Not Just Mickey Mouse's Home

Orlando Florida is strategically located in the center of Florida.  

When Walt Disney was looking at places in the 1960's for his new theme park, he observed that Orlando Fla is in the center of the state and served by major highways.

This is still true all these years later, even more so.

The city is at the intersection of I-4 and the Florida Turnpike, and is surrounded by one of the country's greatest toll systems.

Other major roads that go through town are US-17, US-92, SR-50 and US-441.

It has saddened me for years that most of the millions of tourists who visit central Florida's theme parks each year have never seen the real Orlando.

Walt Disney World, for example, is almost 20 miles west of downtown Orlando Florida.

International Drive, Lake Buena Vista, Osceola County and the area around the theme parks has expanded to serve the tourists. But it is not the real Orlando, Florida.  Orlando's modern history began in 1838.


In modern times, Martin Marietta opened an aerospace plant in Orlando in 1956 and quickly became a major employer.  The aerospace program at nearby Cape Kennedy also boomed in those years and many Orlando residents drove to the coast every day to work on the "man on the moon" project.

And of course, in October 1971, Walt Disney World opened 20 miles southwest of Orlando and changed the course of history in central Florida.

The Beachline Expressway allows easy access to Port Canaveral, an important cruise ship terminal.

Because of its proximity to the Space Coast near the Kennedy Space Center, many high-tech companies have shifted to the Orlando Florida area.  Many of them also like being close to the research and teaching resources of the University of Central Florida.

Orlando Florida, Thornton Park

But the old charm of Orlando Fla still remains in spite of this commercial progress.

It is a city bejeweled by lakes. The street grid pattern is constantly meandering around lakes. The streets are lined and canopied with ancient oaks draped with Spanish moss.

A GPS in Orlando is useful if you know the address of your destination. If not, just enjoy the scenic ride.

Orange Avenue is the beautiful main north-south drag in Orlando. It starts in the rural areas south of town near Taft and passes through the busy downtown business district on its way to Winter Park.

Many of the neighborhoods surrounding downtown Orlando were created during the 1920's land boom.  Most of these areas have been "gentrified" with wonderful streetscaping.

Private residents have restored many of the houses, and these neighborhoods are great places to live and visit.  College Park, Delaney Park,Lake Eola Heights, Lancaster Park, Thornton Park and Orwin Manor are just a few of these lovely Orlando Florida communities.

Each of these neighborhoods is a quiet oasis close to vibrant downtown Orlando.

Another oasis is Lake Eola in the center of downtown Orlando. This lake and its beautiful surrounding public park have always been a part of City's culture. A beautiful fountain in the center of the lake is lighted at night, and a bandshell offers a venue for musical concerts.

Orlando's slogan before Disney was "Orlando, The City Beautiful".

It still resonates today.

Orlando Florida Eola Park


The major concentration of hotels in Orlando is around Walt Disney World, SeaWorld and Universal Studios. There are many family hotels in Orlando, fine places to stay if you are visiting the theme parks.

I will also tell you about some nice places to stay in Orlando that are a bit removed from the parks and their activity.

  1. Grand Bohemian Hotel. This is a small five star experience in the heart of downtown Orlando. It is within walking distance of all downtown attractions, and a place to stay if you want to be pampered. 325 S. Orange Ave., Orlando Florida. 32801. Tel: 407-313-9000.
  2. Embassy Suites Orlando Downtown. Very nice place, not as pricey as the Grand Bohemian but right in the heart of downtown. 191 East Pine Street, Orlando Florida 32801. Tel: 407-841-1000.
  3. Park Plaza Hotel. Okay, I know Winter Park is a separate town from Orlando, but it is close by. I love this little 28 room hotel. It is full of antiques and 1920's charm. When I worked at Universal Studios, our California executives loved this place. 307 Park Avenue South Winter Park, Florida 32789. Tel: 407-647-1072.
  4. The Courtyard At Lake Lucerne. On the edge of downtown, quiet neighborhood. A couple of buildings with a total of 30 rooms. Some are in the former mansion of Dr. Philip Phillips, an Orlando legend. He was one of Florida's biggest citrus barons, and a world class philanthropist. 211 North Lucerne Circle East, Orlando Florida 32801. Tel: 407-648-5188. 


There are many fine restaurants at or near the major Orlando theme parks. On this website, however, I will tell you about some of the lesser known but popular Orlando restaurants. If you happen to be a member of Club Corp, the Citrus Club in Orlando is, in my opinion, one of the best restaurants in town. It is a private club, or I would have it listed below with my favorite Orlando restaurants.

  1. Greek Taverna.  Sand Lake Road, Doctor Phillips.

  2. Saffron Indian Restaurant.  Sand Lake Road, Doctor Phillips.

  3. Yellow Dog Eats.  West of Orlando in Gotha, near Windermere.


Other websites can tell you everything you need to know about Walt Disney World, Universal Studios, SeaWorld and the other major Central Florida tourist attractions.

I will focus instead on a few Orlando places that the average tourist will never see.

  1. Harry P. Leu Gardens. This is a wonderful place to get back to nature. It has a formal rose garden, a butterfly garden, herb and vegetable garden, and plenty of camellias and azaleas. Harry P. Leu's historic home is also available for tours. Harry was a successful Orlando businessman. 1920 N. Forest Ave., Orlando Fla 32803. Tel: 407-246-2620.

  2. Orlando Museum of Art. Tremendous collections of African art and art of the ancient Americas, along with modern American art by artists such as John Singer Sargent, Georgia O'Keeffe, Ansel Adams, Robert Rauschenberg and others. 2416 N Mills Ave, Orlando Fla 32803. Tel: 407-896-4231.

  3. Orlando Science Center. The Orlando Science Center is a favorite of local kids. It encourages curiosity, innovation and discovery. It pulls together all of Central Florida's cultures through participative programs that foster an appreciation for the importance of science and technology to our way of life. It does this by being fun. 777 East Princeton St., Orlando Fla 32803. Tel: 407-514-2000.

  4. Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre. This is a theater and concert hall with continental style seating for more than 2500 people. Many events take place here during the year. Among these are traveling Broadway shows, symphony concerts, ballet presentations and big time entertainers like Tony Bennett. Check to see what is happening in this downtown gem. Contact Orlando Venues, 600 West Amelia Street, Orlando, Florida 32801. Tel: 407-849-2000.

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Most of the information in our website has been published in a series of Amazon Kindle books for each of Florida's eight geographical regions.

Florida Backroads Travel, a separate Kindle book, covers all of the regions of the state in one volume.

All books can be read on a computer, tablet, Kindle and most smart phones.

Click on the book cover for free previews of these books at Amazon.com.

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