Neighborhood Guide - Orlando
A consistent theme has crept into the messages I receive. The words "I recently moved to Orlando..." are becoming more and more common.
While some locals are packing up to move to cities like Nashville, Atlanta, and Denver; plenty of people are swapping out high-priced real estate and cold climates for Orlando's moderate temperatures, relatively affordable housing market (although it's not really that affordable based on the average salaries), and a booming hospitality and tourism industry.
So what do you do when you move to a brand new city, with tremendous urban sprawl, never ending interstate construction, and several developed pockets in all directions that seem overwhelming to tackle?
Hopefully, you do you what I do. Research, create and organize lists, and tackle it over time. Not everyone has my love of lists and endless internet research, so to make it easier I've made a guide for the newbies, or perhaps those that once lived here and recently moved back to a barely recognizable city.
While much of Orlando and it's surrounding cities are pure suburbia with hidden gems, I wanted to highlight the larger areas that stand out as spots that new Orlandoans may want to familiarize themselves with. Whether it's for adventure and recreation, or perhaps to eventually lay down roots.
College Park is known for being a cute and mostly quiet residential area with a busy main street drag where the locals hang at one too many pizza joints. It's a desirable neighborhood to live, so the rent keeps rising as developers buy and tear down small houses on large lots and build tiny mansions. It's one of those rare neighborhoods that can easily have everything you need within a small radius, creating a bubble that you may not often leave. As an eight year resident I can say personally, that regardless of income levels and nice homes, petty theft and break-ins occur here. Don't be fooled. We all know to lock our car doors at night.
Things to Do
Audubon Park is a cozy residential neighborhood with a vibrant main street that gets national press and accolades. It also has a variety of popular businesses that pull other Orlandoans to its main drag of Corrine Drive with great options for dining and shopping. I'm not a resident, but the area seems to be full with mid-century modern bungalows and charming homes with prices on the rise. Locals are beginning to know it as a neighborhood plentiful in baked goods, but it's renowned for being home to Orlando's only indoor market, East End Market.
Local Businesses to Support
What makes it unique
Home to the 50-acres of Leu Gardens
Visit the weekly Monday night Farmers Market
The Main Street program puts on widely successful neighborhood events all year long
While you don't want to get caught on Mills during rush hour, it does offer a wide array of local businesses that showcase Orlando's diversity and growing food scene. The area is also home to our arts hub; yes we have one of those! Our local science center, the Orlando Museum of Art, the Menello Museum of American Art , and the Orlando Shakespeare Theater, Repertory Theater and Orlando Fringe are all nestled closely together around the beauty of Loch Haven Park, which is also home to many festivals throughout the year. It's also becoming known for it's increasing amount of taco joints for anyone craving a taco crawl.
Dandelion Cafe (Vegan)
Things to Do:
Public leaders have been trying to transform our Downtown into a live, work, and play destination that encompasses everything a major city needs to fulfill the needs of its residents. Strides have been made, but there is still progress yet to come. Truthfully, depending on your age and love of nightlife you may find yourself either loving or hating downtown. It's heavy with bars and clubs, little to no retail, and a revolving door of restaurants. However, if you look hard enough you can find pieces of culture, less loud and boozy activities, and some beautiful parks to enjoy all year long.
Top Eats + Drinks:
Things to Do:
See a live show at the Beacham or the Social
Play arcade games in a nostalgic setting at Joysticks
Walk around Lake Eola or take a Swan Boat ride
Visit the Orlando Public Library and take FREE classes at the state of the art Melrose Center
Tour the City Arts Factory
Visit revolving exhibits at the Snap gallery
Enjoy a show at the Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center
Visit revolving exhibits at the Gallery at Avalon Island
Go see live improv at Saks Comedy Lab
Catch a Magic Game, concert, or live event at the Amway Center
See the Orlando City MLS Soccer Team play
Blink and you might drive right through it, but this small strip of community isn't lacking in things to explore. It's becoming a destination for brew lovers and a hub for local makers. It sits right in the middle of three residential areas (Downtown, Mills/50, and College Park) so it's really a cozy corridor that is partially sustained by the locals living in those areas, who want to hang out and play at local bars, restaurants, and a few shops.
Top Eats & Drinks
What makes it unique:
Lake Ivanhoe runs along most of this neighborhood which includes a nice walking trail, exercise stops, a volleyball court, and gorgeous Florida sunsets.
They have regular neighborhood crawls, marketed as Wanderlust Wednesdays, where you can stroll and sip and explore the local businesses in the neighborhood.
Winter Park spans quite a bit of territory. The areas that a new local may want to get acquainted with include the upscale neighborhood surrounding Park Avenue and then the pieces that branch out from there on Fairbanks and Orange Avenue. No matter which area you explore you will find something that will keep you within your recently-moved-so-I'm-strapped for-cash-budget, or let you indulge in a treat yourself night out.
Local Businesses to Support
Things To Do
East Orlando is largely cookie-cutter suburbia at its finest, but it's also home to the largest University by enrollment in Florida. Sixty thousand plus students are fighting for parking, and keeping businesses thriving both in purchase power and labor. This side of Orlando is chain heavy, but you can still find some great local businesses to support.
Top Local Eats
Things To Do
The Milk District is an up and coming neighborhood, with lots of young entrepenuers behind the helm. Just East of downtown you'll find some very popular eateries and local shops hidden behind sprawling big box shopping centers. It's now the 10th district to join the Orlando Main Streets program with a focus on growing small businesses and showcasing its DIY community spirit.
Things To Do
Small town charm can be found about 25 minutes West of Orlando. The downtown strip (my childhood playground) is concentrated along Plant Street where you will find local mom and pop shops, restaurants, and even an art gallery. It's come a very long way in the past two decades and I believe it will continue to grow.
Things to Do:
Not all living has to be done near Orlando's core. About 30 minutes North of the city you'll find Sanford, a still relatively affordable area with a downtown that continues to go through the process of revitalization. You may feel somewhat disconnected to the goings-on in Orlando, but if you live and work in this area you can certainly avoid Interstate 4 more than others and perhaps be a little less stressed out from a painful commute.
Things to do
Sure, there are a few cities and areas in-between these that you may want to explore, but much of what is making Orlando a more desirable place to live is concentrated in these areas. This list should act as a guide of ways to enjoy the city you live in. That being said it should not be ignored that Orlando has real problems like any city. Traffic, poor infrastructure, homelessness, and affordable rent issues for residents just to name a few.
Still, we keep exploring and finding new places to enjoy and businesses to support.
All photos are property of LemonHearted Creative.