The City Beautiful

Fountain in downtown Orlando

Photo op at Lake Eola

In 1990, I was a Walt Disney World College Program participant. At that time, I was in Orlando without a car and living on Disney property in Lake Buena Vista as a college intern. I mostly just went to work, then back to ‘Waste A Way’ Village; that was what we called Vista Way, an apartment complex filled with 1000 20-somethings from all over the United States and 11 different countries. I didn’t see much of Orlando beyond Disney property so when an old high school friend invited Henri and I to stay with her and her dogs for the weekend, it was a great excuse for a return visit.

There was about to be a lot of excuses. We’d been practicing them since high school.

Winter Park

Dogs visit the Winter Park Farmer's Market with their owners.

Winter Park Farmer’s Market

We began our adventures Saturday morning with three dogs in tow and a visit to the Winter Park Farmers Market.

I’d been told many locals refer to the farmer’s market in Winter Park as the dog show and true to that statement, there were plenty of them. In addition, like most farmer’s markets, there were also produce booths and booths featuring homemade this-and-that things. There was even a booth with dog treats. I grabbed myself a cup of coffee from one of the vendors, and after meandering through the market, we took an investigative stroll of other things in the vicinity.


The Winter Park area is very pretty and well-kept with a large green space, Central Park, right in the middle. Unfortunately, Central Park doesn’t allow pets on the grass.

BOO! (It’s a park)

The Park Avenue shopping district is also a little restricted. Many of the shops and public events do not allow dogs. With their ‘No dogs on the grass’ policy (insert eye roll), Winter Park is a little she-she frou-frou for Henri and I. We did, however, discover at least two stores we really liked. They sell dog treats and wine!

The Doggie Door on Park Avenue in Winter Park, FL allows dogs and sells wine.

Something about Park Ave to like

The Doggie Door sells a variety of canine accessories, apparel for humans and dogs, art, and miscellaneous décor. Unleashed is a California winery with dog-centric labels and names and the Winter Park store of the same name is filled with wine and gourmet gifts.

Since our visit the two stores have merged. Now, it’s just The Doggie Door. However, they still sponsor the Annual Doggie Art Festival in April, and the Annual Park Avenue Pet Costume Contest in October.

The only thing I regret not checking out in Winter Park is a restaurant called The Briarpatch. They are dog-friendly on their patio and supposedly have a great, albeit a little pricey, brunch. I really wanted to try the Southern Breakfast with fried-green tomatoes and cheese grits- I’ll be the judge of Southern- but with three dogs in tow it seemed a lot of trouble. Instead, we headed ‘home’ to rest.

After dropping off our host dogs, Lilly and Poot, who aren’t quite used to all day adventures, my friend, Elisa, Henri, and I headed back out for a walk through the Thornton Park District and a stroll around Lake Eola.

Thornton Park

Thornton Park district is a trendy combination of restaurants, bars, and housing situated on the edge of Lake Eola in downtown. If I ever move to Orlando, it’s where I want to live.

THIS place is dog-friendly!

The second Thursday of every month, they host an evening Wine & Art Walk. This would be the perfect time to stroll the brick-lined streets of Thornton Park, enjoy a few libations with friends, then watch the light show held at 9:30 p.m. at the Lake Eola Fountain. Serving as an icon for ‘The City Beautiful’ each night the fountain comes to life with synchronized music and lights.

You thought the icon for Orlando was a mouse, didn’t you?

Lake Eola Park surrounds Lake Eola boasting a pedestrian-only walking trail lined with art sculptures and restaurants. It’s home to a variety of animal species, including resident swans and swan-shaped paddle boats available for rent. The boats are dog-friendly but on a sunny, 70 degree afternoon, the line was long.

The trail is only open to pedestrian traffic- no bikes, skateboards, or skates- which is perfect for dogs who are afraid of people on wheels.

Instead of paddle-boating, we went in search of a shaded patio over-looking the lake. We landed at Spice Steakhouse. The service was a bit disjointed; they brought Henri a bowl but then forgot the water. The staff were all very friendly, but it took a bit for them to decide who our wait person actually was. Fortunately, the cucumber vodka lemonade with berry puree made up for all of that!

Sangria with a secret recipe

Sangria with a secret recipe

After taking some pictures of the fountain and the sculptures, we made our way back through Thornton and stopped at IZA, an ‘eclectic tapas bar’ (now permanently closed). We weren’t hungry so the waitress convinced us to try the red Sangria. I asked how it was made. She said it was burgundy based and that’s all she would tell us; the recipe is a secret, probably because it’s dangerous.

I would definitely come back to this place to try a few things on the menu and have more than half a glass of sangria. I suggest you stay downtown at the always dog-friendly Aloft Hotel and walk.

Orlando Farmer’s Market

On Sunday, we went back to Thornton Park and Lake Eola for the Orlando Farmer’s Market. The place was hopping with brunchers and the park was alive with people, dogs, and activity. Our excuse for needing to go was to find green tomatoes for my dinner challenge with E’s husband that night.

Beer, wine, mimosas, and people watching

Beer, wine, mimosas, and people watching

The Orlando Farmer’s Market, held every Sunday from 10-4, is a fantastic mix of food and merchant vendors, and right in the center of it all is a fenced picnic area serving beer, wine, and for $12, all-you-can drink Mimosas from 12-4. Let me repeat that.

All-You-Can-Drink mimosas. $12.00

A vendor outside the fence was decapitating fresh coconuts. Sans booze, it was the perfect refreshment. I could’ve stayed there all day but I had tomato fryin’ to do later.

Plan Your Weekend

Doing Orlando again, Henri and I would start with the Thursday night Art Walk in Thornton Park.

On Friday, I would have to visit EPCOT to ‘drink around the world’ and watch the laser light show from the waterfront patio at the Rose and Crown Pub (reservations needed). That would be a no dog day, but Disney has a boarding, grooming, and daycare facility on property. It also features a dog park where you can take a break from the people park and go play with your pooch. If you’re interested in a Disney vacation that accommodates the dog, this former employee has the scoop.

Saturday, we would head to Winter Park and check out the Southern Breakfast at the Briar Patch.

Sunday Funday is no-brainer: the Orlando Farmer’s Market.

I think our next trip definitely needs to be timed with the Disney Food and Wine Festival in Novemember.

We need an excuse to stay longer than a weekend.

Excuses, excuses, excuses…

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