Florida, Your Eden: Although the theme parks have come to define Orlando, Central Florida has a long tale of its own, if you’re willing to listen. There are more fresh springs here than in any other American state. You’ll always remember swimming in the 72-degree waters of De Leon Springs State Park, canoeing them at Wekiwa Springs State Park, or meeting the at-risk manatees in their natural habitat at Blue Spring State Park.
- Florida, the Gilded Age Idyll: Of course, Orlando’s identity as a sunny theme-park mecca only began in 1971, but visitors from the north have been coming for a century. Sample the high art collected by its high-society settlers at Winter Park’s Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art (including a massive collection of Tiffany glass) or the Cornell Fine Arts Museum (with lush decorative arts of every description). Peep at their historic mansions, whose lawns slope invitingly to the tranquil lakes of Winter Park, on the long-running Scenic Boat Tour.
- Florida, Land of Flowers: The reason all those blue bloods migrated here? The fine weather and the beautiful water. The horticultural achievements at Harry P. Leu Gardens, practically smack in downtown Orlando, remind you just how bountiful the soil here can be. Or lose yourself at Bok Tower Gardens; its builder set out to create a Taj Mahal for America; its landscaping is by Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., whose other work includes the White House and the National Mall.
Florida, the Original Tourist Draw: Today, nothing is more quintessentially Orlando than Disney, but a few other major attractions never feel jammed: Legoland Florida ambles pleasantly on a lakeside that was once home to Cypress Gardens, Florida’s original mega-park and a haunt for everyone from Esther Williams to Elvis Presley. Its historic botanical garden has been prized since the 1930s. Gatorland is a pleasing, corn-fed throwback from an era when Central Florida was synonymous with reptiles rather than the Mouse.