A newcomer’s take on downtown Orlando

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Meg White’s sculpture “Discovery Muse” rests her head at Lake Eola.  Photos courtesy of Becca Burzlaff

I can recall the look on people’s faces when I told them I was moving to Orlando. They would all ask me the same question, “Why?”

My response back was always, “Well, have you been?” To my lack of surprise, the majority had not.

Like anywhere in the world, the City Beautiful has unknowingly created a name for itself to those who have never been before — a reputation that involves either mouse ears or outlandish news headlines — but I knew there is more to not only Florida but downtown Orlando.

Coming from Los Angeles, downtown L.A. isn’t even considered when planning your weekend, unless there’s a game or a concert at the Staples Center.

That’s not the case in Orlando. From grabbing happy hour after work to the Farmers Market on Sundays at Lake Eola, there is plenty to do. It seems like every weekend there is a laundry list of events to choose from, from art galleries to festivals. My social calendar has never been this busy until I moved here, and I still do not get to do everything I plan on.

The Walt Disney Amphitheater at Lake Eola displays its pride.

It is also no secret that downtown Orlando has had a major growth spurt over the last few years, but that’s not what makes it so unique. Well-themed bars, hip coffee shops, and sports centers are what make any city cool, but what really makes this city tick is the people.

I have never experienced such a strong sense of community more than I have with Orlando. All the different districts are neat in their own ways, but they are all united in the fact that they celebrate being from here. The City even blocks off one of the main roads on Friday and Saturday nights, just so people can walk around safely. I haven’t experienced anything like that before unless it was for a special occasion.

There’s energy to this city that is indescribable. Genuine conversations happen, connections are made, and the city reflects this. Orlando is thriving because of the passion and love people have for it. From every piece of trash you don’t see to every new tree planted to even the blooming art scene, all help to create the message we tell to people visiting: We’re so much more than meets the eye.

It has officially hit one year since I moved here. I have paddled a swan boat, networked at Celine, cheered on the Magic and Solar Bears, and rubbed elbows with the locals. I used to drive by downtown and be upset by not seeing the same skyline I was so used to for 17 years of my life. I am not sure when, but that feeling fled, because now when I pass downtown, I smile knowing I am a part of something bigger than myself.

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