By A.D. Thompson
Leisure time at Lake Eola Park ranks high on any Orlando local's list of to-dos, but factor in live entertainment, lovely wines and luscious helpings of white chocolate bread pudding (or cups of crawfish, or bowls of bee-sting cake, or plates of pork belly - you see where this is going?) and you have the recipe for a topnotch culinary event. That's what's happening at the Downtown Food & Wine Fest, but it's hardly the only game in town. With Celtic dancing, craft fairs, or cool, cool, jazz this city has a host of spring festivals and events to entertain the entire family.
Did you know there's such a thing as Florida wine? Clermont's not trying to be Napa, but it's lovely little microclimate amid the state's hilliest region make this spot idea for growing grapes in a picturesque vineyard ideal for family (yes, family!) fun. Winefest is the celebration of the previous year's harvest - and tasting is free. Enjoy that along with an arts and crafts bazaar, food, beer and wine for purchase and live music on the outdoor stage all weekend long!
Orlando's vibrant downtown is always lively but come this annual festival, now in its ninth year, it gets downright delicious, as well. Featuring fabulous fare from more than 30 of the city's best restaurants along with 50 domestic and international wines, the foodies come out en force to mix, mingle and mangia al fresco. What's more - live entertainment (this year in the form of Gavin DeGraw, Johnnyswim, KC & the Sunshine Band and more!) will be gracing the stage on both days.
If you haven't had the chance to visit the breathtaking, new state-of-the-art Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, the exciting inaugural year of the Orlando Jazz Fest is a great excuse. Bring a comfy blanket or low-backed lawn chair and grab your piece of grass on the venue's Seneff Arts Plaza with the sun, stars and beautiful downtown Orlando as the scenery for a world-class soundtrack. Performers include heavy hitters such as David Sanborn, Najee, Maysa and Boney James.
Free admission, free parking and free entertainment? You can thank the leprechauns for your good luck. This annual event is among the most authentic in Central Florida, right down to the entire imported pub that hosts it. We're talking about Disney Springs' beautiful Raglan Road Irish Pub, of course, and the entertainment on tap (along with copious amounts of Guinness!) includes award-winning acts, many of which hail from Ireland. What to expect: musicians and dancers on multiple stages, complimentary face-painting for the kids from noon to 8 p.m. and, as always, authentic Irish cuisine by celebrity chef Kevin Dundon will tempt the palate. What NOT to expect: green beer. That's an American invention!
There's never a bad time to visit the beautiful city of Winter Park, with its ample boutiques and bistros and charming brick streets, but during this annual festival it gets even better. A wide variety of exceptional artists - clay, digital, drawing, pastels, paint, glass, jewelry, mixed media, photography and more! - get the chance to show and sell their wares. A free Children's Workshop lets kids discover their own love of art and concessions are on hand, as well - though you may want to plan to stay in the area to explore Park Avenue's many fine restaurants.
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Amy Drew Thompson has spent more than 20 years as a journalist and roughly two decades as a Floridian. A roller coaster enthusiast, she readily admits there is fun to be had amid the theme-park madness, but has found magic, as well, in the outer-lying reaches of Mickey's long shadow. She is a full-time freelancer, an editorial jack-of-all-trades and the Orlando Local Expert for USA Today's 10Best.com