Orlando is synonymous with theme parks, but there’s so much to explore in Central Florida besides Disney World and Universal Studios. The agents of Corcoran Premier Realty are experts on Orlando life—especially as guides for what to do beyond Mickey Mouse and Harry Potter. Here are some of Corcoran Premier Realty’s agents’ favorite places to visit, whether it’s spending a day splashing in freshwater springs or visiting a museum that will take you out of this world.
Have a blast at the Kennedy Space Center.
Space might be the final frontier, but it’s easy to explore here on Earth at the Kennedy Space Center. Probably the most well-known destination outside of the theme parks in Central Florida, the Kennedy Space Center is both a working NASA center (and the primary launch site for human spaceflight) and a very popular museum, the Visitor Complex. The Visitor Complex offers daily tours with real astronauts, a chance to examine the Space Shuttle Atlantis, historical exhibits about space exploration, multiple interactive experiences for kids and adults alike, including a replica of the International Space Station. In a way, the Kennedy Space Center is a theme park about space, but unlike Disney and Universal Studios, everything here is real, and watching a rocket launch can be part of the day’s itinerary.
Channel your creative side at the Mennello Museum of American Art.
The city of Orlando owns and operates a true under-the-radar gem, one of agent Alison Ashby’s favorites: the Mennello Museum of American Art in Loch Haven Cultural Park. The core of the museum’s holdings is a large group of paintings by self-taught folk artist Earl Cunningham, donated by collectors Marilyn and Michael Mennello. Cunningham’s colorful work, which depicts fantastic landscapes of Maine, Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina, has been exhibited in the Smithsonian, the American Folk Art Museum, and notably, in the White House collection of President John F. Kennedy and First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy. In addition to the Cunningham paintings, the museum also has a sculpture garden and rotating exhibits focused on American artists. The museum is engaged in a $20 million capital campaign to build a new expansion, but its current compact size is part of its charm to its fans.
Volley at the world’s largest tennis facility.
Opened in 2017, the USTA National Campus is the biggest racquet sports center on the planet, covering some 64 acres. With nearly 100 tennis courts, including two championship courts, as well as pickleball and padel courts, there’s space for everyone. Agent Ellen Bessette is one of many Orlando locals who takes advantage of the amazing facilities. It’s just $12 per person to play a social game with old or new friends, and lessons are offered for all age groups and skill levels.
For every aspiring Grand Slam champion, there’s also the chance to watch current stars play — champions like Coco Gauff, Naomi Osaka, and wheelchair Grand Slam winner Dana Mathewson have all trained here. With three types of hard courts, along with green and red clay courts, there’s opportunity to play on every surface except grass. The campus also hosts home matches for the University of Central Florida.
Fan out to to Major League sports.
Getting out and watching a game or a show is a favorite activity for agent Robert Clarkson, who loves watching the two local major league teams, NBA’s Orlando Magic and Orlando City Soccer Club, play during their seasons. It’s not surprising that Orlando hosts a major league soccer club, as the city hosted the 1994 FIFA World Cup and group stage matches for the 1996 Summer Olympics. In 2023, the city also added the pickleball team Orlando Squeeze as a new sport to watch; it is one of two new additions to the Major League Pickleball roster.
Hunt for vintage treasure.
There’s great antiquing in Central Florida, and agent Alison Ashby points intrepid shoppers to Ivanhoe Row in Orlando and Renninger’s Flea Market and Antique Center in Mount Dora.
Ivanhoe Row is actually a stretch of Orange Avenue in Ivanhoe Village (hence the name), a funky little district beloved by locals. The stores here really run the gamut, from inexpensive vintage finds to expensive rarities. Discoveries here can range from a $1 record at Rock & Roll Heaven to a complete set of Eames chairs rescued from the old Winter Park Library at Something Different’s mid-century treasure trove or an OG fixie bike from Retro City Cycles.
In Mount Dora, Renninger’s is actually two separate markets — the antique center on the north side and the flea market on the south side and both with multiple outdoor pavilions. Together, Renninger’s hosts some 200 vendors spread out over 117 acres. In addition, there’s an Antique and Collector’s Extravaganza three times a year (generally, the third weekend of January, February, and November), when more than 800 vendors set up shop outdoors for three fabulous days. Those in the know call the event the “Extravo,” and you’ll find dealers offering furniture and goods from every era.
Taste the local bounty.
In the land of perpetual sunshine, it’s no surprise that the Orlando-area farmers markets are bursting with great produce in every season. Agent Robert Clarkson recommends the farmers markets in Lake Eola, Orlando, and Winter Park, and Ashby likes the markets in Oviedo and Winter Garden. All the markets sell the expected fresh vegetables, fruits, meat, and seafood, but they also offer freshly prepared foods, plants, and gifts from local artisans, as well as sponsoring regular events with live music and activities throughout the year.
Cruise the local convoy of food trucks.
Agent Alison Ashby cites the food trucks in Central Florida as destination dining. Though some of the trucks can be hard to track down due to their roaming nature, Ashby suggests two steady mobile food plazas to get your fix without having to constantly check schedules: Boxi Park in Lake Nona and the Sanford Food Truck Fiesta in Historic Downtown Sanford. The latter is held on the third Saturday of every month, with more than 30 trucks that vary monthly. Past vendors have included the top-rated Hot Asian Buns, Willy T’s Crab Shack, and Korean BBQ Taco Box, along with a craft beer rig and multiple dessert trucks.
Boxi Park, on the other hand, doesn’t have trucks exactly: instead, it’s a 30,000-square-foot community venue built entirely from shipping containers, with volleyball, live entertainment, and even its own dog park. There’s a big mix of possibilities for noshing, including hand rolls, lobster rolls, tacos, and multiple cocktail and beer options. It’s open for dinner every Thursday through Sunday, with lunch hours on the weekends as well.
Go gourmand at a Michelin-starred restaurant.
Agent A.J. Lash says, “I think people outside the area are just beginning to recognize the depths of the culinary talents in the area, especially with the 2022 awarding of Michelin stars to four restaurants in Central Florida.” It’s certainly worth checking out the four recipients of Orlando’s first Michelin stars, if, of course, you can snag a reservation: Soseki, a tiny, 10-seat omakase with a focus on local Florida produce; Kadence, an eight-seat sushi and sake bar with room for just three reservations a day; Knife & Spoon at The Ritz Carlton, a high-end version of surf-and-turf, with dry-aged steaks and seafood taking center stage; and Capa, a Spanish-style steakhouse and tapas bar that’s on the 17th floor of the Four Seasons Resort at Walt Disney World (proving that even the theme parks have really upped their gastronomic game).
Splash into the region’s famous natural springs.
Central Florida is home to some amazingly beautiful springs that are all within driving distance of Orlando. Alison Ashby’s favorites are Wekiwa Springs State Park, Alexander Springs in Ocala National Park, Blue Spring State Park, Green Springs Park, and Rock Springs in Kelly Park.
Each has something unique — Wekiwa Springs and Alexander Springs are known for the millions of gallons of clear water (a consistently comfortable 72 degrees year round) that gushes out into the swimming holes every day, with room for kayaking and diving. Blue Springs offers the chance to see the hundreds of manatees in their winter refuge, and the sulfurous Green Springs flows with unusually emerald waters. Tubing in Kelly Park’s Rock Springs is a closely guarded local secret, with the parking lot filling up quickly on summer days to tube down a gorgeous natural lazy river.
Get out on the water.
The Scenic Boat Tours on the Winter Park chain of lakes is one of agent Alison George’s favorite ways to see Central Florida from an unusual vantage point. These pontoon boat tours, which began in 1938 and were originally dubbed a journey through the “Venice of America,” guide 18 passengers through the canopied canals and through Lakes Osceola, Virginia, and Maitland. The journey passes grand historic estates, the Rollins College campus, verdant tropical plants — ferns, along with palm and cypress trees that arch over the canals — and possibly an alligator or two swimming by.