1. Where to Stay
Go clubbing with the tanned and toned in the bars surrounding the Grand Bohemian Orlando (from $149), a 248-room, Art Deco hotel on central Orange Avenue. Avoid the hotel’s gaudy nineteenth- and twentieth-century art gallery, but check out the live jazz on Saturday nights from 9:30 to 1 a.m. in the Bösendorfer Lounge.
Relax in the rooftop jacuzzi at the Eõ Inn & Spa (from $99), one of the city’s few boutique hotels. Several worthwhile restaurants are just two blocks away at Thornton Park.
Wile away an afternoon soaking in the two blissfully uncrowded zero-entry pools at the ten-month-old Waldorf Astoria Orlando (from $199), the first Waldorf built outside New York. Spring for a north-facing room for an Epcot view and the accompanying nightly fireworks show at 9 p.m.
2. Where to Eat
Call two weeks ahead for a dinner reservation at the Ravenous Pig, where the menu draws from local fare, like Florida flounder and frog legs. If you’re visiting on the first Saturday of the month, stop by the parking lot from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. for a pig roast ($20).
Eat local-catch seafood at Luma on Park, where the blue-lit bar and undulating ceiling make you feel as though you’re dining underwater.
Shake off your aversion to resort restaurants at the Marriott Grande Lakes’ Primo, the Florida outpost of Maine-based locavore chef Melissa Kelly’s upscale Italian eatery. Vegetables and herbs are grown on site in the restaurant’s organic garden.
3. What to Do
Troll the two-mile stretch of antique shops along North Orange Avenue. The widest selection is at Golden Phoenix (1826 N. Orange Ave.; 407-895-6006; Thursday through Saturday, 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.), where you can browse furniture, china, and nineteenth-century knickknacks to the tunes of Anita Baker. Arrive when the store opens at noon on Thursday for first dibs on the week’s new arrivals.
Marvel at the expansive shelf space and vintage pop-culture memorabilia—from faded Beatles cutouts to sixties toys—at Rock & Roll Heaven, where you’ll find thousands of used soul, psychedelic, and rock records in pristine condition (prices range from $1 to $1,000). The sprawling space allows owners Fred and Ray Ehman to devote entire sections to obscure relics, including jukebox 45s, used cassettes, and dance twelve-inches.
Shop the curated racks of colorful women’s dresses and skimpy swimwear from designers like Tory Burch and Elizabeth and James, as well as accessories from L.A. and Florida indie jewelry designers at Thread.
4. Insider’s Tip
Head to the back room of Asian furniture store Washburn Imports to find the Imperial (1800 N. Orange Ave.; 407-228-4992), a three-month-old, under-the-radar wine bar outfitted with enormous Chinese dark-wood saddle stools. Choose from 27 wines by the glass ($7 to $16) or a selection of six craft beers for $5 a pint. Just don’t knock over the $1,000 Chinese stone Buddha on your way out.
5. Oddball Day
The tourists will all be lining up for Space Mountain or mobbing the outlet malls, so spend a day rubbing shoulders with the quirky mix of hot twentysomethings and seventysomething retirees that makes up Orlando’s native population. Start at the Morse Museum of American Art, home to a vast collection of Tiffany art, including an entire marble-and-glass chapel designed by Louis Tiffany himself for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Afterward, stop off for rosemary-caramel cookies and five-spice brownies ($2-$5) at the Raphsodic Cooperative Company, a funky vegan bakery in the middle of an otherwise barren strip of north Orlando. Go for a walk around Lake Eola, the downtown oasis that serves as Orlando’s village green, and stock up on native oranges and grapefruits at the park’s Sunday farmers’ market (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.). From the lake it’s a two-block walk to Thornton Park, a tree-lined neighborhood rich with restaurants, bars, and graphic-design firms. Out on the patio at Cityfish, enjoy a cold beer and a dozen oysters fresh from Apalachicola, Florida. Finish off your night at the three-month-old Milk Bar, located in the newly gentrifying area surrounding the sprawling T.G. Lee Dairy. It’s a homey watering hole, with Futurama on the TV, locals playing gin rummy and Xbox, and an impressive menu of 75 international and domestic beers, from a Framboise fruit ale to — of course — a couple of hearty milk stouts.
The Orlando Sentinel’s nightlife columnist Kelly Fitzpatrick keeps up with the city’s drinking and dining scenes.
The Orlando Convention and Visitors Bureau’s website offers a handy citywide events calendar.
Read new restaurant reviews by former Sentinel writer Scott Joseph on his comprehensive food blog.