ORLANDO, Fla. – Florida and winter have a flaky relationship, but we have ways of seizing the few genuinely cold weather days we get down here.
When my out-of-state friends come visit, I debate whether it’s easiest to let them choose what to do or to just take them somewhere. I see my advice here as a bit of both attitudes; I’m not going to list out every single thing you could do around town when the temperature dips below 60 degrees, but you’ll certainly read about something fun, and it’s your pick.
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Let’s just draw a line between indoor and outdoor activities. All those favoring something with air conditioning, stay where you are. Those of you who pine for the fjords, I’ll see you further down the page.
Cold weather is almost like a novelty in Florida, and if novelties are your thing, you’re probably already aware of the great thrifting and antiquing that we’re blessed with. It’s not nearly as good as Georgia’s thrifting, but I digress.
I like to think of places like antique malls as museums where you get to pick up the artifacts. My family has been in the antiquing business for the better part of 30 years though, so it’s common knowledge that visiting a resale store during the holidays means you’re going to see a lot of Christmas, a whole lot of it. Still, it’s in places like these where you’ll likely hear Christmas classics on the radio instead of those covers that play in retail stores.
Normally I keep my favorite spots a secret, even if they’re already popular, but I’ll go ahead and inform you that the picture above was taken at Orange Tree Antiques Mall.
Have you willed yourself to decorate your home yet? I mean, come on, Christmas is on Sunday.
Theodore, pictured above, gives me a decent reason to avoid putting ornaments on my tree. I’m not going to assume that you do or don’t have a reason to decorate, especially because you’ll be taking it all down next week, but why not get a garland or two and go for it? I just suggested where you can find cheap, second-hand holiday decorations, get a grip.
Alright, let’s be serious. It’s cold, you’re indoors, what’s missing? Hot food and drink, that’s what.
Thaw some beef and ready the chili powder because days like these are for comfort foods, plain and simple. Our Florida Foodie content is well worth your attention in this regard, but there’s no shame in grabbing the keys and finding a restaurant open during the holidays if you don’t feel like cooking.
NOTE: An honorable mention in the hot food category goes to cold food, specifically the new holiday ice cream flavors at Kelly’s.
What would Orlando be without its thrills?
It’s a given, so I didn’t want to take up too much space for this section. We cover places such as ICON Park, Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando pretty regularly, but I did want to give a special shoutout to Dezerland Park Orlando.
I used to shop here when it was Festival Bay, but the place is now unrecognizable for the best reasons. You have go-karts, mini golf, a pinball gallery, multiple arcades with modern, classic and console games, bowling, bumper cars, a trampoline park, dart-gun battles, axe throwing, museums, food, shops, a bar and a movie theater all under one roof.
Sure, the theater was already there, but Miami-based Dezer Development really outdid itself with this one. Much to do.
Maybe you’re not here for go-karts and thrift shops, though. For you, good museums are plentiful..
Pictured above is my favorite, the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art in Winter Park. During the holidays, musicians are brought in at least once a week to “enhance the Museum experience,” in the Morse Foundation’s own words. The soonest performance is scheduled Friday, Dec. 23, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Otherwise, nearby Loch Haven Park is flanked with culture, with the Orlando Museum of Art, the Mennello Museum of American Art and Orlando Science Center hugging its perimeter. The Orange County Regional History Center in downtown always takes me about an hour to peruse, and the library down the street can easily make that two hours. The Albin Polasek Museum & Sculpture Gardens exists seemingly to make you fall in love with sculpture, painting and pottery simultaneously.
You’ll likely have to plan around any potential holiday-time closures, but I unfortunately do not make the rules.
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We made it. Here we are, halfway down the article and ready to talk about the great outdoors, or just the regular outdoors if your schedule’s tight.
While the water is something we often try to avoid outside, at least when it’s cold, Florida’s springs have famously never had that issue. Within a margin of one or two degrees, Florida springs maintain a constant temperature of 72° year-round.
I would recommend Wekiva Springs (pictured above) or Kelly Park for starters in our area, but a decent drive northwest will get you closer to Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, my true favorite.
Again, holiday closures may apply.
Just as Florida’s flatness gives us no shortage of places to swim, the whole state is traced with modest hiking trails.
They’re all very similar, for the most part. You’ll see Palmettos, hanging moss, Oak and Cypress trees, maybe some sand or the occasional stream, all on a generally level path.
We don’t have the most exciting hiking here in Florida, but there’s plenty of it. To find a trail, I recommend browsing AllTrails.com, though I’d start at Lake Lotus Park or Wekiva Springs.
If your pack has space for a tent, even just a hammock and a tarp, you’ll want to wait until it’s chilly to plan a camping trip in Florida. Trust me on this one.
I took this picture of my friends while we were out on the Intracoastal several years ago. Yes, this isn’t in Orlando, but I wasn’t going to leave this story behind without including the lesson I learned.
Here’s the short version: We canoed out there in the summer, in an area that we call Mosquito Lagoon for a very good reason.
So, unless you want to spend several days bathed in bug spray, hiding in your tent as raccoons wash their paws in your drinking water, wait until it gets cold to go camping in Florida.
Decorations? I thought we already talked about that.
Yes, but after you’re done decking your own halls, check out what your community has been working on. Places like Crane’s Roost Park, Park Avenue and Old Winter Garden are festively fitted for the season, and some of these front lawns could probably be seen from space, at least in my neighborhood.
We’ve compiled a list of some more holiday light displays to check out in Central Florida, find it by clicking here.
While you’re at it, do something kind for your neighbors, if you have any.
Fall and winter are beloved seasons by many, but not all. Given how Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years happen almost back-to-back, all largely social holidays, those three months can be tough for people who feel they have nothing to do and nobody to see. Between the fear of missing out, the shorter days, the memories and the cold, it is known to break people.
So, leave them some cookies. Everybody likes those.
You can listen to every episode of Florida’s Fourth Estate in the media player below: