Orlando: A Natural Adventure
It’s Sunday morning, and I’m strolling toward the Orlando Farmers Market with a canvas tote dangling from my shoulder. I pass dozens of yoga enthusiasts flowing in sync through warrior poses under the glorious blue sky on my way to pick up farm-fresh salad ingredients. Along the way, I marvel at the raw local honey and lace-imprinted pottery, and stopping to enjoy an early lunch of a Vietnamese-style sweet-potato banh mi sandwich.
While I fill up on groceries and housewares by scenic Lake Eola Park — a refreshing green space ringed by a walkway and shaded by towering oaks — my fellow Orlandoans are having similarly idyllic experiences all over town. From Windermere to Celebration to Sanford, Central Floridians meet up near their homes at weekly markets selling produce and handmade home goods from local farmers and artisans. Even the chefs at Highball & Harvest at The Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes get much of their bounty from the property’s own Whisper Creek Farm. These weekly community hubs are at the heart of the living-the-good-life Orlando.
On a typical weekend day, I’ll follow my farm-to-picnic-table lunch with an adventure, mild or challenging, taking advantage of Orlando’s temperate fall weather. I might rent a bike in historic Winter Garden and ride along the scenic 20-mile West Orange Trail, stopping into the Oakland Nature Preserve for a boardwalk stroll over wetlands to Lake Apopka. On warmer days, I’ll rent a canoe or kayak at Wekiwa Springs State Park, where a leisurely paddle takes me along a gentle river lush with greenery, evoking Florida of yesterday. If I’m joined by friends in from out of town, I may opt for a scenic boat tour along the Winter Park or Butler chain of lakes, surveying the waterfront mansions and exotic birds. Leu Gardens draws me often, with its sprawling acres of flowers, including 2,000 blooming camellia plants. I always hope to spot a wedding ceremony in progress during my visit.
Golfers have their pick of greens in Orlando, and many of the area’s 150-plus courses blend into the natural Central Florida landscape, such as The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club Orlando, Grande Lakes. Designed by Greg Norman, the 18-hole course is also Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary.
When I crave culture, Orlando satisfies in so many ways — something some out-of-towners find surprising. My go-to museum is the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art, a Winter Park treasure usually called “the Tiffany museum” for its rooms full of creations by glass master Louis Comfort Tiffany. The ever-changing collection not only includes the late artist’s iconic lamps but also an entire chapel of his work, plus rebuilt rooms from his Long Island, New York, home and studio.
A big day exploring Orlando deserves a delicious meal that celebrates the region’s bounty. The Rusty Spoon, where Orlando farm-to-table pioneer chef (and two-time James Beard Award nominee) Kathleen Blake cooks with ingredients so locally focused that photos of a Central Florida farm serve as art décor. The menu shares that a seafood stew has shrimp from nearby Cape Canaveral, a lamb dish meat from Jamison Farm and creatively deviled eggs from Lake Meadow Farms. The urban food retreat is a fine representation of the Orlando we locals enjoy — unfussy yet sophisticated, and always loaded with pleasant surprises.
Rona Gindin is an Orlando-based writer and editor. A go-to source for information about Central Florida travel and dining, she has contribute to Zagat, Saveur, Google, Fodor’s and Epicurious.