We’ve got nothing against theme parks. In fact, we happily took our kids to Orlando for an exhilarating visit to Disney World and Epcot years ago and had a fantastic family vacation, but our memories are mostly of tiny hands excitedly pulling us from one wild ride to the next.
Now that they are all grown up and on their own, we have the opportunity to explore the city at a more relaxing pace and see the more adult side of things. So, as Petula Clark sang long ago, downtown is the place to be.
Image via Flickr by WalterPro
A great place to start is the Church Street Station in the center of town. This former South Florida Railroad terminal, circa 1889, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and now serves as home to SunRail commuter trains and a hub for dining and nightlife.
Instead of corndogs and cotton candy we can indulge in Orlando’s thriving foodie scene. Within a few blocks of the old depot there is a collection of culinary choices ranging from home-style to health conscious, and everything in between. It is possible to take an epicurean journey of gourmet burgers or steaks from America, to sushi in Japan, tapas from Spain, or Spätzle, Schnitzel, and Bratwurst for a German flavor.
Image via Flickr by mattkaiser77
After dinner, dozens of nightclubs await within an easy walk. Or it is just a few steps over to The Amway Center where the NBA Orlando Magic work their wizardry on the hardwood during the basketball season, and concerts and shows are featured year ‘round.
Perhaps our favorite discovery was just how bike friendly the city is. There are hundreds of miles of bicycle lanes and pathways throughout the urban area. Even in the heart of the city, two wheeled transportation is a good option.
For us, the rail trails that incorporate old railroad right of ways are ideal and there are several to choose from around town. These are always fairly level and make for a relaxing day of cycling.
Winding its way past six lakes, the Orlando Urban Trail links downtown with the Mead Botanical Gardens in Winter Park. Named for the renowned horticulturist Theodore L. Mead, for seventy five years the gardens have been a great place to stop and smell the flowers or spot butterflies.
At Highland Lake the Cady Way Trail splits off and heads east to Lake Druid Park. The park is home to Orlando’s first mountain bike park, but as much as we love our mountain bikes the motocross style dirt track and jumps are a bit more of a challenge than we like to tackle.
From there the trail follows the abandoned roadbed of the defunct East Florida & Atlantic Railroad north for several miles, with a shopping stop at the Fashion Square Mall on its way up to Baldwin Park.
A few miles northwest of downtown the West Orange Trail passes a number of historic homes and introduced us to Lake Apopka. These wetlands have had more species of birds spotted than anywhere else in Florida. Over three hundred and sixty so far… and still counting.
After biking our brains out, a trip back to the center of the city to replenish our energy was certainly in order. Over a meal we recount our memories of Orlando both old and new, and compare the enjoyment of our adult adventure with the fun the kids had way back when and found it hard to say which was better.
Maybe we’ll be back with our grandkids for some more research.
David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com
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