Orlando is famous for its large collection of theme parks and is virtually a kiddie wonderland. Plenty of families flock to the iconic mouse ears and the rotating globe of Universal Studios, and it’s well known as a place for manufactured fun. However, for the parents or child-less, Orlando is still a desirable travel destination and boasts tourists more than meets the eye, from museums to natural attractions.
Here’s a few ways to get outside the circus and take a look at the city in a new light:
Orlando is chock full of restaurants -- over 4,000 to be exact -- but there are some local gems that no guidebook will tell you about -- until now. While families may beeline for the chains: Houston's (Now called Hillstone, on Mills Avenue) and Texas de Brazil, the national churrascaria meat palace known for its huge portions, those in the know should head to gastropub, The Ravenous Pig. With a menu that changes frequently and a supply of fresh and local foods, the Ravenous Pig pleases all and often has a waiting line of people who want to catch a table (Orange Avenue). If you're looking for a quick bite, stop by one of the local, quirky coffeehouses, particularly Austin's or Stardust Video & Coffee. Orlando has a limited selection of vegetarian options, but two delicious places for the vegetarian or vegan food are Ethos and Green Lemon Café.
Walking through "it's a Small World" doesn't have to be your only exercise in Orlando. A popular attraction beyond the city limits for locals is Ponce De Leon Springs, named after the Spanish explorer Ponce De Leon. A natural spring where you can swim, canoe, kayak or paddleboat, make a day of it by stopping at the Old Spanish Sugar Mill Restaurant in De Leon, where you can make your own pancakes in the morning. There's also the Lee County Manatee Park, where you can see these beautiful creatures lumber through the river. Closer to Orlando is Leu Gardens, a beautiful and hidden botanical garden for the nature lover. They also host occasional "date nights" where they play a movie in the park. If you'd like to stay indoors, the Aiguille Rock Climbing center is a great place to get your fair share of exercise and fun. Aiguille has separate climbing, bouldering and belaying sections in its huge warehouse.
Explore the Arts
One of the best things to do in Orlando is to experience its small yet thriving culture at the Bob Carr Performing Arts Center, where many national troupes come to perform. There's also the Shakespeare Center, renowned in its talent and the Orlando Ballet, which is small yet talented. There are many museums, most notably the Mennello Museum of American Art, the Orlando Art Museum and the Morse Museum in Winter Park (which boasts the largest collection of Tiffany glass). For the little ones, The Science Center, located right across from the Mennello Museum on Princeton Street, is the perfect place to learn about the body and physics, a good way to trick your kids into educational fun.
Everyone is always looking for something to do once the sun sets and the kiddos are in bed. The Enzian Theatre combines independent movies with a delicious menu and bar. If you're looking for more of the nightlife in Orlando, while there are many bars downtown, The Social, Backbooth and Club Firestone are the most popular, hosting local concerts of every genre. Closer to the theme parks, in Lake Buena Vista, is the House of Blues, which brings in large acts and famous performers. In Universal Studios, City Walk heralds as a great place for drinking and dancing.