Most Orlando locals look at the theme parks like an unruly neighbour: it's big and loud, but it keeps a nice lawn. Central Florida's many theme parks can become overpowering for even the most enthusiastic visitor, and that's when an excursion into the "other" Orlando—the one the locals know and love—is in order.
There are so many day trips. If the outdoors is your thing, you can swim or canoe at Wekiwa Springs State Park or one of the area's many other sparkling springs, where the water remains a refreshing 72°F no matter how hot the day. Alternatively, you can hike, horseback ride, canoe, and camp in the Ocala National Forest.
If museums are your thing, charming Winter Park has the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum with its huge collection of Tiffany glass, and the Cornell Fine Arts Museum on the oak-tree-covered Rollins College campus. While in Winter Park, you can indulge in some high-end shopping or dining on Park Avenue or take a leisurely boat tour of the lakefront homes.
Got kids to educate and entertain? Check out WonderWorks or the Orlando Science Center, where you can view live gators and turtles. Even more live gators (some as long as 14 feet) can be viewed or fed (or even eaten) at Gatorland, just south of Orlando.
Do the kids prefer rockets and astronauts? Don't miss a day trip to Kennedy Space Centre, where you can tour a rocket forest, sit in a space capsule, or climb aboard a shuttle.
Kissimmee is a 19th-century cattle town south of Orlando that proudly hangs on to its roots with a twice-yearly rodeo where real cowboys ride bulls and rope cattle. The town sits on Lake Tohopekaliga, a favorite spot for airboat rides or fishing trips.
Orlando is a diverse town. The downtown area, though small, is dynamic, thanks to an ever-changing skyline, high-rises, sports venues, museums, restaurants, nightspots, and several annual cultural events—including two film festivals and a world-renowned theatre fest. Downtown also has a central green, Lake Eola Park, which offers a respite from otherwise frantic touring.
Neighborhoods such as Thornton Park (great for dining) and College Park (great antiques shopping along Lake Ivanhoe) are fun to wander. Not too far to the north, you can come in contact with natural Florida—its manatees, gators, and crystal-clear waters in spring-fed lakes.
Closer to the theme-park action, International Drive, the hub of resort and conference hotels, offers big restaurants and even bigger outlet-mall bargains. Sand Lake Road, situated between the two, is Orlando's Restaurant Row, with plenty of exciting dining prospects.