Orlando Essentials

Check out our guide to shopping, food and fun in Orlando, Florida.

Downtown Orlando Sign

Downtown Orlando Sign

Photo By: Songquan Deng/iStock/Thinkstock

Songquan Deng/iStock/Thinkstock

By: Claudia Zequeira

Food and Drink Essentials: Best Places to...

BUY GROCERIES
There are Publix, Albertsons and Winn-Dixie supermarkets scattered throughout the city, but for those seeking something a bit less ordinary, there are other options:

Lombardi’s Seafood
1152 Harmon Ave., Winter Park
This old Winter Park staple has a large variety of fish and seafood, delivered fresh daily from Port Canaveral and fishing boats on the West Coast and other parts of Florida. Knowledgeable employees will be happy to explain their selection to less experienced customers. Make sure you take a number when you walk in.

Tien Hung Complete Oriental Foods & Gifts
1108-1112 E. Colonial Drive, 407-422-0067
In the heart of Little Saigon (a stone’s throw from downtown), this Vietnamese shop has a large array of fresh vegetables and herbs you can buy in bulk at very affordable prices. Seafood lovers will also find a good selection of fish.

Whole Foods
1989 Aloma Ave., Winter Park
8003 Turkey Lake Road, Orlando
Yes, it’s a chain, but it also happens to have some of the freshest, tastiest food around. The gourmet powerhouse is expanding here with a recently opened second store in the chic Dr. Phillips area.

EAT ETHNIC FOOD

Lacomka Bakery & Deli
2050 N. Semoran Blvd., Winter Park
Besides dispensing vareniki (stuffed dumplings), salted fish and salami, this quaint Russian delicatessen also sells excellent breads baked on premises, some of which are made to order. The place is mostly designed for takeout, but it has a handful of tables for those interested in a more leisurely meal.

Taqueria Ameca Jalisco
4400 S. Orange Blossom Trail
An inexpensive, family-owned restaurant with an ample meat selection. "Load your own" side dishes of guacamole, fried onions, grilled jalapeños, etc., make the place more than just a taco joint. Open every day except Wednesday.

GRAB A BEER

McRaney’s Tavern
1566 W. Fairbanks Ave., Winter Park
This watering hole gets packed because of its good beer selection, friendly staff and drink specials. Those qualities come as a bit of a surprise, considering McRaney’s low-key, smokey pub atmosphere.

Jax Fifth Ave. Deli & Ale House
951 Greenwood Blvd., Lake Mary, 407-323-3354
This bar offers about 300 different kinds of beer, with about 60 of them on tap. If you’ve decided you’re going to settle in Orlando, apply yourself and become a member of the “Mugger Club,” which involves getting your own personalized mug after trying 100 kinds of beer.

SATISFY YOUR LATE-NIGHT HUNGER

PR's Taco Palace
499 W. Fairbanks Ave., Winter Park, 407-645-2225
A divey joint with a funky interior offering good Mexican food at reasonable prices. Patrons get a discounted tequila shot every time a train goes by (the place is adjacent to train tracks). Favored by a younger crowd, particularly Rollins College students.

Planet Pizza
14 W. Washington St., 407-650-8859
Frequented by Orlando’s night owls and partygoers, this eatery on Orange Avenue starts hopping after hours. There are no frills here, but the pizza is outstanding.

SIP A LATTE

Stardust Video & Coffee
1842 Winter Park Road, Winter Park
Besides selling good latte and espresso, this must-have for the artsy crowd has a wide selection of movie titles ranging from art house and mainstream to cult films. Feel free to linger and kill some time in the ample reading room.

Drunken Monkey Coffee Bar
444 N. Bumby Ave.
This Colonial-town coffeehouse roasts its own coffee. Homemade soups are good, and the desserts (brownies, muffins, pies, etc.) are remarkably tasty. The menu includes vegan and vegetarian options.

ENJOY A CUP OF TEA

Dandelion Communitea Cafe
618 N. Thornton Ave.
A vegetarian cafe with a broad organic tea selection, Dandelion is a gathering place of sorts for the eco-friendly set. Plush, homey couches are inviting and give the place a cozy, comfortable feel.

Entertainment Essentials: Best Places to...

Downtown Disney in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

Downtown Disney in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

Photo By: the Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau

the Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau

Disney's influence on Orlando extends beyond its four theme parks: Downtown Disney offers shopping, dining and nightlife.

HAVE FUN FOR FREE

Downtown Disney
Adjacent to Walt Disney World, Downtown Disney was created to keep folks close to, well, to Disney. Stroll through this somewhat artificial "downtown" and window-shop if funds are low. There are two shopping sides to the area: the more tranquil Marketplace and the less so West Side. If the budget allows, do indulge in a few purchases in any of the available stores. The Virgin Megastore and the giant LEGO Imagination Center (kids really enjoy the playing area) are favorites. At night, House of Blues is among Orlando’s best for live music.

MEET NEW PEOPLE

Orlando Museum of Art
2416 N. Mills Ave.
Dog parks and churches are good for chance encounters with interesting people, but the Orlando Museum of Art actually encourages them. Every first Thursday of each month, OMA showcases works by local artists, with live music, beer and wine as added amenities (oh, and admission on Thursday is a little lower). The museum itself houses a good selection of African, pre-Columbian and American art, but don’t expect anything too racy: Orlando is still gun shy about stirring controversy, particularly if that controversy is generated by art circles.

TAKE A DATE

Harry P. Leu Gardens
1920 N. Forest Ave.
This city oasis consists of three miles of paved scenic walkways winding through 50 acres of lush gardens. Passionate feelings seem to ignite here, as lots of Orlandoans choose the gardens as their wedding backdrop.

Universal Orlando
6000 Universal Blvd.
It doesn’t get much more touristy than Universal, an entertainment giant co-owned by General Electric, but locals love this place because of its ample entertainment options. Killer movie-themed coasters and a water park offering multipassenger thrill rides are but the tip of the iceberg here. Thousands of teenagers and young couples flock each evening to Universal Citywalk, a kind of outdoor mall buzzing with live music, restaurants, a movie theater and more.

ENTERTAIN THE KIDS
A note about children: Orlando is extremely kid-friendly, some would argue too much. As a result, the city Mickey built has myriad theme parks capable of keeping children entertained for weeks (Discovery Cove, where kids can swim with dolphins; Sea World, where they can watch orcas (killer whales) perform; and Typhoon Lagoon, known for its impressive slides, are but a tiny sample). These places, however, can be pricey. Here are some less expensive -- and educational -- options:

Orlando Science Center
777 E. Princeton St.
Located in the city’s cultural corridor, the Orlando Science Center has loads of interactive exhibits meant to encourage scientific inquiry. Themed exhibits spread throughout the museum’s four floors are hands-on, touching on subjects such as paleontology, math and anatomy. The center also has a large CineDome where educational movies are shown as well as an observatory equipped with telescopes.

Audubon Center for Birds of Prey
1101 Audubon Way, Maitland
Children will enjoy animal encounters at this rehabilitation center for birds of prey. Started by the Audubon Society, the center takes in about 700 wounded or orphaned raptors from Florida each year, rehabilitates them and attempts to release them into the wild. Visitors do not have access to birds in the process of healing, but many winged permanent residents are on view.

SHOP AT A FUNKY LOCAL BUSINESS

Lee & Rick’s Oyster Bar
5621 Old Winter Garden Road, 407-293-3587
Leave aside all notions of propriety when you walk into this quintessential Florida establishment best known for its Apalachicola Bay oysters. The raw mollusks are served by the bucket and shucked in front of patrons who can watch skilled and friendly staff perform the artful operation -- if they sit at the long bar. Dining there is wonderfully messy, but it all somehow goes with the relaxed atmosphere and decor. Oysters are large, really large.

DANCE

The Social
54 N. Orange Ave.
Over and over again, The Social finds itself at the top of the dance list because of its huge variety of live music options, which ranges from folk and rock to electronica.

Tabu
46 N. Orange Ave.
A trendy, spacious club frequented by 20-somethings (and occasional drag queens). House and hip-hop are a staple here. Getting in is not pricey, but parking can be difficult because of the club’s downtown location.

Independent Bar
70 N. Orange Ave.
Hipster types love this dance club where patrons can choose from two dance floors and three bars. Indie melodies and '80s tunes are not uncommon.

Outdoor Essentials: Best Places to...

Lake Eola in Orlando, Fla.

Lake Eola in Orlando, Fla.

Photo By: rabbit75_ist/iStock/Thinkstock

rabbit75_ist/iStock/Thinkstock

Enjoy natural beauty in the heart of Orlando at Lake Eola Park.

GET CLOSE TO NATURE
Whether you're interested in an active lifestyle or a more leisure one, Orlando offers many opportunities to experience the great outdoors, including fishing, birdwatching and wakeboarding.

Blue Spring State Park
2100 W. French Ave., Orange City
This Volusia County park about an hour north of Orlando is a good introduction to Florida nature and among the best in the region for manatee watching. Marvel as the gentle creatures gather, seeking refuge from lower water temperatures in the winter months. The park is along the St. Johns River, which visitors may explore in canoes available for rent. Picnic areas are plentiful, and river boat tours are available. Swimming and diving are allowed, except when manatees are around (November through March).

TAKE FIDO

Fleet Peeples Park
2000 S. Lakemont Ave., Winter Park
Tucked away behind Baldwin Park, this off-leash dog park is a favorite among pooch owners. With doggie water fountains, a double gate system, plenty of room to roam, a walking loop surrounding a lake, shady trees and picnic tables, the park attracts visitors of both the four-legged and two-legged variety.

ENJOY GREAT VIEWS OF THE CITY

Lake Eola
Right in the heart of downtown, this park is the heart of the city itself. In addition to its beautiful view of Orlando’s skyline, Lake Eola has an amphitheater where plays and concerts may be enjoyed throughout the year. Walkers and runners can burn a few calories along a 0.9-mile trail that circles the lake. Pedal-propelled swan rental boats may seduce, but exercise caution in summer months.

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