Even though Winter Park, Florida, is not part of neighboring Orlando, this upscale town just to the north of Orlando’s city limits is well-known by Central Florida residents for its many shopping and dining offerings.
As the town’s name might suggest, Winter Park has long been a haven for seasonal residents, also known as “snowbirds,” although in recent decades most of the population lives here year round. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, wealthy northern industrialists built lakefront winter homes in Winter Park. Many of these unique homes can be seen (from the outside, at least) as part of boat tours of Winter Park’s lakes and canals.
One snowbird who became a permanent resident in his later years was the internationally known Czech sculptor Albin Polasek. His former residence in Winter Park has been converted into the Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Garden, which includes a number if works from Polasek’s private collection. The Polasek museum offers tours of the museum grounds as well as exhibitions by local artists.
Examples of late 19th/early 20th century Louis Comfort Tiffany artwork is the pride of another museum in Winter Park, known as the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art. The Morse Museum includes numerous examples of Tiffany-designed artwork, and the gift shop itself is worth a visit.
In addition to the boat tours and unique museums, Rollins College is another must-see location in Winter Park. This small liberal arts college draws students from across the country. One of Rollins’ most famous alumni was Fred Rogers, of the famed PBS children’s show, “Mister Rogers Neighborhood.”
In addition to all of the cultural offerings that this college town offers, the biggest attractions to Winter Park tend to be the restaurants and boutique shops along Park Avenue, which extends from the Rollins College campus to the south end and the Morse Museum on the north end. There are a number of eateries and outdoor bistros such as Park Plaza Gardens, 310 South Park, and Panullos to name just a few, and some restaurants even allow dogs to enjoy outdoor dining with their masters.
Park Avenue runs along Winter Park’s Central Park, which is home to seasonal celebrations such as Easter egg hunts and Christmas tree lightings, as well as two major art festivals. Winter Park also hosts major parades during the holidays and close to St. Patrick’s Day, with plenty of local participation. In fact, just about any weekend in Winter Park there is some sort of event involving food, wine, art, children’s activities or a seasonal festivity. And since warm weather is almost always in season in Central Florida, the Saturday morning Farmer’s Market is a year round weekly event.
In recent years, Winter Park lived up to its name during the holidays with a tent-covered ice skating rink (iced over with the help of generators, given that temperatures are usually in the upper 60s). It’s just one of the many ways that this upscale enclave just north of Orlando gives visitors and locals alike an authentic alternative to the theme parks of Central Florida.