Like a Local: Downtown Orlando

See the many reasons why locals love downtown Orlando, including acclaimed dining, nightlife, culture, sports and more.

See the many reasons why locals love downtown Orlando, including acclaimed dining, nightlife, culture, sports and more.

By Nate Shelton

Orlando is best known for theme parks and attractions, but they only tell part of our story. The rest of the tale unfolds in distinctive neighborhoods, towns and districts throughout the area, where you'll discover out-of-this-world dining, unique nightlife and entertainment, and compelling culture — including the city's core, downtown Orlando!

Getting to Know Downtown Orlando

Church Street Station in Downtown Orlando
Church Street Station in Downtown Orlando

Downtown Orlando's history can be traced to the mid-19th century, with Orlando officially incorporating as a town in 1875. We gained full-fledged city status in 1885, followed shortly thereafter by the arrival of the historic Atlantic Coast Line Railroad and the debut of Church Street Station, which now hosts some of downtown's most popular dining and nightlife.

In those early days, Orlando had little to offer outside of cattle and citrus — but that all changed when Walt Disney chose us as the focal point of his company's theme park empire.

Chinese Pagoda at Lake Eola Park in Downtown Orlando
Chinese Pagoda at Lake Eola Park in Downtown Orlando

Today, Orlando's core has award-winning chefs, sizzling nightlife, professional sports teams, a state-of-the-art performing arts center and much more, all within easy driving distance of our tourism district. These features make downtown a favorite haunt of locals ... and a place you'll want to visit when you're in Orlando.

Dining in Downtown Orlando

James Beard-Nominated Chef Kathleen Blake of The Rusty Spoon in Downtown Orlando
James Beard-Nominated Chef Kathleen Blake of The Rusty Spoon in Downtown Orlando

Downtown Orlando boasts numerous restaurants you'll want to experience, starting with The Rusty Spoon. Part of Church Street Station, and headed by James Beard-nominated Chef Kathleen Blake, this eatery is at the forefront of the farm-to-table movement that's so integral to Orlando's homegrown dining. More importantly, the food is delicious!

Learn more: Orlando Restaurants

The area in and around Church Street has plenty of other great eateries to choose from. For example, Artisan's Table focuses on seasonally inspired food and beverages, while Ember — which has downtown's largest outdoor terrace — specializes in Mediterranean fare.

Ceviche in Downtown Orlando
Ceviche in Downtown Orlando

If you prefer tapas-style dining, head to Church Street's Ceviche, which is inside a nearly 100-year-old building. For something wild, check out the weekly drag shows at Hamburger Mary's Bar & Grille. And sports fanatics can catch all the action at Harry Buffalo, while Lion's Pride near downtown's Orlando City Stadium is the place to be for soccer fans.

Enjoy Artwork While You Dine at The Boheme, Located at Downtown Orlando’s Grand Bohemian Hotel
Enjoy Artwork While You Dine at The Boheme, Located at Downtown Orlando's Grand Bohemian Hotel

Other dining points of interest in the immediate downtown area include The Stubborn Mule and The Boheme, the latter of which is inside the gorgeous, art-filled Grand Bohemian Hotel. Downtown even has something for motorheads courtesy of regular car shows at Ace Cafe Orlando, the only U.S. outpost of the famous London original.

Nightlife in Downtown Orlando

Wall St. Plaza in Downtown Orlando
Wall St. Plaza in Downtown Orlando

Love a good block party? Then you'll love downtown Orlando's Wall St. Plaza. Comprised of seven themed bars connected by a central, open-air courtyard, this nightlife hub keeps the party going every night of the week. It really shines on alcohol-fueled holidays like St. Patrick's Day, Fat Tuesday and others.

Learn more: Orlando Nightlife

One80 Skytop Lounge at the Amway Center in Downtown Orlando
One80 Skytop Lounge at the Amway Center in Downtown Orlando

You'll find numerous nightlife hotspots in the Church Street Station area — but none offer a better view than One80 Skytop Lounge. Located on the sixth floor of the Amway Center, which is home to the NBA's Orlando Magic and ECHL's Orlando Solar Bears, this unique lounge provides an unparalleled look at the surrounding city.

Downtown Orlando has multiple speakeasies, too. They include The Courtesy, Hanson's Shoe Repair, Mathers Social Gathering, The Treehouse and The Woods.

Learn more: Orlando Speakeasies

Corona Cigar Company in Downtown Orlando
Corona Cigar Company in Downtown Orlando

Other downtown Orlando nightlife options frequented by locals include Stardust Lounge, The Social, DTA (Don't Tell Anyone) and SAVOY Orlando, the latter of which is geared toward LGBTQ revelers. And if you love a good smoke, belly up to the bar at downtown's Corona Cigar Company and Diamond Crown Cigar Lounge, which is within easy walking distance of Church Street Station and Wall St. Plaza.

Culture & Entertainment in Downtown Orlando

Walt Disney Theater at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts in Downtown Orlando
Walt Disney Theater at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts in Downtown Orlando

Part of downtown's landscape since 2014, the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts is the crown jewel of Orlando's arts scene. At this venue's three indoor theaters and outdoor plaza, you can catch Broadway shows, performances by the Orlando Ballet, top musicians and comedians, cultural festivals, and much more.

Learn more: Orlando Arts, Culture & History

Orange County Regional History Center and Heritage Square Park in Downtown Orlando
Orange County Regional History Center and Heritage Square Park in Downtown Orlando

Art-lovers will also want to visit the aforementioned Grand Bohemian Hotel's eclectic art collection and CityArts Factory, which offers free admission and hosts four distinct art galleries. Nearby, you can explore 12,000 years of Central Florida history at the Orange County Regional History Center and Heritage Square Park, a Smithsonian Institution affiliate that formerly served as Orange County's courthouse.

Need a laugh? SAK Comedy Lab has you covered with live improv featuring lots of opportunities for audience participation. And for pure entertainment, test your wits at The Great Escape Room, downtown's only escape-style attraction.

Orlando City Stadium in Downtown Orlando
Orlando City Stadium in Downtown Orlando

Sports are another facet of downtown Orlando's character thanks to the Magic and Solar Bears at the Amway Center, Orlando City Soccer Club and Orlando Pride at Orlando City Stadium, and the NFL Pro Bowl and several NCAA bowl games at Camping World Stadium. What's more, the Amway Center and Camping World Stadium host a robust selection of live concerts every year.

Swan-Shaped Paddleboats at Lake Eola Park in Downtown Orlando
Swan-Shaped Paddleboats at Lake Eola Park in Downtown Orlando

Various live events take part at Lake Eola Park, too, including the biannual Fiesta in the Park art shows, cultural festivals and more. This centrally located, beautiful park is also the site of Orlando Farmers Market every Sunday, and it's a great place to relax no matter when you visit.

Speaking of relaxation, hop aboard one the park's rentable, swan-shaped paddleboats for a self-guided tour of Lake Eola. To hear many locals tell it, you haven't really experienced Orlando until you've taken one of these beauties for a spin!

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Nate Shelton
Written by Nate Shelton, Consumer Content Writer at Visit Orlando. He’s a native Floridian who appreciates the entertainment, historical and culinary aspects of Orlando and Orange County.

 

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Related Categories: Arts & Culture , Inside Orlando , Sports, Recreation & Outdoors , Restaurants , Nightlife & Entertainment , Orlando for Adults