Orlando is the jewel of Central Florida — there’s a reason its nickname is “the City Beautiful.” It’s also the “Theme Park Capital of the World,” home to Disney World, Universal Studios, LegoLand and more. Surrounded by lakes, Orlando is the perfect place to experience local culture with its many outdoor parks, farmers’ markets and shops.
Must-Visit Orlando Sites Besides Theme Parks
Orlando’s not just theme parks; there are many local attractions to see. For the snowbirds, Winter Park is a resort community just northeast of Orlando. This charming neighborhood has a number of small shops, art galleries and museums for your daily entertainment. But the entire reason to to Orlando in the winter is to spend time outside; to that end, there’s a gorgeous park, a golf course and country club and a beach. We recommend going in March, though, so you can see the Winter Park Sidewalk Art Festival. Winter Park’s signature event is one of the leading art festivals in the nation, attracting thousands of visitors. It’s not to be missed!
Lake Eola Park is famous for its fountain — and you’d never know it used to be a sinkhole! The park also is home to the Walt Disney Amphitheater for special events and a beautiful Chinese pagoda. Get another view of the scenery by renting a swan paddle boat.
The historic Ivanhoe Village neighborhood is another fun area to discover. Anchored by beautiful Lake Ivanhoe, there is plenty to do and see. Ivanhoe Village has antique stores, art galleries, design centers, master artisans, restaurants and retail shops to explore. There’s great outdoor dining for the many beautiful days in Orlando, and the art deco architecture is simply charming.
Tibet-Butler Nature Reserve offers excellent outdoor adventures without huge crowds. At this 400-acre nature reserve, you can hike and appreciate what nature has to offer in Florida. Equally stunning, Wekiwa Springs is another local attraction you must see in person. And it’s truly impressive: Wekiwa Springs feeds approximately 42 million gallons of water to the Wekiva River each day. Despite sending so much water along, Wekiwa Springs is surprisingly calming. It’s the perfect place for watery fun like canoeing, kayaking and snorkeling.
Best Places to Shop in Orlando
Aside from being a feast for the eyes, Orlando is a shopper’s paradise. From premium shopping centers to outlet stores with great deals, there are plenty of shopping options to choose. The Mall of Millenia is the best shopping center in Orlando. If you love luxury brands, this place has stores from top designers like Gucci, Louis Vuitton and more.
If you want to be a bit kinder to your wallet, Orlando International Premium Outlets is an excellent place for bargain hunting. Both locals and tourists love coming here to find designer brands like Ralph Lauren and Diesel at affordable prices. With 180 stores, you’re sure to find all of your favorite brands, like the Gap and Nike. You can easily spend the whole day here if you’re so inclined.
If you love entertainment, fine dining, and shopping but don’t want to go all over Orlando to do it, Disney Springs should be on your itinerary. Disney Springs has four areas to explore: The Landing, Town Center, Marketplace, and West Side. You can walk around, or get the faster by taking the free ferry across the lake. With its shops, restaurants and attractions, you’re in for a day of non-stop entertainment.
The East End Market is a great alternative to busy shopping centers. Just a few minutes drive northeast out of downtown, this two-storey market space showcases the best of what Central Florida has to offer in a variety of gourmet food, art and fresh produce. East End Market also features world-class restaurants and a large event space for entertainment.
Gay Orlando Nightlife
Orlando also has an active LGBTQ community and boasts a thriving gay nightlife. Billed as the “Gayest Place On Earth,” Parliament House is a huge nightclub with seven different bars. It’s also the home to the Footlight Players, hosts of many special events and parties. You’ll often see RuPaul’s Drag Race alums performing regularly. If that weren’t enough, they even offer motel accommodations, so traveling here is super easy!
If you prefer to experience the local scene you’ll want to go to Stonewall, a neighborhood dive bar. Stonewall’s friendly environment makes it a great hangout for visitors and locals alike. There’s different theme nights, too — our favorite is Spandex Happy Hour. Try to make it on the first Tuesday of the month — it turns into a haven for guys strutting in their best gear.
Beer fans have to go to BarCodes, another cool dive bar with a friendly staff and a low-key atmosphere. Every Wednesday and Sunday night, get exclusive discounts just for showing up in your sexy underwear. If you’re into leather, come on the last Saturday of the month to mingle with guys in hot leather harnesses.
Savoy, a local favorite, boasts the best happy hour menu in town. Jumpstart your weekend fun by watching the local drag queens on Friday night. Savoy is also the place to get your laugh on with its monthly comedy showcase starring the best local stand-ups.
Gay Orlando Events
Orlando hosts several world-renowned circuit parties like One Magical Weekend Event at Disney World. This event attracts gay visitors around the world during the first week of June. You’re sure to have a blast at one (or more!) of the many different dance parties going on all week.
Bear Bash is a group representing bears, leather daddies and men in uniform. They throw several events throughout the year; the most popular ones include the Polar Bear Party and Booty Call, both in June. Their signature event, International Bear Bash, happens in September and attracts — as the name implies — an international crowd.
Orlando Pride is another LGBTQ event you don’t want to miss. This huge week-long event in October is an incredible opportunity for the entire Central Florida community to come together.
Though we’ve mentioned a lot of fun events, we need to mention Pulse. We’ll never forget the tragic events that happened here. This horrific night affected everyone, but it also brought us together, showing solidarity in supporting our community.
Barbara Poma, the owner of the club, announced in May 2017 the creation of the onePULSE Foundation. This foundation will independently fund a memorial site and museum slated to open in 2020.
Featured image by Callfredrik via iStockphoto