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8+ of the Best Things To Do in Orlando Besides Disney

February 28, 2024

Orlando is a city most known for its theme parks. Walt Disney World receives over 50 million visitors each year. However, there is a lot more to do in Orlando beyond Disney and Universal. Whether or not you are visiting a theme park, this guide will help you find the best things to do in Orlando.

I spent three weeks based in Orlando in February 2022 and really enjoyed discovering what the city had to offer beyond Disney!

8+ Things To Do in Orlando Besides Disney

Keep reading to discover my favorite things to do in Orlando, from delicious food to kayaking to gardens. I also share some epic day trips from Orlando to consider when you visit!

1. Explore Winter Park

Winter Park is a separate city located just 15 minutes from downtown Orlando. This beautiful area has a walkable downtown area with cobblestone streets, outdoor shopping, parks to picnic in and lakes to enjoy.

A alley way with white buildings on each side and the back. An arch above the alley reads "Greeneda Court." A few tables are on the side of the path.A cream building behind a tree hanging with spanish moss.
Winter Park

A few of the best things to do in Winter Park include picnicking in Central Park, walking around the Rollins College Campus, taking in the views at the Kraft Azalea Garden and visiting the Rollins Museum of Art. One area I love is the Dinky Dock Park. This little park has a beach area for swimming.

You can explore Winter Park by water with a scenic boat tour or a kayaking tour. Get Up and Go Kayaking offers clear kayaking tours through the venetian-like canals that make the area so unique.

With numerous dining options in addition to these activities, you can easily spend a full day or longer exploring this area.

2. Kayak Rock Springs Run

Rent kayaks from Kings Landing and paddle through the stunning Rock Springs Run, located just 30 minutes from Orlando. This natural spring-fed waterway has some of the clearest water I’ve ever seen. On a sunny day the water glows aqua blue. As you paddle, you’ll be surrounded by lush greenery and likely see a lot of wildlife. I saw an alligator from a safe distance!

An oar hovering over clear, aqua colored water. There is some green moss in the water.Lydia sitting in a yellow kayak. She kayaks through a narrow waterway surrounded by green palms.
Rock Springs Run

I rented a kayak for 4 hours and explored in both directions from the Kings Landing Campground before returning from the same point.

Another option is to reserve shuttle tickets so that you can kayak in one direction from the launch to Wekiva Island (an 8.5 mile trip). If you decide to go this way, I highly recommend turning right when you first launch to see that area before going downstream. If you opt for the shuttle run, you can enjoy drinks or food at Wekiva Island if you have a wait before the shuttle picks you up.

If you aren’t comfortable kayaking on your own, there are also guided tours offered from both King’s Landing and Get Up and Go.

When you turn right from the launch point, you will be paddling upstream. The paddling can be strenuous so allow yourself plenty of time. This area is absolutely gorgeous and is definitely worth the upstream paddling. When you reach the turn around point, it will be an easy and quick ride as you paddle back downstream to the starting point.

If you turn left from the launch point, the area is not quite as beautiful, but better for spotting wildlife. This is where I saw an alligator, lots of bird life and turtles. The water is deeper on this side and not as clear, but it’s still fun to explore.

Down the street from the kayak launch, you can visit Kelly Park Rock Springs, which is the source of the spring water in Rock Springs Run. This is a wonderful place to swim in the refreshing water.

Overall, kayaking here is one of the best outdoor activities near Orlando and I highly recommend adding it to your trip. It's certainly one of the most unique things to do in Orlando besides Disney World!

3. Eat at the East End Market

If you consider yourself a foodie, the East End Market is a great place to check out during your time in Orlando. I found myself returning here again and again to try all their unique and delicious restaurants.

A bowl of ramen with noodles, tofu and veggies.A white building with a sign reading DOMU with some green palms in front of it.

The market is two stories tall and includes both restaurants and boutique shops. In addition to an indoor food market hall, there is a lot of outdoor seating for you to spread out and relax.

If you like ramen, DOMU is a must at the East End Market. This popular spot serves amazing cocktails in addition to their multiple ramen options with house made noodles. I was impressed with the Black Truffle Burrata appetizer and the veggie ramen.

In addition to their mainstays, DOMU is always experimenting with new recipes and often has seasonal pop up events. This restaurant is definitely worth a visit while you're in town.

Another great place in the East End Market is the Winter Park Biscuit Company. This all-vegan restaurant is known for their faux fried chicken and delicious biscuits. However, even non-vegans will delight in their breakfast sandwiches, house made sauces and comforting food. I really enjoyed the WPBC Box with faux chicken, biscuits, fries and buffalo sauce.

A large cookie with a large amount of chocolate chips. The cookie is from Gideon Bakehouse.
Gideon Bakehouse
Some paper baskets with fried chicken, biscuits, french fries and sauces.
Winter Park Biscuit Company

Finally, be sure to take home a giant cookie from Gideon Bakehouse. Gideon’s serves some of the chunkiest cookies you’ve ever seen. Depending on the flavor, they are dense with chocolate chips, nuts and other delectable toppings.

In addition to their regular flavors like triple chocolate chips and peanut butter crunch, they always have monthly limited edition flavors. Each cookie is nearly a half pound each, so you won’t be left hungry after enjoying this treat.

Along with their cookies, Gideon’s also has Victorian era decor such tattered books and witchy cauldrons. Don’t miss Gideon’s if you are visiting Orlando with a sweet tooth.

4. Enjoy Street Food at À La Carte

À La Cart is a food truck park that offers a variety of food types along with a great selection of craft beer. The owners of the food truck park were inspired by the food truck parks in Oregon when they opened in 2018. The food selection includes BBQ, poke, steak and plant based dishes.

A close up of a burrito cut in half. Inside there is falafel, french fries and veggies.
The korgeritto from À La Carte

I ordered the ‘korgeritto’ from Korgette which included falafel, hummus, spinach, slaw, french fries and a sauce of your choice in a tortilla wrap. The hot cilantro sauce is delicious! Korgette is a plant based restaurant that has build-your-bowls, collard wraps and even churro ice cream sandwiches for dessert.

À La Carte often has live music and is a great place to meet up with friends and enjoy an evening of food and drinks.

5. Walk Around Lake Eola Park

Lake Eola is a centrally located park right in downtown Orlando. The lake is actually a giant sinkhole and is 80 feet deep at the deepest point.

A paved walking trail goes all the way around the lake and has a length of 0.9 miles. As you explore, there are also some unique sculptures scattered around the park.

In addition to exploring by land, you can rent a swan-shaped paddle boat and paddle across the lake. On the right night, you can even catch a movie or concert at the park’s amphitheater. The park also frequently holds festivals.

Near the park, there are several restaurants. One spot I recommend is Persimmon Hollow Brewing Co, which serves coffee in addition to beer and food.

6. Visit an Orlando Brewery

There are over 35 craft breweries around the city of Orlando and each one has something unique to offer. Here are the four that I enjoyed the most.

Holding up a smoothie sour beer inside of Rockpit Brewing. There are several long, wood tables in the background.
Rockpit Brewing
Holding up a golden beer in a glass that reads 'Persimmon Hollow.'
Persimmon Hollow Brewery

Sideward Brewing Co. is centrally located in the Orlando Milk District, a creative neighborhood with several great businesses. Sideward has a small indoor area and a large outdoor patio space. They serve a great selection of food along with a constantly rotating menu of beers.

My group loved the Raspberry Lemonade Seltzer, the Cherry Sherbert Sour and the Head Honcho (a lager with lime). To eat, I really enjoyed the vegan pesto and tomato sandwich on focaccia bread. Sideward is a great place to eat or hang out anytime.

Persimmon Hollow Brewing Co. is located right across from Lake Eola. The original Persimmon Hollow location is in DeLand, Florida (about an hour away) and the Lake Eola location opened in 2020.

The space at Persimmon is large and you’ll find some funky decor hanging inside. There is plenty of patio space and an extensive food menu along with the drinks. I really enjoyed the Sour Punch Sour IPA and the vegan birria tacos (made with jackfruit!).

Ivanhoe Park Brewing Company has a lively atmosphere and high quality craft beer. You’ll find frequent community events here such as trivia nights, yoga classes and various food trucks. I really enjoyed the Cry Baby Gose and the Guavacation.

Finally, Rockpit Brewing is the perfect place to go if you would love to enjoy some Texas BBQ along with your drink. They have a cozy atmosphere inside with a fireplace and you can order food from Cecil’s BBQ right next door. I really enjoyed the No Regrets Smoothie Sour (it was acai berry).

7. Stroll Through the Harry P Leu Gardens

The Harry P Leu Gardens are 50 acres of botanical gardens located just a few minutes from downtown Orlando. There are so many different gardens to explore here, including a butterfly garden, rose garden, a vegetable garden and a large variety of other flowers.

You can take a walk during the day or visit for one of their movie nights. Either way, it’s a peaceful and beautiful area to explore. This is one of the best Orlando attractions besides Disney!

8. Eat at Plant St. Market

Plant St. Market is a market hall in Winter Garden (25 minutes from downtown Orlando) that has a variety of food vendors and a brewery. They often host live music and community events. They focus on artisan, handmade and local products that are made in house.

You can get anything from pizza and sushi to donuts and popsicles. One of the vendors to check out is Mac’d Out, which serves gourmet mac and cheese.

Crooked Can Brewery is located in the back of the hall and even offers tours of their facilities on Sunday’s. The market is a great place to spend an afternoon or a whole day.

If you are making a whole day out of visiting Winter Garden, check out the Central Florida Railroad Museum, Axum Coffee and the farmer’s market held on Saturday mornings.

Honorable Mentions: A couple more restaurants I love in Orlando are Kai Asian Street Fare (they serve delicious ramen and garlic noodles) and Dharma Southern Kitchen (a plant based comfort food restaurant).

Day Trips from Orlando

While Orlando has plenty to do, there are also some incredible day trip opportunities that will allow you to explore more of Central Florida! If you have a rental car, it's definitely worth it to take a day trip on least one day of your Orlando trip.

Visit an Orlando Natural Spring

There are so many natural springs within a couple hours of Orlando.

A blue spring with some palms on the shore next to it.Lydia walking the boardwalk in Blue Spring State Park.
Blue Spring State Park

One beautiful spring to visit is Blue Springs State Park. This large park is a popular place to see manatees during the winter and a refreshing swimming hole in the summer. The water stays at 72 degrees year round and is a vibrant blue-green color on a sunny day.

During your visit, you can rent kayaks, take a boat tour, or take a walk on the trails around the water. It’s a beautiful place to spend an afternoon. This park is about 45 minutes from Orlando.

Other springs that are not far from Blue Springs State Park include Juniper Springs, Alexander Springs, Silver Springs and Silver Glen Springs. Each one is a beautiful place to swim in the summer.

Learn about Space or Fall from the Sky in Titusville

The rocket park in the Kennedy Space Center. Five rockets are standing upright and one rocket is on it's side.
Florida Space Coast

Titusville is on the Florida Space Coast, located less than an hour from Orlando. While you’re there, you can visit the Kennedy Space Center, take a bioluminescent kayaking tour or go skydiving over the space center! Learn more about the best things to do in Titusville in my Titusville guide.

Swim with Manatees in Crystal River

Clear, aqua water at the Three Sisters Spring.
Crystal River

If you are visiting Florida in the winter, you may have the opportunity to swim with manatees in Crystal River. This area is about an hour and a half from Orlando and the manatees are most likely to be present from November to March.

During your visit, you have the option to snorkel with manatees, kayak among them or see them by land. Find out all of the best things to do in Crystal River in my guide.

When to Visit Orlando

Orlando gets very hot and humid in the summer, so I recommend visiting in the spring, winter or fall. If you're at all interested in taking a day trip to a natural spring and see manatees, I recommend visiting between November and March. This is when the manatees head inland to spend time in the springs.

Where to Stay in Orlando

Orlando has tons of hotels and Airbnbs for any budget! Here are a few I recommend:

Budget: The Florida Hotel & Conference Center, Rosen Plaza Hotel

Mid-Range: The EO Inn (a boutique hotel located right on Lake Eola!), Orlando World Center Marriott (A resort with a waterpark in Winter Park)

Luxury: The Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes

Final Thoughts

As you can see, there is no shortage of fun activities in Orlando, Florida for those who aren't interested in theme parks! From amazing restaurants to kayaking to day trips with manatees, Central Florida has a lot to offer. I hope this helps make planning your Orlando vacation a breeze!

For more Florida travel guides, check out these blogs:

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