Have you heard of Orlando, Florida? No… not the part of Orlando that’s monopolized by theme parks, tacky tourist traps, and lots and lots of hotels piled together like Legos. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of drinking around the world at Epcot, I worked for Disney in another life, and I get really excited to find the perfect wand at Harry Potter World. The thing is, though, that there’s a little town (that’s not really that little), also referred to as “The City Beautiful,” which has been overlooked for years.
You won’t find any Disney related tips in this post, but if that’s more up your speed, I recommend checking out, “The Hidden Magic of Walt Disney World: Over 600 Secrets of the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom,” written by an Orlando local, Susan Veness. She’ll fill you in on 600+ secrets that all started with a mouse, and help you plan the perfect Disney vacation.
Sorry Orlando locals, I know it’s nice that your city is still a well-kept secret, but it’s time the world learned. Here are my 7 favorite things about this sweet city, taken from personal experience and opinions of friends (straight from the horse’s mouth, if you will):
1. Buy Tickets for (Insert Entertainment Here) at the Amway Center
Maybe you’re a basketball fan, maybe you’re not… in this case, I’m not sure which would be better. However, I experienced Orlando before Amway and Orlando after Amway and I’m 200% certain that this establishment has been a huge addition to the Downtown skyline.
Whether you’re checking out a Magic game or screaming for Lady Gaga, this venue is AWESOME. Like, seriously, it’s just really new and absolutely beautiful (is that weird to say about an arena?). The bar upstairs, Gery Goose Lounge, looks down on all of downtown Orlando! I got lucky a few years ago when I worked for the Downtown Development Board, and I got to take a tour of the entire Amway Center from top to bottom. Let me tell you, if you can make in as a VIP… do it. I’m not even one to care about those things, but it’s totally worth it.
Tip: You can get $5 tickets if you play your cards right!
2. See an Orlando City Soccer Games
I don’t have any of my own pictures to show you because the day I was supposed to go to my first Orlando City Soccer game it got rained out, BAD. Like, flash flood warning style the way only Florida can do it. (The picture shown is by a4gpa and is not the same stadium). BUT, I think it’s worthy enough to talk about because friends that have actually made it to the games rave about them. Well, let me clarify… they rave about the tailgate. Plus, they have a lot of free home games and it’s always great to support your city teams. So if you’re in the area, go!
3. Have a Night on the Town in Downtown Orlando
Downtown Orlando is a big part of the city that I wasn’t able to explore in my college years, partly because I wasn’t 21 and partly because I always thought college bars were better. Let me fill you in on a little secret: college bars are NEVER better. Like, EVER. So over the last couple of years, I’ve been exploring the best places to go downtown with a little help from my friends. We have our own little routine, as I’m sure most locals do… typically we start off somewhere with cheap and quick drinks like Wallstreet, and then
we quickly move on somewhere a little less… disorderly, like Sky60. We eventually end up at Attic at some point in the night (much to my dismay. I’m not one for loud house music). Wherever you choose to go, there’s a little bit of something for everyone. One really great thing about Downtown is that you never quite know what to expect. Hens the foam in the fountains.
4. Eat Traditonal Vietnamese Food on Mills Ave
Seriously, who knew that Orlando had some of the best Vietnamese food known to man!? There’s food trucks, restaurants, bakeries, shops – I bought a value pack of seaweed for $6 (Do you KNOW how much that would cost at Costco!?). Definitely one of the best parts of Orlando. I encourage you to visit Pho 88 and order the Canh (soup)!
5. Walk Around Lake Eola
Someone told me once that the name for Orlando, Florida originated because a former soldier passed away during the war near Lake Eola. They buried him under where the fountain now lies, and named the town after him. How true is this? Oh, I have no idea… but there are many theories as to how Orlando got it’s name and the origination of Lake Eola. Regardless, it’s one of the most beautiful parts of the city to explore. People walk their dogs, rest by the trees, ride bikes. There’s nowhere like that in South Florida! There’s a local farmers market in the area, and the best restaurants for brunching it out on Sundays. They even have swan boats. SWAN BOATS! It’s truly a little gettaway worth pursuing.
6. Visit the Downtown Orlando Farmers Market
Speaking of the farmers market, as mentioned in reason number 5 to visit Orlando, they have one of the best ones I’ve ever attended. The best part about farmers markets in Florida is that this state has such a unique fusion of cultures. You’ll find Colombian arepas in one corner, fresh corn in another, and Louisiana spices down the block. I never leave with an empty stomach.
7. Speakeasy Paradise
As soon as I hard they opened a Speakeasy in Downtown Orlando, I knew I had to go. Little did I know, that there’s not only one Speakeasy in Orlando, there’s THREE! I’ve only been to Hansons Shoe Repair, but you can read about all three of them HERE. Make sure you call and make a reservation to have your shoes repaired with a decent amount of time in your favor. The only downside is that for a while this was truly a locals only nook, because the secret was so well kept. Recently an article was published about Hansons in Fox News or CNN (one of those big, important news reporting places), and the word is out. I had to wait 1 1/2 hours to get in – but the wait was totally worth it. Make friends with the keeper of the door, who the bouncer so fondly nicknamed “Goldy Locks.” I refuse to post pictures of the inside because it would ruin the magic! Here’s a picture of the bar tender outside who also makes a pretty decent Old Fashioned.
8. Underground Music Scene
One thing I truly miss about Orlando is live music. There were always so many options and nothing was too outrageously expensive, cuz if you know me at all you know I can be a penny pincher with activities. South Florida just isn’t evolved in the music scene, and it’s truly unfortunate. We have our local bands here and there, but in Orlando the music vibrates. Check out places like The Social or Tanquerays and you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Beware, though, they have their off nights.