Let’s play a word association game. I’ll write a series of words and you say the first thing that comes to your mind for each.
- Orange –> ___
- Castle –> ___
- Orlando, Florida –> ___
Did you say, “Disney World?” If so, you may be one of the 70 million+ tourists that visit Orlando’s many theme parks each year.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Disney. I pay my dues to The Mouse as an annual passholder drinking around the world at Epcot on the weekends. But I urge you, dig a little deeper and you’ll find that there is a wealth of affordable and unique places to explore if you want to do it up like a true Central Florida native.
Whether you’re planning a vacation with friends, packing up the car and taking a solo road trip around the state, or just looking for something fun to do on your day off, here are my favorite 49 things to do in the greater Orlando/Central Florida area. (That aren’t theme parks!)
1. Snorkel at Wekiwa Springs.
2. Cruise the canals on the Winter Park Scenic Boat Tour.
3. Hear the song of the 205-ft Singing Tower at Bok Tower Gardens.
4. Sip on lemonade at the Lake Eola Orlando Farmers Market.
5. Canoe and camp at Ocala National Forest.
6. Get lost among the flowers of Harry P. Leu Gardens.
7. Bike the Cady Way Trail.
8. Learn to surf at Cocoa Beach.
9. Pokemon hunt in Cranes Roost Park.
10. See an old-fashioned drive-in movie at Silver Moon.
11. Feast like a king—with your hands—at Medieval Times.
12. Experience the Kinetic Zone at Orlando Science Center.
14. Indulge in the Chocolate Conspiracy cake at IKEA.
15. Learn from the Dance Dance Revolution pros and play games at Dave & Buster’s.
16. Watch a movie in a homey, living room setting at Aloma Cinema Grill.
17. Rock climb and boulder at Aiguille.
18. Finesse your back-swing in a high-tech environment at Topgolf.
19. Get a psychic reading at Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp.
20. Order “Chicken and Waffles Benedict” at The Coop.
21. Have your brunch and eat ice cream too at Briarpatch.
22. Taste the best pho in all of Little Vietnam at Pho Hoa.
23. Coffee lovers, you’ve hit the jackpot!
- Get your fix 24/7 at the place that never closes, Austin’s Coffee.
- Chill with the yuppies at Foxtail Coffee Co.
- Explore bathroom yoga, art shows, and parking lot bingo at Stardust Video and Coffee.
- Indulge in the best vegan, gluten-free bakery items at Drunken Monkey Coffee Bar.
- Hang at Vespr Coffeebar for nerdy, college-town company and fancy coffee cocktail hybrids.
24. Spoil yourself with a fantastically fun, artistic meal at Cafe Tutu Tango.
25. Try a combo of the 30 different teas available at Pom Pom’s Teahouse.
26. Eat a slice of pizza bigger than your head at Lazy Moon.
27. Gorge yourself on the best sushi happy hour at Sakari Sushi.
28. Cool off in a locally-owned craft boba cafe at Chewy Boba Company.
29. For a more upscale dining experience that won’t disappoint, Hannibal’s on the Square is a place where you’re not just paying for the atmosphere—the food is amazing.
30. Sample from 23 craft beers named after local icons at Orlando Brewing.
31. Load up a tasting card and choose from 156 hand-selected wines at The Wine Room.
32. Sing your heart out with DJ Di on Tuesdays and Saturdays at Big Daddy’s Karaoke.
33. Enjoy classic gaming cabinets and specialty cocktails in the ultimate 80’s themed, retro arcade and bar, Joysticks.
35. Dance all night at Independent Bar, from vintage rock to top 40, indie to 80’s new wave, depending on the day of the week.
36. Fuel your obsession with Christmas music, movie clips, and of course, snow, at Frosty’s Christmastime Lounge.
37. Catch up on the latest issue of Riverdale and test your wit at a game of nerdy trivia at A Comic Shop / The Geek Easy.
38. Dwell in the smoky, no-frills basement of Tanqueray’s with a beer and listen to a local band.
39. Can’t resist the aroma of a grilled sausage during a bar crawl but are committed to a meat-free lifestyle? Never fear—Vegan Hot Dog Cart man is here!
Events / Seasonal
40. Gain access to 25+ free and low-cost performing and visual arts happenings from the University of Central Florida at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts each April during UCF Celebrates the Arts.
41. Celebrate life, love, art, and music under the “Electric Sky” with full on pyrotechnics and performers at Tinker Field each November during Electric Daisy Carnival.
42. Enjoy live entertainment, livestock shows, rides, local vendors, and the best strawberry shortcake during the 11-day run of the Florida Strawberry Festival each March.
43. Grab your festival button, stop by the infamous beer tent, and see as many shows as you possibly can at (the longest running fringe festival in America, est. 1992) Orlando Fringe Theatre Festival. Their philosophy: 100% uncensored, unjuried, accessible, inclusive, and all ticket sales go directly to the artists.
44. Gather with the community on the 2nd Thursday of every month to partake in an evening of sights, sounds, food, shopping and of course, wine, at the Thornton Park Wine Walk.
45. Let your freak flag fly at one of the many nerdy conventions held in the area!
- Drop a small fortune on a weekend pass for MegaCon this May to enjoy four days of comics, sci-fi, horror, anime, and gaming with some of the top cosplayers and media guests in the country.
- Anime lovers, find your home away from home this August at intimate Anime Festival Orlando, complete with a night-time cosplay pool party!
- This December, deck the halls for an anime, gaming, and cosplay convention with a Christmas-themed twist at Holiday Matsuri.
46. Experience the fusion of performance and technology as the true heart of the City of Orlando comes to life during Immerse Orlando in October.
47. Cheer on the dogs who shred more than just homework during dog-surfing at Easter Surf Fest in Cocoa Beach.
48. Take the plunge down the Arctic Glide Ice Slide and ice skate under the “snowy” sky at the University of Central Florida for Light Up UCF this winter.
49. Feast your eyes upon 200,000 lights and a 60-foot Christmas tree while you take a stroll around the lake at Light up the Holidays at Cranes Roost Park.
Bonus! My local bucket list
Truth be told, I still have a lot of exploring to do around town. The items below have all been recommended to me by either a friend or blogger. It’ll take a while for me to get through them all but I’ll put a check-mark as I visit them and let you know if it’s worth the trip.
- Art Night Out at Orlando Museum of Art
- Bioluminescent kayaking
- Casa Feliz
- Dorothy Lumley Melrose Center
- Downtown Credo
- Downtown Sanford
- East End Market
- Enzian’s Wednesday Night Pitcher Show
- Greenwood Cemetery
- Holy Land Experience
- Kelly’s Homemade Ice Cream
- Lake Meadow Naturals
- Legend of Spook Hill
- Mead Botanical Gardens
- Mickey’s Kitchen Sink
- Monorail Pub Crawl
- Old Spanish Sugar Mill
- Orlando Cat Café
- Orlando Critical Mass
- Orlando Eye
- Orlando Wetlands Park
- RDV Ice Skating
- Redlight Relight Beer Parlour
- Ride SunRail
- Science Night Live
- Send out Christmas cards from Christmas, Florida
- Significant Trees Map
- Sleuths Mystery Dinner Show
- Spooky Empire
- Sunday Yoga at Lake Eola
- Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition
- Waldorf Astoria
- Zombie Outbreak