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Area Neighborhoods - a Snapshot Of Orlando’s History and Vitality

From historic districts to ethnic enclaves, Orlando’s neighborhoods give visitors an intimate glimpse of the city’s past, present and future.


Downtown Orlando
Downtown OrlandoNew residential condos, trendy restaurants and eclectic shops are reshaping Downtown Orlando, the heart of the city’s commercial core.  With an appealing mix of high rises and Victorian architecture, downtown also anchors the “Cultural Corridor” that stretches for blocks with theaters, galleries and performing arts venues. The centerpiece of downtown is Lake Eola Park, a 43-acre (17.2-hectare) park with generous sidewalks for strolling and jogging on the .9-mile (1.4 kilometer) loop around the water. The park is also home to the Sunday Eola Market, a farmers market open each Sunday, except during the summer.  There’s also a playground, a small outdoor café, swan paddle boats for rent and the Walt Disney Amphitheatre for special events. Downtown’s Heritage Square is home to the Orange County Regional History Center.  The city also offers a self-guided walking tour of the eight-square-block Downtown Orlando Historic District with buildings dating back to the 1880. After dark, downtown transforms into a trendy nightlife destination with nightclubs, restaurants, live theater and galleries.



Thornton Park
One of the charming old neighborhoods ringing downtown, Thornton Park is Orlando’s center of new urbanism, with residential lofts, renovated cottages and historic homes—all within walking distance of a burgeoning collection of shops and restaurants where patrons can sip coffee or nibble on sushi at outdoor cafés, browse in an independent bookstore or shop for the latest fashions. Historic architecture ranges from Craftsman-style bungalows to Neoclassical and Tudor Revival homes.  Green space also abounds, with nearby Lake Eola Park and historic Dickson Azalea Park, where cattle ranchers led their herds to drink along shady Fern Creek in the late 1800s.


College Park  
Just northwest of downtown Orlando is delightful College Park, with streets named for famous colleges like Harvard, Yale and Dartmouth.  Most of College Park consists of a mix of bungalows and turn-of-the-20th century manses and centers along Edgewater Drive and environs, where newcomers mix with longtime residents in inviting shops and restaurants. Perhaps one of College Park’s most famous residents was writer Jack Kerouac, who shared a back-porch apartment with his mother at the time his famous On the Road was published. The Kerouac Project, headed by local businesses, raised funds to buy and restore the house, now hosting a “writer in residence” program.


ViMi District
Just northeast of Downtown Orlando, this expanding enclave of authentic Asian restaurants, shops and markets is home to one of the largest Vietnamese-American communities in Florida.  Vietnamese, Korean, Thai and Chinese restaurants crowd along Colonial Drive and Mills Avenue; and grocery stores, stocked with everything from alternative medicines to exotic produce, cater mostly to Asian customers.

Winter Park
A short drive from Orlando’s major attractions, Winter Park charms visitors with tree-shaded avenues and a window onto the world of Florida’s past. Once a major citrus-growing region, Winter Park was a popular retreat for well-to-do Northerners who traveled south by train in the early 20th century.  From those roots, a city sprang up where culture thrived and natural resources were well protected.  Today, Winter Park is 8 square miles (20.7 square kilometers) with 20,000 oak trees and is home to almost 28,000 residents. One of the best ways to get a peek at the Winter Park lifestyle is on the Scenic Boat Tour, a local attraction for more than half a century that takes visitors past lakefront mansions and through the city’s historic canals. Three museums are top draws: The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art, with the world’s most comprehensive collection of the works of Louis Comfort Tiffany; the Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Gardens; and the Cornell Fine Arts Museum at Rollins College, one of the top-rated private liberal arts colleges in the country.  Along Park Avenue in the heart of Winter Park, 10 blocks of shops, galleries and eclectic restaurants give visitors plenty to do while lush Central Park, part of the shopping district, provides a relaxing retreat with a graceful fountain, walking paths and tree-shaded benches. Also, visitors can come to the local Saturday farmers’ market, located on W. New England Ave.

Baldwin Park and Celebration
Those nostalgic for the quintessential small town America experience will enjoy a visit to Baldwin Park, located just minutes from downtown Orlando, and Celebration, located in Osceola County near the Walt Disney World Resort. Both areas were designed to foster a sense of community, featuring narrow streets and wide sidewalks, miles of walking trails, distinct architecture, vibrant town centers and a mix of amenities that allow residents to live, work and play in their own neighborhood.  Rather than creating a private enclave, both communities host several festivals and events each year to showcase their special way of life. During the holiday season, it has been known to snow in Celebration to help set the mood.


Incorporated in 1883 and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1998, Eatonville is the oldest African-American municipality in the United States.  Its most famous former resident is Harlem Renaissance author and folklorist Zora Neale Hurston, who spent her early years in Eatonville and writes about those years in “Their Eyes Were Watching God” and “Dust Tracks on a Road.”  Her accomplishments are showcased in an annual festival each January and in the Zora Neale Hurston Museum of Fine Arts. Though many of the neighborhood’s original buildings are gone, a walking tour highlights significant structures.

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