Tips for Exploring Unique Orlando Neighborhoods
A few tips for exploring unique Orlando neighborhoods
Here’s the lowdown on the many unique Orlando neighborhoods (provided by Orlando Weekly), from local favorites like Downtown and the Milk District, to hidden gems within the touristy I-Drive area.
Culture, “culture” and cocktails. Lots of cocktails. For all its foibles – snarled traffic, lack of retail, weird smells in the summer – downtown is still where the non-Disney magic happens, whether you’re feeling classy – taking in a ballet at the Dr. Phillips Center, for example – or trashy – gargling tequila until you paint the sidewalk with your lunch, say. They say it takes all kinds, and boy does downtown ever take ’em.
Old favorite: Lake Eola Park, 512 E. Washington St. The heart of the city for more than a century, Lake Eola is where Orlandoans gather to celebrate, mourn, protest or just take a nice walk.
New classic: Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, 445 S. Magnolia Ave. Since opening in 2014, the “Dr. Phil” has brought a steady stream of world-class concerts, Broadway plays and high culture to downtown – and the under-construction Steinmetz Hall addition should only bring more.
Don’t get us wrong: Cool stuff happens in all Orlando neighborhoods. But the neighborhood just northeast of downtown seems to pack it in a little tighter than some areas. You won’t find a more diverse neighborhood for cheap multicultural eats, and the walkability factor is super-handy if you’re out to sample the bohemian side of Orlando’s nightlife.
Old favorite: Will’s Pub, 1042 N. Mills Ave. It’s a music venue. It’s a hangout. It’s a great place to get a cheap PBR or an adventurous $12 craft cocktail (at neighboring Lil Indies). It’s basically Orlando’s front porch.
New classic: King Bao, 710 N. Mills Ave. There’s probably no better metaphor for Mills 50 than the Mr. Potato Head: a sweet-potato croquette topped with sour cream and roasted corn salsa, wrapped up in a soft, fluffy bao bun for $3.
A walkable-yet-wild district packed with bars and restaurants, Thornton Park is home to gay, straight, young, old and generally accepting, all living side by side in some of Orlando’s best-maintained historic bungalows.
Old favorite: The Falcon, 819 E. Washington St. Divinely low-key yet not at all jocky or basic, this art bar provides a hip setting amid the burger joints and sports bars with art shows, DJ nights and craft beers.
New classic: The Veranda at Thornton Park, 707 E. Washington St. OK, this building isn’t new – it’s been a bed-and-breakfast/wedding venue/etc. for more than a few years under different names. But they’ve recently started using its beautiful courtyard as a picture-perfect spot to host free evening concerts.
College Park is one of those Orlando neighborhoods that almost feels like Pleasantville – for being so close to downtown, it has a remarkably old-fashioned, old-Florida appeal. It’s mostly a residential cluster of cozy bungalows, but along Edgewater Drive, the kind of small businesses you only expect in small towns – a clock repair shop, a vacuum store – are interspersed with newer restaurants and boutiques.
Old favorite: Christo’s Café (1815 Edgewater Drive) has been soothing hangovers for decades, dishing up fantastic omelets and waffles in a blessedly laid-back diner setting.
New classic: Gratitude Coffee, 1307 Edgewater Drive. Jen Hackney, proprietress of a much-loved coffee truck, has finally set up shop in her own little brick-and-mortar. Now that she has a bit more space, along with her well-crafted lattes and mochas, she’s selling used books, tiny plants, candles and more.
In a sequestered neighborhood just east of Thornton Park is the Milk District, a short-but-sweet spot in town known mostly for its Tasty Tuesdays food truck gathering but named for its proximity to the cow-topped T.G. Lee Dairy. On this strip you’ll find clever theme bars, inventive snacks, vintage clothes and darts aplenty.
Old favorite: Etoile Boutique 2424 E. Robinson St. The vintage-and-new clothing boutique was one of the first settlers in the nascent Milk, and it’s shown remarkable staying power over the years.
New classic: Iron Cow, 2438A E. Robinson St. One of Orlando’s spiffiest new music venues manages to be both modern and clean (well, it’s new yet) but scruffy enough to fit into the neighborhood. Plus, there’s above-average food!
No other part of Orlando has changed so quickly as SoDo. South of the 408 and along Orange Avenue and Michigan Street, this area was struck hard by the mass shooting at the gay nightclub Pulse. Visitors from all around the world have flocked to SoDo’s quiet streets to pay homage to the victims at the site. Despite the grief, SoDo took this newfound attention in stride, reinforcing ties within the old-Orlando community and cementing it as a source of inspiration.
Old favorite: Johnny’s Other Side, 1619 E. Michigan St. Come for the perfect hangover-killer burger. Stay because your server probably forgot about you. Doesn’t matter. Settle in.
New classic: Fast Eddie’s Vape Shop & Lounge, 227 E. Michigan St. Friendly, informative staff will assist you with whatever you need to help you quit smoking, and you can enjoy daily BOGO beer specials at the bar without worrying about some rando trying to make you feel bad about not wanting cancer.
Our most historic of Orlando neighborhoods, Parramore, is also the site of some of our newest developments: the Amway Center, the Orlando City Soccer Stadium and the Creative Village are all part of a slow flowering of business and art that may transform what was once troubled ground.
Old favorite: Well’s Built Museum, 511 W. South St. Once it was a Black-owned hotel that hosted the hottest performers on the so-called chitlin’ circuit, like Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. Now it preserves local African American history and culture.
New classic: WestArt District, 1011 W Central Blvd. This joyous explosion of brand-new culture and history yet to come covers 50,000 square feet with ever-changing murals.
Well-heeled but wide-ranging, our neighbor, Winter Park, can’t be called a neighborhood – it’s its own city, made up of neighborhoods just like Orlando is. There’s the swanky commercial strip of Park Avenue, the up-and-coming Hannibal Square, and various homey pockets long loved by locals. Park Avenue is the place to start, though: Packed with restaurants and boutiques, it’s anchored at its tree-lined north end by the renowned Morse Museum of American Art.
Old favorite: Rollins College, 1000 Holt Ave, Winter Park. The college, founded in 1885, sits on gorgeous grounds dotted with Spanish Mediterranean architecture; of particular note is a walking tour dedicated to alum Fred “Mr.” Rogers. See the iconic cardigan and sneakers, a collection of his books and letters, and a marble plaque on one of the academic buildings engraved with the words that inspired his purpose in life (“Life is for service”).
New classic: The Heavy WP, 1152 Harmon Ave., Winter Park. A multi-use space tucked inside a repurposed fish market (no, it doesn’t smell), the Heavy is not technically open yet, but there has been several soft-opening events that have us panting. The uber-flexible space will host pop-up events once all their permitting is sorted out – including maybe, just maybe, cocktails and food sometimes – and will sell coffee, plants and home decor items during the day. All we know for sure is it looks beautiful already.
Audubon Park & Baldwin Park
The bird streets of Audubon Park are home to the hippest, most organically developed neighborhood in town – and they butt right up against planned community Baldwin Park. Audubonnies appreciate Baldwin’s amenities (grocery, drug store, gorgeous multi-use trails around the lake) but Baldwin revels in Audubon Park’s entertainments – restaurants, bars, bakeries and cool shopping.
Old favorite: Blue Jacket Park, 2501 General Rees Ave. Before Baldwin Park existed – back when it was a naval training base – this land hosted thousands of service personnel. In 2000, the city designated its 75 acres a public park, and its lush fields, fountain and stone structures now host nature-lovers.
New classic: Domu, 3201 Corrine Drive. Unless you get there before they open, the ramen joint and cocktail bar attached to East End Market has a wait ranging from a half-hour to sometimes three – and mark of a true addiction, we’ll wait. The first-come, first-served rule is so strict that staff recently told British crooner Sam Smith, in town for a concert at Amway Center, that he’d have to wait like everyone else. (He didn’t. His loss.)
Once an unassuming stretch of old Orlando lakefront loaded almost exclusively with old Orlando furnishings-stores, the recent rehab of Antique Row into something organically (yet cleverly) fashionable has been nothing short of revolutionary – an urban planner’s dream.
Old favorite: Rock N’ Roll Heaven, 1814 N Orange Ave. Fred and Ray Ehmen have owned their epic record store for decades and they have the memorabilia to prove it – just go in and look (but don’t touch). With the resurgence of vinyl, they’re going even stronger these says.
New classic: Better Than Sex, 1905 N. Orange Ave. The term “food porn” is taken quite literally at this sister restaurant to a Key West staple – it’s all desserts and booze and red velvet drapes and adult indulgences like the “Tongue Bath Truffle,” the “Cookie Nookie” and the “Money Shot.”
Conway & the New Hourglass District
Conway is close enough to downtown to feel alive; far enough away to have enough room for kids. The homey ‘burb vibe is interrupted by scattered pockets of commerce – and what used to be aimed at bluer collars is swiftly pinking up in the Hourglass strip. But it doesn’t have to be fancy to be good, you know.
Old favorite: Claddagh Cottage, 2421 Curry Ford Road. The homiest, coziest, slainte-est Irish pub in town recently reopened after a too-long absence and remarkably, it still feels just like your living room – if your living room has stellar shepherd’s pie and Irish musicians.
New classic: Peaceful Peacock, 2500 Curry Ford Road. Yoga isn’t a sport or a competition; it’s a meditation. A lot of yoga studios pay lip service to that, but the “intentionally inclusive” Peacock, less than a year old, is truly a place to find peace within.
The University of Central Florida serves 66,000 students, but it doesn’t really feel that way in this close-knit community. Despite being a diverse bunch with interests ranging from engineering to creating art, the one thing that unites Knights is extreme school spirit. And while local restaurants and coffee shops do cater to overworked and over-caffeinated college students, they’re still very much worth the drive from Orlando’s downtown core.
Old favorite: Lazy Moon, 11551 University Blvd. If you visit just one place near UCF, make it this one. You only need one mouthwatering slice of pizza perfection to get full, and then you can work it out on the bocce court.
New classic: Vespr Coffeebar, 626 N. Alafaya Trail. This is not your average study hot spot. Vespr combines classic cold brews and cappuccinos with a bourbon maple latte and Patagonia wild guava tea. For the late-night hours, this business also boasts a wine and craft beer bar.
It’s funny how Orlando’s biggest industry is also the bane of every resident’s existence. For many, International Drive is strictly a workplace – and there’s little room to hang out among the millions of tourists who clog the tourism district every year. But avoiding this area of Orlando means missing out on a whole lot of hidden gems, even if they are stuck between two different dinner theaters.
Old favorite: Ripley’s Believe It or Not!, 8201 International Drive. Where else in Orlando can you find decorated Tibetan skulls, a real vampire killing kit and a spinning vortex tunnel?
New classic: Mango’s, 8126 International Drive. If South Beach and Vegas had a baby, you would have Mango’s. You’ve got waitresses in feathery costumes and extravagant stage shows keeping the adrenaline pumping. Something wild and colorful is happening in every corner here.
Want more information on one (or a few) of our eclectic Orlando neighborhoods? Contact one of our experienced and local Realtors today!
Source: “A few tips for exploring Orlando’s unique neighborhoods ,” Orlando Weekly