Chances are you’ve been to Orlando, perhaps even more than once, probably for the kind of mass-tourism, theme-park pleasure that involves pricey admission tickets, hour-long lines, and storybook characters run amok (which, despite our eye-rolling, we grudgingly adore).
But what if you were to visit Orlando and not set foot in a single theme park? No Disney, no Universal, no SeaWorld. You’d find Orlando’s got a lot more to offer than just Mickey. Here are 10 must-visit Orlando attractions outside of the theme park bubble.
Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art
One might assume the largest collection of Tiffany glass in the world would be located in New York, but it’s actually in Orlando’s Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art in historic Winter Park. Over the past half-century, the Morse has amassed some of the most memorable lamps, leaded-glass windows, jewelry, art glass, and pottery by Louis Comfort Tiffany, and in 2011 debuted a new $5 million Tiffany Wing that houses the restored Daffodil Terrace from his Long Island estate as well as 250 art and architectural objects.
Rather than a hidden motorized track guiding you through a faux jungle with fake hippos and zebras, exercise your paddling muscles on a kayak eco-tour through mossy, cypress-lined Shingle Creek, the headwaters of the Everglades. Here, you may spot real alligators, bald eagles, and more. The Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott at Grande Lakes offer two-hour guided tours twice daily, or experienced kayakers can venture out on their own from Shingle Creek Regional Park.
Recommended Fodor’s Video
Orlando Magic Basketball
Ditch the Magic Kingdom and opt instead for Orlando’s NBA team the Orlando Magic. The team, whose most famous alumnus is Shaquille O’Neal, is celebrating 25 years of on-court action in 2014. Basketball season runs from October to June. See the team in action at the Magic’s home court—the 20,000-seat Amway Center downtown.
Harry P. Leu Gardens
Harried tourists often overlook botanical gardens but in Orlando it’s a shame to pass up the 50-acre Harry P. Leu Gardens. They house more than 1,000 rose bushes (in season from April to January) and the largest collection of camellias in North America (in bloom November through March). Located on Lake Ivanhoe near downtown, the gardens also have a citrus grove and a butterfly garden.
3 Great Wine Bars
With the recent addition of the The Alfond Inn, a 112-room hotel in atmospheric Winter Park, you can stay within strolling distance of several terrific restaurants and a trio of wine bars located along Park Avenue. Sample in various ounce portions and nibble at the Wine Room, offering 156 handpicked wines dispensed by Enomatic machines. Carmel Café & Wine Bar serves more than 50 old and new world vintages paired with Mediterranean small and large plates. Enjoy 70 wines by the glass at Eola Wine Company, which you can pair with wraps, tacos, flatbreads, and more.
Book a Hotel
Whether you’re enjoying a romantic weekend or a girlfriends’ getaway, take time to get pampered at one of Orlando’s world-class spas. Three to try: the luxurious, 24-000-square-foot Waldorf Astoria Spa by Guerlain at the Waldorf Astoria Orlando (known for amazing facials), the Ritz-Carlton Spa at the Ritz-Carlton Orlando Grande Lakes (Florida-fresh citrus-based treatments are a specialty), and the Poseidon Spa at the Grand Bohemian Hotel(where you can try a heated shell massage).
Bring a spare tote or two in your luggage and shop for something a bit more sophisticated than mouse ears. Orlando is home to two major shopping malls, the upscale Mall at Millennia with its roster of luxury brands (including Burberry, Gucci, Jimmy Choo) and The Florida Mall (home to Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom, and 250 other stores and restaurants). Plus bargain hunters can hit two outlet centers, Orlando Premium Outlets International Drive and Orlando Premium Outlets Vineland Avenue, each are packed with brand-name fashions and home goods at discounted prices.
If golf’s your game, you can spend half a day or several days testing your skill on some impressive greens. Orlando is home to the Golf Channel, Tiger Woods, and more than 170 courses, many designed by top names such as Jack Nicklaus, Tom Fazio, and Pete Dye. Top courses include: Bay Hill Club & Lodge, Waldorf Astoria Club, and Grand Cypress Resort.
Orlando Brewing Company
There are almost 20 ales, lagers, and seasonal microbrews on tap at seven-year-old Orlando Brewing Company—and all the beer is organic! The only USDA-certified organic brewery south of Vermont and east of Colorado is located near downtown, offers free brewery tours Monday to Saturday at 6 pm, and has live music at 9 pm on Friday and Saturday nights.
Ivanhoe Village and Winter Park
Get to know two of Orlando’s lakeside neighborhoods as you dine at some buzzed-about restaurants. Dine amid surreal modern art at the new Santiago’s Bodega in Ivanhoe Village, where bold paintings and interior décor by Robert Henry Thompson pair with a creative small-plate tapas-style menu that’s been transported from the original outpost in Key West. Step back to the final days of Prohibition at Cask & Larder, a “Southern public house” (think oysters, curd meats, and lots of beer) in Winter Park from the owners of the celebrated The Ravenous Pig.