Discover Orlando's Culture

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Discover Orlando's Culture
Once visitors realize there's more to Orlando than International Drive, there’s suddenly a lot more to explore. Cultural finds include restaurants sourcing local goods, downtown gallery art walks, cobblestone streets, and lovely museums and gardens.
By Jack Barr, AFAR Local Expert
Photo by age fotostock
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    Art Walks and Gallery Hops
    Downtown Orlando is home to a vibrant art community, where you can find fine art galleries as well as pop-up exhibits at bars, cafes, and restaurants. A big crowd pleaser is the Third Thursday Gallery Hop & Art Walk, which takes place every month, from 6:00—10:00 p.m. Start at CityArts Factory, then head down Pine Street to NV Art Bar and the Gallery at Avalon Island. Next, make your way to Church Street and browse the Walk Through Gallery and local art booths before ending your walk at Jai Gallery. Other art strolls are held in the trendy neighborhoods of Baldwin and Thornton Parks.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    Southern Comfort Food
    Though people often forget the fact, Florida has Southern roots. Restaurants offering farm-fresh, Southern-sourced meals are delicious reminders. The brisket at 4 Rivers Smokehouse is so beloved by locals, there’s a line out the door. The Ravenous Pig hosts monthly pig roasts and a Swine Hour with pub fare like BLT Biscuits 4—tomato jam and bacon atop Gruyere biscuits. Cask & Larder is redefining the art of Southern food with a seasonal menu of dishes such as dry-cured ham with pepper jelly and biscuits. Their preserves and pickles would make any Southern grandma proud. For dessert, try their “wit” beer doughnuts with a generous pot of caramel and citrus glaze for dipping.
    Photo by Thuy Vi Gates
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    Local Teahouses and Coffee Shops
    Local purveyors are percolating quality coffee drinks and tea throughout Central Florida. The proceeds from nonprofit Downtown Credo in College Park benefit fair trade coffee farmers. Sip, donate, and leave knowing you’ve made a positive impact. Pom Pom’s Teahouse and Sandwicheria, in the Milk District, gets creative with tea and sandwiches in an art-filled space. Stardust Video & Coffee is roomy, relaxed, and kitschy. Dandelion CommuniTea Café offers vegetarian and vegan dishes along with organic tea. Austin’s Coffee & Film is open 24/7 for the hip night owls.
    Photo by Thuy Vi Gates
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    Big Bargains and Little Boutiques
    Many people have literally crossed continents to shop here. Why? Big brands and big discounts. Orlando Premium Outlets and Prime Outlets International near International Drive offer retailers such as Nike, J. Crew, BCBG, and Michael Kors. At the ritzy side of the spectrum is the Mall at Millenia, showcasing Cartier, Tiffany & Co., Jimmy Choo, and Versace as well as Anthropologie and Urban Outfitters. If boutiques are more to your taste then stroll the pretty, tree-lined Park Avenue in Winter Park. The ambience is pleasant, with cafes, a park, and benches. You’ll be right in the middle of some of the area’s best restaurants. Don’t forget to check out the side streets for tucked-away finds like Rifle Paper Co. on New England Avenue.
    Photo courtesy of Visit Orlando
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    Farmers' Markets and Food Trucks
    For local and organic offerings, check out Orlando’s farmers' markets and food trucks. With the area’s rich soil and subtropical climate, community farms grow produce such as peppers, mangoes, heirloom tomatoes, and strawberries. On Saturdays, the popular Winter Park Farmers' Market offers up produce as well as orange blossom honey, cupcakes, and gourmet fries. On Sundays, Orlando Farmers' Market at Lake Eola Park also features al fresco dining, a beer and wine garden, and local crafts. The food truck phenomenon thrives here as well, with rallies held at a different location nearly every weekend. On Tasty Tuesdays, food trucks and foodies take over the Milk District at 2424 East Robinson Street.
    Photo by Thuy Vi Gates
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    Live Music
    Live music venues of almost every size and for almost every genre are available in Orlando. Hard Rock Live at Universal CityWalk is a state-of-the-art venue which showcases a constant lineup of national and international artists, as well as local musicians. B.B. King’s at Pointe Orlando on International Drive features live blues, served up with a side of barbecue. What’s more, there’s a checkered dance floor where you can really get grooving. Orlando’s local music scene has given birth to some popular rock and pop bands. See an up-and-coming group before it gets big by catching a show at a downtown venue, such as the Social, Beecham Theater, or Wall Street Plaza.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    Craft Beer and Breweries
    Another way to experience Orlando is through its growing craft beer culture. Locally-owned breweries, brew pubs, and beer-centric restaurants are cropping up all over Central Florida. Orlando Brewing is a good spot for fresh, organic beer. Redlight Redlight Beer Parlour is the locals' choice, with more than 20 beers on tap and some 200 types of bottled beer. To pair gastronomical fare with your cask ale, try one of the sister restaurants just blocks from each other in Winter Park: Ravenous Pig, a gastropub, or Cask & Larder, a self-proclaimed "Southern Public House." At the latter, reserve a private table for dining at the in-house brewery.
    Photo courtesy of Gary Bogden/Cask & Larder
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    Wine Bars
    From traditional to trendy, Orlando has the perfect place to wind down with wine. At The Vineyard on Apopka-Vineland Road, enjoy fine wine in an intimate, Old World setting. For a contemporary, cool setting, visit Imperial Wine Bar & Beer Garden, a neighborhood bar featuring reds and whites from around the world, as well as craft beers. You might catch a local band or DJ spinning there. More than 70 wines are available by the glass at the chic Eola Wine Company. If you prefer, ask for one of their specialty wine flights and nibble on artisan flatbread while enjoying some prime people-watching. If you're visiting on the second Thursday of the month, stop by the downtown neighborhood of Thornton Park, which hosts a monthly Wine and Art Walk.
    Photo by Thuy Vi Gates
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    Art Museums and Sculpture Gardens
    Want to slow down the pace while enjoying art? The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art has the world's largest collection of Tiffany artwork. The Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Gardens houses 20th-century art, with sculptures scattered around the garden. Downtown, Loch Haven Park is home to The Orlando Museum of Art, Orlando Shakespeare Theater, Orlando Science Center, and The Mennello Museum of American Art. Surrounded by modern sculptures, a lake trail, and some of the area’s oldest and largest oak trees, the park is also a quiet, comfortable place to relax in the shade.
    Photo by Thuy Vi Gates