Things To Do In Orlando (That Don’t Involve Theme Parks)

Lake Eola - Orlando, FloridaThe best way to have fun on a trip is by finding the things that you would enjoy doing if you lived in that city.  Then amp it up for the week.  So if you’re a comic book collector, seek out hole-in-the-wall comic shops.  If you love hikes, finding awe-inspiring hiking trails.  If microbrews are your thing, tour the local microbreweries.  It’s no wonder that people get burnt out on vacations of endless lines and crowds.  Who seeks that out in their normal, everyday life?

My favorite trips include lots of sun and nature, vegan meals aplenty, and shopping for unique groceries and kitchen items.  One of the best surprises about being vegan while traveling is the way that it’s taken me to areas I might not have sought out if I was sticking with chain restaurants and the usual tourist scene.  I like getting a glimpse of a local’s viewpoint, and unearthing some hidden treasures that wouldn’t necessarily be on a pamphlet in the hotel lobby.

With those things in mind, here are some of my favorite things to do in Orlando (that don’t involve theme parks):

Nile Ethiopian Restaurant

Nile Ethiopian - Orlando, Florida

While Nile Ethiopian Restaurant is located in one of the more touristy areas of Orlando with gobs of traffic and neon lights, this unassuming restaurant in a strip mall is worth seeking out. With semi-private huts for groups or standard dining tables in the main room, it’s a wonderful place for getting a wide platter of injera, smattered with colorful wots (stews). It’s not a vegetarian or vegan restaurant, but they have lots of vegan options.  We’d visited Nile on a prior trip and were eager to revisit it again.

The sambusa appetizer (below) is filled with lentils, green peppers, and onions.  It’s a tasty start to the meal. The crust is light and flaky and has the texture of fried rice paper.

Nile Ethiopian Restaurant in Orlando, Florida

Nile Ethiopian Restaurant in Orlando, FloridaI like to get the vegetarian Taste of Nile platter, which is a very generous amount for two. (I think we could have invited at least one or two more people over, and there still would have been plenty.) It comes with cabbage, red lentils, split peas, collard greens, shiro azifa, and tomato fitfit.

I love when Ethiopian restaurants have a dish that sets them apart from others.  The one at Nile that does it is their cold lentil salad, which is heavily laced with horseradish. It has a clean-your-nose-out bite that is a welcome surprise to balance the other savory wots on the platter.

The injera is not as dark and teff-heavy as some injera I’ve tried, making it on the milder and more muted side.  I prefer a stronger-tasting injera, but otherwise it tasted fresh and pliable.

The service is very warm and friendly.  It’s one of those places that makes me wish I was a local, so that I could be a regular.

East End Market 

East End Market in Orlando, Florida

East End Market is a two-story structure with dozens of different merchants sharing the space. There is a working garden market in front of the building. The lower half of the building is a large open room with shops, market areas with produce and freshly baked bread, and restaurants.  (For my Southern California readers, it’s reminiscent of The Market at Santa Monica Place.)

East End Market - Orlando, FloridaThe upper half features a variety of standalone stores, including Bookmark It, a book store which features local authors and books on the local food movement.

One of the restaurants on the main floor is Skyebird, a raw restaurant and juice bar. They have salads in mason jars for people on the go or in bowls for those who want to stay and eat at the long counter in front of their kitchen.

Skyebird - raw restaurant in Orlando, FloridaSkyebird raw restaurant - Orlando, Florida

Taco salad at Skyebird in Orlando, FloridaTheir taco salads are fresh and filling with romaine, raw taco meat made from nuts or seeds, pico de gallo, and a cashew sour cream that tastes very similar to the cashew dressing that I make at home.

Leu Gardens

Leu Gardens - Orlando, Florida

To immerse yourself in beauty, a relaxing place to spend an afternoon is Leu Gardens. With 50 acres of gardens, a tropical garden, rose garden, and more, it would be hard to see it all.

It’s amazing to see tropical fruits like papayas growing, and to walk freely through the expansive gardens. They have rotating artwork, and when we were there they had human-sized frog sculptures located throughout the gardens.  It’s called Ribbit the Exhibit, and it’s there through March 31st.

It’s free to visit Leu Gardens the first Monday of every month.

Leu Gardens - Orlando, FloridaLeu Gardens - Orlando, Florida

Leu Gardens - Orlando, Florida

Artichoke Red Vegan Market

Artichoke Red - Vegan market in Orlando, Florida

Artichoke Red - vegan market in Orlando, Florida

Artichoke Red is a small, all-vegan grocery store with specialty goods, vitamins, supplements, health and beauty products, vegan wine and beer. They also have a selection of vegan Twinkies.  (You can read a lengthier post about Artichoke Red from my prior visit in 2013.)

The local vegan food truck, The Squid Box, is there selling brunch on Sundays. Unfortunately, they were elsewhere the weekend we were in town, though, and so we weren’t able to try them.

The British Shoppe

The British Shoppe - Orlando, Florida

The British Shoppe - Orlando, Florida

If you’re looking for Doctor Who magnets, teapots, and Jammie Dodgers, you’ve come to the right place. The British Shoppe is a small store with an eclectic collection of British goods, including canned vegetarian haggis. (Only $11 a can! Yikes!)

Raphsodic Bakery

Raphsodic - vegan bakery in Orlando, Florida

Directly across the street from The British Shoppe, Raphsodic Bakery is a vegan bakeshop that sells a variety of gluten-free baked goods as well. We picked up a couple of filled cupcakes and enjoyed them with cups of coffee. There’s a small seating area and local artwork on the walls.

Raphsodic vegan bakery - Orlando, Florida

Raphsodic vegan bakery - Orlando, Florida

Lake Eola

Lake Eola - Orlando, FloridaThis beautiful park is one of my favorite places in the entirety of Orlando. Lake Eola Park is home to a variety of birds, including a large population of swans.  The Walt Disney Ampitheater overlooks the water. There are always runners jogging the perimeter of the lake, and it’s a relaxing place to take a leisurely stroll.

There’s a farmers market every Sunday with food, crafts, and live music. Plus, on the 2nd Thursday of every month, there’s a wine and art walk nearby that I’d love to check out sometime.

Lake Eola - Orlando, FloridaLake Eola - Orlando, FloridaYou can rent four-person swan boats for $15/half hour and paddle around the lake. It was drizzling when we toddled around the water, but it didn’t dampen the view.

Dandelion Communitea Cafe, a delightful vegetarian restaurant, is also a pleasant mile walk away.  I’ll be doing a full write-up about Dandelion in an upcoming post!

For more fun things to do in the Orlando area, check out this post on Winter Park and Ethos Vegan Kitchen.

Review: Tres Pupusas for an easy 10 minute meal

Tres Pupusas - Kale & Pinto Bean flavor (vegan & gluten-free)I’m taking a little break today from Orlando vacation posts for a review from the frozen section of the grocery store…

When we returned from our trip to Florida, we got in around 10:30 at night. So there was no time for grocery shopping. We just walked in the door, hugged and kissed our kitties, and went straight to bed. The next morning, the refrigerator and cupboard were slim pickings after almost a week away.

Luckily, before I left I’d received a couple of boxes for review from Tres Pupusas, a pupuseria out of Boulder, Colorado. They arrived frozen and on dry ice. If you’re not familiar with pupusas, they’re basically stuffed corn tortillas. Tres Pupusas has cuatro flavors of frozen pupusas and dos of them are vegan: Kale & Pinto and Black Bean & Corn.  All of them are gluten-free.

Black Bean & Corn Pupusas from Tres PupusasI pulled an avocado out of the refrigerator that had been a bit under ripe when I left and was now perfectly ripe and some jarred jalapeños for a simple breakfast that was ready in ten minutes.

The frozen pupusas are made with non-GMO corn (something that is important to me) and very simple ingredients. With only five ingredients, they include organic corn masa, black beans, organic sweet corn, olive oil, and salt.

I followed the baking directions, except I baked them on parchment paper without any oil. I later reheated one on the stove with a bit of oil in the frying pan, and the crisp texture added to the experience. So for best results, I’d recommend baking them and then finishing them off with a tiny bit of oil in a skillet for extra crispness on the exterior.

The flavor was mild but pleasant, and went especially well with avocado and jalapeños. The softness of the beans was reminiscent of refried beans. The pupusas would be a fun, easy side to have on hand for a tofu scramble, taco salad, or to serve alongside fried plantains.

Pinto bean & kale pupusas from Tres PupusasDavid is anti-pinto bean, and so I broke into the second box of pupusas on my own yesterday. This one is made with organic corn masa, water, pinto beans, olive oil, kale, salt, chili powder, chipotle powder, and onion powder.

I wasn’t as into the seasonings on the pinto & kale pupusas. The kale is chopped very small, and so the flavor of the kale is pretty non-existent. What I tasted the most was the chipotle seasoning. They weren’t bad by any means, but I preferred the black bean and corn.

Pinto & kale pupusas from Tres PupusasThe box suggests making curtido to go with them and gives a recipe, which I very loosely followed since I didn’t need an enormous batch of it for just one person. Curtido is similar to cole slaw and made with cabbage, carrots, onion, jalapeños, and apple cider vinegar. The crunchy cabbage matched nicely with the soft pupusas. I also served them with salsa & jarred jalapeño slices.

To see if Tres Pupusas are available in your area, you can check their store locator.

Disclaimer: I received two complimentary boxes of pupusas from Tres Pupusas. The thoughts and opinions are totally my own.