Weekend Warrior

48 Hours in Orlando: Things to Do Besides Theme Parks

BBQ, magical gardens and a little central Florida stardust…

The first thing that comes to mind when thinking about Orlando, Florida is probably “Disney World!”…unless you’re a huge Harry Potter fan, in which case you’re probably dreaming of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter over at Universal Studios. Either way, massive theme parks are synonymous with Orlando, and while they’re incredibly fun to experience, there’s also more to the city than roller coasters and costumed characters. Lush green parks, amazing art museums, and some surprisingly good eating all be found outside theme park limits. Whether you’re looking to escape Disney for a few days, or you want to explore the real Orlando, there’s a lot to see and do.

Bubbalou’s Bodacious Bar-B-Q

There are a lot of swanky places to eat in and around Orlando, but sometimes you just need to eat a massive serving of pulled pork and smoked brisket smothered in sauce out of one of those red plastic baskets like you’ll find at Bubbalou’s Bodacious Bar-B-Q. The sides (always important to the BBQ experience) are solid too. Classics like collards, mac and cheese, coleslaw and baked beans round out the meal.

Morse Museum of American Art

The Morse Museum of American Art isn’t huge, but it’s packed to the gills with treasures. Specifically, treasures that once belonged to Louis Comfort Tiffany; he was the son of the jewelry store magnate who founded Tiffany’s and Co., and the younger Louis Tiffany worked there as a design director, but he’s most famous for his incredible Art Nouveau glass lamps. The Morse Museum has the world’s largest collection of them on display, along with other beautiful items from his personal collection.

Mead Botanical Garden

You can get a great sense of the natural beauty of Central Florida at the charming Mead Botanical Garden. Explore the swamps lined with boardwalks, check out the butterfly gardens, gawk at the citrus trees, dip your feet in the freshwater ponds, and take a leisurely stroll while soaking up the Florida sun nature trails.

A bromeliad blooms a bright pink flower amid green ferns at Mead Botanical Garden in Winter Park, Orlando, Florida

Source: Shutterstock

Hanson’s Shoe Repair

Make sure you’re dressed appropriately, and that you’ve learned the password to get into Hanson’s Shoe Repair, because this speakeasy is worth it. Dim lighting, jazz music, and an incredible patio create the perfect 1920’s atmosphere.

The Eo Inn – Downtown

Since we’re exploring Orlando’s less chain-y side, book a stay at The Eo Inn, a funky boutique hotel. The historic building features rooms that have balconies overlooking the city’s lovely Eola Park, and pieces from local artists on the walls, adding some unique Orlando flavor to your stay.

White Wolf Cafe

Waking up is a lot more pleasant if your first stop of the day is the White Wolf Cafe. It’s got a cool, antique-y vibe. Plus, they have a pet-friendly patio and out-of-this-world cinnamon rolls, cheese grits, and crab cakes Benedict.

Orange County History Center

Next, discover some fascinating Central Florida history! The Orange County History Center does an awesome job of curating exhibits on different aspects of Florida history (and Orlando specifically). From the citrus industry in the state to the theme park era, and everything in between, there’s something for everyone.

Lake Eola Park

Views of the city and the lake are the highlights of Lake Eola Park. Swans, turtles, and more can be found all around, and events frequently take place here, from farmers markets and craft shows to salsa festivals and marathons. Take a walk around, chill out on the grass, and enjoy a few moments of peace.

Colorful lights illuminate a fountain at night in Eola Lake in Orlando, Florida

Source: Shutterstock

Hawkers Asian Street Fare

Hawkers Asian Street Fare is an Asian fusion tapas joint that’s incredibly popular with the locals for a good reason…the food is amazing. Try the roti, pork belly bao, and the flight of tea-flavored creme brûlées.

Loch Haven Park

Loch Haven Park is home to more than a few great museums (the Orlando Science Center, the Orlando Museum of Art, the Orlando Garden Club, to name a few), and it’s also where “The Mayor” lives. The Mayor is what locals call the epic oak tree, one of Florida’s oldest and biggest, that stands in the park.

The Ravenous Pig

Rabbit terrine, bacon chops, and house-made charcuterie are the kinds of things you’ll find on the menu at The Ravenous Pig (a gastropub that marries classic pub grub with gourmet flair in a setting that is picture-perfect).

The best time of year to visit Orlando for a 48-hour adventure:

Summers in Orlando bring hot, humid weather, thunderstorms, and large crowds. September and October are ideal for crowds and weather if you can manage it, but the most popular (and most expensive) times to visit often revolve around school breaks (spring, winter, and summer vacations).

Ready to experience the non-theme park side of Orlando yourself? Let us know your weekend Orlando plans on Twitter.

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