Guide to Downtown Orlando: Where to Eat, Play and Shop

    By Dalia Colon

    Downtown Orlando is smack-dab in the middle of the state. And yet somehow, it gets overlooked. 

    Perhaps a certain mouse has something to do with that. Or a certain boy wizard. Or certain marine animals

    No matter.

    While Central Florida’s theme parks offer an endless buffet of options for entertainment, shopping and even world-class dining, Orlando’s own downtown is a destination in its own right. Here’s our guide to the city’s hotspots.

    EAT
    Orlando's foodie scene offers something for every palate, from global cuisine to updated Amercian classics.

    • Soco stands for Southern Contemporary, but you can just call it your new go-to place for homestyle eats. Located in the heart of downtown Orlando’s trendy Thornton Park district, the eatery specializes in creative comfort food like grilled meatloaf on lobster mashed potatoes, boiled peanut hummus and black-eyed pea ravioli.

    • DoveCote puts a modern twist on the classic French brasserie. A raw bar with oysters, clams and shellfish; soups, salads, sandwiches; and innovative comfort foods make up the crowd-pleasing menu. Located in the grandiose Bank of America building, DoveCote is perfect for happy hour cocktails, Sunday brunch or an elegant meal anytime.

    • Get revved up with a visit to Ace Café Orlando, a diner that pays homage to London’s motor racing scene. The first of its kind Stateside, the eatery features classic British fare, live entertainment and the occasional festival celebrating cars, motorcycles and music.

    • Artisan’s Table Orlando is a chic-yet-casual spot whose menu changes according to what’s in season. Start your day with the Japanese Breakfast bowl—sticky rice topped with sweet chili sauce, togarashi, pecan smoked bacon, scallions and two eggs—or treat yourself to a flat-iron steak and croissant bread pudding for dinner. The extensive drink selection includes beer, wine, cocktails, organic fruit smoothies, specialty lattes (did someone say Fluffernutter?) and more.

    • When you want a bite to eat that’s light on your tummy but heavy on atmosphere, head to Ceviche Tapas Bar & Restaurant. The charming Spanish-inspired decor sets the stage for a menu of more than 100 tapas, an impressive Spanish wine list and weekly Flamenco performances in the lounge.

    • Relax Grill at Lake Eola lives up to its name. Kick back over an al fresco meal on the shores of downtown Orlando’s iconic lake, with its serene swan boats and fountain. The menu of American Mediterranean fare is a crowd-pleaser, second only to the view.

    • Once home to the 19th-century Church Street Train Station, Ferg’s Depot continues to attract crowds. The five-building venue features a main dining room, outdoor oyster bar, tasting room for craft beer and spirits, and more. The menu leans toward stadium-style fare like wings, ribs and hotdogs, making for a no-fuss dinner that’s sure to hit a home run.

    • Eola Wine Company serves wine, yes. In fact, you can choose from more than 50 vinos by the glass, plus a reserve list of more than 100 options. But that’s just the beginning of what you’ll find that this popular date spot in Orlando’s trendy Thornton Park district. The upscale-yet-casual menu (charcuterie, flat breads, tacos and such), along with a popular weekend brunch, makes Eola Wine Company a place to return again and again.

    • The tagline for The Rusty Spoon — “American food. European roots. Locally sourced.”—yields innovative dishes like coffee-rubbed culotte steak, “red devil” eggs stuffed with tomatoes, and a charred squid and octopus salad. An extensive list of beer, wine and cocktails adds even more variety.

    • The Dessert Lady offers a sweet finish to any day. Six-layer chocolate cake, sour cream apple cobbler, lemon rum pound cake and key lime cake will help you savor the memories of your Florida vacation.
       

    PLAY

    There’s plenty of grown-up fun in the heart of Orlando, from sports to theater to green spaces and more.

    • The Amway Center is your ticket to A-list entertainment, from superstar musical acts to family events and more. The arena is also the official home of the Orlando Magic, so a night at the Amway is a slamdunk for basketball fans.

    • After a Magic victory, celebrate in the nearby Church Street District, a hub of restaurants, bars and entertainment venues that keeps the party going long into the night.

    • The new Orlando City Soccer Stadium is already earning a reputation for being a top Major League Soccer field. The two-tiered design means there’s not a bad seat in the house, while its proximity to Amway Arena (just two blocks away) allows for easy access.

    • Experience Orlando on two wheels when you embark on the West Orange Trail’s historic Downtown Orlando Bike Tour. As you pedal along the tree-lined streets and learn about the area’s historic homes, you’ll feel like a local in no time.

    • The Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts is the place for A-list performances ranging from Broadway to ballet to jazz and beyond. The respected destination includes the 2,700-seat Walt Disney Theater, 300-seat Alexis & Jim Pugh Theater, Seneff Arts Plaza, Florida Hospital School of Arts & Wellness and the DeVos Family Room.

    • Stand up for yourself during a tour with Paddleboard Orlando. Beginners and experienced paddleboarders alike are invited to tour College Park’s Lake Killarney on a stand-up paddleboard. Sightseeing and working out? It’s a multitasker’s dream.

    • Discover under-the-radar artists at City Arts Factory, an event space that showcases paintings and other work by local artists. The gallery is free to visit.

    • After your day of pounding the pavement around town, The Barefoot Spa is an ideal place for some well-deserved R&R. Indulge in a “mermaid” mud treatment or enjoy a specialty foot massage in the spa’s “Living Room.”

    • Downtown Orlando's iconic Lake Eola Park is an affordable place to spend a blissful afternoon or evening. Pedal a swan boat around the fountain, grab lunch at Eola Wine Company, shop local at the weekly Eola Sunday Market or just spread out a blanket and enjoy some people-watching.
       

    SHOP

    Central Florida is known for its upscale malls and bustling shopping outlets, but even downtown Orlando is a worthy destination for retail therapy.

    • Foodies will want to check out East End Market, a combination neighborhood market and food hall in the beautiful Audubon Park Garden District. Browse dozens of merchants, watch a meal come to life in the demonstration kitchen, and take home artisanal cheeses, marinades or baked goods.

    • If you’re looking for a one-of-a-kind souvenir, then head to Elephant Walk Interiors and Antiques. It’s Central Florida’s premier gallery for antique furniture, accessories and architectural elements to add to your home. With an inventory that’s constantly changing, it’s like a different store each time you shop.

    • At Bijou's Boutique on College Park’s main street, you’ll find stylish clothing and accessories curated by owner and French native Brigitte Rierson. Share a glass of wine with Bijou or one of her “girls,” and enjoy a shopping experience with a personal touch.

    • The designer duds at Zou Zou Boutique are a bit of a splurge, but if you're looking to shop for unique pieces in a beautiful atmosphere, then this is your place. The selection of women’s clothing ranges from beach-chic to paint-the-town-red.

    Places to Remember

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