Natives will tell you that Orlando is about MORE than just the Mouse. In fact, there are people (mostly ex-employees) that will refer to the Disney complex as “Mouschwitz“… but that’s another tail. Um, tale.
Either way, are you ready to see Orlando from the eyes of those who call it home?
There’s so much to see and do in town – so please try out these places if you’re visiting on a family vacation! Get out of TouristTown and see the real Orlando.
The Enzian Theater
The Enzian Theater brings dinner and a movie to a whole new level. Located just outside Orlando in Maitland, Florida, the Enzian showcases many of the indie and foreign films that sadly never see the big screen. The comfortable squishy chairs in a variety of colors and styles give a very relaxed atmosphere, almost like being home with friends. The Enzian’s menu is also top notch – whether you’re up for a full meal, a snack (the hummus is amazing!), or just some popcorn (with REAL BUTTER!). It’s certainly a unique spin on a played-out date concept and is worth going to again and again.
The BEST place in Orlando to get your geek on! Sci-Fi City, while on a street that is permanently under construction, is an absolute gem for gamers. For one, it’s huge. You want minis? They have a whole aisle of pre-painted and several aisles of paint-yer-own. You want tables to play games? Got it. Landscaped tables for wargaming? Got it. Video games on big TVs? Got it. More books and comic books than you could ever absorb in a lifetime? Got that, too. There are other gaming stores in Orlando, but Sci-Fi City eats them for lunch. If your girl is in any way geeky, you can kill hours here.
Like plants? Scenic walks hand in hand, admiring… well, scenery? Ever wanted to drop in on a stranger’s wedding? You can do all of that at Leu Gardens. The rose garden is absolutely STUNNING when it’s in full bloom and is a sought-after wedding location. The gardens also hosts picnic & movie date nights, storytelling events for little ones, and educational classes for all ages. Bonus: Free admission to the gardens on Mondays 9 am – noon.
The best little Italian restaurant in Orlando, hands down. Skip the chain restaurants and get a table here. Everything I have eaten here has been great – from fettuccine alfredo to pesto gnocchi to chicken piccata, it’s all amazing. Oh, and get a side of meatballs, or should I say, meatball. It’s the size of a softball. Very reasonable prices for huge portions and friendly, part-of-the-family service. Don’t miss this restaurant!
(Want mom-n-pop service at breakfast? Stop in at Jack & Mary’s at the corner of Goldenrod & Curry Ford.)
I feel that Jonathan Coulton sums up IKEA best in his song of the same name:
Long ago in days of yore, it all began with a god named Thor. There were Vikings and boats and some plans for a furniture store. It’s not a bodega, it’s not a mall. They sell things for apartments smaller than mine, as if there were apartments smaller than mine. Ikea: just some oak and some pine and a handful of Norsemen. Ikea: selling furniture for college kids and divorced men. Everyone has a home, but if you don’t have a home you can buy one there.
IKEA is a great place to spend hours exploring. There’s everything you could ever want there, including demo toilets with guards over them telling you where to find the nearest real toilet. Oh, and two words: Swedish Meatballs.
Park Avenue is the best place to stroll in Orlando. Sure, the Disney Boardwalk is cool, but all the tourists go there. If you want to see and be seen, Park Ave is the hot spot! Located in the suburb of Winter Park, Park Ave is home to ritzy boutiques galore. Never fear: it’s not out of budget for the frugal geek. There’s a Starbucks, a few tasty chocolatiers, and nice smaller restaurants. For the pet lover, don’t miss BullFish, a boutique full of unique items for furry friends and their humans. Park Ave is also home to a Farmer’s Market, the Sidewalk Art Festival (in March), Popcorn Flicks in the park, and concerts galore. For art lovers, check out the Morse Museum on the north end of Park Ave for a wonderful exhibition of Tiffany glass.
Cafe Tu Tu Tango
This is a SECOND or THIRD date location. Here’s why – it’s a very loud place. You want to go here once you’re used to the lilt of your date’s voice so it’s easier to fill in the missing words when a fire-eating bellydancer shimmies by your table. Tu Tu Tango specializes in tapas (aka appetizers) – great food, albeit a tad pricey because it’s on International Drive (I-Drive). If you or your date are into art, the place is literally a floor to ceiling display of local art. If you’re lucky, you might get to watch a local artist at work or get your future predicted by a tarot reader!
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