Cool and cul­tured

The theme-park cap­i­tal has an­other side

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - JIM BYERS

FOODIE FRENZY For the long­est time, Or­lando was known for lit­tle more than its theme parks. But this cen­tral Florida city has come a long way and now you’ll find funky bars, awe­some food and tons of cul­ture, all of which is a long way from the likes of Mickey Mouse and Harry Potter. Down­town Or­lando is home to sev­eral cutting-edge restau­rants, such as SoCo Thorn­ton Park, which serves south­ern cui­sine with an Asian flair. The menu in­cludes chicken with lob­ster dumplings, edamame and soy but­ter as well as a sen­sa­tional salad with pork cheeks. In the hip and hap­pen­ing Milk Dis­trict, Mar­ket on South serves ve­gan and veg­e­tar­ian cui­sine, such as a de­li­cious Carolina-style pulled “meat” sand­wich made with jack­fruit and a kale cae­sar salad with black­ened corn, pick­led watermelon and other good­ies. You’ll also find great food in the East End Mar­ket, a col­lec­tion of small shops and restau­rants that in­cludes a smoothie bar, a su­per-trendy cof­fee shop called Lin­eage and honey made from pal­metto palms. The Church Street Dis­trict is a pedes­trian-friendly area just west of down­town, with great bars and restau­rants, in­clud­ing The Rusty Spoon. More: vis­i­tor­; so­cothorn­ton­; mar­ke­ton­; eas­t­

SHOPS IN STYLE J Just north of down­town is Ivan­hoe Row, where i in­de­pen­dent bou­tiques have more the stylish feel of Mel­bourne, Vic­to­ria, than nearby Mel­bourne, Florida. Look for white­washed brick build­ings with green awnings and cool court­yards with ba­nana trees and bril­liant pink bougainvil­lea. Jar­boe sells women’s ap­parel and sleek metal­lic bracelets, while Back­haus is a Ger­man bak­ery and deli with bier­wurst, strudel and choco­late cakes. There’s also a great wine shop with drops from across the globe, in­clud­ing Aus­tralia. In the nearby town of Win­ter Park there are wide pave­ments and a pedes­trian-friendly en­vi­ron­ment with men’s and women’s fine cloth­ing as well as the odd chain store such as Pot­tery Barn.

CUL­TURE VUL­TURES The new Dr Phillips Cen­tre for the Per­form­ing A Arts is a gleam­ing build­ing in the heart of down­town, with an in­te­rior that feels vaguely like a Frank Gehry de­sign and a colour­ful pa­tio out front. Ex­pect top acts such as Josh Groban, Tony Ben­nett and Steve Martin. In Win­ter Park, the Charles Hos­mer Morse Mu­seum of Amer­i­can Art has what’s said to be the most com­pre­hen­sive col­lec­tion of Tif­fany glass on the planet, in­clud­ing a gor­geous chapel and sump­tu­ous neck­laces. One shop owner tells me she’s amazed at the cul­ture on of­fer in Or­lando. “I came from Wash­ing­ton D.C. and prac­ti­cally grew up in the Smith­so­nian In­sti­tu­tion,” she says. “I thought cul­ture and Florida were an oxy­moron but the Morse Mu­seum is lovely.” More: dr­phillip­s­cen­; morse­mu­

W WA­TER WON­DER­LAND Even a lot of Florida reg­u­lars I’ve talked with over the years are sur­prised to know that Win­ter Park has a se­ries of canals you can tour on a pon­toon boat. The water­ways are mostly nar­row af­fairs that link var­i­ous small lakes. You’ll pass beau­ti­ful, south­ern-style homes with oak trees drip­ping with Span­ish moss and groomed gar­dens, and hear fun sto­ries about lo­cal celebri­ties. More: scenicboat­

DE­LIGHT­FUL DI­VER­SITY In the wake of Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina in New Orl leans in 2005, many mem­bers of its Viet­namese com­mu­nity moved to Or­lando and opened mar­kets and restau­rants. En­joy a boom­ing Asi­a­town-Viet­namese shop­ping area in the Mills 50 dis­trict where the spe­cial­ties in­clude live snails, croaker fish and row upon row of noo­dles, bril­liant red pep­pers and more. Savour cheap and cheer­ful meals at lo­cal restau­rants, in­clud­ing spicy soups and cur­ries. Ma­mak is a dressier spot that bills it­self as a cen­tre for Asian street food. Nearby, pause for cof­fee or tea at Dan­de­lion Com­mu­nitea lo­cated in an old home, com­plete with a rick­ety pi­ano; it’s also ve­gan friendly, so be pre­pared for co­conut milk. More: ma­makasianor­; dan­de­lion­com­mu­

DOWN­TOWN NA­TURE Lake Eola is a lovely spot in the shadow of Or­land do’s grow­ing high-rises. You’ll find a ca­sual restau­rant that feels like a beach bistro near the north­west cor­ner, along with an op­er­a­tor who rents elec­tric swan boats. A short walk takes you to play­grounds for kids and wide-open fields for toss­ing a fris­bee or kick­ing a football.

HERE’S CHEERS The Courtesy Bar on North Or­ange Av­enue fea­tures dark wood and hang­ing light bulbs, along with huge rows of draw­ers be­hind the bar, which has been re­pur­posed from an old apothe­cary. The em­pha­sis here is on craft bour­bon and gin and house-made bit­ters and tinc­tures. The new kid in the area is Her­man’s Loan Of­fice, where decor is con­sid­er­ably brighter in tone (think white walls and a small fire­place) but the scene is just as buzzy. An­swer a few ques­tions about the kind of drink you like, then let the mixol­o­gists whip up some­thing spe­cial for $US12 ($16), about half what you might pay in, say, Man­hat­tan. More: the­cour­tesy­; her­mansloanof­

SUNNY SPOTS Try one of the Dis­ney pools or the Wet ’n Wild wa­ter park or, to wrig­gle your toes in the sand of a real beach, you’re only an hour or so away from the ocean. The area from Daytona down to Co­coa Beach bills it­self as “Or­lando’s Beach”. The Daytona Beach Pier has fun spots to eat and south of Daytona you’ll find a lovely light­house and old “fish­ing camp” at Ponce In­let. There are goofy signs around the old camp, one of which reads, “This tree was pissed on by Ernest Hem­ming­way (sic) in 1956.” More: wet­nwildor­; pon­cein­ The Aloft Or­lando Down­town is a hip and play­ful Star­wood Ho­tels prop­erty with colour­ful art, a pool ta­ble in the lobby and funky fur­nish­ings. There’s also a small pool and a nice bar serv­ing spicy mar­gar­i­tas. Or The Al­fond Inn (pic­tured) is a beau­ti­ful bou­tique prop­erty in Win­ter Park, fea­tur­ing el­e­gant gar­dens, good food and lots of stim­u­lat­ing lo­cal art on the walls, as well as a rooftop pool. Fa­mous guests? Sir Paul McCart­ney has been known to stay here. More: aloftor­lan­dodown­; theal­

Jim Byers was a guest of Visit Or­lando.

Lake Eola, down­town Or­lando, top; cof­fee at trendy Lin­eage, in the East End Mar­ket, above cen­tre; the Dr Phillips Cen­tre for the Per­form­ing Arts, above right; Daytona Beach, above; al­li­ga­tors can be spotted on a Boggy Creek air­boat ride, be­low

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