9 Things To Do In Orlando Without Going To The Theme Parks
Having grown up in Tampa, Florida, I thought that I was an Orlando expert. I went there every weekend for half of the year with my family, and enjoyed a Florida resident discount on annual passes to both Disney World and Universal Studios. But until I recently traveled back to Orlando, I didn't realize that there were so many things to do in Orlando without going to the theme parks. I was pleasantly surprised and realized that the city and its surrounding suburbs have so much more to offer.
My weekend-long trip included mini tours of both Winter Park and Winter Garden, which lie just outside of Orlando. I did everything from exploring a farmers market, to wine tasting at a local winery, to even taking a scenic boat tour on three of Central Florida's lakes.
The next time I want to go home to visit my family and we decide to take a day trip to Orlando, I now know of so many other things that we can do outside of the theme parks — and I bet you anything we'll have just as much fun. So, if you're thinking of heading down to the Sunshine State for a vacay anytime soon, consider exploring Orlando and its suburbs for some relaxing fun in the sun. You definitely won't be disappointed.
1. Savor A Gigantic Half-Pound Cookie At Gideon's Bakehouse
I have the biggest sweet tooth out of anyone I know, so I knew that one of my first stops in Orlando had to be at Gideon's Bakehouse inside East End Market. The bakery is known for its incredibly fresh and Insta-worthy cookies. (Every cookie is almost half a pound, according to their website, and they sell six different flavors on the daily).
They regularly sell out, so be sure to get there earlier in the day. Do yourself a favor and head to this charming bakery to taste the gooey, chocolatey goodness that is a Gideon's cookie for yourself.
2. Enjoy A Wine Tasting At Quantum Leap Winery
I've been to my fair share of wineries, and I can safely say that my hour and a half at Quantum Leap was one of the best wine tasting experiences I've ever had. The wines are delicious, and the manager who lead my wine tasting was hilarious, informative, and really made an effort to figure out which one of their wines would best suit my palate. The winery itself has a really cool, homey vibe that didn't feel intimidating or too posh for even a wine novice like me.
3. Grab Brunch, Fresh Fruit, And Drinks At The Winter Park Farmers Market
I was able to experience the Winter Park Farmers' Market IRL, and it's incredible. It was a beautiful day to walk around the various tents that had everything from açai bowls, to dog treats, to fresh fruits and veggies.
I grabbed breakfast from a bakery stand that had fresh quiche (I live for anything eggy and cheesy.), which was a great start to my Saturday. My favorite part of the market, though, was visiting a cute lemonade stand owned by a husband and wife. I asked for an Arnold Palmer and received a cup the size of my head. (And it was only $4!)
4. Check Out The Homes Of Winter Park On A Scenic Boat Tour
I grew up in Central Florida, but somehow forget that there are bodies of water in the area that aren't around the Gulf or Atlantic. Imagine how pleasantly surprised I was to find out that there's a fun scenic boat tour that goes through a few of the lakes that surround Orlando and Winter Park.
It was a quick, hour-long tour that showcased the stunning mansions in the area. It was a unique way to spend my morning, especially because it wasn't too hot outside — and what's not to love about a scenic boat ride?
5. Indulge In Southern Comfort Food At The Coop
I'm a huge sucker for Southern comfort food, and The Coop definitely did not disappoint my palate. I started off my meal with a pimento cheese plate, accompanied by toasted bread. For my entree, I enjoyed their chicken and waffles Benedict, which is chicken and waffles with a Hollandaise sauce smothered over it, and Maple Bourbon syrup. (It was as indulgent and delicious as it sounds.) On the side, I ordered a small helping of fried okra, another one of my favorite Southern snacks.
6. Have A Fine Dining Experience At Luma On Park
Next up is Luma On Park, where I had a fine dining experience for the books. My mom came into town from Tampa, and it was special getting to share a fancy meal with her.
The service was impeccable, and the food was even better than we could have ever imagined. We had the unique opportunity to sit next to the kitchen and watch as the chefs made our food, and it only made us more excited to try everything that came out.
7. Take A Scenic Bike Ride Down The West Orange Trail
I'm always down for a fun, outdoorsy activity when I'm traveling, and a leisurely bike ride falls within that category. Winter Garden, a city outside of Orlando, is home to a beautiful bike path called the West Orange Trail.
I took a half-day to bike from the bike rental shop, down to Plant Street Market (about a half hour ride) to have lunch and enjoy a cold beer at Crooked Can Brewery. The trail was really easy to bike, and it was a great way to explore the city.
8. Swoon Over The Art During Your Stay At The Alfond Inn
If you're an art buff and love checking out different collections whenever you travel, you'll absolutely love staying at The Alfond Inn. It's a really cool hotel in Winter Park, which is only a quick car ride away from downtown Orlando. It's a little off the beaten path, which is great if you're trying to avoid tourist traffic.
In my opinion, the highlight of the hotel is the huge collection of art on its walls. You can walk through the hotel the same way you would a museum and observe the different pieces scattered around its hallways (like this gorgeous neon one pictured above that I want in my house ASAP).
9. Adopt A New Plant Baby At Porch Therapy
Like most millennials I know, I've become a mommy to quite a number of plants. And even if I'm not always looking to add more green babies to my collection, I still love walking into plant stores and getting ideas of what I can adopt next.
Walking into the Porch Therapy store (also inside the East End Market) made me want to buy a ton of new plants for my apartment. I loved that, not only were the plants really pretty and well taken care of, but all of the planters were really creative, too. I ended up picking up a tiny pink geode planter to house a future air plant, and am so glad I made the tiny investment.