Many Orlando residents hail from other states and countries, so you hear plenty of accents, twangs and drawls. You’ll also hear Spanish, Creole, French and Portuguese.
Years before it officially became a city in 1885, Orlando was home to small groups of Native Americans. After the Second and Third Seminole Wars, European settlers established cattle ranches and the citrus industry followed soon after. Today, Orlando is known as a major centre for both tourism and the high-tech industry, attracting residents from around the world.
Just north of Orlando, the nation’s first entirely African American town, Eatonville, was the home of celebrated author Zora Neale Hurston. Each winter, locals stage the Zora Neale Hurston Festival of the Arts and Humanities, headlined by celebrities like poet laureate Maya Angelou.
Orlando’s ethnic communities include an Asian population near downtown teeming with busy Thai and Vietnamese restaurants, markets and tailor shops. Farther east, Cuban, Puerto Rican and other Hispanic and Latin specialty stores and bakeries offer a variety of treats. Even if you’re not venturing far from popular tourist sites, you can discover authentic eateries offering tastes of Turkey, Greece, India and Lebanon as well. Of course, you won’t have trouble finding fresh seafood or good Southern barbecue and soul food.
Close to Eatonville, historic Winter Park oozes with a picturesque, cultural vibe. A haven for wealthy northerners seeking to escape harsh winters in the early 1900s, the city remains a charming diversion. Its 60-year-old Scenic Boat Tour Company offer trips on board a pontoon boat along Lake Osceola, cruising through narrow canals built for 19th-century loggers. The captain may tell stories about the fancy lakefront estates spotted along the way and point out sleek cranes, herons and anhingas (also known as snakebirds) diving for fish.
Other Winter Park and Orlando art museums showcase everything from folk art to Native American artifacts. The Orlando community also boasts great live theatre, ballet, symphony and chorus groups.
Orlando treasures its ties to the land and the lakes that support local tourism. Central Florida fish camps serve up large helpings of fried catfish and southern specialties. Boat captains in Orlando and Kissimmee help eager tourists catch trophy-sized bigmouth bass. Kissimmee’s Lake Tohopekaliga (known to locals as “Toho”) flows into the Kissimmee River and then onto Lake Okeechobee and the Florida Everglades. It is a treasure trove of creatures including osprey, eagles, snowy egrets, blue herons, wood storks, turtles and alligators.