A.D. Thompson

Looking for things to do in Orlando? Unless you live under a rock with no Wi-Fi, you're well aware that we have world-famous theme parks for days. Weeks, even. But you could easily fill a visit to the City Beautiful with exciting and fun activities – 'round the clock, in fact! – without stepping a foot inside any of them.

Read on for a roster of to-dos in Orlando that have absolutely nothing to do with Mickey Mouse, Marvel superheroes or monstrous water slides.

1. Show up

Downtown Orlando is home to the sleek, new state-of-the-art Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, where touring Broadway productions, world-class musical acts and other phenomenal productions fill the schedule year 'round.

On tap for this beautiful venue in 2019 includes Les Misérables, Escape to Margaritaville and The Play That Goes Wrong, as well as John Mellencamp, the Indigo Girls and comedian Dane Cook.


2. Roll on the rivers


Central Florida may not have a coastline, but it has watersports in spades. That's because it's home to near countless lakes and waterways, all rife for exploration.

Paddleboard Orlando, a popular local outfitter, runs SUP outings regularly and newcomers are always welcome! Its instructors will have you up and paddling along in beautiful places such as Winter Park's picturesque Venetian Canal or even out-of-town day trips to see the manatees during their visiting season.

Rather sit? Try Peace of Mind Kayak Tour for sunset paddles and other options. In nearby Longwood, Wekiva Island is like a beach club on the river, where paddling is an option, but so, too, are riverside cabanas with loungers for enjoying the sun and a cold one in some of the area's prettiest terrain.

3. Nature calls

And you don't need a zoo. Orlando may be a thriving city, but it still boasts loads of green places – wet and dry – where you can hike, bike, horseback ride or take an airboat tour to meet locals. And by that, we mean alligators, bald eagles, beautiful wading birds and more.

Wild Willy's Airboat Tours introduces visitors to the flora and fauna of Lake Tohopekaliga (locals call it “Lake Toho") and those looking for a more serene experience might check out Wekiwa Springs State Park, a beautiful, 7,000-acre area where trails and swimming holes are just the tip of the outdoorsy iceberg.

4. Stuff your face

orlando diner

Photo by Juan Pablo Melo on Unsplash

Orlandoans called out TV's Andrew Zimmern for his snark about the 407's culinary scene, so he came back to eat his own words, shooting a special episode on the City Beautiful. In fact, many of the network's biggest stars have either visited to shoot or opened restaurants here!

We've got James Beard nominees, phenomenal food trucks and everything in between in a dining scene that's absolutely exploding. Neapolitan pizza and noodle houses, authentic Sichuan and terrific Turkish. Check out one of the dozens of great local food blogs to learn more about the best places to eat before your visit.

5. Art abounds

Sure, we've got museums – the Orlando Museum of Art, the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum (known for its incredible collection of Tiffany glass) and the folk art-centric Mennello Museum of American Art among them – but you don't have to visit any of them to see some of the city's best.

You'll find murals all over our fair city, monarch butterflies in Winter Park and downtown, bold, gorgeous creations in Mills 50, soccer-centric pieces off Colonial and in Thornton Park. We've got painted electrical boxes, drains and even dumpsters (one painted by one of our own local politicians!). Rent a Juice bike, make yourself a map and take your own cycling art tour!

6. Sanford, son

Sanford florida

Up in the northeast corner of the metro, historic, downtown Sanford awaits, with delightful restaurants of all ethnicities, colorful galleries, craft cocktail havens and a large, lovely lake where you might sit, walk, fish or perhaps take a quick cruise.

Cute boutiques and regular street festivals like Alive After 5 beckon, live music spills from the taverns, and oh – craft beer? It's available in spades.

7. Central Florida Ale Trail

Several of the stops on this notable sojourn are right in Sanford within walking distance of one another. It's a big passport, and you get a custom growler if you complete it, but you'll need at least a few days of exploration to do so.

Even without the prize, Orlando's many incredible craft breweries are worth at least a day's investigation. You'll find them all over – from downtown to SoDo, Ivanhoe to Oviedo, near UCF.

8. Beach it

cocoa beach florida

Orlando's closest beach is less than an hour from downtown, which means you can be there for breakfast, stay 'til dinner and still make it back to wherever you're staying well before bedtime.

Cocoa Beach is closest, with its world-famous pier and related attractions, but New Smyrna Beach isn't much farther and it's got an adorable district with shops, bars and restaurants (try the pizza at Third Wave if you go!).

9. Winter Park

It's its own city, to be sure, but minutes from downtown is Winter Park, home to the aforementioned Morse museum, along with one of the most picturesque main street shopping, dining and entertainment districts in Central Florida.

Park Avenue is alive with commerce and camaraderie just about any hour of the day, its boutiques and sidewalk bistros buzzing. Grab a gelato at Peterbrooke Chocolatier or sample wine at the Parkview. Coming on Saturday? The weekly farmer's market is a delight for the senses!

10. Up, up and away

orlando hot air balloon

Soar into the great blue yonder and get the best bird's-eye view of Orlando's surrounds this side of the ICON observation wheel with Orlando Balloon Rides! Sunrise flights, conditions permitting, last an hour and end with a champagne toast. You'll even get to see the magic of the balloons being inflated. It's how your heart will feel once that basket leaves the ground.



About The Author

A.D. Thompson

A.D. Thompson spent the first half of her 25-year career behind the editor’s desk, including time at Playgirl Magazine. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Orlando Sentinel and a host of other publications, print and online. Now a full-time freelancer, she is the Orlando expert for USA Today’s 10Best.com and writes about everything from Mickey Mouse to marijuana-based tourism with equal levels of enthusiasm – and occasional bouts of the munchies.