I was 5 months pregnant with our first child when my husband approached me about the opportunity to relocate to Orlando, Florida.
I can assure you, it took us longer to pick the paint color for our baby’s nursery than it did to make the decision to move over 600 miles from the place we used to call home! The idea of living year-round, where everyone else vacations, sounded like a dream come true.
And it ultimately was!
Admittedly, our first month in Orlando wasn’t all sunshine and unicorns. In fact, it was more like thunderstorms and lizards. I didn’t love it nearly as much as I had anticipated. But then a wise new friend advised me that I really needed to stop living Orlando like a tourist, and start living like a local.
This advice was life changing. And although I didn’t really get it at first, it didn’t take long to learn the local secrets. If you’re wondering if there’s more to Orlando, Florida than the theme parks…let me enlighten you.
5 ways to experience Orlando, Florida like a local:
- Find Your Beach: Did you know that from downtown Orlando you can be at a beach in less than an hour? That’s right. And not just one beach! There are several to choose from depending on your preferences. Alamo Rent A Car has an awesome collection of travel inspired posts called “The Scenic Route. “If you are looking to explore beaches close to Orlando, I highly recommend you check out this post: Relax At These 6 Beaches Near Orlando. Our personal favorite beaches for family-fun include Canaveral National Seashore and several of the Clearwater Beaches (including Anna Maria Island, Treasure Island and Indian Rocks Beach). Can you really go wrong when sand and waves are involved?
- Eat At Places You’ve Never Heard Of: When you’re in Orlando, you will see a chain restaurant on every corner. Tourists crave familiar menus. Especially tourists with kids. But don’t do it! Orlando has one of the best restaurant scenes of any city we’ve ever visited. You might need to do a little research to find something local, but I promise you won’t regret it. Search online for the top restaurants near you, read Yelp reviews or even ask your resort concierge for a recommendation.
- Explore State Parks: Within a 50 mile radius of downtown Orlando there are seven state parks! Seven! Not only are the parks very affordable, they also offer a wide variety of activities for everyone. We have two favorites: Blue Springs State Park and DeLeon Springs State Park. Blue Springs is a manatee refuge and guests to the park will be able to see large numbers of the beautiful creatures during the winter months. DeLeon Springs is rumored to be the original fountain of youth. The water maintains a temperature of 68 degrees year round. However, I can’t lie. The real reason our family loves DeLeon Springs is because of the Old Spanish Sugar Mill (a restaurant with griddles built into the table to make-your-own-pancakes!)
4. Plan To Pause In Winter Park: Not to be confused with all the State Parks (because this is completely opposite!) Winter Park is my favorite area of maybe anywhere in the world. Spend 5 minutes there and you will absolutely fall in love with this side of Orlando. The streets are all brick-paved, there are tons of cute shops and great open-air restaurants, and there is a big rose garden in the center of it all. Families come to picnic, shop at the farmers market, eat ice cream and surround themselves with the beauty of Winter Park. You can also take a scenic boat tour on the adjacent lake.
- 5. Pick Your Season Wisely: Are you traveling to the area to visit one of the incredible beaches near Orlando? If so, you’re good 12 months out of the year. But if your main reason for visiting Orlando is for the theme park experience…I cannot recommend enough to plan your trip between September and May. Why? Well, EVERYONE descends on theme parks during the summer. Lines are long and it’s really hard to maximize your time. Not to mention the weather. It’s unbearably hot and you’re almost guaranteed an afternoon thunderstorm. Lastly, rates are much better during the off-season.