Orlando is, rightfully so, wildly popular among tourists. But listen up locals: The City Beautiful has plenty to offer residents too. Better yet, you can have the best of both worlds with a staycation in your hometown! After all, you haven’t really experienced Orlando to its fullest unless you’ve immersed yourself in the heart of Central Florida. So pack your bags… well, a light overnight sack anyway!
Downtown Orlando is comprised of several walkable neighborhoods, each unique in their own right, such as Eola Heights, Church Street District and Central Business District. Make Lake Eola Park the centerpiece of your staycation with the Embassy Suites by Hilton Orlando Downtown serving as your home away from home. Their accommodations grant a touch of desired luxury with plush beds, comfortable sitting areas, convenient kitchenettes and unparalleled balcony views of Lake Eola and downtown Orlando. More perks? This property includes a complimentary cooked-to-order breakfast and happy hour reception.
Even if you think you know Orlando, a stop into the newly remodeled Discover Downtown information center is worth your while. This hub features a stunning mural by local artist Boy Kong and a coloring wall depicting the city map by designer Anna Cruz, in addition to a new shop containing Orlando-themed merchandise from local vendors such as Swan City and Orlando Shirts.
Recognized as the symbol of Orlando, Lake Eola Park should top your itinerary. The paved pathway surrounding the iconic fountain is approximately a 1-mile loop ─ perfect for a leisure stroll. For adventurous exploration, pedal around the lake in a swan boat! Lake Eola Park also has a playground and the Walt Disney Amphitheater which hosts concerts and other performances. On Sundays from 10 a.m.-4 p.m., the farmer’s market sets up shop. Attendees can enjoy live music, visit dozens of vendors and savor a variety of goodies from smoothies to tamales to kettle corn. An outdoor yoga class also takes place on the northeast lawn every Sunday at 11 a.m. for $5 (cash only).
An interactive (and free) activity to embark upon is a DIY walking tour. The Downtown Orlando Historic Districts Walking Tour features 28 structures that have been deemed historic by the Orlando City Council and the City of Orlando’s Historic Preservation Board. The buildings originally housed banks, hotels and department stores and now are home to local eateries, businesses and bars. Check out the map created by the City of Orlando showcasing the historic locations and informative tidbits.
Following a cozy slumber at Embassy Suites by Hilton Orlando Downtown, get your morning boost at Deeply Coffee, just off Lake Eola Park. Pair your coffee or tea with a light and fluffy meal, like the Apple Chai Waffle with homemade Caramel drizzle.
For a heartier bite served in a visually-appealing dining room, partake in DoveCote’s weekend brunch (Saturdays and Sundays from 10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.). The menu is full of French flavor, such as the Ham & Cheese Beignets and Crab & Gruyere Quiche, with offerings of brunch favorites too, like eggs served with pork belly and potatoes, various sandwiches and more. DoveCote freshly squeezes oranges and grapefruits for house-made mimosas. But if the smell of roasting coffee beans is what you crave, head to their in-house coffee bar.
Long before CityWalk and Disney Springs dominated as entertainment plazas, Church Street Station in downtown Orlando was the place to be. Don’t be fooled, though, as Church Street still impresses with classic charm and newfound freshness and, of course, tons of eateries. Lunch choices in the Church Street district include Market on Magnolia, a small food hall that houses Da Kine Poke, 081 Pizza, That Noodle Spot and the Market on Magnolia Bar featuring 75 craft beers, craft cocktails and wine. Orlando City Soccer fans can flock to Lion’s Pride, a team themed bar and restaurant that also shows most NFL games in a casual sports pub setting. Near the bustling intersection of Church Street and Orange Avenue, Chela Tequila and Tacos pleases with flavor-packed dishes. Vegetarians can venture further down Orange Avenue to find plant-based selections at Greenbeat.
Labeling itself as “your one stop picnic shop,” Eola General has all of your needs for an on-the-go alfresco lunch. This neighborhood newcomer is a charming general store and eatery carrying bottled wine, fresh flowers, bagels and sandwiches (open daily 8 a.m.-8 p.m.). And for an afternoon pick-me-up, Craft & Common provides an ambient atmosphere ideal for enjoying warm (or cold) beverages. The menu also has beer, wine and session cocktails.
For a romantic dinner, The Rusty Spoon specializes in dishes composed with locally-sourced ingredients; Kres Chophouse brings a modern flair to the traditional steakhouse; and Ceviche Tapas Orlando serves tasty Spanish fare. Be sure to stay for the complimentary Flamenco show!
With a farm-to-table menu, Artisan’s Table delights any meal of day, but their unique desserts are especially divine. Try the Baby Guinness Affogato featuring house-made cafe tequila, Irish cream and vanilla ice cream, or the Black Berry Polenta Cake composed of berry sauce and honey cream cheese whipped cream. On a hot night, keep it cool with refreshing, creamy and even boozy popsicles at the Pop Parlour.
Cocktails to Cheers
Thanks to Orange County Brewers, the craft beer scene has made its way into the downtown district. The vibe is casual: order your beer from the bar and food from the food counter. Orange County has 10 of its own brewskis on tap with occasional guest beers. Can’t decide on a pint? Order a flight to try several and don’t forget to fill up your to-go growler. To maximize happy hour, embark on a DIY pub crawl around Lake Eola with stops at World of Beer and Lake Eola Wine Company.
Still thirsty? You’ll drink up the laid-back bar design at Robinson Cocktail Room. Expect to be enchanted with their cocktails as many of the ingredients are obscure which means you’ll have an experience like none other. The Courtesy also stirs impressive craft concoctions with a chill vibe, and occasionally hosts mixology classes. How about traveling back in time to the era of prohibition without using a Delorean to find Mather’s Social Gathering? It may take some work to locate this speakeasy, but you’ll be rewarded with extraordinary thirst-quenchers. For a much different atmosphere with high energy, look for the multi-colored twinkle lights that lead to flowing drinks and dance music. Because, well, can you even claim to be in downtown without hitting up Wall Street Plaza?
Stardust Lounge and Aku Aku Tiki Bar are situated next to each other by Lake Eola and both provide entertainment for a memorable adults-only outing or date night. Aku Aku’s libations include classic tiki-style beverages as well as their own signature creations. Stardust Lounge is decked out with red leather booths and vintage flair and serves a variety of cocktails in this sultry setting. They also host Dirty Bingo every Tuesday and a monthly Peek-A-Boo Burlesque Show.
Hamburger Mary’s serves up one of the most unique dinner-and-a-show experiences. Get your fill of gourmet burgers and scrumptious Mary Tyler S’mores, but the real flavor and flair comes in the form of stage entertainment: Twisted Sisters Bingo (Tuesdays), Dining with the Divas (Fridays) and Leigh Shannon’s Cabaret Dinner Show (Saturdays).
Within the downtown district, sporty staycationers can enjoy two exhilarating venues. Home to the Orlando Magic, the 20,000-seat capacity Amway Center hosts an array of sporting events, concerts and performing art shows. Recently built in 2017, the Orlando City Stadium is home to both the Orlando City and Orlando Pride soccer teams. This venue was “designed with the intention of creating the loudest and most intimidating atmosphere in Major League Soccer,” so expect to hear and feel the roar of the Lions!
If you want to get your game on in a more playful way, head to Joysticks Arcade Lounge & Retro Bar. Unleash your inner kid with adult beverage in hand as you play arcade games and air hockey amidst quirky décor and 80s tunes. Don’t worry about bringing quarters because playing is free.
For a lighthearted date, snag tickets to Sak Comedy Lab to watch and maybe even participate in a comedy improv show. Other theatrics can be found at the Mad Cow Theatre, which brings both plays and musicals to life in the heart of downtown. And take in even more arts and culture with a visit to the new location of CityArts Gallery in the former Roger Kiene building. The space is a collective featuring the works of local and international artists and is free to attend from 11 a.m.-6 p.m., Tuesday-Saturday.
You see… you’re going to need to stay awhile in downtown Orlando so a staycation is in order!