Disney… check. Universal… check. SeaWorld… check. Chances are, you already know about a ton of awesome Orlando attractions, restaurants and landmarks. But what about the hidden gems that lack the million dollar marketing budgets used to lure you in? Tucked into Orlando’s quaint corners, these spots are definitely worth a visit.
Not a lot of Orlando visitors wander any further north than Winter Park, and that’s a shame because they miss out on Wekiva Island, an outdoor riverside oasis beyond your typical ‘state park’ experience. Yes, you can swim, rent kayaks and canoes, but you can also reserve ‘river-banas’, your very own private retreat to enjoy for the day. Cabana are 12’x11’ in size and comes equipped with a comfortable couch, rocking chair, and ice chest filled with water. Two cozy Adirondack chairs sit on your ‘front porch’.
Consider booking one of Wekiva Island’s river trips, guided excursions through the area which is loaded with wildlife. You can also play volleyball, horseshoes, fish, or sip a cold beer at the Tooting Otter, an outdoor bar located a stone’s throw from the pristine river. On Saturday and Sunday afternoons, the Otter serves veggie burgers, hamburgers and hotdogs.
Wekiva Island isn’t just a daytime destination. In fact, it might even get better as the sun sets. Gather around the on-site fire pit or listen to the live band. There is live music scheduled most Friday and Saturday evenings.
On your way back along I4, make a stop at Hannibal Square, the lesser known cousin of Park Avenue. Located west of Park Avenue on New England Avenue, this petite shopping and dining district is quieter and newer plus it’s easier to secure a parking spot AND a sidewalk table at one of many posh eateries. Dexter’s has a fabulous Sunday brunch (check out more Winter Park breakfast spots) and Hot Olives has arguably the prettiest outdoor patio in Winter Park.
Shopping in Hannibal Square rocks because there are absolutely no chain stores – each boutique is completely unique. I love the jewelery at Ginger, the sweet little toddler frocks at Tugboat & The Bird, and the esoteric home accessories (like grapefruit napkin rings) at Devanes. There is a great little find to suit every budget. While you stroll the picturesque street, make a quick stop into Bake Me a Cake Cafe for a sweet treat to fuel you on.
Beyond its shops and restaurants, the district also houses the Hannibal Square Heritage Center at its west end. The Center features a variety of artistic exhibits honoring Winter Park’s historic African American community and offers a wonderful glimpse into the area’s bygone eras.
Now it’s time to head downtown Orlando for a visit to the Orlando Brewing (brewery and taproom), Florida’s only certified organic brew house. Stop in for a free tour and get a behind-the-scenes look at the brewing process. Belly up to the bar to sample one (or two or three) of a dozen hand-crafted ales like their Blackwater Dry Porter – a dark brown ale with notes of chocolate. On weekends you can sit back and listen to some live music – local bands are scheduled weekly.
If you’re still in the mood for a stout, Celebration Town Tavern serves 99 different varieties. With bottles hailing from everywhere from New York to Nicaragua, you’re sure to find at least one you love. Located in the heart of Celebration Town Center with views of the tranquil lake, The Town Tavern is a stellar spot for bar faves like fish ‘n’ chips, hoagies, and chicken wings… plus some healthy options too. Spend an afternoon strolling the streets of this Disney-planned community home to an old-time movie theater, a handful of sweet shops, and miles of wilderness walking trails.
Last but not least, you’ve probably never heard of Raphsodic Co-op Company since it just opened last year downtown on Mills Avenue just north of Colonial. This ‘urban pastry house’ features 100% vegan (and totally guilt-free) desserts like cookies, cupcakes and pies. But being vegan isn’t the only thing that makes these sweets stand out… these crazy concoctions come in flavors like Blueberry Earl Grey, Mulled Apple Cider, and Lavender Lemon (mmmm). Enjoy your delicious snack whilst you gaze at the local art that adorns the walls (available for sale). These one-of-a-kind Orlando-made paintings are the perfect souvenir to remember the holiday where you stepped boldly off the beaten path.
See the rest of the top hidden gems in my destination in the guide I’ve created… Top Orlando Hidden Gems