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10 ways to enjoy Downtown Orlando

10 ways to enjoy Downtown Orlando

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It may not surprise you that I'm not spending my weekend nights over at Vain Nightclub, or any of the other countless so-called hot spots in downtown that makes many of us wary of exploring the streets anytime after 9pm.  No offense to anyone that prefers to get their deafening grind on in dirty dank spaces, but I would love to see less clubs and more culture in my downtown. It makes you think, if Orlando is really meant to be a city in which you live, work, and play, what does the core of the City Beautiful have to offer it's average resident that is past the age of club-bumpin and pub-crawling?

We know there are great options for cocktails at places like the Courtesy Bar, and awesome spots to eat, like the Artisan's Table; but when you take food and alcohol out of the equation, what makes downtown a worthy destination?

Here are 10 things that downtown has to offer you, day or night.

The Melrose Center

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It's not just books and DVD's people!

Thanks to a generous gift by the Melrose Family, the second floor of the Orange County Public library houses the Dorothy Lumley Melrose Center for Technology, Innovation & Creativity.  What does that mouthful mean?

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If you are an Orange County resident with a membership to the library you have access to FREE classes! Yes I said FREE classes!

Learn how to properly use that DSLR camera you splurged on with their photography classes and use of their photography studio.

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Create that Youtube masterpiece for your vlog in the video studio with professional equipment, lighting and a green screen.  Not to mention an editing bay for those final touches.Have a band and need to lay down tracks for your album or single?  Record music or vocals in a professional audio studio.

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Have a podcast you want to get going, but you are tired of your janked studio in a closet at home? Use of one the private sound booths.Classes are offered by instructors with the credentials to back up their expertise.

Most services are free to Orange County Library District cardholders (there may be material fees for some classes) and are available at a reasonable charge for those residing outside of the service area. Once you've completed your initial orientation you can book classes online.

I honestly don't know why this place isn't hustling and bustling every time I visit. Perhaps Orlandoans don't know about it or realize it's, say it again, FREE.

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Add the Melrose Center to your to-do list for 2016!

City Arts Factory

Access to local art in Downtown is around every corner, and the largest collection of galleries can be found at City Arts Factory on the corner of Orange Avenue and Pine Street.  You can visit during their monthly "Third Thursday" events that are usually jam packed with locals or you can take a leisurely and less obstructed view of the collections during the week.

Admission is free Tuesday through Saturday from 11AM to 6PM but donations are encouraged.  You might see works from local artists like Andrew Spear and Boykong or you might discover a brand new favorite to support.

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Gallery at Avalon Island

That gorgeous green building on the corner of Magnolia Avenue and Pine Street is often the backdrop of many photo ops, but did you know it hosts another art gallery for locals to enjoy?

This Orlando gem was built in 1886, and is the oldest operational building in the city. If that isn't worth a peek I'm not sure what is!

Exhibits rotate and the gallery is known to host events including live music.

It's open Thursday-Saturday 11:00am - 6:00pm, so don't just snag a Instagram picture of it, go inside!

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One of the most exciting additions to downtown has to be the Dr. Phillips Center. It's such a stunningly beautiful building inside and out. It has certainly brought some class and glamour to that corner of Magnolia Avenue.

I've already seen one musical (Beauty & the Beast) as well as a concert (Sufjan Stevens) in the main Walt Disney Theater and many more exciting shows are scheduled for 2016 like Tony Bennett, Josh Groban, and Beautiful - The Carole King Musical. Tickets to most shows have a limited amount of "cheap seats" but if you splurge on a night out, there isn't a bad seat in the house.

Just remember when seeing a play, keep it classy and leave the jeans at home.

Orange County Regional History Center

You know that area behind all of the Wall Street bars, where a lot of the homeless hang out, so you normally take a detour and walk around it? That building you keep snubbing is the Orange County Regional History Center and it's filled with information about your state!

Along with rotating exhibits the center hosts retro game nights on select Fridays so you can grab some friends and enjoy a night out playing old school board games and video games.  The next on is Friday, February 12th and costs non-members $5 in advance.

The center is open Monday-Saturday 10AM - 5PM and Sunday Noon - 5PM with an admission fee.

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Lake Eola/Orlando Farmers Market

Yes, we all know Lake Eola exists as a great spot for exercise, a picnic, or any outdoor activities that we can enjoy any month that isn't June-August; but did you know that every Sunday there is a pretty large and awesome Farmers Market?

From 10AM to 4PM the corner of Lake Eola Park near Central Blvd. and Eola Drive is transformed into a bustling market. However, this isn't just local produce (although they have plenty), it's local food vendors, artists, and music.  You can kick back and enjoy an adult beverage should the mood strike you in the beer and wine garden that opens at noon.

I know I said with food and alcohol out of the equation, but the Farmer's Market is an experience far beyond food and drink.  It's a great place to see the community gather, to meet local artisans, and enjoy the amazing weather we are treated to most of the year.

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If we have to talk treats though, one of my personal favorites are the fresh coconuts you can purchase while you pull up a patch of grass and people watch. 

Church Street Exchange Building

Ok, so this one is a bit of a stretch, but I do believe that as a local you should explore this historic building.

Most of Church Street continues to host new restaurants and watering holes; some stand the test of time and some close down as quickly as their build-out took. (Can we PUH-LEASE get The Dessert Lady back!)  However, the Church Street Exchange building seems to be struggling to reach it's full potential as well as occupancy.

With the exception of Trend Studios Salon and the Bumble and Bumble Be Creative House, it seems to be turning into a tech hub.

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Canvs, a co-working space, sits on the bottom floor for all you work-from-home entrepreneurs that might need a space to share with other local movers and shakers for that start up you've been pouring your soul into. 

You will also find the Iron Yard on the first floor which appears to be an educational spot for those seeking to advance their tech skills in back and front-end engineering, data science, and design.  I won't pretend I know what any of that means, but they also have free crash courses to check out if you don't wish to apply for full courses.

Overall this building still remains a bit of a mystery as for what is in store. I miss the days when it use to have an arcade in it back in the mid-90's.

It is however fun to explore and snap some photos.

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Also, in case of a restroom emergency, there are bathrooms on the 2nd floor, but don't tell them I told you.  Shhhhhhhhh.

SAK Comedy Lab

Improv comedy is always a fun night out, even if it's terrible.  Thankfully in all my trips to Sak's Comedy Lab, I've never sat laugh-less.

If you haven't been to a SAK's show, it's a eventful cheap night out to break free from the monotony of seeing a movie down at the Plaza or just Netflix and chilling yourself to death.

If you think you just might be a Ryan Stiles in the making you can pay to take some courses, or if you are a new SAK student you can take a free workshop and see if you've got what it takes!

Tickets to the Duel of Fools shows (which are a similar style to Whose Line Is It Anyways) are $14 for Florida Residents.

Photo courtesy of: www.thediaryofadebutante.com
Photo courtesy of: www.thediaryofadebutante.com
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It may have taken Orlando a hot second to catch up to other cities and get a bike sharing program for residents, but it's here now and locals can speed around the city on these bright Orange bikes and kiss getting stuck behind slow walkers goodbye!

Once you sign up for a membership you can pay as you go, or purchase monthly plans based on your usage.

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There are several hubs around downtown so picking up and dropping off as you explore should be no problem at all. 

Mad Cow Theatre

If a night of theater strikes your fancy, but paying Dr. Phillips center prices does not, don't forget about the Mad Cow Theatre. It can be easy to miss as it sits tucked away on Church Street on the second story above Grafitti Junktion.

Ticket prices vary, but for their next run of the comedy "Art" it ranges from $25-$38. A respectful price tag for a night not spent watching Parks and Recreation at home for the 100th time.

I was able to see "Sunday in the park with George" a few years back and I was impressed by a lot of our local talent.

This is a much more intimate setting than the Dr. Phillips Center and is sure to satisfy any quench for culture you might be having.

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One last tip for exploring Downtown, the Lynx bus route that goes through downtown is FREE to ride! So if you don't feel like walking or riding a bike, hop on a Lynx to take you through downtown and it won't cost you a dime.

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