Hidden Gems in Central Florida

by Giavanna Riscinti

Welcome to the heart of Florida! Everyone knows about Disney World and you’re probably familiar with most campus activities, but you might not know about the other hidden gems that Central Florida has to offer. I guarantee that there’s something here for everyone—even Florida natives.

Natural and Outdoor Activities:

  • Birds of Prey (Maitland, FL): For those of you who enjoy nature and animals, Birds of Prey in Maitland has rehabilitated raptors—from tiny screech owls to large bald eagles.
  • Harry P. Leu Gardens ( Orlando, FL): These gardens sport 50 acres of tropical and semi-tropical gardens. They also have movie nights once a month where you can bring a blanket and snacks!
  • Kelly Park’s Rock Springs (Apopka, FL): Here you can enjoy a natural lazy river that is great for tubing or snorkeling.
  • The Get Up and Go Kayaking company (Address varies, see website for details): Starting at $45, Get Up and Go offers kayaking tours in 100% clear kayaks, meaning you can enjoy the view around you at all times.
  • Lukas Nursery (Oviedo, FL): This butterfly sanctuary offers tours of the garden with beautiful plants, birds, and, of course, butterflies!

Virtual Fun:

If indoor activities are more your taste, there are a few video game bars and lounges where you can chill with your friends and play video games:

  • Player 1 (Orlando, FL): This fun bar offers food, drinks, and, of course, games. You can also book the location for special events and parties. However, you have to be at least 21 years old to go here.
  • Joysticks (Orlando, FL): Similar to Player 1, Joysticks is a 21+ retro bar and arcade lounge offering specialty cocktails, crafted shots, bottled beer, and more for you to enjoy while you play.
  • The Void (Orlando, FL): This is an exciting and innovative option that not many people know about in Disney Springs. It’s a 4-person virtual reality Star Wars game that combines interactive sets with amazing technology. It’s an incredible experience that’s entirely unique!

Athletic, Indoor Activities:

  •  Andretti Indoor Karting & Games Orlando (Orlando, FL): Andretti is a great option for when the weather outside is terrible, but you still want to stay active. Here you can enjoy indoor karting, virtual reality games, a ropes course, laser tag, and arcade games.
  • Orlando Putting Edge (Orlando, FL): This zany 18 hole course allows you to play mini golf in the air conditioning with black lights.
  • Zombie Outbreak (Orlando, FL): If you think you’re really ready for the zombie apocalypse, then you and your friends can wage war against zombies with realistic weapons modified with lasers at Zombie Outbreak.
  • WhirlyDome (Orlando, FL): WhirlyDome combines lacrosse, basketball, and bumper cars into a fun and competitive indoor sport for you and your friends. While at WhirlyDome you can also play laser tag, use the arcade machines, or hone your spy skills like in Mission Impossible by challenging the laser room!
  • A Narrow Escape (Orlando, FL): Need more of a challenge? Then lock yourself in at A Narrow Escape, where you and your friends have to escape the room in just 60 minutes.
  • iFLY (Orlando, FL): If you are looking for something more extreme but aren’t ready to jump out of a plane just yet, try iFLY in Orlando for an indoor sky diving experience.
  • Winterclub Indoor Ski & Snowboard (Winter Park, FL): Ski or snowboard right here in the Sunshine State.
  • NinjaFit Gym (Orlando, FL): Feel like you are an American Ninja Warrior competitor with NinjaFit Gym’s fully equipped obstacle gym made for the show.
  • Outer Limitz Arena (Orlando, FL): If you just want to have fun and jump around, Outer Limitz has an indoor trampoline arena that even lets you bounce off the walls!

Food & Drink:

  • Nile Ethiopian Restaurant (Orlando, FL): Located near WhirlyDome, Nile Ethiopian Restaurant will give you a new flavorful experience to challenge your taste buds. This restaurant gives you a chance to chow down with your hands using their injera bread. I recommend the Taste of Nile Vegetarian for two (gluten free options available upon request, call ahead).
  • Ice & Bites Café (Orlando, FL): Ever wanted to eat snow? This café offers “Sno,” which is a unique cross between ice cream and shaved ice resulting in a cold, soft, and delicate frozen treat.
  • Kung Fu Tea (Orlando, FL): Kung Fu Tea is right outside of UCF and has Boba tea (aka bubble tea), a liquid treat with your choice of chewy tapioca balls or flavored jelly.
  • Toothsome Chocolate Emporium (Orlando, FL): This is a steampunk themed restaurant at Universal Studios that is guaranteed to be a great dining experience.
  •  The Edison (Lake Buena Vista, FL): Set in an abandoned power plant and with patios facing Lake Buena Vista, this “Industrial Gothic” themed restaurant has delicious classic American dishes like burgers and steak.
  • East End Market (Orlando, FL): If you want to shop and eat at the same time, East End Market has a laidback, eclectic atmosphere with tasty ramen, Gideon’s cookies, and other artisanal vendors.
  • Better than Sex (Orlando, FL): This upscale dessert restaurant is the perfect choice if you have a sweet tooth– remember that a reservation is recommended at this award-winning location.
  • Hotto Potto (Orlando, FL): If you want to make your dinner and dessert yourself, head to Hotto Potto for a delicious hot pot experience.
  •  Shin Jung (Orlando, FL): This Korean barbecue restaurant is another great option where you can cook your food at your table.
  •  Farris & Foster’s Chocolate Factory (Orlando, FL): At Farris & Foster’s, you can create whatever chocolate dessert you want: truffles, lollipops, pretzels, and even popcorn—all chocolate of course. Stop by for a few treats or rent the place out for a private party!


  • The Salt Room (Orlando, FL): Feeling stressed or under the weather? If you think a cold is coming or your allergies are acting up, visit The Salt Room and relax in a cozy, spa-like salt covered room to soothe your respiratory system while killing harmful bacteria.
  • Frozen in Time CryoSpa (Winter Park, FL): If you’ve hit the gym too hard or your body feels sore for any reason, see if you can withstand a 3-minute freeze in -220 degree temperature at this spa to reduce inflammation and recovery time.
  • East Coast Floats (Orlando, FL): If you’re a Stranger Things fan, you might be curious to try out a sensory deprivation tank. At East Coast Floats, you can float around in a salt-filled float tank, with optional music and lights. Some people describe the experience like floating through space, and others have epiphanies while meditating in the tank. Either way, it’s an unforgettable experience and healthy way to disconnect from the world.