Good Sam RV Travel Guide & Campground Directory

Orlando - Beyond the Theme-Park Attractions

Kimberly Button

Orlando’s Foundation

Perhaps the best place to get an appreciation for the history and culture of the Orlando area is at the Orange County Regional History Center in downtown Orlando. This cultural attraction takes visitors on a 12,000-year journey through the somewhat surprising history of the city, from the early days of Spanish settlement to the area’s present-day history as a tourism powerhouse.

Three floors of exhibits escort guests through interactive displays that demonstrate the challenges and triumphs of years in the past, from the rugged days of Orlando’s cattle-farming business to the devastation the citrus industry endured due to the effects of the 19th-century Big Freeze.

Orlando Science Center

A fascinating way to learn more about the environmental wonders of the Orlando area – from the seas to the stars – is to head over to the Orlando Science Center, which has a 7,000-square-foot exhibit on Florida ecosystems.

While you are there, be sure and take time to visit the public observatory. Here, visitors can climb to the top of the Science Center and gaze at the night sky through the powerful 10-inch lens of what is cited as Florida’s largest publicly accessible refractor telescope.

The popular Science Center also features a variety of exhibits on health, as well as a dinosaur exhibit and a CineDome, where films and planetarium shows are presented regularly.

Museum Art<,strong>

After touring the science center, just a short walk will take you to visit Orlando’s two art museums.

The Orlando Museum of Art, around the corner from the Science Center, is the larger of the two. A variety of rotating exhibits are displayed throughout the year. Exhibit halls feature selections from the museum’s “collections” – American, Art of the Ancient Americas and African. Museum visitors are greeted by a glowing Dale Chihuly glass sculpture before they venture off to view the varied works of art.

Children can also enjoy this attraction, where art stations sit beside enormous floor-to-ceiling picture windows that overlook a nearby lake.

Just across the way from the Science Center, The Mennello Museum of American Folk Art offers visitors a chance to enjoy world-class artwork presented in a much more intimate setting. A visit to this museum, housed in a former home overlooking secluded Lake Formosa, conjures a feeling of walking through someone’s private home and being welcome to admire the artwork on display.

The main focus of the small museum is the work of Earl Cunningham, a self-proclaimed “primitive artist” who combined bright, vibrant colors with nautical themes to create unique paintings, which are now featured in the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Visitors who are unfamiliar with Cunningham’s work can learn more about his struggles in life during a fascinating video that continuously plays in the gallery. The quaint museum also features special exhibitions that change throughout the year.

Art in the Open

To enjoy the art of nature, be sure to visit the Harry P. Leu Gardens located just down the street from the Orlando Science Center and the art museums. Courtesy of Orlando’s subtropical climate, Leu Gardens offers a nature-lover’s paradise nearly year-round, with exotic plant species you might otherwise see only in Southern locales.

Among the myriad of plants that abound in the 50 acres of Leu Gardens are claimed to be the United States’ largest collection of camellias outside of California plus Florida’s largest formal rose garden. Amidst the many floral displays, visitors will also discover the home of Harry Leu, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, which beautifully portrays Florida life in the early 1900s.

While walking along the three miles of paths that wind around the property, you will likely find inspiring ideas for your own garden, especially when you visit the three-acre Home Demonstration Garden. It features several smaller gardens – from fragrance and evening collections to enabling gardens that allow those who have physical challenges to enjoy their favorite hobby.

The Butterfly Garden is always a favorite among guests, and if you feel that no trip to Florida could be complete without seeing citrus growing on a tree, you will enjoy a walk among the grapefruit trees where statues of workers climbing to pick the fruit off of the trees will make you think you have entered a working farm.

The citrus worker statues among Leu Gardens’ grapefruit trees are just one part of the City of Orlando’s Public Art Program. The city has 26 major works of art throughout Orlando, as well as three art galleries, two of which are located in City Hall and one that is located in the Garden House at Leu Gardens. Art lovers can find the sculptures, paintings, photography and other works of art in many of Orlando’s public places with the help of a map created by the Public Art Program.

Orlando’s Performing Arts

If you enjoy the performing arts, there are several venues presenting the area’s artistic talents. The Orlando Ballet, the Orlando Opera and the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra all hold presentations at the Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre several times throughout the year.

Yet another performing arts venue that should be on the top of any art-lover’s list in Orlando is the Mad Cow Theatre. This professional theater company is relatively new in Orlando’s arts scene, but its high-caliber productions of classic plays, as well as some you might not have heard of, have made the Mad Cow Theatre one of the Orlando area’s most popular innovative cultural attractions.

If you prefer to take in the classic time-tested works of art, you’ll want to catch a production during the Orlando-UCF Shakespeare Festival, which runs from September through May each year. During the nine-month schedule, the classics of Shakespeare – as well as other classic and contemporary plays – are dramatically brought to life on stage throughout the season.

When visiting Orlando, you will find there are many comfortable RV parks to choose from in the general area, most of which are located near the theme parks.

If you prefer a public campground, the 36-site, 300-acre Bill Frederick Park at Turkey Lake is a short drive from Orlando’s arts and cultural attractions, which are primarily located in the downtown area. This public park is operated by the City of Orlando.

Though the imaginary worlds of Orlando’s theme parks might be the initial reason you choose to visit this city, be sure to leave ample vacation time to explore the city’s arts and cultural attractions. These examples should give you some good ideas of where to start.

The effortless beauty of nature, the imaginative creativity of artists and the powerful impact of a live performance can also transport you to another time and place, while forever broadening your mind and enriching your spirit.

For More Information

Orlando Convention and Visitors Bureau
(800) 972-3304

City of Orlando Public Art Program
(407) 246-4279

Enzian Theater
(407) 629-0054

Harry P. Leu Gardens
(407) 246-2620

Mad Cow Theatre Company
(407) 297-8788

Mennello Museum of American Folk Art
(407) 246-4278

Orange County Regional History Center
(800) 965-2030

Orlando Ballet
(407) 426-1739

Orlando Museum of Art
(407) 896-4231

Orlando Opera
(407) 426-1700

Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra
(407) 770-0071

Orlando Science Center
(888) 672-4386

The Orlando Shakespeare Festival
(407) 447-1700

Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground
(407) 934-7639

Mouse Mountain RV Resort
(800) 347-6388

Please consult your Woodall’s North American Campground Directory for a complete listing of campgrounds in the vicinity of Orlando.