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!

Shop Local: 8 Places to Shop for Holiday Gifts in Central Florida

 Well, readers, it’s official: the holiday season is here. My fall seasonal décor has been stowed away in exchange for reindeer, mini-trees, and an electronic menorah. My next few weekends are packed with Christmas parties and Secret Santa exchanges. And in just a few hours, I’ll pop a few latkes on the stove in celebration of the first night of Hanukkah.

As someone who celebrates both Hanukkah and Christmas, I usually have my hands full when it comes to holiday shopping. Luckily, there are a lot of great places right here in Central Florida where you can pick up unique gifts while supporting local businesses. Check out a few of my suggested shops and markets, and please share yours in the comments below. (For additional guidance on gift giving, check out a couple of my previous guides here and here.)

Shop Local: 8 Places to Shop for Holiday Gifts in Central Florida

1. Magpies Modern General Store (Sanford, FL)
Located on 1st Street in Historic Downtown Sanford, Magpies Modern General Store is the perfect place to begin your holiday shopping. From artisan soaps to housewares and more, Magpies is filled with fun stocking stuffers that are often locally sourced and eclectic. I love to pick up birthday presents here as well!

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2. AntiquiTEAs (Winter Garden, FL)
If you’re a tea lover like me, you’ll fall in love with AntiquiTEAs, a loose tea shop in Winter Garden’s Plant Street Market. As I mentioned in last year’s holiday post, the watermelon oolong is a flavor not to be missed. The shop also hosts private tea parties for special occasions (including my 27th birthday party!), working with other Plant Street Market vendors to create the perfect celebration.

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Shop Local: 8 Places to Shop for Holiday Gifts in Central Florida

3. Rifle Paper Co. (Winter Park, FL)
Rifle Paper Co. is known for its fun and vibrant prints, from stationery to tea towels to home décor. This Winter Park shop is located not far from Park Avenue, and hosts seasonal sidewalk sales that will be sure to draw you in. For the ladies in your life, consider purchasing a Jardin de Paris candle — the scent is absolutely dreamy. It will be hard to walk in and not buy a little something for yourself as well!

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4. Light Up UCF Holiday Market (Orlando, FL)
On December 8 and December 21, Light Up UCF will host its Holiday Market Under the Stars, sponsored by CFE Federal Credit Union. Local vendors will set up, farmers market style, outside the holiday-themed event at the CFE Arena at UCF. It will be the perfect opportunity to shop for locally-crafted gifts, while enjoying ice skating, a Ferris wheel, carriage rides, and more.

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Shop Local: 8 Places to Shop for Holiday Gifts in Central Florida

5. Wondermade (Sanford, FL)
Handcrafted marshmallows? Yes, please! Sanford’s Wondermade is home to a variety of marshmallow flavors, s’mores, and other themed gifts. In addition to purchasing a box, why not schedule a marshmallow-making class for you and your gift recipient? If you live in Central Florida, these classes are an awesome way to spend a Friday night or Saturday afternoon!

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6. Porch Therapy (Orlando, FL)
When shopping for the plant lover in your life, be sure to check out Porch Therapy at the East End Market in Orlando. The shop offers a multitude of plant varieties, but my favorites by far are their succulents. Be sure to check them out, then grab a smoothie at the neighboring Skyebird Juice Bar.

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Shop Local: 8 Places to Shop for Holiday Gifts in Central Florida

7. Orchid Rain (DeLand, FL)
My family and I stumbled upon this little shop in Downtown DeLand on my birthday this year, and were immediately drawn in. With a Volkswagen beetle right in the front of the store, Orchid Rain has a fun retro feel. From jewelry and sunglasses to furniture and housewares, this store is the perfect place to shop for your creative friends. My favorite find? The pocket-sized Buddhas, each representing a different intention (mine is “happiness”). Afterward, take a walk down Woodland Boulevard for some antique-shopping and a bite to eat.

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8. Antidote Apothecary & Spa (Sanford, FL)
When in doubt, give the gift of a pampering session! Antidote Apothecary & Spa in Downtown Sanford offers holistic, cruelty-free spa services that your friends and family will love. Check out my recap on their salt therapy appointments here, or consider one of their massages, facials, energy work, or other services.

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Where are you shopping locally for holiday gifts this year? Sound off in the comments!

Things I’m Loving Lately: Your 2017 Holiday Gift Guide

Can you believe Thanksgiving is this week? The holidays are creeping up on us, and between classes and work projects, I’ve barely made a dent in my gift shopping list.

However, those who know me best know that I love buying gifts! Gift-giving is one of my favorite aspects of the holiday season, and I love sharing my favorite products and gift finds with friends and readers. For those who still have some shopping to do, check out my latest holiday gift guide for fun ideas (or pop over to my 2015 post for some oldies but goodies). Happy shopping! 🙂

  • IMG_1259.jpgFor your spirit junkie friend:  The Universe Has Your Back 52-card deck!
    I loved Gabby Bernstein’s book The Universe Has Your Back, so when she released this deck of 52 inspirational affirmations, I knew I’d have to order one for myself. These cards are beautifully illustrated and provide positive spiritual mantras that anyone can benefit from. My favorite card reads Joy is the ultimate creator, but you can choose from so many other uplifting messages to help guide your day.
  • For your favorite feminist: This GRL PWR coffee mug.
    Effie’s Paper sells some of the cutest stationery “and whatnot,” but I keep coming back to to this mug. Order yours — or check out their other gift items under $25. (Is anyone else obsessed with the marble Post-It notes, or is it just me?)
  • For the monogram enthusiast: This floral monogrammed wine set from ChicMonogram.
    I’ve written about ChicMonogram before and I will always come back to them! Their store features more than 1,000 customizable gift items, from business card cases to kitchen supplies and much more! Some designs even feature Lilly Pulitzer prints. Check out the entire store here!
  • For the friend who loves Cards Against Humanity: Joking Hazard.
    This game is perfect for your friend who has an inappropriate sense of humor (read: me), especially if that friend hosts a lot of parties. This game is like the comic version of Cards Against Humanity, featuring artwork from Cyanide and Happiness.
  • For the natural beauty: Primally Pure beauty products.
    Primally Pure carries skincare and other beauty products with all natural ingredients that you can actually pronounce. As someone with incredibly sensitive skin, I’m obsessed with their lavender dry shampoo for dark locks and pretty much all of their lip balms, but the beauty brand also carries cleansing oils, spa kits, and more.
  • For the crystal lover: This rose quartz heart necklace from Sinus Finnicus.
    Rose quartz is my favorite crystal, meant to attract unconditional love. The store offers a variety of beautiful crystal pendants with other metaphysical properties as well! These pendants are shipped from Finland, so order early.
  • For the tea enthusiasts: This amazing watermelon oolong from AntiquiTEAs.
    I hosted a tea party at AntiquiTEAs in Winter Garden for my birthday earlier this year, and absolutely loved their watermelon oolong! They sell a variety of delicious loose teas online and in their store at the Plant Street Market. Check out the various flavors on their website — I promise your friends will love you for it!

What are you buying this holiday season? Share your favorite finds in the comments section below!

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