A few weeks ago, i collaborated with an awesome human on a guest post.
Kristin AKA Sippin Gypsy gives us a local insight into the best spots in central Florida to enjoy the ultimate cocktail, and takes us on a journey of her favorite places to hang out away from the bustling crowds! Read on and enjoy!
Cheers friends! My name is Kristin, aka Sippin Gypsy, lover of travel, food and cocktails. This post comes to you while enjoying a Bees Knees Cocktail featuring Old St. Pete Gin. I’m proud to call Orlando home, and passionately believe in supporting local in my posts. In any city I travel to, I enjoy uncovering the flavors and spirits that make that location special. So here we are in my hometown Orlando Florida. “Why Orlando”? My friends who know me have each asked me that at one point in my life or another. They know I love travel and history, and that I appreciate touring historic buildings and ruins and stepping back into time. My friends hear how I crave the opportunity to mingle with locals in new areas and taste unique foods and flavors that I’d never experienced (or even heard of)! So I’m often asked, “why Orlando?”
This post is for those of you visiting or new to Orlando and want to get away from the crowds and sensory overload of the parks and savor the peaceful and down to earth side of The City Beautiful. While I am one of “those people” who truly enjoys going to Disney…Yes, I have a season pass…Yes, I go at least 3-4 times a month…I also love living in central Florida because of everything else she offers and gives me quick access to throughout Florida and into southern Georgia. Orlando may not have ancient temples and castle ruins, but she is surrounded by beautiful lakes and natural springs and populated by people from around the world who are progressive, forward thinking and hard working. Lake Louisa, Kelly Park and Wekiva Springs are 3 of my favorite State Parks that offer hiking trails and the ability to get out on a peaceful lake or river and offer a variety of outdoor water activities such as fishing, canoeing or paddle boarding while enjoying raw nature (our pleasant translation for ‘alligators in the water’). These State Parks are all a good distance away from the bustle and traffic of the tourist areas and are easily an all-day event. I personally love packing a picnic, my journal and alternating between sunbathing, meditating, getting out on the water or hiking. The State Parks and public beaches in Florida all have different ordinances for bringing beverages and or alcohol into the premises. Review the links I have provided so you can pack accordingly for your particular adventure. Orlando also has her own strawberry patches! I find getting into the quiet beauty of nature and handpicking your food to be therapeutic. Oak Haven Farms and Winery is a charming spot with delicious strawberries. Consider starting your day here picking an assortment of fresh berries to pack for a romantic lunch or desert. If you’ve come all the way to Florida and you crave the healing rays of the sun on the sand and you’re in the mood for the ocean, Orlando sits pretty much half way between two options. The majestic Atlantic Ocean and the serene Gulf of Mexico. Waves built for surfing should beckon you towards the east coast of Florida. For a ‘party on the beach’ vibe, park at the Cocoa Beach Pier. However if you want a quiet escape set up base down at Lori Wilson Park. Both locations offer bathrooms and a place to wash off your feet, but the Cocoa Beach Pier has several restaurants and bars to keep your party going through to sunset. My personal favorite beach in central Florida is Clearwater Beach outside of St. Petersburg Fl on the Gulf of Mexico. I love the option of restaurants and cafes up and down the beach, most offering fresh catches from that day! I personally like to make an overnight trip out my gulf coast beach getaway. Its just enough of a drive including Tampa traffic across Interstate 4 that I find it easier to book a stay at the Wyndham Grand and enjoy the beach through sunset and into the night.
Coming back to Orlando and her surrounding communities, you’ll find no shortage of sunshine and water. Many of the smaller towns in the embrace of Orlando are nestled on their own charming lake and historic city center. Lake Baldwin, Lake Eola and Lake Tohopekaliga, just to name a few, each have blossomed into a thriving central hub for people to gather for festivals, weekly Farmers Markets and a steady growth of local independent restaurants, bars and shops. Living in a city as sprawled out as Orlando gives me the ability to change up the setting and enjoy a spot that really compliments my mood at that time.
Lake Tohopekaliga in Kissimmee is the anchor for downtown Kissimmee. One of my favorite afternoon activities is to visit the antique store Lanier’s Historic Downtown Marketplace followed by lunch at many of the great restaurants along Broadway. I usually will have a meal at Nadia’s Cafe or grab a sandwich or snack from Buchito Café or Susan’s Courtside Cafe and walk up to catch the sunset along Lake Tohopekaliga. Many an evening my friends and I have met up at 3 Sisters Speakeasy for music and cocktails.
Lake Eola sits in literal downtown Orlando. Over the past 15 years I have had the pleasure of watching the Lake Eola community grow into a chic downtown neighborhood that passionately supports the arts. The Orlando Farmers Market sets up shop along the banks of the lake every Sunday. Lake Eola also frames an outdoor theater that hosts everything from Shakespeare plays to holiday concerts. Depending on the time of year you visit, Lake Eola can be a great destination to enjoy a festival. Leverage City of Orlando webpage to help decide which day to spend around the lake. Downtown Orlando is also home to an active night scene. Every type of club and bar can be found within a few blocks of each other. Dress to impress or stroll out in your shorts and flip flops to enjoy a variety of thriving spots. When I venture to downtown Orlando I prefer the chic and eclectic Mathers Social Gathering. Mathers has a stunning bar and posh seating areas that make it great to hang out with friends. Please note, casual dress is not permitted at Mathers. Downtown Orlando is also home to my favorite pizza shop, Gittos Pizza. If you love pizza, I encourage you to find your way to this small spot, grab a few slices and continue your stroll along the bustle of downtown Orlando. When enjoying dinner before an evening of cocktails and dancing, my usual ‘go to’ is Ceviche or The Rusty Spoon. Ceviche offers such rustic and romantic environment. The drinks are great and food is absolutely delicious. The Rusty Spoon always impresses me with creative seasonal options and well blended and bold flavors.
My new favorite bar in Orlando sits overlooking Lake Baldwin. The Nest is a new posh bar with some of the best cocktails I have savored in Orlando. I found The Nest after my recent getaway to St. Augustine FL, where her sister location, Odd Birds, impressed me with not only insanely well made cocktails but an environment that is artsy, chic and cozy. New Broad Street in the community of Baldwin Park hosts several great spots for dinner and shopping. Like Lake Eola, Baldwin Park offers an active social scene with festivals and events that support the arts and local businesses. Refer to Baldwin Park Events to plan when to visit this charming neighborhood.
No stay to Orlando would be complete without a visit to the pristine community of Winter Park. This beautiful town is home to dozens of unique and culinarily exceptional restaurants. Winter Park also hosts a lot of great events and community activities. I consistently check on City Of Winter Park to see when to make the trek to this side of town. I easily can spend the whole day in Winter Park. Take a relaxing ride on their Scenic Boat Tours then shop in between meals up and down Park Ave. I typically don’t just list restaurant and bar preferences in my posts, but to give you a quick reference to help narrow down your options while in and near the Winter Park area, my preferences based on cuisine style are as follows:
For ramen in a posh modern environment: Domu
For Italian in a chic swanky environment: Prato
For Polish in a cozy environment: Anna’s Polish Restaurant
For American in a rustic environment: Ravenous Pig
For wine tasting in a comfortable but sophisticated environment: The Wine Room
For unique cocktails and an elegant environment : Luma
If your stay in Orlando keeps you locked in closer to the parks, there are still good places to escape and indulge without feeling like you are surrounded by cartoon characters. The I Ride Trolley is a “trolley” (aka bus) that continuously loops the main tourist destinations along International Drive. My next few solutions can be an easy getaway and quickly accessed with a short taxi ride or hopping on the “trolley”:
Pointe Orlando is a one and done stop for shopping, dining, cocktails, movies, laser tag, comedy, live music and dancing. As a local I like Pointe Orlando because it is never overcrowded and there is so much variety all within walking distance. Each restaurant and bar manages its own events calendar but almost every night gives you the option for live music and cocktails at several different venues that should suit your preference or pallet for that evening. Personally, my usual spot at Pointe Orlando is Itta Bena for cocktails, classic southern cuisine and live piano music in an intimate environment. Not located in Pointe Orlando but a short ride up International Drive is one of my favorite hang outs for date night or girls night out, Café Tu Tu Tango. I fell in love with this spot more than 13 years ago. A unique dining experience where artists practice their craft live throughout your visit, and the plates are small and meant to be shared between your party. At any given time there may be a painter, a sculptor, a palm reader, even a belly dancer! The cocktail menu has evolved and has some really creative options, and the food is constantly changing as the chefs play with seasonal options.
Lastly, not too far from International Drive is an area we locals lovingly call Restaurant Row… set in the posh neighborhood of Dr Phillips, this area has some hot spots to enjoy a night out and good food. I have tried pretty much all of the restaurants and bars along this strip. Some of them are small chain restaurants, but still swanky and posh with a creative menus and cocktails. However, if I’m going to make the drive to this side of town, I always stop in my other favorite bar in all of Orlando, The Pharmacy. The cocktails here a well crafted and unique. This is not a place to go to order your usual club and party drinks, this speakeasy is hidden on the other side of an elevator door and offers delicious food and strong elixirs to heal the wounds of predictable cocktails. The Pharmacy is not a late-night spot. If your evening lands you in Restaurant Row, consider starting at The Pharmacy. Since Orlando is a tourist destination, spots that I feel are local hangouts still manage to fill up quickly. I leverage Open Table when I know I want to have the option for food at many of the locations I recommended.
Orlando is a fast-moving town with new spots popping up daily. Get to know the locals, ask them about some of their favorite places. I hope you enjoy your visit to Orlando. Happy Sippin and Strollin! Cheers!