“Live as the locals do.” It’s a common tourism mantra that entices travelers to experience some of the less-frequent parts of any destination. In my other skin within the industry, I’m often called upon for suggestions of how to do so. My favorite is a morning outing to the Orlando Farmers’ Market at Lake Eola Park. It’s a laid-back way to not only get a breather from the mainstream, tourist crowds, but to also get a good walk in while taking in everything the Lake Eola area has to offer.
What do I mean by that? Well, readers, let me tell you.
Thirty-two years and running
The Orlando Farmers’ Market has been operating since 1987. While the location has changed over time, it eventually found its permanent home in the heart of downtown Orlando at Lake Eola Park, where it occurs every Sunday from ten in the morning until four in the afternoon. The original intent of the farmers’ market was to provide an alternative shopping experience to the downtown-area residents; the market’s attending vendors vary from local artists and artisans selling their work to farms you can buy goods directly from, like fresh-squeezed Florida orange juice – which our out-of-state travelers would love. Of course, you’ll see some commercial businesses in attendance, but theirs isn’t an impeding presence, as it’s more about marketing opportunities than anything else. And for anyone concerned about bringing the furrier family members, the market is dog-friendly and openly welcomes your pets – and, in fact, plenty of the vendors sell pet products and have water bowls set out for any companions in need of hydration.
Of course, any local can attest that parking is one of the biggest concerns of this specific area. To help with this, there are options, which vary depending on availability, distance, and whether they’re free or at a cost. Lake Eola proper offers free on-street parking, but this is typically the first to go unless you arrive early (or are just plain lucky); otherwise, there are garages and lots within a reasonable distance from the market, as well. If there is a cost, it’ll usually be about five to ten dollars, and you’ll want to have some spare bills on you since these are typically cash-only. Once you’re within the farmers’ market, this shouldn’t be concerning, as most vendors have caught up with the twenty-first century, but there are ATMs available if need be.
Take a stroll and grab a bite
The activity I never pass up at the Orlando Farmers’ Market is the simple act of walking the park itself. Downtown Orlando is known for its appreciation of the arts, and Lake Eola Park doesn’t shy away from having its own flare – the picturesque scenery of the lake’s fountain and amphitheater provide consistently wonderful photo opportunities, and there are several art structures sprinkled between the market sections. Personally, I dig Monument in Right Feet Major and Muse of Discovery the most (those are the long-legged statue and the lady that looks like what would be Mother Earth forming from the grass, respectively, for everyone playing along at home). You’re free to interpret that as you will, given the structures’ symbolism, but even if you have the mildest appreciation, it’s a safe bet that you will still leave with a favorite, since each art structure has its own personality. In any case, the art provides a great break from the market and some nifty snapshots to bring home.
If you’re like me, you’ll eventually grow hungry after getting lost in the scenery. Luckily, many local restaurants and food trucks take part in the Orlando Farmers’ Market, making the culinary world any attendee’s oyster. There are various choices, from Southern barbecue and Mexican to Asian-Fusion, and everything in between. If you have dietary restrictions, don’t worry – there are vendors offering vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free options. And select specialty vendors offer beverages, ranging from water, sodas, coffee, and tea to smoothies. If you want an unique experience, one of them sells you coconut water that you sip right from the coconut!
If you’re looking for a good suggestion, the hongos con queso and carne asada tamales from The Tamale Co. Mexican Street Food truck is the go-to for me and the wife. If none of the trucks or vendors strike your fancy, though, there are plenty of other close-by restaurants to choose from and, even, a beer and wine garden.
Not your average farmers’ market
The Orlando Farmers’ Market does more than support small businesses – other activities take place at Lake Eola Park simultaneously with the market. Whenever I’ve attended, I’m almost guaranteed to catch locals enjoying themselves doing any number of things; there’s been families bonding over yard games and people practicing yoga either solo or in groups – or, simply, enjoying the ambiance and fresh air. On an official basis, live music is performed at the market every Sunday, and you may even experience crossover events, such as the Fiesta in the Park, which is a bi-annual gathering similar to the farmers’ market but on a larger scale.
Visitors can take advantage of some of the other day-to-day aspects of Lake Eola Park, such as the swan boats and the waterfront playground, where you’ll see adults having just as much fun as the kids at times. These aren’t necessarily specific to the farmers’ market, and the swan boats do cost an additional fee, but they’re a cool way to make the experience yours and add a little romance for the couples reading this.
If anyone attending wanted to continue their downtown Orlando experience once they’ve had their fill of the market, Lake Eola is a close distance to several other shopping boutiques and coffee shops to do so.
Honorable mention: Winter Garden Farmers’ Market
We can agree that the Orlando Farmers’ Market is one of the best to visit (we did just go through an entire article covering this, after all); however, it’d be a shame to not talk about the other Orlando farmers’ markets, such as the one at Winter Garden.
Located at the downtown pavilion in Winter Garden, this market’s hours can vary but occurs on Saturdays typically between 9:00 am and 1:00 pm. It offers the same sort of vendors and, in this writer’s humble opinion, gives a better depiction of how you might imagine a “downtown” area would be. Winter Garden has its own events, such as live music performances every Friday (and during the market on Saturdays), as well as the Cruz N Car Show that happens on the third Saturday of January, April, June, and September between four in the afternoon and eight in the evening. The downtown Winter Garden area is home to additional local restaurants, shops, and the Garden Theater – a fine arts theater where I saw my favorite iteration of A Christmas Story.
The charm can be found all throughout this area, and if you can’t make it to the Orlando Farmers’ Market, this would be the choice I’d suggest.
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