingredients.
Hourglass Social House is a European-style shared market space bringing together lovers of good coffee, craft beer and tasty café eats. This cleverly converted gas station has become home to Foxtail Coffee and Legumanati vegan eatery as well. Opt to lounge on the intimate open-air patio, or find a window-seat in their airy interior to watch happenings go by. This new collaborative space defines the entrepreneurial spirit of Orlandoans who relish community and craft concoctions.
Throw back a creamy pint of Guinness to the sounds of Irish folk music at Claddagh Cottage. With an authentic pub atmosphere complete with darts, rich food and live music, Claddagh Cottage delivers on all fronts. Named after the Claddagh emblem symbolizing “love, loyalty and friendship,” that’s just what this traditional pub offers to all who walk through its doors. Recently relocated to the Hourglass District, its new location could not have found a better home than this friendly neighborhood.
Just in time for 4th of July weekend, the Hourglass District is now home to Hourglass Brewing with 40+ taps of ales and lagers. Find your favorite…Banana Brain, Fatty Boom Boom, NomNom Blackberry Cobbler, Drunken Irish Curse, Longwood Landbier and more.
Tucked away amid the historic Florida bungalows homes of the Hourglass District, 903 Mill’s Market is the go-to neighborhood cafe, deli and beer/wine bar. Enjoy a lazy Sunday Funday on their shady patio sipping drinks and watching cyclists stop in for a cold one too. A fresh menu of salads, sandwiches, wraps and snacks made-to-order satisfy any craving. Come for happy hour chips and queso, a refreshing pineapple beer and tranquil views of Lake Davis.
Pizza Bruno has mastered a simple fermented dough and the art of fire-flecked crust to such a level that the meal need only the sound of whizzing vespas to mimic Italy. With no phone for call-in orders, Pizza Bruno encourages guests to come inside to enjoy the ambiance of a good meal with friends and family. A wood-fired oven churns out Neapolitan pies and fills the room with delish aromas. Upscale items on the menu, like charred octopus and house-made meatballs with lemony ricotta, are top-notch.
Live music can be found regularly at Claddagh Cottage and occasionally at Hourglass Social House. A much different musical vibe can be had at Peaceful Peacock Yoga Studio. The Hip Hop Vinyasa Class works the core using traditional yoga poses in an amped up dance-centric way. The Peacock brings new meaning to “shake your tail feathers!”
Stroll through the Greenwood Urban Wetlands to awe the ancient cypress trees. A paved walkway around Lake Greenwood makes a relaxing evening walk with epic sunset views to boot.