ORLANDO, Fla. – April 7 is 407 Day.
Enacted in 2020 to support local restaurants during the pandemic, 407 Day has evolved into a holiday where folks in the Orlando area celebrate all our region has to offer.
So what does our region have to offer? Aside from, you know, theme parks and gift shops?
There’s art and food and nature and culture, and that’s just scratching the surface.
We’re taking a look at 12 things worth checking out, all within the 407 area code.
1. Getting creative
From fairies and dragons to colorful interactive art to music and dance, the Creative City Project designs imaginative events that let Orlandoans get artistic in public. The project was founded in 2012 to provide a paid outlet for emerging artists to show their craft and also connect Orlando residents to the area’s arts programs. The public projects have included IMMERSE in Downtown Orlando, Dazzling Nights interactive light event and the immersive Dragons and Fairies at Leu Gardens.
This coming May, Creative City Project and the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra will present Vivaldi’s The 4 Seasons, complete with projects, sensory effects “and other seasonal surprises.”
They also have a hand in IMMERSE, the three-day arts festival in Downtown Orlando that features interactive and imaginative art.
To learn more about Creative City Project, head to the group’s website.
2. The play’s the thing…
The Orlando area has several theater groups, but perhaps none are more important than Orlando Shakes!
Founded in 1989, the company performs a mix of classic and modern plays, and children’s works, with at least one Shakespearean play performed every season.
Coming up in April is Henry IV, part 2, as the company tackles Shakespeare’s history plays, the real-life inspiration for “Game of Thrones.”
The performance will be stripped down to the rawest elements, and performed the same way acting companies performed in Shakespeare’s time, the company said.
3. Public Works of Art
It’s along trails and inside parking garages and on power boxes and even storm drains. You can find art everywhere in Orlando. Seeing those murals, sculptures and more can be a day trip around the Orlando area.
Start off with Orlando’s Main Street districts and spread outward. The Orlando Main Street program gives neighborhoods a way to create distinctive communities around the city, each with its own cultural touchstones. That definitely shows up in the artwork in those communities too – the rainbows of Mills 50, the sculptures and murals of Thornton Park, the cultural art of Parramore and more.
Some of the art makes for great Instagram photos as well. Check out the swing in downtown Winter Garden, the angel wings outside Cupid’s Hot Dogs on Lee Road, or in Lake Nona, or in downtown Lake Mary or in the Milk District of Orlando.
4. Lunch and Learn
The Orange County Regional History Center is a great place to go if you’re interested in the history of Central Florida. It also has great events with a history tinge that give folks a chance to get in-depth on Florida topics of interest.
One of those is the Lunch and Learn Series. Get lunch and spend an hour learning about topics as varied as citrus production, sinkholes and Orlando’s Boyband history. This month’s Lunch and Learn was on Orlando’s Nickelodeon Studios. The Lunch and Learn series is on the first Friday of every month at the Orange County History Center.
5. Central Florida’s springs
Not all art in Central Florida is manmade, and Orlando’s springs have a natural beauty. The waters of Wekiwa Springs State Park in Apopka are at a constant 72 degrees, fit for swimming, tubing and other water activities. Go kayaking or canoeing, hike or bike the trails, and enjoy the wildlife.
Or you can check out the natural lazy river at Rock Springs at Kelly Park, also in Apopka. It’s also great for snorkeling, tubing or a picnic. There’s also camping and kayaking nearby at Kelly Park’s Camp Joy.
6. Tasty Tuesdays
Food truck events are popular all over the Orlando area. We even have permanent food truck parks like Ala Carte and World of Food Trucks. But one of the longest-running food truck events is every Tuesday in the Milk District. Tasty Takeover has been around since 2011. Each Tuesday about a dozen different food trucks throw open their windows and sell food throughout the evening in the area of Bumby Avenue and Robinson Street near the dairy.
7. Swans and Swan Boats
Is any list of things to do in Orlando complete without Lake Eola’s famous swans?
The story goes that a pair of white swans and a pair of black swans were purchased by the city in 1910. But one of the swans, Billy, was so infamously bad that he was banished to Lake Eola.
In the decades since Lake Eola has been synonymous with swans. There are dozens who live at the lake and get an annual wellness check in the fall. There are other fowl feathered friends around the lake, and if the waters are fair you can hop in a Swan Boat for $15 for a pedal paddle around the lake.
8. Festivals and markets
Most months there is a festival or market happening somewhere in the 407 every weekend. Whether it’s the famous farmer’s markets of Winter Garden or Winter Park, the Spring and Fall Fiestas around Lake Eola, or any number of music festivals, nature festivals, pet festivals or cultural festivals happening in the metro Orlando area.
Consider what’s happening in April:
- UCF Celebrates the Arts, now through April 16
- The Florida Film Festival, April 8- 17
- Orlando Taco and Margarita Festival on April 16
- Taste of Soul Soul Food Festival on April 21-23
- Dogfest Orlando on April 23
- Florida Puerto Rican Parade and Festival on April 23
- Kissimmee Caribbean Fusion Festival on April 24
- Downtown Orlando Jazz Fest on April 30
- St. Johns River Festival of the Arts on April 30
- Orlando Book Festival on April 30
And that’s just a sample.
9. Ecotours -- Florida style
Airboats, kayaks and paddleboards. Ecotours in Florida are a kind of choose your own adventure. You can choose the speed of airboating through the wetlands of east Orange, Osceola or Seminole counties, or the tranquility of a kayak up the Wekiva or Econlockhatchee rivers. It’s the best way to see alligators, deer, bears, manatees and other wildlife in our area.
10. Visit the food halls
Orlando is bursting with restaurants, but some of the best eateries are just a stall in a hall.
Food halls are growing in popularity across the metro Orlando area, and more are on the way. The food halls are giving business start-ups a chance to realize their foodie dreams by serving up gourmet food and drinks from a booth. Some of these eateries have gone on to open brick-and-mortar restaurants too. You’ll also find more community events at these food halls, including markets and festivals.
- Orlando – East End Market
- Orlando – The Hall on the Yard
- Orlando – Market on South
- Lake Nona – Boxi Park
- Winter Garden – Plant Street Market
- Avalon Park – Marketplace at Avalon Park
- Sanford – Henry’s Depot
More food halls are coming to Oviedo and Orlando in the next year or so.
11. Pick your own
How fresh do you like your fruits and vegetables? How about fresh from the farm, picked with your own hands?
You don’t have to go out far in Central Florida to find a farm to pick your own produce. Berries, peaches, cauliflower and more can all be picked from farms in the metro Orlando area. We have a couple of lists on our website for blueberry and strawberry season.
Some farms to check out:
- Windermere – Beck Brother’s Blueberries
- Winter Garden – Bekemeyer Family Farm
- Clermont – Southern Hills Farms
- Ocoee – Tom West Blueberries
- St. Cloud – Deer Park Peaches
- St. Cloud – Chapman’s Berries
- Oviedo -- Pappy’s Patch
12. Get deep, learn something new
The pandemic made in-person events impossible, but they’re slowly starting to come back, and Orlando has lots of groups that host regular events where folks can let their passions fly.
Take the Orlando Story Club. It’s a live storytelling competition where speakers get five minutes to tell a story that fits a theme to win prizes. Orlando Story Club’s next event is set for July 6.
Or Orlando Nerd Nite, where speakers engage the audience on a wide variety of topics. They hope to return sometime this summer.
Looking for some independent learning? Orange County’s library system has classes and seminars on everything from sewing to robotics and the tools to get started. The Downtown Orlando library has the Melrose Center, featuring maker space equipment like 3-D printers, sewing machines, and video and audio equipment. Everything is low-cost to no cost for county residents. You just need a library card. Find classes and groups to join at the Orange County Library System website.