Orlando is considered a playground for the young and young-at-heart, but beyond the theme parks, there’s another area of magic to explore: One for lovers of art. Take a break from the crowds to a world just north of the entertainment mecca, where art collections and well-appointed homes with lake views reside, where Spanish moss–draped cypress trees line brick roads and where boutiques and restaurants staffed by cheerful college students await.
Your first stop: The Orlando Museum of Art. This year, the museum rocked the art world with its exhibition “Heroes & Monsters: Jean-Michel Basquiat, The Thaddeus Mumford, Jr. Venice Collection,” which showcased 25 never-before-seen paintings by the celebrated Neo-Expressionist. The permanent collection boasts more than 2,400 objects, including contemporary art, American art from the 18th century to 1945, art of the ancient Americas and African art.
About 10 minutes north, discover the city of Winter Park, a treasure trove of art collections. At the top of your list is the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art, which houses the world’s most comprehensive collection of works by Louis Comfort Tiffany, including the artist and designer’s jewelry, pottery, paintings, art glass, leaded-glass lamps and windows, as well as art and architectural objects from his Long Island country estate, Laurelton Hall. You can even step inside the breathtaking chapel interior he created for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The museum’s holdings also include American art pottery, late 19th- and early 20th-century American paintings, graphics and decorative art.
Explore the campus of Rollins College—which fronts glistening Lake Virginia and is often ranked as one of the most beautiful college campuses in the nation—and the art collection in its museum. The Rollins Museum of Art features rotating exhibitions and an extensive permanent collection that includes the only European Old Master paintings in the Orlando area and a sizeable American art collection. Its forward-thinking contemporary art collection is on view both at the museum and in its on-site boutique hotel, The Alfond Inn. Proceeds from the Inn, which was named after art collector and alumnus Theodore Alfond and his wife, Barbara, fund student scholarships.
Spend an afternoon at the Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Gardens, which is located on a stunning waterfront property on the banks of Lake Osceola. The museum’s collection focuses on American representational sculpture, with over 200 works by the Czech-born sculptor.
Get a novel view of the Polasek Museum and other grand estates in Winter Park—including the home Fred Rogers of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood had built when he was a student at Rollins College—by booking a tour with Scenic Boat Tours. Marvel at the architecture, the flora and fauna as you sail across three of Winter Park’s seven lakes and two narrow manmade canals.
“Winter Park offers so many unique experiences like having a meal at the Alfond Inn in the company of world-class contemporary art or touring Sir David Adjaye’s spectacular new Winter Park Library & Events Center,” says Ena Heller, Rollins Museum of Art director. “You’ll soon understand our moniker as ‘The City of Arts and Culture.’”
Where to Stay
Courtyard by Marriott Downtown Orlando
730 N. Magnolia Ave., Orlando, marriott.com
Travel 15 minutes north, and you’re in Winter Park; travel 20 minutes south, and you’re at Universal Studios. At the conveniently located Courtyard by Marriott Downtown Orlando, you’ll find the friendliest staff: From the front desk, to the Bistro, to housekeeping and the shuttle service, the employees clearly love working here. This Marriott property, with its hip, modern décor, is impeccably clean and offers pillows so comfortable you’ll be asking where you can buy them for your bed at home. From breakfast to dinner, the Bistro offers fast, delicious fare and has a full-service bar with signature cocktails and craft beers. But whatever you do, order the fries. Trust us. You’ll want seconds. Relax at the end of the day in the courtyard with cocktails, in the heated outdoor pool or by the fire pit.
Where to Eat
Café Tu Tu Tango
8625 International Dr., Orlando, cafetututango.com
Café Tu Tu Tango serves up a vibrant, festive dining experience surrounded by a robust art collection and working visual and performing artists. Where else can you enjoy drinks with names like “Starry Night” and “Banksy Smash” and share inventive tapas—the Cajun Chicken Egg Rolls are a flavor you’ve never before experienced—while sitting next to a painter immersed in his canvas? On your way out, purchase an artwork to support the local arts community as the perfect souvenir of your tour of Orlando’s art scene.