Theme parks are the first and usually the only thing people think of when you mention Orlando. Just north of this Florida city there’s a different vacation for those who wish to explore it.
The historic town of Winter Park is the perfect place for those who like their downtime a little more on the grown-up side., They are something different from the big parks.
Lazy boat rides, craft cocktails and a varied selection of galleries are abundant in this town of eight square miles, which manages to even make a big Amtrak train seem quaint, stopping as it does in the middle of the town’s mini-Central Park.
Brunch with a side of modern art
Start the day at The Alfond Inn, a boutique hotel who’s walls displays lively and engaging modern art, including Alfredo Jaar’s sunrise-hued neon “Be Afraid of the Enormity of the Possible.”
The artwork comes from the gallery of the Alfond Collection of Contemporary Art at nearby Rollins College Cornell Fine Arts Museum. Rollins college owns The Alfond Inn. Profits from the inn fund scholarships for the school.
Hamilton’s Kitchen — named for a former Rollins president, offers a shrimp and grits that is a must. The grits are made fresh daily. Additionally, it makes Hamilton’s Kitchen’s take on the Southern staple extra tasty.
You can spend a full day walking throughout Winter Park. Rent a bike at Breakaway Bicycles, just off the main drag of Park Avenue. ($10 per hour or $35 daily).
Catch some shade beneath the banana and bamboo trees as boats pass through the narrow canals. Large black anhingas — or “Florida ducks” perch atop pier poles, while purple martins, which visit us seasonally from the Amazon basin, playfully fly in and out of one mansion’s cushy bird hotels.
Heritage of a segregated community
A 10-minute walk with a stroll over the railroad tracks brings you to Hannibal Square, the center of the historically African-American neighborhood of Winter Park and home to the Hannibal Square Heritage Center.
The center’s permanent collection, “Photographs and Oral Histories of West Winter Park,” has been detailed extensively and is a documented monument to the history of this once segregated community, whose voting activism is showcased in a glittering public mosaic across the street.
Photos submitted from longtime Hannibal Square residents are displayed with accompanying text describing their memories of the area. Additionally, a current photo is also displayed along-side.
Fairolyn Livingston, the centers chief historian who grew up here, contributed a portrait of herself from sixth grade at a school. Her text explains, “according to Brown v. Board, education was separate and unequal. However, that never stopped us from academic and social success. I look happy because I loved school.”
Shopping on swanky Park Avenue
On Park Avenue, there’s no shortage of every type of shop. However, you may want to fortify yourself for shopping with a cocktail from one of the many restaurants. Most have al fresco sections that can be enjoyed right outside their doors.
Sip a Cetriolo, a refreshing vodka-agave-basil cocktail you can find at Prato while watching the foot traffic passing by.
If you prefer wine, head for Luma on Park or the Wine Room. For evening eats, check out the locally grown options at Boca. Their salads are made with veggies from local farms. Boca’s seafood special is “whatever the daily catch is.”
If you have an extra day or two, check out the Mead Botanical Garden, the Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Gardens and the Rollins College campus, which Princeton Review in 2015 voted the school the most “beautiful campus in America.”
Or put them on your to-do list for your next, non-theme park visit to Orlando.
The Amtrak train goes directly to Winter Park. Check the city’s arts & culture calendar for upcoming events.