Waterford Lakes/Avalon Park 

Suburban convenience meets small-town appeal

click to enlarge Groom, Grub and Belly Rub
  • Groom, Grub and Belly Rub

Downtowners who don’t wander further east than Semoran Boulevard (because that’s where all of life’s little necessities, like Costco and the airport, can be found), tend to think of the Waterford Lakes/Avalon Park area of town as a sort of strip-mall wasteland. And sure, the Waterford Lakes town center is a mall, but if you’re the type who’s more at home in a suburban, name-brand environment, there are certainly worse places to live, work and play. The area is full of gated-community enclaves where people take pride in their big houses with lush green lawns and streets so quiet the kids can safely ride their bikes around in the evenings. And, of course, everything’s conveniently located to the shopping centers.

The main Waterford Lakes shopping mall – a sprawling outdoor mall that often hosts Adidas tent sales, beer fests and (occasionally) quirky community markets – does indeed offer a little bit of everything: There’s a Barnes and Noble, an Ulta, a TJ Maxx and more for the living and the working (aka, shopping). For the playing, catch a movie at the Regal Cinema, then hit up the Friendly Confines (435 N. Alafaya Trail, 407-736-9182, myfriendlyconfines.com), a sports bar that caters to the pub grub and a pitcher set, or check out Miller’s Ale House (641 N. Alafaya Trail, 407-736-0333), where you can sit down for the full tavern experience (steaks, seafood, more than 75 different kinds of beer). Eat too much? Fortunately, there’s an LA Fitness (815 N. Alafaya Trail, 407-380-1526, lafitness.com) in the mall, as well.

Just down the road from Waterford Lakes (OK, it’s a good 10-minute drive) is Avalon Park. If you’re really into the “I want to live in a community with the convenience of a downtown, with a yard and a big house and without the hassle of actually living in a downtown,” this ginormous planned community was made for you. There’s a town center with shops and restaurants. There’s a coffee shop, naturally, which every town center needs – Avalon Perks (12001 Avalon Lake Drive, 407-282-8100, javavineyard.com) – and a pizza place – Milano’s Pizza (3564 Avalon Park East Blvd., 407-273-2677, milanosatavalon.com) – as well as sandwich shops, sushi, Thai food and ice cream.

Got dogs? If you live in the ’burbs, there’s a good chance you do – and Avalon Park is ridiculously dog-friendly. There’s a reliable veterinary clinic right in the ’hood: Avalon Vet Clinic (3520 W. Avalon Park Blvd., 407-275-3430, avalonvetclinic.com), a dog park and an independent pet-supply business called Groom, Grub and Belly Rub (3702 E. Avalon Park Blvd., 407-277-7387, groomgrubandbellyrub.com), which offers cage-free grooming and a long list of all-natural pet foods, treats and supplements.

Then there’s the other thing about Avalon Park that most people who refuse to venture that far east realize: It’s full of green space, walking trails, parks and little oases, many of which are walking distance from the little downtown, where you can lose yourself in peaceful reverie without feeling like you’re in the middle of suburban sprawl or a blacktop jungle. Not so bad, after all.

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