Orlando, Florida, is best known as “The Theme Park Capital of the World,” but “The City Beautiful” (its official moniker) has a lot more going for it than waterworks and roller coasters. The city has a rich history—it was founded in 1875, more than a century before its most famous residents, Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse, put down roots in 1971. It also boasts more than 100 lakes with clear, shark-free freshwater, ideal for swimming and boating. Thinking of starting a boy band? Orlando is the place to do it. Both the Backstreet Boys and N*Sync got their start in the city.
In the winter months, more than 1,400 people per day depart MSP for Orlando (it’s no surprise given a comparison of average high temperatures). Many of our airlines offer flights, including Delta, Sun Country, Spirit, Southwest, and Frontier, which recently added seasonal service from February 18 to April 3.
If you’re hungry in Orlando, the best person to call is Ricky Ly, founder of the city’s top-rated food blog, Tasty Chomps and author of The Food Lovers’ Guide to Orlando. The culinary maven and Florida native recently treated us to an insider’s guide to the city. Here’s what he recommends.
What’s to love: The people of Orlando are genuinely friendly and engaging. There’s a collaborative, community feel here. From our growing tech sector to the burgeoning food scene, there’s a desire to come together and help each other make it.
Dish not to miss: Definitely try the Vietnamese cuisine in the Mills 50 District. Orlando has the largest Vietnamese community in all of Florida and a vibrant Vietnamese and Asian restaurant culture. Try the banh cuon nong, a velvety smooth Vietnamese rice noodle dish with mushrooms and pork, served with a sweet fish sauce.
Best casual fare: The gyro bowls at Shishco Mezze and Grill—pita bowls stuffed with pickled tomatoes, onions, and bulgur wheat. And be sure to check out Tasty Tuesdays in the Milk District where more than 10 food trucks gather every Tuesday.
Where to blow your budget: Head over to the hotel restaurants near Disney and Universal. Some of the best include: Bull and Bear at Waldorf Astoria, the Venetian Room at Caribe Royale, Victoria and Albert’s at the Grand Floridian, and Urbain 40 on Orlando’s Restaurant Row (Sand Lake Road).
Where to stay: There are plenty of places to stay in Orlando, which is second only to Las Vegas in number of hotel rooms in the United States. Try the Ritz-Carlton, the JW Marriott, Rosen Shingle Creek, the Omni Championsgate, or the Four Seasons.
Boutique bounty: I love boutique shopping along Park Avenue in Winter Park, particularly on Saturday mornings when the Winter Park Farmers’ Market takes place. Nearby is East End Market, a one-stop-shop for locally sourced produce, cheeses, sandwiches, sauces, breads, and much more. Art buffs will enjoy Artegon Marketplace, which features local artists and vendors.
Favorite theme park: Universal’s Islands of Adventure at Universal Orlando Resort and Epcot at Walt Disney World are fun for adults. Definitely try to visit Epcot during the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival, which happens each fall.
Where to take in culture: Orlando’s Loch Haven Park is our own arts and culture hub. It’s full of museums and theaters, including: Orlando Shakespeare Theater, Orlando Science Center, Orlando Repertory Theatre, Orlando Museum of Art, and Mennello Museum of American Art, among others.
Where to take a side trip: St. Augustine—just an hour-and-a-half drive from Orlando. Founded by the Spanish conquistadores in the 1500s and continually inhabited ever since, it’s a truly charming little city with fantastic history, culture, and dining.