Going Rogue: Exploring Underground Orlando

Maitland Art Center (Photo: Rafael Tongol)

In Orlando, you’ll see plenty of oval car stickers with the letters “AP.” Those are the Disney World annual pass holders. Most locals, though, prefer to relax and socialize far away from the touristy hordes. Slip away with them to experience Orlando neighborhoods with their own quiet little magnets, spots where in-the-know residents find both intrigue and serenity.

At Lake Apopka, Walk on the Wild Side

orlando-neighborhoods-apopka.jpgLake Apopka (Photo: Rafael Tongol)

To Orlando natives, there are abundant wetlands and marshes, but absolutely no “swamps.” Much of the 130 acres of the non-swampland inhabited by the Oakland Nature Preserve is focused on making this distinction with signs to distinguish one wet grassy area from the other. But, the centerpiece of this quiet retreat is a boardwalk, two-thirds of a mile long, that leads through lush areas to Lake Apopka. Take the trail at the far right of the parking lot and you’ll happen upon zebras, wildebeest, and other seemingly out of place exotic animals. Guided nature walks are $3 per person.

Find Art and Heritage in Maitland and Eatonville

orlando-neighborhoods-zora-neale-hurston-nation-museum-fine-arts.jpgZora Neale Hurston National Museum of Fine Arts (Photo: Rafael Tongol)

Most Orlando art venues are about the art within, but the Maitland Art Center is a masterpiece in its own right. In fact, the 1937 building is now a National Historic Landmark, thanks in part to its distinctive Mayan Revival architecture. It began as an art colony by architect and artist J. Andre Smith, whose work is still on display among creations by today’s local artists. In addition to perusing traveling exhibits, today visitors from 6 to 106 might take classes or workshops. Women gather monthly for the Ladies Art Lounge, a wine-infused evening event that’s as social as it is educational.

Eatonville, dating back to 1887, was the nation’s first incorporated African-American community. Within this humble town of 2,000 stands the Zora Neale Hurston National Museum of Fine Arts, named for the renowned Harlem Renaissance author. As a continued celebration of the town’s heritage, the modest museum hosts two exhibits a year, each featuring the works of an artist of African descent. Guests can pick up printed information about Hurston and an annual festival held nearby in her name. A small retail area offers up art-based festival posters.

Explore Winter Park’s Historic Charms

orlando-neighborhoods-casa-feliz.jpgCasa Feliz (Photo: Rafael Tongol)

Despite its spiffy downtown and theme parks, Orlando’s history reaches pretty far back in time. The Winter Park community became a warm-weather getaway for wealthy northerners in the late 1880s. Delve into a slice of early Winter Park life at Casa Feliz, a 1933 Spanish-style residence designed by James Gamble Rogers II—who also designed Tallahassee’s Florida State Supreme Court Building. Rogers was given free rein at “happy house,” making the noted architect’s signature project more reflective of his personal style than any of his other residential or business creations. The structure, now an events venue, was relocated and restored in the early 2000s after a threat of demolition. It opens for free tours of its antiques, bell tower, timber, and bricks three times a week. Musicians entertain on Sundays from noon to 3 p.m.

Discover a Tribute to American Pride in Kissimmee

orlando-neighborhoods-monument-of-states.jpgMonument of States (Photo: Rafael Tongol)

For an off-kilter patriotic stop, visit the Monument of States in downtown Kissimmee. Inspired by the nationalistic fervor prevalent during World War II, this quasi-pyramid was built by local tourism booster Dr. C.W. Bressler-Pettis as a tribute to America. The structure is comprised of stones and other odd items from 48 states plus 20 other countries. The quirky statue is topped with a cement American eagle and Old Glory.