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Explore Outside Disney and Discover Orlando

Most people who visit Orlando make a beeline for Walt Disney World. While it’s a great place to spend a vacation, it won’t give you much insight into the city of Orlando itself. You’ll find that spending some time outside the kingdom of Mickey ears and beloved cartoon characters can be just as magical. It may even offer you exactly what you’re looking for in a vacation.

Since there are lots of choices for great IHG hotels near downtown Orlando, finding accommodations throughout the city won’t be a hard task. What will be difficult is narrowing down exactly what to do in a city filled with sights, sounds, food, and excitement. Here are some suggestions to help you see the real Orlando outside of Disney World.

Experience the City

orlando florida parkImage via Flickr by Joe Shlabotnik

There is so much to do in Orlando with something for almost anyone. A ride on the Coca-Cola Orlando Eye will give you incredible views of the city with a bird’s-eye view of beautiful landscapes and landmarks.

Since any visit to Florida introduces thoughts of alligators, it would only make sense to check out Gatorland. Not only will you get to see the creatures up close, but you can also ride the Screamin’ Gator Zip Line over the marshes and habitats where they live!

You may not head to the Magic Kingdom, but you can cap off your trip with the Chocolate Kingdom Factory Adventure Tour. Here, you can surround yourself with sweet goodness as you learn about the process of making chocolate.

Enjoy the Outdoors

Orlando is home to many natural landscapes and plenty of outdoor activities. Even in the heart of the city, you’ll find beautiful sights like Lake Eola Park. It’s a beautiful place to take a walk, watch swans swim by, or jump on a paddleboat and have some fun. You may want to try to get there on a Sunday, when the Orlando Farmers Market sells local produce, baked goods, and artwork.

If you’re looking for something more private, you can head to Harry P. Leu Gardens. Here, you can spend time walking along the winding paths of the 50 acres of gardens surrounded by flowers and plants from around the world.

A trip to Orlando wouldn’t be complete without exploring the outdoors. If you want to get a good look at all the natural beauty of the area, a hot air balloon ride would definitely give you a unique outdoor experience.

Embrace the Food Culture

Orlando has been building its reputation as a culinary destination. With so many great restaurants to choose from, it’s easy to see why. One of the more memorable restaurants is the Red Mug Diner. Great for any meal and open 24 hours a day, this spot offers some tasty classic Southern comfort foods, like fried chicken and waffles, along with regular diner fare.

Food and art often have blurred lines, and dining at Café Tu Tu Tango offers the experience of both. You’ll find some delicious small plates to share as local artists paint and display their works while you dine.

Another restaurant that’s worth fitting into your schedule is Cuba Libre Restaurant and Rum Bar. The Florida location is great for a late-night meal before you lose yourself in Orlando nightlife.

 

Planning a trip to Orlando allows you to explore a city full of wonderful attractions, natural beauty, and incredible food. You don’t need to venture to Walt Disney World to capture excitement and adventure, but you’ll probably want to book another trip to the city since you’ll find that one trip to Orlando only scratches the surface.

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How To Eat Your Way Through The South

By Taylor Schear of  SOFLOFOODFINDS

If you’re anything like me, then you revolve your trips around food! With so little time and so many great choices, there is so much pressure to choose the absolute best restaurant. Well, I have got you covered.

Best Restaurants In The South

Below you will find a list of the top restaurants throughout America’s southern states.

Miami, FloridaThe Salty Donut Miami FloridaThe Salty Donut

The Salty Donut is in the Wynwood area of Miami. Wynwood is known not only for the famous street art, but also the food. Salty Donut opened their permanent storefront this past month. Before this, they were primarily doing pop up locations on the weekend. But after great success the demand became so heavy that they established regular hours Tuesday-Sunday. This is for good reason; the donuts are fantastic. They carry the “usual suspects” along with some interesting combinations. My personal favorite is their apple cider bourbon spiked donut hole. What is even better, is the cold brew cider that pairs perfectly with the donuts!

Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink miami floridaMichael’s Genuine Food & Drink

Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink is one of the most buzz-worthy restaurants in Miami right now! It is centrally located in the Design District. The restaurants popularity is due to the amazing menu developed by head chef and owner, Michael Schwartz. The food is all based on seasonal fresh ingredients. Pictured above is the figs with burrata. It is very simple, but I think that is what makes it great. Every single ingredient is the star of the show without overpowering one another. Make sure to save room for dessert. All the pastries, ice cream, and chocolates are made fresh from scratch, in house every day.

Athens, GeorgiaLast Resort Grill Athens GeorgiaLast Resort Grill

Last Resort Grill serves contemporary Southwestern style food in a very modern environment. The restaurant started as a music club in the 60’s, but now serves as a great gathering to eat with the community. The restaurant believes in supporting local farmers and companies by primarily using ingredients sourced in Athens. The dish above is the Pilancillo & Black Pepper Crusted Hanger. It is a tender local sourced hanger steak served with salsa verde, chili parmesan dusted corn, and charred tomato butter potatoes.

Big City Bread

If you are looking for a more traditional southern meal, then Big City Bread is the place for you. All the food (including the breads and pastries) are made fresh every day. It is the perfect place to grab a scone and coffee during the morning rush or sit down and enjoy some grits on a Sunday morning. The chef and owner is a graduate of the prestigious Johnson & Wales and has worked at restaurants all through the South.

Nashville, TennesseeEdleys BBQ Nashville TennesseeEdley’s BBQ

Edley’s BBQ must be one of my top three favorite restaurants of all time. It is a very casual vibe; everyone orders at the counter and sits down at one of the wooden tables to wait for their food. Don’t let the adequate furnishings fool you! The food is so flavorful and packed with smokiness. Make sure to come hungry, the portions are huge. There are multiple locations throughout Nashville, so you are never too far from an Edley’s!

Biscuit Love

Biscuit Love has my love! Again, this is the type of restaurant where you walk up to order your food and then go sit down. They do this to prevent the wait for food from getting too long since it can get quite packed on the weekends! You can probably tell from the name that they are famous for their biscuits. The restaurant is new (opened in 2015), but originally started as a food truck. The owners are graduates from Johnson & Wales, but have always had a love for brunch. You can immediately tell this when you walk in the restaurant.

Sprinkles Cupcakes Nashville TennesseeSprinkles Cupcakes

So as many of you know, Sprinkles Cupcakes is a national chain. However, it was my first time trying it when I visited Nashville. The coolest part is that they have a cupcake ATM. Yes, you heard me right… A CUPCAKE ATM. In goes your money, out comes any cupcake your heart may desire. The cupcakes are delicious, but so are their cookies. My favorite was the traditional chocolate chip. It was soft with just the right amount of chocolate folded throughout.

 


Taylor Shear ProfileABOUT THE AUTHOR

Hey guys… it’s Taylor Schear! Thanks for reading! I always love being able to share my passion for food and adventure with others! If you have enjoyed joining me on my food quest throughout the South, then make sure to continue to follow me! I am @soflofoodfinds on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. For more food travel guides then check out soflofoodfinds.com!


 

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Daily Digital – The Southernmost Point

Southernmost Point, Southernmost point continental USA, Southernmost Point Key West, Key West landmarks, Key West Attractions,

Today’s Daily Digital is another flashback from our impromptu road-trip/vacation in Key West.  The Southernmost Point is a buoy grounded in cement and is mentioned on pretty much every map we saw of the island while we were there. If you are visiting the area and happen to be devoid of any map or sign pointing the way, this popular attraction is located on the corner of Whitehead St and South St.

As the above Key West landmark shows, Cuba is only 90 miles from the southernmost point of Key West, and the continental U.S.A. You only have to spend a short amount of time in Key West and this proximity becomes obvious as there is a very visible Cuban influence in Key West. The food, the architecture, the music and the coffee are all sprinkled with Cuban flavour and add to the feel of having somewhat escaped the USA to some tropical island.

We only visited this Key West attraction on the last day we were on the island. We hadn’t really made plans to see it but since it seemed like every other tourist made a point of stopping by, we figured we should do the same and check it off our list of things we’ve seen. There was a small line-up when we reached the buoy (it was offseason so there are probably much larger lines when tourism is at its peak) so we stood in line, waited our turn and snapped a quick photo as a reminder of how close we were to a culture and country, so distant from ours.

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Dancing Statue in Key West

 

One of our favourite adventures was our road trip to Key West. We had a great opportunity to explore the island, take in the culture and history and see some of the most beautiful sunsets!

When walking down the streets of Key West, you soon notice there is something interesting everywhere you look. On one of our walks around the city, we happened to wander our way, unknowingly, to the Key West Custom House & Art Museum. The first thing that alerted us to the significance of the building was the giant statues displayed around it.

In particular, we noticed the above statue of two dancers titled “Time For Fun” and sculpted after Renoir’s painting “Dancing in the Country”. One of several sculptures created by J. Seward Johnson, this statue must be at least 20ft tall and adds to the quirky, fun-natured atmosphere one seems to find in the Keys. There is another sculpture of a dancing couple, also based on a Renoir painting, as well as a somewhat curious sculpture based on a Matisse painting involving several dancing, and naked, women. But it is Key West, and it seems the quirky, fun, vibrant and interesting all mesh together on this incredible island.

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Table For Two – 11th Street Diner

On our drive back from our trip to the Keys we decided to stop for dinner in Miami. It was already past dinner time, we were hungry and tired, and we figured anything would taste good but we really wanted to have an enjoyable meal.  We had read quite a few reviews about 11th Street Diner and thought it would be a good option. After finding parking in a lot not too far away, we walked to 11th Street and Washington Ave where we spotted the Airstream looking dining car that housed the restaurant.

The interior of the restaurant was modern, clean and inviting and on this particular day, very busy.  Since the main dining area was full we were seated at the only available table in the bar area. This area was even cozier and decorated with a beautiful large mural beside the bar. A waiter was at our table almost immediately.

There is a lot to choose from off of their “All Day” menu which is inspired by traditional American fare.  With everything from all day breakfast to turkey dinner and corn fritters to fresh Mahi, the menu is packed with delicious sounding meals and we had a tough time choosing. What narrowed it down for us were the asterisks beside certain items indicating that they were featured on the Food Network (we looked it up and they were visited by Guy Fieri in an episode of Diner’s, Drive-Ins, and Dives). We chose two dishes from the show: pork chops and the Argentinian skirt steak.

11th street diner maimi, pork chops

Pork Chops with apples and raisins and a side of rice and beans with veggies – $14.95 USD

The pork was tender and bursting with flavour from seasonings and the combination of apples and raisins. The rice and beans were a perfect compliment and tasty on their own. Altogether the dish flowed perfectly from one element to the next. The only thing wrong with it was that there was no way to stop eating until the plate was empty.

11th Street Diner argintinian steak

Argentinian skirt steak with tomato garlic relish and homemade mashed potatoes – $14.95 USD

The steak was melt in your mouth and the relish was so good we could have eaten it on it’s own, but with the meat it added incredibly sophisticated flavours to each delicious bite. The homemade mashed potatoes actually tasted homemade and put with the rest, it helped make this meal one of the most memorable ever.

This restaurant in one word? Unforgettable. If you are in the area, dining here is a must. And don’t worry if you can’t make it until late – this restaurant is open 24 hours!!

Have you dined in Miami before? Comment below and let us know your favourite restaurant!

 

11th Street Diner

1065 Washington Ave

Miami Beach, Fl

305-534-6373