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 }

*

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 }

*

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 }

*

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 }

*

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 }

*

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 }

*

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_ }

*

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 }

*

F77A30C1-66E6-46AF-8AB7-099C3D1B1BBF-10469-000007942EDD5506.jpg

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 }

*

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 }

*

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!

25 at 25 Bucket List: My Year of Yes

happybirthdaytomeJust a few weeks ago, I celebrated my 26th birthday! 🙂 I still can’t believe how quickly the time has passed or how weird it feels to know that I’m now inching a little closer to 30 than 20. It’s a weird transitionary time in my life: I still call my parents every time I need to know how to do something, but I also sometimes catch myself sharing really sage wisdom with a random college student and it truly feels like an out-of-body experience. (I’m pretty sure Britney Spears had a song about this.)

I started to feel this way leading up to my 25th birthday and was less enthused about turning another year older, so last year I created my “25 at 25” bucket list. I can get a little too wrapped up in the day-to-day craziness and find myself saying, “I wish I went there” or “I wish I had done that,” so at 25, I was determined to change this. I embarked on a Shonda Rhimes-esque year of yes, taking charge of my life and saying yes to new opportunities and adventures. I completed almost every item on my list, and many of those items led to new interests and hobbies. After attending a class on health and wellness at the East End Market, for example, I developed a newfound love for essential oils and aromatherapy. The class also led to my purchase of a gorgeous jade money tree, which brightens up my home and makes me incredibly happy every time I walk in the room, and a succulent — neither of which have died yet! My trip to Saint Augustine with my mom was one of the major highlights of my year, and visiting my best friend in the mountains of North Carolina was the exact change in scenery I needed.

Having this bucket list encouraged me to prioritize myself and be more open to new experiences. It translated to other areas of my life, as I found myself saying yes to local festivals and social gatherings I might not have otherwise attended (and having a great time).

Below is a quick recap of my 25 at 25 bucket list. Stay tuned for my 25 at 26 list, coming soon to a sporadically-updated blog near you. 🙂

  1. Leave the state of Florida for a vacationI took a trip to Boone, North Carolina, from 3/6 to 3/10, with a stop in Tennessee. Check out my recap of the trip here and my day trip  to Asheville here!
  2. Go to the Central Florida Zoo in Sanford. Anyone who knows me can probably guess that the goats were my favorite animals at the Central Florida Zoo when I visited with friends on 11/7/15. Read more about my experience here!
  3. See a local performing arts show. I went to see the Orlando Ballet’s Beauty and the Beast at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts on 5/1/16. It was beautiful, and I can’t wait to attend another performing arts show at such a gorgeous venue.
  4. Visit my sister in her new apartment once she leaves for graduate school. I visited Julie’s apartment for the first time on 11/27/15.
  5. Go to the planetariumI visited the Emil Buehler Planetarium at Seminole State College and attended The Star of Bethlehem show on 12/12/15. Read more about my experience here! We had such a great time that we ended up attending the Winter Sky Festival in January and have been keeping an eye out for more planetarium events this year.
  6. Pursue public speaking opportunities. This was a big one for me! I participated in several guest speaking opportunities that allowed me to get out of my comfort zone and become more accustomed to public speaking. Here’s what I did during that time:
    • Taught Junior Achievement classes focused on identity theft prevention for high school seniors (9/21/15 and 2/16/16)
    • Spoke as guest panelist on career panel at Seminole State College (9/22/15)
    • Presented as guest speaker for the Knights Special Events Society (10/14/15)
    • Participated in OCPS Teach-In to teach elementary school students about how to be a “super saver” (11/18/15)
    • Spoke as guest panelist for the Month of the Woman Panel at UCF (3/14/16)
  7. Roam around Leu Gardens in Orlando. I visited Leu Gardens on 7/24/16 and had an amazing time. If I ever meet the right guy, we are getting married in the rose garden. I decided this the moment I saw it. 
  8. Take a wine and painting classI loved this! The ladies in my family and I attended one of these classes and painted the Eiffel Tower on a starry night background on 4/8/16. The painting is up in my apartment now and is such a great reminder of a wonderful night.
  9. Spend the day in St. Augustine. My mom and I ventured out to St. Augustine from 1/9-1/10/16 and had so much fun. Check out the recap here! We are planning more mother-daughter trips for the future.
  10. Visit the Morikami MuseumI visited on 10/16/15 with my parents. The gardens were beautiful, and I learned so much from my visit. Read more about my experience here!
  11. Go on a behind-the-scenes tour of Magic KingdomThis one did not happen because of scheduling conflicts, but it is on the list for 26. 😉
  12. Apply to MBA schoolI not only applied, but I officially began my MBA program in May 2016 and am now in my second semester. I have a great cohort and am excited to see where this program takes me!
  13. Start a small side business for career coaching and resume writingThis one did not happen because my priorities changed. I realized with growing responsibilities at work and school, I didn’t want to add to the mix at this point in time.
  14. Ride the swan boats at Lake EolaI’ll be honest… I sort of forgot about this one. Maybe next year!
  15. Take a Spanish class. I took a “Spanish for Tellers” course through CUNA Professional Development Online, focusing on banking and financial terms, and completed the course on 12/22/15.
  16. Tour the Lakeridge Winery in Clermont and attend a wine tasting. I went to Lakeridge Winery for the Annual Grape Stomp Festival on 8/13/16, which included complimentary wine tastings.
  17. Go berry picking. I picked 2.5 pounds of blueberries at the Tom West Blueberry Farm on 5/22/16. U-Pick was such a fun experience, and my only regret was not doing it earlier in the season so that I could go back. Check out my recap here!
  18. Attend a class at the East End Market. I attended “Be a Resolutionary” workshops at East End Market on 1/30/16, which led to a new love for aromatherapy and houseplants. Check out my recap!
  19. Try a meal from a food truck. I attended Jazz on a Green in Lake Nona and ordered a grilled chicken gyro from It’s All Greek to Me on 11/14/15. It was pretty good!
  20. Host a murder mystery partyThis was too difficult to coordinate while juggling new responsibilities, but it may happen in the future.
  21. Embark on another round of Whole30I completed a round of Whole30 from January 1-30. Always a great way to detox my system!
  22. Drive out to New Smyrna BeachI spent the day out at New Smyrna Beach on 7/30/16, received a parking ticket after parking in the wrong spot on the actual beach (oops), and enjoyed a late lunch at Breakers.
  23. Watch a mob movie. I watched and enjoyed Key Largo on 9/3/16, among other movies featuring mobsters in the past year.
  24. Eat a macaron for the first timeI tried a vanilla macaron from Le Macaron on 10/17/15 and have since had them several other times in other flavors as well. I can’t believe that a year ago, I’d never eaten a macaron in my life!
  25. Treat myself to a spa dayI spent a morning at Hand & Stone Massage and Facial Spa on 3/27/16. So relaxing!

What was on your bucket list for the year? Share in the comments section below!

Adventures in Florida: A Weekend in St. Augustine

When I turned 25 just a few months ago, one of my first orders of business was to plan a trip to St. Augustine in the New Year. When I was a child growing up in South Florida, St. Augustine played a big role in my fourth grade education, as the oldest European-established settlement in the country and the first overnight field trip destination my classmates and I ever visited. I visited the town in passing a few times since, but wanted to spend more time in St. Augustine this winter.

In early January, my mom and I packed our bags and took a short road trip to the nation’s oldest city, where we would stay for the weekend.

LightnerMuseum

Our first stop was the Lightner Museum, which was originally the Hotel Alcazar built by Henry Flagler. Aside from the gorgeous Spanish-inspired architecture and picturesque landscaping, the museum boasts collections of antique musical instruments, sculptures, paintings, the stained glass art of Louis Comfort Tiffany, and several other historical and science exhibits as well.

LightnerMuseum

During our visit, we were also able to see the hotel’s original spa and Turkish bath areas. However, nothing was more festive and exciting than our lunch at the Cafe Alcazar, a restaurant located where the indoor pool used to be. I loved my hummus salad almost as much as the cafe itself, and would highly recommend grabbing a bite there for an elegant and unique dining experience. (After all, how often do you get to eat lunch in a swimming pool?)

Cafe Alcazar

After the Lightner Museum, we walked over to Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park. Of course, my mom and I drank from the Fountain of Youth, so now I’m hoping to be young and beautiful well into my nineties. If I’m still blogging by then, I’ll let you know how well the fountain really worked. 🙂

Fountain of Youth

We roamed around the park for the afternoon, visited the exhibits, watched a few videos on the discovery of the settlement, and fell asleep during the observatory show (okay, that was just me!). I also made a few unlikely friends.

Fountain of Youth Park

Seriously, these guys were everywhere!

After checking into the hotel and grabbing a quick bite to eat, we ended the night with a Ghosts & Gravestones ghost tour. I have always been a fan of ghost tours, and this one did not disappoint! We stopped at the Lighthouse Park and at the Old Jail, where we were visited by an old (slightly terrifying) prisoner. We had a fantastic time, all while learning about some of the more macabre history of St. Augustine.

Castillo de San Marcos

The next morning, we headed out to the Castillo de San Marcos, the country’s oldest fort that was owned by several nations at different points in history. It was an incredible experience to walk through a place that survived so many wars and attacks, in the footsteps of so many others before us.

Castillo de San Marcos

After the Castillo, we enjoyed a quick lunch in the Old City before heading back home. I had a wonderful weekend with one of my favorite traveling companions, and would recommend St. Augustine to anyone planning a vacation. 🙂

For a recap of my other Bucket List adventures, click here!

Have any of you been to St. Augustine? What were your favorite experiences?