Explore Orlando's lesser-known (and often less crowded or expensive) attractions 

Be a tourist in your own town

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click to enlarge Pearl, one of Gatorland’s seven white alligators
  • Pearl, one of Gatorland’s seven white alligators


If the Gator Spot exhibit at Fun Spot isn't big enough to satiate your saurian appetite, slither southbound along the Orange Blossom Trail to a place where Central Florida's legacy of pre-Disney roadside attractions still proudly lives on. Founded in 1946 by entrepreneurs Owen and Pearl Godwin, Gatorland has long advertised itself as Orlando's "best half-day attraction," but fans of flora and fauna can easily expend a full afternoon exploring the park's 110 acres of verdant swampland. Alligators are obviously the attraction's marquee stars – from the iconic open-jaw entryway to the signature Gator Jumparoo show, where leapin' lizards lunge for their lunch – but there are also plenty of feathered and furry residents, including a bounty of breeding birds and a pair of protected Florida panthers. Single day adult admission is under $30, and an annual pass is only $15 more, but daredevils will want to spring for a slide down the 1,200 foot-long Screamin' Gator zip line, if only for the bird's eye view of the alligator breeding marsh. Don't depart without trying the deep-fried gator nuggets from Pearl's Good Eats; yes, they taste like chicken.

click to enlarge Mead Botanical Garden, Winter Park
  • Mead Botanical Garden, Winter Park

Mead Botanical Garden

The City Beautiful boasts a bounty of public parks, including Dickson Azalea, Lake Eola and Leu Gardens. But the "City of Culture and Heritage," Winter Park, is home to Mead Botanical Garden, a 48-acre "urban oasis" located near Loch Haven. Mead Garden tends to fly under the radar, with many neighboring residents only vaguely aware of its existence. That's partly because, aside from weekly yoga and tai chi classes, Mead doesn't hold many regularly scheduled activities, though they are looking to host more cultural events like Christie Miga's recent "Luminosities" art opening. But the facility is free to visit from 7:30 a.m. until dusk daily, and the grounds – a wetland wilderness full of foliage and waterfowl – are ideal for hiking, biking, bird-watching or simply picnicking. Mead is even home to the region's first geocache location, if you're still into that pre-Pokemon Go GPS-based game. And if you're searching for an unconventional outdoor wedding venue, Mead's amphitheater is tough to beat.

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