Here in the heart of the Theme Park Capital of the World, it’s often tempting to take our great attractions for granted. After all, they draw visitors worldwide in their millions and are a guaranteed source of fun and excitement.
The vast majority of the crowds head for Disney and Co, which isn’t at all surprising given their profile and ability to handle large numbers of guests with ease.
What MIGHT be surprising, though, is the range of other attractions and places to visit in this vast area that we blithely call ‘Orlando,’ but which covers a large swathe of Central Florida.
So, with that in mind – and for the benefit of regular visitors who are looking for something new to experience – we thought we’d highlight some of the area’s lesser lights, so to speak, the more offbeat places that provide an alternative side of Orlando while still being fun and inviting.
Whether you’re looking for a great place to eat or beautiful botanical gardens; a museum of supreme artistry or a captivating venue for the performing arts, The City Beautiful has something for you. Here are 12 places to launch your Alternative Orlando Experience brought to you by Real Florida Adventures.
The Hall on the Yard: New in November 2021, this upscale food market boasts a dazzling variety of high-quality dining experiences, bars and special event spaces all under one eye-catching roof, and with the bonus of live music and other entertainment at the weekends.
Leu Gardens: Established in 1936 and deeded to the city in 1961, this 50-acre treasure trove of botanical flora boasts a 16-acre historic district based on the 1858 Mizell House, providing both a fabulous piece of 19th-century heritage as well as the extensive gardens, library, gift shop and regular special events.
Wild Florida: Ready for a safari in the heart of Florida? This family-owned attraction has you fully covered with its extensive drive-through savanna that features exotic animals, including giraffes and zebras, as well as native species such as the American bison, all in addition to their trademark airboat rides.
(Be sure to check out RFA’s Wild Florida tours on this link)
Orlando Tree Trek: When you need to put some energetic adventures into your vacation, be sure to consider this epic aerial challenge in rural Kissimmee. The region’s most thrilling tree-top obstacle course features a terrific variety of rope climbs, zip-lines, ladders, nets, and bridges, all located up to 50ft above the ground.
Morse Museum: Winter Park’s Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art is the home of the world’s largest collection of scintillating works by Louis Comfort Tiffany, plus an astounding series of art and architectural objects from his Long Island country estate, Laurelton Hall, and more besides, including American artworks of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Scenic Boat Tour: Staying in Winter Park, possibly the most enjoyable and laid-back hour anyone will spend in Central Florida is on the delightful pontoon boat tours of Lakes Osceola, Maitland, and Virginia, soaking up the views of the fabulous lake-front homes and institutions, such as Rollins College.
Dr Phillips Center for the Performing Arts: If you didn’t know Orlando is home to a world-class concert and theater venue, then let us bring this to your attention – a glorious two-part center that features the best in Broadway shows, orchestras, and individual performers, crowned by the new Steinmetz Hall, a dazzling and acoustically perfect concert arena.
Winter Garden: For a memorable day out, the city suburb of Winter Garden is no longer just a locals’ secret but a bona fide destination in its own right, with a lively Saturday Farmer’s Market, a terrific range of restaurants and cafes, its own community theater, cycle trails, boutique shops, and the crowning glory of Plant Street Market, home of the Crooked Can Brewery.
Wekiva Island: Florida’s great outdoors is never far away, and this rustic retreat on the crystal clear waters of the Wekiva River is a great way to discover the living, breathing soul of our state, renting a kayak or paddleboard and enjoying this epic slice of Mother Nature, plus sampling the Island’s Tooting Otter bar and Without A Paddle Café.
The Paddling Center: By the same token, if you’d like to explore the headwaters of the Everglades, this canoe and kayak center sits in the heart of tourist Kissimmee (but is easy to overlook) and will set you paddling through more timeless, pristine territory. Take a guided tour or just rent a kayak and go where the spirit takes you.
Amway Center: When it comes to world-class indoor facilities, Orlando can also offer the home of the city’s NBA team. But, while the Magic are the most notable occupants of this venue that opened in 2010, its high-tech confines are also the stage for a variety of concerts and other live entertainment acts that are showcased extremely well here.
(Ready for some basketball action? Look for Orlando Magic Tickets HERE)
Lake Eola Park: While some visitors think Orlando’s main icon is Cinderella Castle at the Magic Kingdom (or even Spaceship Earth at Epcot), it is actually the Lake Eola fountain in the heart of downtown. Here, the one-mile lake promenade, with its attendant cafes, signature Amphitheater, and Swan paddle boats, is a fitting symbol of the city’s diversity, energy, and sense of fun.
There are plenty more ideas for ‘Offbeat Orlando,’ but you’ll have to wait for a future blog!
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