Most travelers thinking about visiting Central Florida, think Disneyworld. Only twenty minutes from Downtown Orlando is the charming city of Winter Park. Winter Park is not widely known but should be. It feels like the best of many American cities mixed together with its beautiful streets, cozy boutiques, beautiful campus, and walkable downtown area. I hope that you’re inspired to visit Winter Park!
This blog was just updated with new updates and including another great overlooked nearby city, Altamonte Springs.
If you’re looking to get away from the insanity of Disneyworld, Winter Park is a great destination that is a 45-minute drive from Disneyworld and a great place to relax away from the parks. If you’re visiting Disney as well as Orlando for a few days, this is a good area to stay in near Disney if you’re looking for a boutique hotel with character although I recommend checking Rollins College’s calendar to avoid big college holidays.
*Photos courtesy of City of Winter Park Communications Department
Art Museums in Winter Park
Winter Park offers great cultural activities in part due to the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art. This is a great stop on a rainy day or even on a sunny day. This museum has a vast collection of Louis Tiffany’s glass windows and other artworks. There were rooms full of paintings, furniture, and other ceramics. I spent nearly one and a half hours and was amazed by the huge collection. There is a
I also enjoyed the Albin Polasek Museum and Gardens as it offers fantastic sculptures crafted by Alkin Polasek. Albin Polasek was a multi-talented Czech sculptor who lived in Winter Park. The gardens were really nice to wander around.
Cornell Fine Art Museum at Rollins College is a great free art small museum that has 3-4 different new exhibitions every year and a wonderful permanent eclectic collection. I was impressed by the permanent collection as it includes Matthew Brady’s photographs of Lincoln, Dutch masters, and modern masters. It should be added to your must-see list when visiting.
Hannibal Square Heritage Center in Hannibal Square displays the history of the African American community in Winter Park. There are photographs of the residents in the 20th century and important events since 1865 in the area. Admission is free. Walks are offered by the Center as this was an important center of African Americans in Central Florida.
There are a large number of art galleries in Winter Park. While each gallery has a niche; modern art is prominently displayed at the Ocean Blue Gallery. The galleries offer many different forms of media for sale from inexpensive to expensive. Don’t be afraid to step inside even if you don’t intend on buying something!
Take a scenic boat tour of the many lakes
One popular activity that I can recommend is the scenic boat tour that departs each hour for the various lakes around Winter Park! The lakes are full of fancy homes although the ride itself is quite relaxing and intimate. The ride passes through seven lakes and it’s a great opportunity to see wildlife. Be sure to bring a hat as well as cash. Arrive early to find parking.
Rollins College has been ranked as the most beautiful campus in the USA. It truly is stunning and straight out of a movie. The buildings have a
Old Train Station Depot / Winter Park Farmer’s Market
There is a great old restored train station in the middle of the park dating back to 1913. Today, it is used as a Farmer’s Market and open every Saturday in the mornings. I always like to support local farmers and there’s something about enjoying freshly picked produce!
Kraft Azalea Garden
Kraft Azalea Garden was a great public garden next to Lake Maitland. The view is beautiful and relaxing. It should be visited on a sunny Florida day.
There are several independently run bookstores in Winter Park. I visited both the Writer’s Block Bookstore and the New Leaf Bookstore. Both have a great selection of books, including autographed copies of books.
Yes, Pottery Barn. I was amazed by the history of this building since it was formerly the Colony Theatre in the 1940s and still has the art deco marquee feel. If you like architecture, it was worth a stop.
Where to eat in Winter Park
If you’re looking for a great meal away from the crowds of Orlando, Winter Park is a great destination for a good meal. If you are in the mood for Middle Eastern food, Bosphorous Turkish Cuisine is a great choice. It is always popular with the locals and moderately priced. Great kebabs and hummus are served here.
The Winter Park Fish Company offers really fresh fish for lunch and dinner. The prices are moderate and offer great value. There are many vegetarian and American restaurants so whatever you like, you are in business.
For coffee and tea, Barnie’s Coffee & Tea is deservedly very popular. Great coffees and teas are sold all day. Their flavored coffee was fabulous. They also serve an excellent breakfast and lunch, including tacos and salads (which I recommend!). There are many other coffee and tea places around the town if you want to sit and enjoy the downtown area.
Just 10 minutes away by car is a town that is known for its large Mall located at Uptown Altamonte. I recommend visiting Cranes Roost Park as it offers numerous events throughout the year and has fountains and music concerts. Café Murano is a great Italian restaurant that moderately priced and remains very popular with local residents. The chicken dishes were great. A real local favorite is TooJay’s Deli that offers New York deli food. I thought that I was home after trying their platter.
The gem of Altamonte Springs is Lake Lotus Park. Admission is free and consists of 120 acres of wetlands, woods, and nature. Be sure to take the one-mile walk on the boardwalk as you see native plants and encounter true nature. The park is only open from Thursday through Sunday. Be prepared to park across the street and take a bumpy ride in a wagon.