What is the first thing you think of when someone says Orlando? The top three answers usually consist of theme parks, tourist traps and good weather. None of those answers are wrong, but for the next few minutes my goal is to make you want to visit the City Beautiful for reasons beyond the obvious by sharing with you my favorite spots for every type of occasion.
A quick history lesson: Orlando’s nickname dates all the way back to 1908 when local officials borrowed it from the “City Beautiful” urban planning movement transforming places like Cleveland, Detroit, and Denver. In those cities, progressive city planners designed parks, museums, and public plazas to beautify and organize the urban landscape.
The nickname has now come to embody the melting pot of cuisine, culture, people and beliefs that Orlando embraces and proudly puts on display.
Let’s begin with my favorite topic, provisions and libations:
This has quickly become one of my favorite spots whether it’s just grabbing food or just popping in for a drink, it’s perfect for whatever type of night you’re looking for. I love an old fashioned and theirs go down so smooth, it can be dangerous. The food though is what really knocks it out of the park. I recommend ordering the beef chimichurri and the crab and corn croquettes to start.
Hollerback Willow Tree Café
For a more laid-back night out (you know, the ones that involve a drink or two but your back on your couch by 10 p.m. watching a Netflix movie types of night) this is the first place I think of. German food has a special spot in my heart and this place always leaves me leaving full and happy. The live band always takes the stage weekend nights and the beer is always flowing. My go-to order usually involves schnitzel with a hefeweizen to wash it down and if I’m feeling frisky a pretzel as an appetizer. If you’re going with a big group of friends that all enjoy the taste of hops try your hand at taking on das boot.
Sushi is my love language and Kabooki never does me wrong. There are two different locations in town, both with two different menu concepts. I’m not one to not have an opinion on things, but for me to even narrow it down to my top five things is tough. The best is sharing all the plates tapas style.
DaJen Eats Café & Creamery
This is hands down my favorite place to go when I have a little extra time for lunch. The taste and overall vibe will have you coming back for more. It is all vegan, and for some that may deter them from trying, but if I never told you there’s a good chance you would never know the difference.
Honorable mentions: Santiago’s Bodega, Prato and Black Bean Deli
While it’s easy to find yourself at a pool or beach on a warm sunny day, there are events constantly taking place around the city that will give even the most ambitious person a run for their money.
Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts
From Broadway plays to comedians on tour and everything in between you will always spot a crowd in front of this beautiful downtown building on the weekends. They produce more than 300 shows a year, so there is bound to be something the whole family will enjoy. One of my favorite times of the year to go is when the Orlando Ballet are performing. The talent is beyond remarkable and makes for a great date night.
The Alfond Inn/Cornell Fine Arts Museum
If you love art, The Cornell Fine Arts Museum, located on the campus of Rollins College, is a must-see. The museum features rotating exhibitions, ongoing programs, and an extensive permanent collection of more than 5,600 objects that spans centuries. In to the Museum, you can explore art from the Museum’s collection nearby at the College’s philanthropic boutique hotel, The Alfond Inn. Every Sunday the Inn offers a free one hour walking tour to learn about some of the pieces on display. My girlfriends and I always enjoy doing this after grabbing brunch in the area and then usually we’ll snag a drink from the bar to take with us on the tour. What can I say, Sunday Funday starts to look a bit different as you get older.
No matter what time of year there is always a sporting event taking place. The Orlando Magic are in season from October-April with Orlando City overlapping from February-October. The fans here are passionate about their teams, and don’t say I didn’t warn you when you end up in The Wall at Exploria Stadium chanting your heart out. Warning: There is a slight chance of losing your voice from all the fun you will have. And if you need some time to cool off we also have a hockey team, the Orlando Solarbears.
Honorable mentions: Lake Eola Farmers Market, Harry P. Leu Gardens (especially for movie nights), Orlando Museum of Art
The beauty of this city is it offerings and I hope that by the end of this I gave you some reason to step away from the parks for an evening if you’re just passing through or have helped in planning your next weekend adventure if you’re a local.