- 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.
New 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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