Orlando has always been a real city, but more outsiders are noticing
By: External Source •
More and more people seem to be discovering that there is an Orlando beyond the theme parks and acres of T-shirt shops with blinking neon signs.
This has always been true, of course. For decades, just like in every other metro area across America, families have made their homes in Central Florida's neighborhoods. They've sent their children to local schools, attended churches, met for beers after work at corner bars that weren't World of Beer, dined out at family-owned restaurants that often haven't been Applebee's, and set up picnics and barbecues at leafy parks free of admission gates and tickets.
This was true before Walt Disney's savvy eyes feasted in the early 1960s on the vast acres of virgin land surrounding where Interstate 4 and Florida's Turnpike would meet. It was true as Magic Kingdom's Main Street took shape in 1970. And it's been true throughout all the decades since Orlando has solidified its identity — to outsiders, at least — as a big silver ball and a giant set of mouse ears.
The greater Orlando area has always had "local," non-chain, and even quirky. The Winter Park Boat Tour dates to 1938. Locals know to take visitors to tucked-away dives and hangouts like Nora's Sugar Shack and Wally's. The Enzian has been screening independent films since the '80s. The Harry P. Leu Gardens began charming nature lovers when most of I-Drive was still dirt.
Orlando Sentinel staff writer Kevin Spear documented the city's uniqueness beautifully in his 2015 Soul of Orlando project, a series of stories that reveal the city behind the tourism pamphlets.
In the latest published report to repeat this theme of "Orlando beyond theme parks," New York City-based digital publishing company Thrillist has "discovered" Real Orlando in an article titled "How a family vacation mecca became one of the most imaginative cities in America."
Thrillist's Matt Meltzer writes: "Orlando has quietly been growing beyond its theme-park roots. No longer a mere glut of vacationers and every chain restaurant in history, it's one of America's most
Thrillist can be forgiven for framing this all as a totally new development. After all, Orlando does keep evolving, and in recent years the area has been experiencing a renaissance.
The Thrillist article gives a nod to hipster favorites including the Redlight Redlight brewery and Stardust Video & Coffee in the Audubon Park neighborhood, the diverse eateries of the Mills 50 district, Orlando City, and downtown's glittering new developments.
As Spear noted in Soul of Orlando: "The city began showing potential a decade ago, and it could become outstanding a decade from now."
What are your favorite non-theme park parts of Central Florida?
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