Orlando — A Small Town Big City
by Scott Kauffman
With Walt Disney World leading the way, Orlando has long been known as one of the world’s top tourist destinations. In fact, a record-breaking 62 million visitors discovered Orlando’s magic last year.
But make no mistake, Orlando is no longer a Mickey Mouse town when it comes to putting down permanent roots. Last year, Orlando checked in as the 16th-fastest growing metropolitan area in the country, according to the most recent CensusBureau statistics, growing 2.2 percent to 2.3 million people.
There are several factors fueling Orlando’s promising future, from the slower-paced quality of life to the attractive real estate values and year-round sunshine. Throw in Orlando’s maturation as a truly sophisticated city, and it’s understandable why Orlando is being placed on the same pedestal as other great places to live around the globe.
What’s remarkable about Orlando’s transformation into a ‘big-league’ city is that the region still has a certain friendliness to it—something you don’t get in the hustle and bustle of other major metropolitan markets. As one longtime resident put it, Orlando is a “small-town big city.”
One of the best places to still capture that small-town beauty is south Lake County, namely the towns of Clermont and Montverde. For longtime commercial builder John Schmid, the perfect place is a low-density private golf club and waterfront community called Bella Collina.
“Bella Collina is a beautiful area with the hills and lakes that are really unmatched in central Florida,” Schmid says. “I love living in this area because it’s a small, tight community, but we’re still close enough to Orlando to jump in the car and be to most places in less than 30 minutes.”
“We get this peaceful country-like life with a metropolitan proximity. So we get to enjoy everything that Orlando has to offer and more. It’s the best of both worlds.” Some might even call it magical.
- 4 Rivers Smokehouse has some of the best barbecue around, including melt-in-your-mouth brisket.
- Charley’s Steak House, family-owned and operated since 1974, serves steaks, chicken, chops and fresh fish that are all cooked over a 1,200-degree Florida citrus and oak wood-burning pit.
- Dragonfly, located at the far end of Restaurant Row, is a hip restaurant serving up some of the best sushi around.
- Prato is located on Winter Park’s swanky Park Avenue, and this popular restaurant features handcrafted Italian cuisine, a vibrant bar scene and year-round al fresco dining.
- Seasons 52, though now a chain, is a top-rated contemporary restaurant that got its start in Orlando. The restaurant features a continually changing menu of seasonally-inspired fresh ingredients and flavors.
Top Things to Do
- Clermont Chain of Lakes–Recognized as the wakeboard capital of the world, Clermont is where many of the best wakeboarders go to train and play.
- Golf–Orlando is home to dozens of famous touring professionals, so play the courses the pros play.
- Sugarloaf Mountain–This famous biker’s destination in Lake County is the second highest point in Florida at 312 feet above sea level.
- Theme Parks–You know the usual suspects … Disney World, Universal Studios and Sea World.
- Wekiwa Springs State Park–This refreshing getaway is a glimpse of what central Florida looked like when the Timucuan Indians fished and hunted these lands.
- West Orange Trail–Connecting small communities and suburban neighborhoods, this is one of Florida’s most popular old rail-trails.