10 Hidden Gems in Central Florida To Visit in the New Year

What’s on your travel bucket list for 2019? Each year, I love to explore new places, both near and far. (There’s a reason my blog has the word “wanderlust” in its name!) Living in Central Florida for nearly 10 years, I find myself constantly falling in love with different neighborhoods, botanical gardens, museums, and restaurants, and just as I start to think I’ve seen it all, the adventure begins again and I wind up someplace new.

There’s something magical about playing tourist in your own home, and here in Central Florida, we’re fortunate to have so many unique places to discover. We are surrounded by theme parks and other attractions that visitors travel thousands of miles to see. But we also have our share of hidden gemsboth in Orlando and in its surrounding areas.

I’ve teamed up with some amazing local bloggers and influencers to bring you 10 hidden gems worth exploring in 2019. From restaurants and events to historic homes and gardens, this list really has it all. These spots are all within about two hours (or less) of Orlando, perfect for a weekend afternoon outing! Check out their features below, and be sure to pop over to their sites for more great content. (Photos are credited to the bloggers below!)

10 Hidden Gems in Central Florida to Visit in the New Year

10 Hidden Gems in Central Florida | Wellness & Wanderlust

Photo Credit: TheOrlandoDuo.com

1. Revolution Off Road (Clermont, FL) — The Orlando Duo
One of our favorite aspects of living in Central Florida is being able to experience the outdoors year round. For us, Revolution Off Road is the perfect way to see Florida’s natural beauty in a fun and unique way. There is something inherently cool about driving a ATV and taking it around to see lakes, trees and wildlife. Plus, you go through mud puddles so you will get dirty too! If ATVs aren’t your speed, Revolution Off Road also features fishing, clay shooting and other activities. We break down our experience and give you some tips and tricks on our blog!
{ Blog: The Orlando Duo; Instagram: @theorlandoduo; Facebook: @theorlandoduoTwitter: @theorlandoduoPinterest: @theorlandoduo }

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2. Wat Thai Temple (Brandon, FL) — Pursuing Happiness // Kiva Williams
If you are ever in the Tampa area on a Sunday, it’s a must that you check out this hidden local gem in the Palm River area of town. Wat Mongkolratanaram, or Wat Thai Temple as it is also commonly known, is a foodie’s dream! This beautiful outdoor market is sure to get your tastebuds tap dancing around. Be sure to bring your appetite and cash only! Check out my vlog’s recap about all of the yummy goodness.
Blog: Pursuing HappinessInstagram: @pursuit_of_true_happinessFacebook: @pursuinghappiness4ever }

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10 Hidden Gems in Central Florida to Visit in the New Year | Wellness & Wanderlust

Photo Credit: ChristopherCupcakes.com

3. Leu Gardens (Orlando, FL) — Christopher Cupcakes
We recently decided to tour the beautiful Leu Gardens here in Orlando, Florida. The Harry P. Leu Gardens are a semi-tropical and tropical garden here in Orlando. Well, isn’t any garden in Florida tropical? The gardens are divided into different themes across the 50 acres and Leu Gardens is bordered on one side by a lake. The grounds are shaded by 200 year old oaks dripping in Spanish Moss giving off that Old Southern charm we all know and love when living here in the South. Leu Gardens holds special events and classes throughout the year so check out their site to see what is going on. If you are ever in the area, make sure to go tour these beautiful gardens.
For more from Christopher about Leu Gardens, check out his full article at Christopher Cupcakes by clicking here.
Blog: Christopher CupcakesInstagram: @christopher.cupcakes; Facebook: Christopher Cupcakes; Twitter: @chris_cupcakes1 }

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4. General Public House (Winter Springs, FL) — Tel Wallace
We are all creatures of habit, and when we get used to doing the same thing in the same area, it can be difficult to try something new. I’m extremely guilty of this. My husband and I lived downtown for 3 years and anything outside of a five mile radius seemed too far to travel. So wouldn’t you know it, we ended up closing on a home TWENTY miles outside of downtown (shocker)! And as you can guess, we had to change our “only hang out downtown” mentality. It was honestly a blessing in disguise. With this newfound freedom to venture the outskirts of Orlando, I was thrilled to try a new restaurant in Winter Springs. My friend Dana, had been raving about General Public House, and it was about time I try it. First, can I just tell you how absolutely cute this place is, it’s like a farmhouse meets modern dream! I not only loved the aesthetics but the service was phenomenal too, and we even got a free appetizer! The kitchen demos food daily and the manager, CJ, sweetly decided Dana and I deserved it that day. I’ve only been there for lunch (the Hand Held Salmon BLT was amazing) but they offer a killer brunch that I fully intend to come back for. If you’re looking for a cute and tasty place to check out, this hidden gem is the place to go!
Instagram: @tel_wallace }

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10 Hidden Gems in Central Florida to Visit in the New Year | Wellness & Wanderlust

Photo Credit: JIsForJourney.com

5. Downtown Winter Garden — J Is For Journey // Jessica Ortega
Central Floridians have a lot of options when choosing between cute historic downtowns: there’s idyllic Mount Dora, or up-and-coming Sanford, and then there is the mainstay Winter Park. However, there is one downtown scene that I absolutely love that is not on this list: Winter Garden. My dad is a train aficionado so I’m totally a sucker for a cute train depot, and Winter Garden can check that off your list with the Central Florida Railroad Museum. They also have an incredibly lively Heritage Museum filled with historic items, memorabilia, and interesting local lore. During you can wander in and out of cute boutique shops, a brewery (a requirement for day tripping), cozy coffee shops, and swinging benches down a flower-lined median. Yep, this place has it all! And if you are still downtown in the evening, the Garden Theatre often has vintage movies or live theater shows.
Blog: J Is For Journey; Instagram: @jisforjourney }

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6. Orange Tree Antiques Mall (Winter Park, FL) — So Damn Local // Sarah Bolandi
A few years ago, I became a voracious record collector. Part of the fun, or I’d say most of it, has been not just the hunt for records but for shops. There’s something about the smell of old, dusty record sleeves and the faint sound of a slightly obscure but familiar song at vinyl shops that sends me into record nirvana. This summer, I was shown quite possibly the most dive-y of all record spots I’ve been to (excluding flea markets). The Orange Tree Antiques Mall in Winter Park has a bit of a hidden gem in the back. Past the retro pez dispensers and random knick knacks is small space filled with hundreds of completely disorganized records. During the rainy season, a soothing drip came from somewhere in the ceiling as I got lost in hours of vinyl hunting. While alphabetical order is typically helpful, the disarray adds to the charm. Of all the Central Florida spots, this on is my go-to shop for the old and extra smelly, super cheap records, quietly tucked inside an antique store.
Instagram: @sodamnlocalFacebook: @sodamnlocal }

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10 Hidden Gems in Central Florida to Visit in the New Year | Wellness & Wanderlust

Photo Credit: @_myownmelody_

7. Island Grove Wine Company at Formosa Gardens (Kissimmee, FL) — My Own Melody // Courtney Dias
You don’t need to travel around the world to be adventurous. Sometimes the best traveling you can do is right in your hometown. A short drive from home, I found a place I would love to share with you. Island Grove Wine Company has such a classic countryside feel with Parisian accent. Once inside, everything seemed so effortlessly placed to intrigue their guests, whether drinking around the bar located in the center or just wandering around finding the cutest trinkets, merchandise, and endless amounts of wine. You also could feel the warmth of the staff, which makes them feel more like friends rather than strangers. If you’re ever in Florida and want to explore something new or simply want to enjoy great hospitality, definitely stop by Island Grove Wine Company at Formosa Gardens for a date night. You can do anything from dinner (side note: the food is so good), wine tasting with the girls, or a paint and sip event. Trust me when I say, this truly is a hidden gem that makes being away from home a bit more sweeter.
Want to read more from Courtney’s experience? Stay tuned for her upcoming guest blog here at Wellness & Wanderlust!
Instagram: @_myownmelody_ }

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10 Hidden Gems in Central Florida | Wellness & Wanderlust

Photo Credit: NatureCoaster.com


8. Chinsegut Hill Manor Museum and Retreat Center (Brooksville, FL) — NatureCoaster // Diane Bedard
High atop a hill in Brooksville Florida, about an hour north of Tampa and two hours west of Orlando is an historically significant home that offers tours, nature trails, comfortable retreat cabins, and a spirit where lost things are regained; Chinsegut Manor Museum. Originally homesteaded in in the 1800s, this three story gem has two wrap-around porches – on the first and second stories – and views to make North Carolina proud. Chinsegut Hill’s last private owners were dedicated to human rights and moved in powerful political circles, with Raymond Robins being an advisor to 7 U.S. Presidents. Their clothing, artwork, furniture and spirits are still on “the Hill,” which they named “Chinsegut,” an Alaskan Inuit word meaning “the spirit of things lost and regained.” Visitors such as Helen Keller, J.C. Penney, Thomas Edison came to Chinsegut to visit Raymond Robins, Margaret Drier Robins and Elizabeth Robins.

Visitors can tour the grounds, opt for a self-guided tour or a guided tour, rent the cabins overnight, discover the WPA-built outbuildings, visit the tiny cemetery where some of the previous residents are resting or plan an event. The museum features a second story room where visitors can read letters of the day and explore the people that made history here.
You can read more about this beautiful manor and the families who have lived there on NatureCoaster!
Blog: NatureCoaster; Instagram: @nature.coasterFacebook: @naturecoaster }

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Photo Credit: CityWhit.com

9. Historic St. Augustine — CityWhit // Whitney Gonzalez
Hike just over an hour from Orlando to explore the oldest city in the U.S.–St. Augustine. The walkable historical destination is packed with interesting things to do, including climbing 219 steps to the top of the St. Augustine Lighthouse and exploring Castillo San Marcos for an artillery demonstration. The city also has a reputation for being one of the most haunted cities. Catch a ghost tour while you’re in town and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
Blog: CityWhitInstagram: @city.whit; Facebook: @city.whit }

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10 Hidden Gems in Central Florida | Wellness & Wanderlust

Photo Credit: KimKonnection.com

10. Taste Events — Kim Konnection // Kimberly Thevenin
Although it is known for sunshine, Disney World, and its hometown team (go Knights), Central Florida is also home to something usually reserved for the likes of NYC – delicious eats. From local chains to small, family-owned restaurants, Central Florida is home to a variety of tasty places to grab a bite. It can be hard to test out all the foods Central Florida has to offer but luckily a few cities are making that task a little easier with their Taste events, which allow people to try food and drink samples from nearby restaurants. For pricing, these events either charge a ticket for entry and allow you to eat anything available, or have free entry and you only pay for the food you try. Taste of Winter Park (April), Taste of Oviedo (March) and Taste Central Florida (September) are a few of my favorite local taste events and I highly recommend them if you’re looking for something
unique to do while you’re in town.
Blog: Kim Konnection; Instagram: @kimkonnectionTwitter: @kimkonnection }

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Thank you to all of our local bloggers who contributed! I can’t wait to check out your hidden gem locations in 2019. 

Readers, what parts of Central Florida are you most excited to explore this year? Sound off in the comments!

Bok Tower Gardens Part 2: Pinewood Estate Holiday Home Tour

It may be snowing across the country, but here in Central Florida, ’tis the season to visit the botanical gardens. Did you know that Bok Tower Gardens is the perfect place to ring in the holiday season? Nestled in Lake Wales between Orlando and Tampa, Bok Tower Gardens is an idyllic garden and bird sanctuary that knows how to bring the holiday spirit. I’ve visited Bok Towers before (check out my guide and recap here!), but over the weekend, I decided to take another trip to the gardens for their Holiday Home Tour at Pinewood Estate.

Bok Tower Gardens: A Guide to the Holiday Home Tour at Pinewood Estate

Located on the grounds of Bok Tower Gardens, Pinewood Estate is a 20-room Mediterranean-style mansion that was once the winter home of Charles Austin Buck, an executive from Bethlehem Steel. From November 26 through January 6, Pinewood Estate is completely decked out for Christmas, and guests can enjoy the Holiday Home Tour.

Bok Tower Gardens: A Guide to the Holiday Home Tour at Pinewood Estate

Each year, the house is decorated in a different theme for the holidays (with this year’s theme focusing on Christmas in the 1940s, post-World War II). No two years are alike, and hidden throughout the home are several Pinewood Estate squirrels. Learn about the history of the home, as well as the family who lived there, and take time to appreciate each room and its elegant decorations.

Bok Tower Gardens: A Guide to the Holiday Home Tour at Pinewood Estate

I loved all of the details laid out in each room, especially in Lucy Buck Fox’s bedroom upstairs (and her bright pink bathroom). With Christmas trees in nearly every room and beautiful glass ornaments, the house is well worth taking the time to explore.

In addition to the Christmas tours, Pinewood Estate offers musical afternoons throughout the Christmas season on select dates throughout December and January.

Bok Tower Gardens: A Guide to the Holiday Home Tour at Pinewood Estate

The house is a beautiful place to visit year-round, open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Beginning January 29, you can take one of the regularly scheduled historical tours of the home, learning more about its architecture and interior design.

Visiting Pinewood Estate for the Holiday Home Tour was a fun holiday experience, and I look forward to seeing how Bok Towers continues the festivities in 2019!

What are your favorite holiday homes and traditions in Florida? Sound off in the comments below!

Adventures in Florida: Bok Tower Gardens

“Make you the world a bit better or more beautiful because you have lived in it.” – The grandmother of Edward W. Bok

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A few weeks ago, I took a long-awaited mini road trip to Lake Wales. A little more than an hour from Orlando, Lake Wales is home to Bok Tower Gardens, a national historic landmark and one of my 26 at 26 bucket list items.

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For those unfamiliar with Bok Tower Gardens, they are named in honor of their founder, Edward W. Bok, a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and the editor of Ladies Home Journal in the late 1800s and early 1900s. He commissioned a landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmstead, Jr., to design a “spot of beauty second to none in the country,” and the gardens were even visited by President Calvin Coolidge.

Bok Tower GardensOne of the coolest areas to visit at Bok Tower Gardens was the Singing Tower itself. The tower stands at more than 200 feet and houses carillon bells, which play concerts twice a day. During our visit, we sat in the garden and listened to the bells, all while admiring the intricate Gothic design and the nearby reflecting pool. (I also happened to make friends with many of the koi who were swimming around out there!)

Strolling through the gardens, even in the Florida heat, was a breathtaking experience. Spending the day among nature was tranquil and meditative, and the perfect way to separate oneself from the hustle-and-bustle craziness that we constantly face.

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We also visited the Pinewood Estate, a Mediterranean Revival mansion on the property once owned by the Vice President of Bethlehem Steel. As an architecture enthusiast, I loved touring through the home and learning about the estate’s unique fixtures and furnishings. No two doors in the mansion are exactly alike, and the tiles (while well-coordinated) differ by room. The docents were helpful and extremely knowledgeable about Pinewood, and they shared that the estate is at its very best when decorated for Christmas. I know I’ll be returning in December! 🙂

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I was so in awe of Bok Tower Gardens and all of its natural beauty, but I was also drawn to the gardens’ spirit of kindness and making the world a better place. Edward Bok put it best: “Give to the world the best you have and the best will come back to you.” It is a beautiful sentiment, one that will keep me coming back to the gardens in the years to come. 🙂

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Central Florida on a Dime: 5 Adventures Under $20

As I mentioned last week, juggling grad school with a full-time job means that vacation days are often limited. Because of that, I love to take advantage of my weekends by playing tourist in my own backyard! Central Florida is well-known for its tourist activities — and I’m definitely a fan of the theme parks! — but there are so many other awesome ways to explore the area without standing in long lines or breaking the bank.

This weekend, I’m sharing five of my favorite (non Disney-themed) activities in Orlando and some of the surrounding cities, all of which you can enjoy for under $20. Check them out and share your own favorites in the comments!

Central Florida on a Dime | 5 Adventures Under $201. Take a marshmallow-making workshop at Wondermade.
Yes, you read that correctly! Wondermade is a locally-owned café that sells handcrafted marshmallows in a variety of flavors, along with hot chocolate, coffee, ice cream, and more. Any time I bring a friend to Downtown Sanford for the first time, we always have to stop at Wondermade. Throughout the year, they host Friday night workshops, where attendees can enjoy hot drinks and treats, learn about the marshmallow-making process, and make their own. The workshops are just $15 per person and perfect for a date night or a night out with friends.

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2. Gaze at the stars at Buehler Planetarium.
Also in the “Orlando North” region, Buehler Planetarium is located on the Sanford/Lake Mary Campus of Seminole State College, and hosts shows every weekend. I first visited the planetarium in December 2015 for the Star of Bethlehem show, and had such a great time that I returned for the Winter Sky Festival a few weeks later! The planetarium hosts interactive shows and presentations relating the night sky to mythology, upcoming holidays, scientific phenomena, and more. Admission is $6 for adults (only $4 for poor grad students like me!). You can access their calendar of events here.

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Central Florida On A Dime: 5 Adventures Under $203. Stroll through Leu Gardens.
Not far from Downtown Orlando, Leu Gardens is home to about 50 acres of beautiful plant life. Entry is only $10, unless you visit on a free “First Monday”. Leu Gardens also hosts classes and community events throughout the year.

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4. Visit the Morse Museum.
One of my favorite museums in Central Florida is the Morse Museum, which is home to the world’s largest collection of Louis Comfort Tiffany’s works. I’ve always been a fan of Tiffany glass, so my favorite area of the museum is the Chapel, which was constructed for the 1893 World’s Fair. Located on Park Avenue in Winter Park, the Morse Museum is ideally located for a day of good food and shopping, but is also a perfect destination on its own. Admission ranges from $1 to $6, but is occasionally free.

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Central Florida on a Dime | 5 Adventures Under $205. Pick berries at a U-Pick farm.
I don’t know about you, but I absolutely love visiting local farms and picking my own fruit! This activity is entirely dependent on the time of year, but it’s fun to come home with your own hand-selected produce. My favorite farm in the area is Tom West Blueberry Farm in Ocoee (check out last year’s recap here!). Admission is free — all you pay for are the berries you pick! During blueberry season, they have other free activities taking place on the farm as well. I’ve gone out to Tom West for the past two seasons and will be returning next year for some delicious Emeralds! A few other local U-Pick farms to consider include Pappy’s Patch in Oviedo and Sledd’s in Mims for strawberries.

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What are your favorite inexpensive activities in Central Florida? Share your suggestions in the comments section below!

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