It’s no secret Orlando sometimes gets an undeserved reputation for being all about the Mouse House, Shamu and Harry Potter. The general thinking is there’s not much to do in downtown Orlando. But the City Beautiful is a nice place to spend a few hours soaking up local culture and taking in the arts scene. What’s even better, there are plenty of free (or really inexpensive) things to do in the downtown area, if you know where to look.
Smack-dab in the middle of downtown Orlando is the city’s most famous body of water – Lake Eola. The lake and its iconic fountain are used to advertise the city near and far, and the park that encircles the water is a popular spot for festivals, a weekly farmer’s market, holiday fireworks shows, concerts and other special events. Runners and walkers love the .9-mile sidewalk. Kids love seeing all the ducks. And couples enjoy leisurely trips inside the giant, swan paddle boats, which can be rented for $15 per half hour.
Housed in a restored 1927 courthouse, the Orange County Regional History Center is an affiliate of the Smithsonian and the best place to learn about the area’s past. Four floors of permanent exhibits immerse you in 12,000 years of Central Florida history. Admission to the museum is $8 for adults and $6 for children (prices effective September 5, 2015). The first full weekend of every month, the History Center offers free admission to Bank of America and Merrill Lynch cardholders.
Look for the giant half Mona Lisa on the building at the corner of Pine Street and Orange Avenue and walk inside. Since opening in 2006, the CityArts Factory has been one of the best places in Central Florida to see art from local and international creatives. The collection is rotated on a monthly basis and the facility regularly hosts special events. Best of all, admission is free!
A new rad hangout is Uncle Tony’s Donut Shoppe at 703 North Orange Avenue. This place is so much more than just a record store. It’s a community gathering spot that Orlando has desperately needed for some time. Uncle Tony’s carries a nicely-curated selection of rare vinyl, old-school boom boxes, vintage record players, and hip hop fashions from BBoy.
If you’ve ever stayed at or visited a Grand Bohemian Hotel, you know the owners have impeccable taste. And that’s reflected in the hotel’s very own art gallery. The gallery at the Orlando location showcases over 100 works of art by local, regional and internationally recognized artists. Glass, ceramics, jewelry, contemporary paintings and sculptures are on display. There’s no charge to look around the gallery.