Winter Park: Orlando’s Secret Haven

Enjoy a serene respite in this former resort village for a break from the nearby theme parks, with a farmer’s market, the Morse Museum Tiffany collection, luxury boutiques and sidewalk cafés.

Orlando, the most popular family destination in the nation, is home to Disney World and Universal Studios Florida and all those other attractions that leave our children in a blissful, catatonic state. But on your visit to Orlando, Fla., it’s also good to take a break from the crowds and the glitz by making the drive to Winter Park, a small town that lies just 15 minutes to the north.

Florida’s Winter Wonderland

Never heard of Winter Park? You’re not alone. The community of 28,000 has been a well-kept secret for many years. But some of the wealthiest travelers in the United States have long known about Winter Park, which in the 1880s became a favorite winter getaway for northerners tired of the cold. Over the decades, Winter Park blossomed into a sophisticated haven known for its fine dining, upscale stores and leisurely sense of style.

Today you don’t need to be a wealthy industrialist to sample the charms of Winter Park, which are easily enjoyed on an Orlando day trip. Or, if you want to spend more time there, plan a Winter Park vacation. If your stay is longer than a day, consider the charming 22-room Park Plaza Hotel, built in 1922 as the Hamilton Hotel to accommodate visitors to nearby Rollins College, the oldest college in Florida.

After the bustle of Orlando, Winter Park feels like a cool breeze on a hot day. The village is full of historic buildings, hidden gardens and moss-draped trees, while funky boutiques and charming sidewalk cafés line Park Avenue, its central boulevard. Nearby, dog owners walk pampered pets, and lovers stroll arm-in-arm through Central Park (it’s not hard to tell this place was settled by New Yorkers).

Boutiques and Luxury Pooch Shops

The stores along the avenue nurture a vibrant fashion scene, with many of the nation’s up-and-coming designers selling their wares here. During Winter Park’s annual Fashion Week each November, a little bit of New York comes to town, with runway shows, cocktail parties and meet-and-greets with designers. At any time of year, you can browse stores that include Tuni’s, known for its high-end women’s fashions, and John Craig, named one of the top men’s clothing stores in the nation by Esquire magazine. The town’s most famous retail outlet is Shou’ture, a boutique profiled by the Travel Channel. Elegant designer shoes with impossibly high heels line its shelves, and a free pedicure comes with each purchase.  

If you’re looking for just the right fashion statement for your golden retriever or shih tzu, don’t miss Bullfish, a whimsical combination of dog boutique and wine store (don’t be skeptical—it somehow works).

Winter Park Attractions and Museums

Winter Park boasts no fewer than four art and history museums, including the acclaimed Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art. The jewel-like museum hosts the world’s largest collection of works by Louis Comfort Tiffany, the master artisan of stained glass. Its galleries include an array of brilliantly hued jewelry, glass, lamps and paintings, as well as the Byzantine-Romanesque chapel designed by Tiffany for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. Its elegant confines provide a tranquil spot to rest and savor the beauties of the museum.  

Continue your afternoon with a leisurely cruise on the Winter Park Scenic Boat Tour. The 12-mile route winds through foliage-draped canals and along scenic lakes. The boat provides a birds-eye view of the campus of Rollins College as well as wealthy estates, many with lush tropical gardens. Scenic Boat Tour, 312 E. Morse Blvd. Tel. 407-644-4056,

Fresh Markets and Delectable Dines

On Saturdays, browse the stalls at the town’s Farmers’ Market, where local growers sell homemade pastries and pastas, and an array of freshly picked produce. Store-bought oranges will never taste the same after you’ve sampled one fresh from the tree. For lunch, try the Park Plaza Gardens on Park Avenue, where you can enjoy a leisurely meal at one of their sidewalk tables as you watch the locals saunter by.

End your day in Winter Park with a meal at one of its top restaurants. Among the most romantic is Chez Vincent, a cozy French eatery located two blocks from Park Avenue in Hannibal Square. Enjoy a candlelit meal of filet mignon au poivre followed by a tarte tatin or crème brûlée. Chez Vincent, 533 W. New England Ave. Tel. 407-599-2929,

You’re likely to leave Winter Park more than a little entranced by the unexpected charms of this community tucked in the shadow of Orlando.

Destinations: Orlando, Winter Park

Themes: Art and Museums, Shopping

Activities: Arts and Entertainment, Museums, Shopping

User Comments

It is a breat of fresh air visiting Winter Park,I have to confess after many years visiting Orlando I never heard about it.Now became a fashionable place to go suround by boutiques,winerys and good restaurants along Winter Park Ave.

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