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Rediscover Florida at 11 Hidden Gems

Rediscover Florida at 11 Hidden Gems

Each year, millions of visitors flock to Orlando’s theme parks, and with good reason.

But beyond the gates of Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando, and SeaWorld Orlando, you’ll find hidden gems well worth a visit. Those that go off the beaten path are rewarded with breathtaking glimpses of nature, inspiring art, and once-in-a-lifetime experiences at unique Orlando attractions.

Here are 11 of the city’s best-kept secrets, where you can do Orlando your way.

1.      Leu Gardens

A moss-draped tree frames a small house at Leu Gardens, one of Orlando's best hidden gems

There is a hidden gem in Orlando for everyone. And we mean everyone — even every plant.

Thanks to our subtropical climate, tropical and temperate plants both love it here. That’s what makes Leu Gardens, a 50-acre botanical garden in Audubon Park, so unique. One moment, you’ll find yourself admiring the palm trees and wetland plants you probably expect from Florida. But the next, you’re strolling past cacti and succulents. And then you’re smelling sweet English roses in the state’s largest rose garden.

You can also find inspiration for your own backyard thanks to large vegetable, herb, and fruit gardens.

Admission to Leu Gardens costs $15 per adult. Military and kids’ discounts are available, and American Horticultural Society members get in for free.

2.      Winter Park Scenic Boat Tour

The Winter Park Scenic Boat Tour opened long before Orlando became the theme park capital of the world.

Case in point: In 1938, when the first guests boarded a pontoon to explore the upscale suburb of Winter Park, Walt Disney’s first feature film was still in theaters.

The hour-long tour floats through the gorgeous chain of lakes in the heart of town. You may see wakeboarders, jet skiers, and cool wildlife along the way. You’ll definitely see lush tropical vegetation and regal old estates. Your knowledgeable guide will tell you about the athletes, entertainers, and entrepreneurs who once called these mansions home.

The Scenic Boat Tour costs $16 for adults and $8 for kids. Seating is first come, first served, and all boats leave promptly on the hour.

3.      Morse Museum and Tiffany Chapel

Winter Park is also home to the world’s biggest collection of work by stained glass artist Louis Comfort Tiffany.

At the Morse Museum, you’ll admire rooms full of terrific Tiffany lamps, some of his sculptures, and jewelry he designed for his father’s iconic NYC store.

But the artist’s greatest masterpiece may be the Tiffany Chapel. He designed it for the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago and moved it to his Long Island home when the fair was over. When a fire destroyed the house in the 1950s, the Morse Museum acquired the remnants of the chapel and began a lengthy restoration process. Now, you can admire its intricate mosaics, gilded light fixtures, and marble details during your Orlando vacation.

Admission to the museum costs $6 for adults and is free for kids 12 and younger. Student and senior discounts are available.

4.      Maitland Art & History Museums

To Winter Park’s north lies the equally scenic town of Maitland, which since 1937 has been home to an artists’ colony.

Creatives still travel to Maitland for amazing art residencies. But, nowadays, you don’t need to be skilled with a paintbrush to visit.

The historic art studios are now surrounded by the galleries and gardens that make up the Maitland Art & History Museums.

The main history museum celebrates the town’s natural, cultural, and creative history. You can also visit the Waterhouse Residence Museum. Located in a lovingly preserved house, the museum showcases how Central Florida families lived in the Victorian era. Or dial up a good time at the Telephone Museum. It contains artifacts from the Winter Park Telephone Company, which kept the region connected between 1913 and 1979.

Before leaving, stop by the Mayan Courtyard to admire the detailed stone carvings that made the Maitland Art & History Museums the first National Historic Landmark in the area.

5.      Renaissance Theatre Company

There’s no business like show business, and there’s no theater quite like Orlando’s Renaissance Theatre Company.

Since opening in 2021, the Renaissance has quickly become known for its offbeat, original plays, drag shows, and cabaret nights. Many of the productions shows fully immerse you in another world. Audience participation is common, and some shows even have guests assuming new personas for the night. Some experiences, like their chilling Nosferatu-themed haunted house and zany Christmas show, have returned for multiple years.

The on-site bar features craft cocktails themed to many of their shows. In addition, the theater is under a mile away from the trendy bars and restaurants in Orlando’s Ivanhoe Village neighborhood.

6.      The Space Coast’s Bioluminescent Bays

The Space Coast towns of Titusville and Merrit Island are about an hour east of Orlando. The area’s sun-kissed waterways are already a sight to behold in the daytime. But nighttime is when they really come alive. See, along Florida’s Space Coast, it’s not just the stars above that light up the night.

There are four places in the continental U.S. with bioluminescent water, and they’re in opposite corners of the country.

The Space Coast is the country’s southeastern spot.

Depending on what time of year you visit, the Banana River Aquatic Preserve, Mosquito Lagoon, and Merrit Island Wildlife Refuge are lit up by either glowing comb jellies or algae. The best way to spot these lifeforms in action is via kayak. A Day Away Kayak Tours offers nighttime excursions all year, but May – November is the best time to visit. That’s when the tour company offers clear kayaks to give you a better view of the glow below.

7.      King’s Landing

Can’t make it to the coast? There are plenty of places to kayak closer to Orlando. One of the most stunning is King’s Landing to the city’s northwest.

At King’s Landing, you can reserve a kayak or stand-up paddleboard and explore a scenic stretch of Rock Springs Run.

When you’re ready to hit the water, there are two directions you can paddle. One way is a wild blackwater wetland, great for spotting gators, turtles, and other water-loving critters. Obviously, this side of King’s Landing isn’t great for swimming. But if you point your boat in the other direction, you’ll encounter a clear-blue, spring-fed waterway that’s perfect for a dip. Explore on your own or book a guided excursion.

If you visit this hidden gem on a weekend, you can get a taste of local flavor from an on-site food truck.

8.      Giraffe Ranch

In a state full of unique wildlife attractions, Giraffe Ranch stands tall.

The 47-acre working ranch offers unique safaris that make the perfect day trip from Orlando.

A hand extends out to feed a giraffe at Giraffe Ranch, a hidden gem in Central Florida

Guests can choose their own adventure at Giraffe Ranch, exploring on foot, in their cars, or on guided Jeep, Segway, or camel tours. No matter how you get around, you’re sure to spot animals like rhinos, antelopes, leopards, and hippos (plus giraffes, of course). For an additional fee, you can feed many of the animals that call this hidden gem home.

9.      Tibet-Butler Preserve

Here’s another hidden gem in Orlando that you’ll go wild for: Tibet-Butler Preserve.

The 438-acre nature preserve is minutes from Orlando’s theme parks, but you would never guess it while traipsing through its pristine pine forests, scrub habitat, and wetlands. Begin your visit by stopping at the on-site environmental center. There, you can meet the preserve’s rescued gopher tortoises and learn why they’re so important to pine forest habitats.

Afterward, hit the gorgeous 3.6-mile nature trail, where butterflies, wood storks, and songbirds glide around you.

As a bonus, admission to the Tibet-Butler Preserve is free.

10. Player 1 Video Game Bar

Player 1 Video Game Bar near Disney World takes the term “hidden gem” to the next level — dare we say, boss level?

Given its location in an unassuming strip mall, you may not guess that the bar has over 50 arcade games and more than 25 gaming consoles from all eras. Get your game on as you peruse the bar’s super selection of beers, wines, and creative cocktails. You may even stumble upon one of Player 1’s weekly events, including bingo, trivia, and an anime cosplay night.

Admission starts at $8 for guests 21+; guests under 21 are subject to an additional cover charge.

Bar staff check all IDs at the door. International guests and those from U.S. territories should bring their passports with them.

11. Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition

Located in a large building on International Drive, this Orlando museum isn’t itself a hidden gem — but its interactive events surely are.

Guests are welcome to peruse the rooms of RMS Titanic artifacts on their own. But the dinnerware, luggage, and other items pulled from the shipwreck fully come to life with  Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition’s guided tours. Throughout the week, the museum offers tours with different themes, such as the building of the ship and the heroism of its passengers. Your guide will also walk you through recreations of the ship’s grand staircase and staterooms.

Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition also offers immersive dining experiences.

Each Sunday, guests can enjoy an Edwardian teatime with actors portraying famed first-class passengers. On Friday and Saturday nights, Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition hosts grand dinner galas where Captain Edward Smith and the Unsinkable Molly Brown tell their stories. All diners assume the identity of a real-life passenger during their meal. At the event’s end, you’ll find out how your passenger fared on April 15, 1912.

General admission costs $23.95, with the guided tours and dining experiences as add-ons.

Bonus Hidden Gem in Orlando: Jack’s Place Restaurant

When you stay at Rosen Plaza, one of Orlando’s most dazzling hidden gems is an elevator ride away.

Jack’s Place, our award-winning steakhouse, wows foodies, history lovers, and film buffs alike.

Caricatures hang on the wall at Jack's Place, an award-winning steakhouse and true hidden gem.

The on-site restaurant is named after Jack Rosen, father of Rosen Hotels & Resorts founder and president Harris Rosen. While working at New York City’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel, Jack drew caricatures of famous guests, from world leaders to movie stars. An impressive selection of these drawings hangs on the steakhouse’s walls, adding an extra air of elegance to our perfectly cooked steak and seafood entrées.

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