Earlier this month David’s job took him to Florida, and I met up with him there after his work was done. While talking about the trip with friends, so many of them grumbled about the Orlando area with disdain. While it is an area to which tourists flock, that’s also part of what can make it unappealing for some. Admittedly, there’s no shortage of chain restaurants, mini malls, and shops advertising knock-off Disney memorabilia for under $5. Again and again we passed restaurants and wondered aloud, “Wow, that still exists?” I guess someone is still going to Ponderosa and Bob Evans. Who knew?
But David and I like Orlando, and not because we need 24 hour access to tchotchkes. If a person ventures farther than the theme parks, there’s so much more beauty and interest to the area than may initially meet the eye. Add in the warm temperatures and vegan restaurants, and you have a great wintertime destination.
The previous time we were in Orlando, we stayed in Kissimmee and then noticed that every day we were driving to downtown Orlando & Winter Park, about 40 minutes away. So this time we divided our stay – half in downtown Orlando and half in Kissimmee (to coincide with our one day at the Magic Kingdom). Next time we go, we’ll stay downtown 100% of the time. The hotel prices are higher there, but that’s also where we wanted to sightsee and dine 99% of the time.
One of the hubs of Winter Park is Park Avenue. It’s a main thoroughfare with shops, restaurants, museums, a commuter train, and park. It’s a fun place to walk around and people watch.
We stopped in The Spice & Tea Exchange to smell the various salts and spices. They have all of them out in large jars and encourage people to sniff before buying. (Don’t worry. You don’t actually buy the spice from the jars. It’s sold separately in bags.) I bought some long spoons, and David bought new curry powder.
We also took in the Morse Museum of American Art, which had been highly recommended. They house the world’s most comprehensive collection of the works of Louis Comfort Tiffany of Tiffany glass fame. The large pieces of stained glass had light shining through them and were quite beautiful. Seeing the stained glass outside of a religious environment meant that you could really take in the beauty of the pieces themselves without other distractions.
Cafe 118 Degrees
(Update: Cafe 118 degrees has closed since the time of this posting.)
Just off of Park Avenue is Café 118 Degrees, a raw vegan restaurant with small outdoor seating area. We took a seat outside and enjoyed the weather that was a world away from the 1-degree temperature that I left. David ordered a smoothie with coffee & banana that tasted very similar to a drink he makes at home before heading to work. I sided with water, which tasted wonderfully of the fresh mint that infuses it in the pitcher.
For lunch, I had Raw Pad Thai made with spiralized zucchini and carrot and adorned with fresh avocado and black sesame seeds. The flavor tasted strongly of sesame oil. It was filling and substantive without being heavy.
David ordered a Kale Salad with avocado, sliced dates, and hemp seeds. After several days of conference meals, he was eager to have a meal that was so green, fresh, and healthy.
I couldn’t resist dessert of Raw S’mores. I’d never seen that on a raw menu before, and it sounded too good to pass up. My instincts were right. It was easily the most delicious thing I ate on the trip. A thick vanilla cream was made with cashews and coconut, placed on top of raw graham crackers, and then drizzled with streams of melty cacao.
Before we caught our plane, we went back to Café 118 for drinks. I got the Super Green Juice that included kale, parsley, cucumber, and plenty of lemon, which was tart but refreshing. David ordered the Divine Cherry Milkshake with cherries, chocolate almond milk, and coconut butter that was also very tasty.
Rifle Paper Company
Also in Winter Park, we visited the flagship location of Rifle Paper Company. If I had my own store, I’d want it to be a stationery store. I love mail, and crisp paper, cute cards, and envelopes always delight me. It seems that wherever I live, I always have a favorite stationery store.
Rifle Paper Company makes some of my favorite designs, and so I was excited to learn that they had a flagship store in that area with their complete collection. Plus, you could peek at their working studio, where they design and package their stationery.
Scenic Boat Tour
A few blocks from Park Avenue is the Scenic Boat Tour, which is an hour-long excursion on 18-person pontoon boats. Located on Lake Osceola, the boats traverse three of the seven area lakes, through manmade canals.
A tour guide describes the local fauna, birds, homes and their famous residents. While on the trip, we passed the house where Mister Rogers stayed during his time at Rollins College. As an avid fan of his, that was exciting for me.
For more to see and do in Winter Park, check out my visit to Ethos, an all-vegan restaurant.