Visit Winter Park, Florida For Real Southern Charm
When you think of visiting the South, you may picture giant oak trees with hanging moss; envision wrap around porches where friendly faces sit and wave to passersby; and you can almost taste the sweet tea and fried chicken. Now, imagine traveling to Orlando. Everything you just pictured suddenly gets swallowed up by visions of Disney World and outlet malls.
Ironically the most Southern state just doesn’t feel very “Southern” at all, and Central Florida certainly has stereotypes of its own. I am from Central Florida, but it’s a place that is a totally different world from roller coasters and princess castles. I am from Orlando’s hidden gem: a beautiful “Southern” town called Winter Park. And if you are visiting Orlando, you would certainly be missing out by not making a day trip to this unique town only three miles from downtown Orlando.
Everything you picture about the South is embodied in this town. Winter Park was originally established in the late 1800s for the wealthy northerners to come vacation during the harsh winter months. Now, it is a great destination for everyone looking for that Southern feeling while in Florida.
These are some of the absolute must-do’s when visiting Winter Park.
1. Historic Hotels – It’s no secret how many hotels Orlando offers, but if you are looking for one with a rich history located directly in downtown Winter Park, check into the Park Plaza Hotel. Built in the early 1920s, this 28-room hotel still has old-fashioned charm even though it has been updated with modern amenities. Guests can easily walk to any of the shops and restaurants in downtown from the hotel.
2. The Venice of America Scenic Boat Tour – Florida is known for its bodies of water, and The Winter Park Chain-of-Lakes is a must see. There are seven lakes and beautiful winding canals connecting each one. There is no better way to experience this than taking the scenic boat tour. Operating for 80 years, they will give you the local scoop and fun facts about the city and lakes.
3. Park Avenue is home to numerous boutiques and restaurants unique to Winter Park. Stretching nine blocks, you can find local gems, such as Park Avenue Pizza, Powerhouse Café, and the Briarpatch. If you love to shop, visit stores like Tuni, Be on Park, and Sultre. Park Avenue also hosts the annual Winter Park Sidewalk Art Festival every March. Considered the biggest arts festival in Florida, you will not be disappointed. Artists from around the world exhibit their work. It also features great food trucks and music.
4. Museums. If you are unable to make it for the Winter Park Art Festival, there are plenty of museums. The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art houses the largest collection of Louis Comfort Tiffany work, including his famous stained-glass windows. Visit The Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Gardens located inside and around the Capen House. The Capen house was originally on a different side of the lake until a local family bought it and knocked it down to rebuild. The citizens of Winter Park protested saying the house was a historical landmark and raised money to cut the house in half and float each half across the lake to its current location and restore it. Now, it is a place for weddings and tourists
5. Food. If you are from Alabama and want something to remind you of home, or if you are from the North looking to try some good Southern food, check out the barbecue restaurant 4 Rivers Smokehouse and The COOP: A Southern Affair, both owned by the same local family.
6. Peacocks. You cannot visit Winter Park without seeing the iconic peacock symbol wherever you go. It is the center of the Winter Park seal, and found on many murals and statues all around the city. You may be wondering why so many peacocks? Because there are hundreds of wild ones that roam the neighborhoods. It is not unusual to see them walking around in someone’s front yard, but if you really want to see one without searching, head to the Genius Drive Nature Preserve to witness their beauty.
Winter Park has lots to offer. You will be transported into a beautiful, Southern town just 30 minutes away. Driving on the brick roads under the big oak trees with Spanish Moss is the perfect getaway from the concrete amusement park scene.