Things to do in Orlando

Hidden Gems in Orlando

Orlando is home to many off-the-path experiences. Dig into the city’s vibrant spirit with these hidden gems.

Orlando is home to some of the nation's biggest and best theme parks, but it’s far more than a roller coaster lover’s dream come true. It’s vibrant, with a complex history and an indomitable spirit that makes it worth exploring.

More popular tourist attractions might overshadow hidden gems, but the myriad of things to do in Orlando make it a prime location to explore. Journey into breathtaking outdoor paradises that inspire local artists and tourists as you explore the city's secrets.

Venture into museums and cultural hubs determined to encapsulate the history of this city. Or, head out for a day of shopping at some of the quirkiest stores you can find.

Outdoor Adventures

With its mild climate, it's no surprise this city is a hub for outdoor adventures. These excursions will be a breath of fresh air.

1. Lake Eola Park’s Secret Garden

In the heart of downtown Orlando, you’ll find Lake Eola Park. Here, you can explore weekly farmers markets and free outdoor concerts at the rainbow-colored Band Shell, but this park also has a secret. A Japanese rock garden is hidden in the eastern part of the park.

This area features a Chinese pagoda sent from Shanghai, quiet ponds, and Asian architecture-inspired bridges among black marble. The 0.9-mile walk around the lake takes you past this garden and its plentiful shade, making it a great place to stop, get out of the sun, and marvel at its beauty.

Photographer: ALTEREDSNAPS

2. The Greenwood Urban Wetlands

Natural and functional. What more could you want from an urban park? The Greenwood Urban Wetlands has collected runoff from rain into a lake since 1991.

It’s just minutes from the heart of Orlando and offers 19 acres of sprawling green spaces amid the city’s streets. The whole park is heavily planted with trees and aquatic flora, which help filter out the runoff and add to the naturally tranquil ambiance.

Escape the urban environment as you follow the winding walkway across bridges and over the lake. You can also bring your four-legged friends with you. Dogs are welcome and encouraged here. There's even an agility area nestled along the walk.

This park holds a special place in the hearts of locals. Nestled within it, you’ll find a pet memorial wall overlooking the lake. People can have the names of their dearly missed but never-forgotten pets added to plaques on the wall. It’s not unusual for people to spend quiet time reminiscing about their pets here.

3. Split Oak Forest Wildlife and Environmental Area

A sampling of Orlando's wildlife can be found in Split Oak Forest Wildlife and Environmental Area. It was named to honor a live oak on the northern part of the parklands. The 200-year-old tree split down the middle but survived.

This park is a local favorite for wildlife viewing, featuring 1,689 acres of preserved wildlands and winding trails. The trails take explorers through natural habitats, such as scrublands, pine flatwoods, marshes, and swamps.

Avid hikers enjoy two trails, the North and South Loop Trails. Both traverse the park’s diverse topography with abundant bird-watching and nature-viewing opportunities.

If you’ve ever wanted to see a gopher tortoise strolling along or catch sight of graceful sandhill cranes as they take flight, you might get the chance at this park.

4. Kraft Azalea Garden

Orlando is full of beautiful areas, but little can compare to the stunning Kraft Azalea Garden, a local favorite for intimate weddings. Enter parklands covered in towering cypress trees and breathtaking azaleas. They typically bloom in late winter to early spring, bringing a splash of vibrant color to your trek.

The garden sits in the historic Winter Park area. We recommend stopping by one of the local restaurants surrounding the area and bringing your meal here for a peaceful picnic. Whether you want to sit and soak in the scenery or wander through the lands, it’s an unforgettable hidden gem in the city.

5. Wekiva Island

If you venture north of Orlando, you’ll find Wekiva Island. Though not a proper island, you’ll undoubtedly feel like you’re on one. It’s an eco-friendly resort-style destination, offering swimming, delicious food, and opportunities for aqua sports. If you like to go out and adventure, you won’t be disappointed.

Get out onto the river on a kayak, canoe, or paddleboard, where you’ll catch sight of birds and fish. Occasionally, you might see an alligator or otter lingering near the shore. You can also get your own private cabana with a couch and lounge chairs. If it’s too chilly to get wet, warm up near one of the firepits.

6. Leu Gardens

If botany is your jam, the 50 acres of Leu Gardens beckons. With over 40 plant collections from around the world, ranging from tropical rainforests to the largest formal rose garden in Florida, it’s a local favorite for absorbing the stunning sights and sweet smells. No matter the season, you’ll find something in bloom.

As soon as you enter, you’ll find yourself immersed in a tropical stream garden, evocative of journeying into Hawaiian jungles. From there, you’ll have the botanic world at your fingertips. Check out the Butterfly Garden, a fan-favorite pick. Nearby, find the arid desert-inspired garden filled with delightful succulents.

Regular events take place here, elevated by their floral backdrop. For example, the first Friday of each month is movie night in the garden. These gardens also come to life at Christmas with dazzling lights, interactive shows, and holiday music.

Photographer: Mick Haupt

Cultural Hideaways

A city as old as this one is bound to have a rich history and culture worth exploring. Explore these hidden gems in Orlando, FL, to discover what makes this city so wonderful.

7. The Mennello Museum of American Art’s Sculpture Garden

At the Mennello Museum of American Art, you’ll find a vast collection of paintings by Earl Cunningham. It hosts numerous temporary exhibitions, programs, and educational opportunities to bring art to the general public. It’s worth a visit on its own, but the real hidden gem here is located just outside the museum’s walls.

Nestled on the edge of Lake Formosa, a sprawling sculpture garden awaits. These pieces of urban art dot the otherwise natural landscaping, nestled in the shade of mature trees with beautiful lakefront backdrops.

It’s easy to wander around for an hour or two, marveling at abstract sculptures and contemplating what the artists wanted to say. It’s one of the more unique things to do in Orlando and worth savoring.

8. Hannibal Square Heritage Center

Historically, Hannibal Square in Winter Park was a segregated, self-sufficient African American community. This situation led to numerous opportunities for entrepreneurship that helped this vibrant neighborhood thrive. The Hannibal Square Heritage Center preserves the rich culture and history cultivated by the local population.

Here, you’ll discover a celebration of the African American community's past, present, and future contributions to Winter Park. Over 200 pieces showcase their lives over the 20th century. You’ll discover a taste of local history from their perspectives.

The center offers a walking tour every third Saturday of the month. The chief historian leads attendees through the area’s most historic sites, including the Mount Moriah Missionary Baptist Church, the Masonic Lodge, and the Welbourne Day Care and Nursery.

9. The Wells’Built Museum of African American History

During the Segregation Era, African Americans lacked access to basic lodging, health care, and recreational facilities in Orlando. Faced with a glaring inequity, Dr. William Monroe Wells chose to act.

He created the Wells'Built Hotel in the center of the historic Parramore district. This building offered a refuge for African American travelers and housed many performers who otherwise would have had nowhere to stay.

Unfortunately, the hotel closed in 1957, just a year after Wells died. The building remained in disrepair for decades until it earned a place on the National Register of Historic Places in 2000.

In 2009, it reopened as the Wells’Built Museum. Today, the museum is jam-packed with artifacts and exhibits designed to preserve and celebrate African American history and culture in Orlando and the greater Florida area.

Within its walls, you can peruse photos of previous guests and letters they’ve written over the years, artifacts from the time, and more. Upstairs, you’ll even find a hotel room set up exactly as it would have looked in the 1930s.

Photographer: Towanda Davis Photography, LLC

10. Timucua Arts Foundation

We can get behind this foundation’s belief that art belongs to everyone. At the Timucua Arts Foundation, artistry comes to life in all forms, from jazz to folkloric music and dance. If you want to get a taste of the local music scene, this venue delivers. Music and arts of all kinds, such as poetry and visual arts, are also embraced here.

If you time your visit right, you might catch an event called the Energy Wheel experience on the first Wednesday of every month. You’ll be serenaded with crystal singing bowls and Tibetan bells for a meditative, inspirational experience.

11. Pioneer Village at Shingle Creek

Osceola County was known for its sweeping cow pastures and bright citrus orchards before it became a prime tourist destination ripe with amusement parks. Sneak a peek at this simpler time at Pioneer Village.

The 13 historic structures invite exploration and learning, and you can even schedule a guided tour during your trip to elevate the experience. The authentic structures found within the village were carefully relocated here. It demonstrates what town life was like before the region grew.

You'll discover a simpler time when you couldn't go to the nearest big retailer whenever you needed supplies. Wander through a general store and post office to experience what shopping may have looked like.

Peek into a schoolhouse, church, and homestead for a different perspective from when towns were much smaller. You’ll even discover a Seminole settlement showcasing Indigenous life in the region.

Quirky Shops

We love all things quirky and different like Orlando’s themed restaurants, and that’s what you’ll get when you visit these shops. Whether you’re looking for the most decadent ice cream or trying to find an uncommon record to add to your vinyl collection, these shops have you covered.

12. The Soda Fountain

Of course, all your outdoor excursions may leave you needing a cool, sweet treat to beat the heat. You’ll find that and more at The Soda Fountain, a classic ice cream shop in the College Park district.

Its expansive menu includes simple scoops on delicate cones and downright indulgent concoctions. There’s even a vegan menu offering a little taste of frozen paradise. Options such as the God Father, featuring a shake, brownie, and ice cream scoop all stuffed into a sugar cone and coated with chocolate syrup and Nutella, push the menu to the limit.

It even offers an adult milkshake menu, making it a particularly appealing place for a nightcap when you're on a date in Orlando.

13. Park Ave CDs

Brick-and-mortar music stores may be few and far between these days, but you’ll find one in Orlando. Park Ave CDs has been an established part of the local music scene since 1984, and you’ll still find it standing north of the airport.

Entering is like taking a step back in time. Browse through rows and rows of records, CDs, cassettes, and all the music memorabilia you could want. The venue has an expansive collection of new and used records and the most commonly sought-after albums. Some might even come with artist signatures if you’re lucky.

Embark on an Unforgettable Journey Through Orlando’s Lesser-Known Treasures

Orlando's hidden gems may be off the beaten track. Still, once you know where to look, they’re worth visiting. Once you've explored all the secrets hiding in this great city, come to one of our shows in Orlando.

Each performance takes you on a thought-provoking and imagination-inspiring journey through a world filled with whimsy and fantasy. You'll feel the passion exuding from our performers as they weave an unforgettable story.

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