One of my traveling goals for this year is to do some more exploring in my home state, because traveling doesn’t necessarily mean leaving your country or even your state. I live in Florida, which gives me endless possibilities for exploration that I’ve taken for granted until recently. I spontaneously decided to take a day to explore Winter Park, a small city near Orlando, known for its arts, culture, and history. This city is only about half an hour from where I live, yet I had never been to it and I knew I had to see what Winter Park had in store for myself.
winter park train station
My original plan was to take a train from Kissimmee to Winter Park, but instead of buying my ticket ahead of time I decided to ask to purchase it at the station, only to find out that there was only one more train running and it would be leaving at night, so I ended up going by car. Lesson learned: book everything ahead of time! The Winter Park train station is served by SunRail and Amtrak. This means that you can go to and from locations around central Florida, such as Kissimmee and Maitland (through SunRail) and you can go to and from locations throughout the United States (through Amtrak). Everything that I did in this post was a short walking distance from the train station and it was fairly easy to find my way back to the station at the end of the day.
rocket fizz soda pop & candy shop
While walking down the streets of Winter Park, I stumbled upon a really cool looking candy shop and decided to check it out. Rocket Fizz Soda Pop & Candy Shop specializes in candy and unique soft drinks, along with vintage, nostalgic feeling gag gifts and trinkets, tin signs, and more. Just looking around the shop was entertaining in itself. The taffy selection is huge and has flavors ranging from horchata to beer. The candy also varies by culture, like Mexican and Japanese, and even eras of time, such as candy from the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, and so on. The selection of sodas was insane, there were celebrity sodas (Snooki, Elvis, and Marilyn Monroe have their own sodas, apparently) and weird sodas like pumpkin pie, fog, and even barf. Rocket Fizz is worth at least browsing through and is a great place for people who like to collect vintage things or candy (obviously).
Hannibal Square is a historic community in Winter Park. It was founded in 1881, only 14 years after Florida reentered the Union after being a part of the Confederate States. This neighborhood was actually created through by the labor of freed black families in order to serve wealthy white residents. Overtime, Winter Park expanded and its black residents gained more opportunities. These origins explain why today Winter Park is still known as a place for wealthy people. Now Hannibal Square is full of shops, restaurants, and parks. It also has a heritage center in tribute to its past, present, and future African American community. Here you can learn about Hannibal Square’s history in depth, see African American art installations, go on a walking tour of the community, and more. I’ve lived in Florida almost my entire life and had no idea about the history of Winter Park, so it was definitely an interesting, unexpected discovery during my visit.
Pepe’s Cantina is a reallyyy good Tex-Mex restaurant located in Winter Park. Not only is it a really cute place, but the food was amazing and actually affordable. I made it there in time for happy hour (which is from 11-7) and if you order a happy hour drink, you get free queso for your tortilla chips. I ordered a frozen house margarita and three taco; shrimp, steak, and chicken. The shrimp taco was especially good, I wish I ate like five of those along with what I already ordered. For dessert I ordered a tres leches, which was also delicious. The service at Pepe’s Cantina was great, the staff was very attentive and made sure that our experience was a great one. Anyone who likes Mexican food and happens to be in the Winter Park area has to go here, not only did I love it but everyone I know who has been loves it just as much. In case you couldn’t tell, I’m definitely planning to go back ASAP.
Tucked away behind a fountain in a very European inspired corner of Winter park is Brandywine Books. I have a confession to make; since this trip was very much unplanned, I didn’t realize that a lot of places in Winter Park close early, so I didn’t get to actually go inside of Brandywine Books. They actually don’t even have definite closing times, which is a first for any business that I’ve seen. This book store is family owned and specializes in used, rare, and difficult to find books of all different categories, like art, religion, language, fiction, and travel (I was excited about that one especially). This is a place that I have to go back to because I love any kind of bookstore and to find a unique one like this was especially exciting. Plus, it’s always great to support a small business!
Fun fact: I love visiting cemeteries. Just something about how peaceful they are and the quiet reminder that everything is temporary is something that I’ve always liked about them. I visited Palm Cemetery on a whim. The person I was with and I were actually walking around Winter Park once it had already turned dark and I randomly wondered if there was a cemetery anywhere nearby and a quick look on Google maps lead me to one about 4 minutes walking distance. The interesting thing about Palm Cemetery is that it was completely open, no locks or anything to prevent you from going in at a certain time. The cemetery was pretty big and spacious, with paths and trees like a park. It was actually very relaxing to stroll around and take a few minutes to respectfully look at the gravestones, some extremely faded and probably forgotten about it, and think about the lives these people had led.
Most of what I did in Winter Park was walk around and take in the scenery. According to one of the locals, it’s best to leave to Winter Park early in the day because everything besides restaurants close at 5. Since I don’t live too far, I plan to return soon enough in a more organized way, but I had a great time visiting! Not having any specific goals or knowing what to really expect when going to a place was refreshing and I hope this post not only inspires others to visit Winter Park, but to travel to areas that aren’t far from home because you never know what you’ll find.