Like a Local: Visiting Orlando’s Audubon Park District
When visiting Orlando, the charming district known as Audubon Park is a must-see. Home to an organic community garden and urban farmlettes, Audubon Park features a vast array of artisanal vendors — from bakers and pasta makers to coffee roasters.
Visitors to the area can enjoy the Audubon Park Community Market held each Monday, multiple specialty shops with unique gift items, and the area's trendy local food hub, East End Market. But one of the district's most beautiful attractions is the Harry P. Leu Gardens.
Orlando's Botanical Paradise
Leu Gardens is a 50-acre botanical garden bursting with color and unusual greenery. You can easily spend hours in the garden enjoying its many offerings. Visitors can take a guided tour of the Southern-style grounds or just run through the giant bamboo stalks, hyper-manicured lawns and camellias, which bloom from October through March (they have the world's largest collection).
This impeccable garden has been going strong ever since 1936 when Mr. and Mrs. Harry P. Leu purchased the property. Together they traveled all over the globe to bring back exotic specimens and nearly 750 varieties of camellias.
If you're on a self-guided tour, you'll find QR Codes listed on each sign. Just scan the code with your smartphone to find interesting facts about the gardens' collection of plants. You can also add an extra element of fun for kids with a geocache — an outdoor, treasure hunt activity.
With a diverse collection of more than 6,000 plants, there is plenty to see: A beautiful hibiscus collection, vegetable and butterfly gardens, vine and banana collections, a citrus grove, and a rose garden, which happens to be Florida's largest. You can even see what's currently in bloom on their website before your trip to the gardens.
Learn While Having Fun
Definitely plan on spending at least two hours to give yourself time to see the entire place. You can also extend your day trip by attending a class. Leu Gardens offers unique workshops for horticulture, landscaping, fine arts and even summer camps for kids. Also, be sure to stop by the Idea Garden for a huge dose of inspiration. On display are mini landscapes and raised table gardens that will have you itching to start some new projects of your own when you go back home.
While wandering around, you'll be in good company. In fact, every Wednesday from 3-5 p.m. in the Palm Room, you can chat with a master gardener (free of charge) who can help you with turf problems or identify a plant. Better yet, Leu Gardens' location on the shores of Lake Rowena, among towering live oaks draped in Spanish moss, is the perfect spot to pull up a rocking chair and enjoy the afternoon.
If walking around the gardens increases your appetite, don't worry. East End Market is less than a mile away. The market features some of Orlando's top food entrepreneurs, tradespeople, artists and chefs. Visitors will take pleasure in discovering treasures from among the dozen or so merchants, all presented in a food hall atmosphere.
Once there, you'll find delectable bites like sushi, artisan cheeses, gourmet pastries and açaí bowls. There is even craft beer, not to mention local produce, handmade goods and gifts for the home. And if you're looking for some entertainment, pull up a chair in the courtyard for live music on Saturday afternoons, or plan ahead to attend a gardening or cooking class.
If You Go
Before you plan your trip, make sure to check the Leu Garden website for class times and movie nights throughout the year.
A note for geocaching enthusiasts: If you're planning on going on a geocaching adventure while in Orlando, visit Geocaching.com to download the geocache called "Wheriwantago Seeking Nahn-Sea's Heart," or go to WherIGo.com and download the cartridge called "Princess Nahn-Sea's Heart." Believe it or not, there are actually more than 1,500 geocaching sites in the Orlando area.
Sarah Sekula is a national travel correspondent who enjoys telling others about Orlando's hidden gems. She works as a travel writer, social media influencer and video host, and her assignments for USA Today, CNN.com, ESPNW.com, NBC.com, GoEscape and Islands.com have taken her to all seven continents. Follow her adventures via social media @wordzilla (Twitter) and @sarahsomewhere (Instagram).
Cover image: East End Market (Matt Marriott/Visit Orlando)
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