Girls’ nights out are not without their charms, but these days there are fewer things are more indulgent than having an entire day to oneself. And in Orlando, whether you’re going it alone or have your BFFs in tow, a little downtown exploration – not to mention relaxation – is just what Dr. Decadent ordered.
Morning Meandering: Lake Eola Park
Orlando is also known as “The City Beautiful.” Why? Reasons are many, but one shining example is its compact and surprisingly verdant downtown, the crown jewel of which is lovely Lake Eola Park. Buffered by the glimmering high rises of downtown and the charming, brick-lined streets and Craftsman-style homes of the historic Thornton Park neighborhood, the park is a hub of activity and oft-cited resident favorite, hosting all manner of events and festivals year-round and a stellar Sunday farmer’s market. Grab a spot in the pay garage at Central Blvd. and Osceola Ave. (just steps from Eola Wine Company) and you’re off.
City centerpiece: the Lake Eola fountain. — Photo courtesy of Joe Shlabotnik
Walk it’s beautifully paved circumference amid the flurry of joggers and dog owners. This expansive urban lake may create the illusion of distance, but its circuit is less than a mile, an easy stroll that wends beneath towering moss-draped live oaks and sturdy, stoic cypress trees, past a pretty pagoda, modern playground and artful amphitheater. Photo-ops are many. Lake Eola is home to an astonishing population of water fowl. If you’re feeling energetic, join their ranks and set off in one of its signature swan boats, available for rent on the park’s west side, and just adjacent to the Relax Grill.
The menu at this lakeside café is reasonably priced and holds some surprises in the form of Greek and Middle Eastern fare. A nice light choice for girls’ day: the $10 combo platter of vegetarian goodies (Mediterranean dips, veggies, pita, hummus).
Or massage. Or facial. Whatever suits, really. Eo Inn & Spa, located just off the park’s southeastern arc (exit adjacent to the pagoda) offers a small boutique departure from the cavernous, cookie-cutter glamour of some resort-area spas. Sixty bucks will set you up with beautiful fingers and toes or splurge a little and go for the $99 deal, which affords you a choice of three 25-minute treatments from a limited menu. It’s a spa, so really: you can’t lose. If you opted out of lakeside eats, venture a few blocks, enjoying one of the city’s truly walkable neighborhoods and grab a bite at Dexter’s of Thornton Park (the Blue Cheese Blackened Chicken & Shrimp Salad is outstanding) or perhaps another eatery where the menu board catches your eye.
Patio culture at Dexter's. — Photo courtesy of Dexter's of Thornton Park
Afternoon: Retail Therapy
In an area with its share of expensive boutiques, where a cute bag or pair of jeans could set you back hundreds, Marie-France, back on Central, is an oasis of affordability and enjoys a loyal following of locals who love the idea of supporting small merchants over malls and big-box retailers, but have little patience for outrageous price tags. Cute dresses (casual and cocktail), shoes and jewelry are among the spoils, though sizes are sometimes limited.
Marie-France: Baubles, bags & bargains. — Photo courtesy of A.D. Thompson
Evening: “Wine” Down
You’ve walked (perhaps even pedaled), noshed, pampered and shopped. Time to drink. Exit Marie-France, turn right and head right next door to Eola Wine Company. Grab a seat on the sidewalk or within its rich, warm confines to sample whites, reds or, for an especially decadent girls’ day, bubblies. For $12-14, “flights” garner slightly smaller pours of four different varieties, order accordingly and prepare for take-off.