Orlando is so much more than the theme parks at Disney World and Universal. The locals will visit those attractions, along with Gatorland, SeaWorld and others, from time to time, often to take relatives and friends escaping cold winter weather in the North. Here ‘s how to do Orlando like residents who have been here a while.
1. Feature fine arts in your schedule: The people of Orlando have made a commitment to build fine arts into the fabric of the community. The Orlando Ballet, Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra, Orlando Opera and the Florida Symphony Youth Orchestra all have enthusiastic followings. If classical isn’t your thing, but classic rock, jazz, southern, R&B or hip hop is, venues throughout the area feature the music you love.
2. Stay active: Participatory sports are very popular throughout the area. Locals stay fit by walking, jogging, playing tennis and volleyball, swimming, biking and other healthy pursuits. Bring your workout gear and you’ll fit right in.
3. Frolic at a festival: The area is an eclectic mix of cultures, and that mix is on display in its festivals. They include the Festival of Arts and Humanities in January, Kissimmee Silver Spurs Rodeo in February, the Bach Festival in late February, the GeorgeFest washington’s Birthday Festival, SeaWorld’s BBQ Fest, Harley Davidson Bike Week in March, the Easter Surfing Festival, the Cabaret Festival in April, the Shakespeare Festival, the Latin-themed Fiesta Medina in April, the Orlando International Fringe Festival, the Florida Film Festival, the International Food & Wine Festival in September and the Christmas Tree Lighting Festival in December.
4. Shop stores from budget to upscale: Orlando is a shopper’s haven. The locals enjoy spending a muggy or rainy day cool and dry while checking out the wares at the thousands of local stores. The Mall at Millennia offers upscale stores like Neiman Marcus and Bloomingdales. Church Street Station is a quaint group of 40 stores with a Victorian ambiance. Orlando Premium Outlets offer 110 shops and Belz Centre has 160 outlet stores. Mercado is billed as a “world marketplace” with 75 specialty shops. When the weather cooperates, Orlando residents enjoy a stroll through the Pointe Orlando open-air shopping complex with restaurants and entertainment venues.
5. Dance till you drop: If you survive a day of serious shopping, the dance floor will challenge what you’ve got left in the tank. Those who live in Orlando prefer dance clubs like the Independent Bar, Sky Sixty, Eye Spy and Ceviche. Best-rated bars are the Downtown Pour House, Bar BQ Bar, the Vintage Lounge, Bar Louie and the Blue Martini Lounge.
6. Go camping: More than 100 campgrounds are within an hour’s drive of Orlando. You can cut down on hotel and restaurant costs by camping while enjoying the wonderful natural surroundings.
7. Enjoy your favorite spectator sport: The Orlando Magic of the NBA and the Miracles of the WNBA play professional basketball. PGA golfers come to town in March for the Bay Hill Invitational and in October for the Disney Oldsmobile Classic. The Orlando Predators play arena football. The Orlando Rays are a minor league baseball team and the Orlando Seals play minor league hockey. The Central Florida Knights are the local college team.
8. Drown a few golf balls: The Orlando area is loaded with public golf courses with reasonable green’s fees. Just within Orlando you’ll find Hunter’s Creek, MetroWest, Dubsdread, Rosen, Shingle, North Shore and a dozen more. All the courses feature plenty of water hazards, some with alligators, so stock up on cheap balls you won’t mind drowning.
9. Hook a largemouth: Central Florida is big bass fishing country. There are nearly 2,000 freshwater lakes in the area, and many of them are fishing hotbeds. Guides and gear are available for rent. If you don’t fish, take to the water for boating, skiing or tubing.
10. Treat yourself to local eats: Where do locals go for dinner midweek after work of to unwind on the weekend? You can find cuisine from around the world right here as well as good old Southern specialties. There are 5,000-area restaurants from which to choose. You won’t go wrong at these spots highly rated by Orlando residents: Pho Saigon and Banh Mi Nha Trang for Vietnamese staples, Pom Pom's Teahouse & Sandwicheria and the Dandelion Communitea Café for vegan and vegetarian goodies, Kres Chophouse and Texas de Brazil for steaks, Chef Eddie's for soul food, Tony’s for deli sandwiches, Tasty Wok for Chinese, Melissa's Chicken & Waffles for Southern, Sushi Lola’s or Mikado’s for sushi, Sea Thai for Thai and the Oblivion Tap Room for burgers and American fare.