A Local Student’s Guide to Orlando (Which Doesn’t Include Disney)
Orlando is a city known around the world for one thing: theme parks. Places where adults and kids alike come to express their inner child. Orlando, in some ways, holds some of the best kept secrets in the country.
What most tourist, students, and even some locals do not realize is that Orlando is home to much more than a friendly mouse. Orlando is also home to some amazing local food spots, farmer’s markets, bars, shopping, and only a quick drive away to amazing scenic adventures. If you ever get a chance to vacation, study, or even live in this sunny central Florida town, you have to check out what the real Orlando offers.
Now I’ll have to admit that Orlando is finally making its name as the foodie destination it truly is. There is what feels like an uncountable number of local tex-mex, barbeque, Vietnamese, Thai, and Middle Eastern restaurants everywhere. There are even a number of places that cater to vegans and other diets. Let’s not forget about the breweries, coffee bars, and themed bars that line the streets of downtown. Did you say Christmas bar? How about retro video game bar? Sign me up! Since Orlando is home to the largest university in the US (the University of Central Florida), 18-and-older nights are common. So, for those studying abroad and who have become underage during their time in America, don’t fret!
Besides that, Orlando also hosts various events and festivals throughout the year and some of which that are on a weekly or monthly basis. To stay on the topic of food, you can usually find some culture, food, and wine festivals filled with tasty bites. Oh yeah, and Tuesdays (and many of days of the week to be honest here) are reserved for a food truck extravaganza otherwise known as “Tasty Tuesdays”.
No matter what neighborhood or neighboring town you live in, you can almost always find a farmer’s market to check out each weekend filled with local produce, crafts, and (of course) food.
Orlando is also home to a great art community that holds festival weekends and even film slams at a local, retro dine-in theatre.
One good aspect of living in such a tourist hotspot is the amount of shopping. Many international stores you can only find abroad or in big cities like New York you can also find in Orlando. Smaller neighborhoods within the city usually have smaller boutiques or thrift stores that carry unique pieces you can’t find some big-name stores.
Many neighborhoods also have their own small historic district filled with shops and eateries, like Winter Park’s Park Avenue for example, which are fun to take a stroll down with your friends.
While there are many outdoor activities you can do in the city of Orlando, such as taking a swan boat out on Lake Eola in the middle of downtown, or hiking through one of the many local trails, you can also hop in your car and head to the many beaches and springs. Pick between a paddleboard, kayak, or canoe over manatees in the crystal clear rivers at Wekiwa Springs. If you like to surf, head to New Smyrna or Cocoa Beach. With all of those lakes and the easy beach access comes awesome fishing spots too!
If your time in the US or even Orlando is limited, it is easy to take a weekend trip to places like Tampa, St. Augustine, or even Miami to cross some more cities off your bucket list.
In the three years that I have called this place home, I have seen Orlando grow into such a vibrant city. There is never a dull moment living in such a place. I have had the opportunity to travel to many places within the state of Florida, but I have always come to the conclusion that Orlando truly is the city beautiful.