Like a Local
Quirky, under-the-radar highlights only a local could recommend.
Old Town USA
Café Tu Tu Tango
The Mall at Millenia
Lake Louisa State Park
6 p.m. | Dinner at Restaurant Row
The two-mile stretch of Sand Lake Road in Doctor Phillips (yes, the name of a suburb in Orlando) has earned the nickname of “Restaurant Row” for good reason: some two dozen upscale and casual eateries serve up some of the finest fare Orlando has to offer, from Polynesian fusion at Roy’s to fondue at the Melting Pot to Lebanese cuisine at Cedar’s.
8 p.m. | Head to Howl at the Moon
Just a right turn off Sand Lake Road brings you to this lively dueling piano bar, where two pianists (and their baby grands) sit across from each other and trade songs requested by you, the patrons. As the night wears on, the addition of drums, bass, even the trumpet (the pianists are all-around musicians) transitions the bar into full-out party mode.
9 a.m. | Play a Round at Grand Cypress Golf Club
There are two signature courses – both Jack Nicklaus designed – at Villas of Grand Cypress: the legendary 27-hole North-South-East Course and the inspiring 18-hole links-style New Course. The latter is the real gem, bringing a little bit of Scotland to Florida with several holes that are replicas of the Old Course at St. Andrews. Expect double greens, stone bridges and walls, gorse mounds, burns, and pot bunkers as deep as 12 feet.
1 p.m. | Lunch at The Club Restaurant and Sports Bar
Overlooking the fairways of the North-South Course, this casual bar’s farm-to-fork menu features an elevated twist on pub food, like pig’s ears tacos, mojo-marinated skirt steak, and beer-poached shrimp. Ingredients are sourced from several homegrown partners, including Cypress Point Creamery in Gainesville and Palmetto Creek Farms in Avon Park.
7 p.m. | A Show in the Church Street District
Head to Orlando’s historic downtown, home to the city’s top entertainment venues, fine dining, and nightlife, for a 7:30 show at Mad Cow Theatre. Photos from more than 100 productions – a mix of classics, contemporary plays, and musicals – from 15 seasons grace a colorful wall in the lobby. While a small theater, that just means you’re that much closer to the stage.
9:30 p.m. | Kasa Restaurant & Bar
The kitchen of this restaurant just a block down from Mad Cow doesn’t close until 11, so if you haven’t had dinner or just want a quick tapas plate or two after the show, this is the place. The menu – boasting Spanish and Asian influences, as well as a raw bar – is as fresh as the decor’s mix of warm wood and cool aquamarine.
10 a.m. | Stroll Downtown Winter Garden
Seventeen miles north of the Grove Resort & Spa, this scenic downtown exudes the small-town charm of old Florida with brick-lined streets, historic Mediterranean revival architecture, and a central clock tower and pavilion. A few to dos: Grab a Nutella latte at Axum Coffee, a colorful café that donates all its profits to good causes; stroll the Plant Street Market, with 20 vendors selling natural, organic food and artisanal goods all inside one building; and admire the restored façade and marquee of the 1935 single-screen cinema, the Garden Theatre.
Indulgent edibles are around every corner in Disney. However, this bakery, which opened in 2015 in the Disney Springs shopping district on the edge of the park parameters, filled a hole in the dessert roster: It only serves vegan and gluten-free items, including some of the best cookies, cupcakes, focaccia, and cinnamon rolls that even non-gluten-free patrons have said they’ve ever had.
Central Florida’s first urban winery has a two-fold mission: to make good wine from grapes from around the world, but to do so in an environmentally friendly way. All raw, unrefined wines are imported not in bottles but large plastic vessels to their Ivanhoe Village location, where – after aging, blending, and finishing – they’re packaged in kegs, pouches, or boxes – all low-carbon-footprint vessels.
Based in a historic building in downtown Winter Garden, Scoops is the old-fashioned ice cream shop of your childhood dreams with classic wooden counters and stools and checker-topped tables for a game of chess. Flavors range from key lime to cappuccino to salted caramel and include sorbets, sundaes, and milkshakes, but what the spot is really known for is its generous portions; one scoop is technically the size of three at only $2.50 to boot.
It’s not easy to find good craft beer at $4 to $5 a pop, but Winter Garden’s new microbrewery has done it with 16 taps serving beers only brewed in-house, ranging from stouts to IPAs to amber ales. The best part? Crooked Can is located inside the Plant Street Market, a cluster of artisan shops, so you can actually walk around and peruse the other stores with a beer in hand.
The SeaVenture tour at Discovery Cove – the little sister to SeaWorld located on the outskirts of Orlando – is like walking on the moon…except there’s colorful marine life swirling around you instead of stars. After shimmying into wet suits and easing into The Grand Reef, essentially a man-made coral reef consisting of 1.2 million gallons of saltwater up to 13 feet deep, a dive helmet is lowered over you, feeding oxygen as you wander along the bottom of the reef floor. During the 20-minute experience, you’ll come eye to eye with sharks, pet velvety rays, and cut through schools of fish like Moses parting the Red Sea.
Four unique airboat adventures soar up to 45 miles per hour atop the swamp water around Lake Tohopekaliga in Kissimmee, then slow to sashay through canals and marshlands to take in views of exotic birds, turtles, and the Florida alligator wallowing in their natural environment. Daily 30-minute, 45-minute, and one-hour tours are available.
Located in Davenport, 15 miles southwest of Disney, this outfitter is actually the first and largest aero-tow hang gliding flight park in the world. Offering year-round hang gliding tandem flights and hang gliding instruction, the park’s 100-acre field allows take-offs and landings in any direction.