Day 169: A Local’s Guide to Hidden Orlando

Yesterday, I was on an airplane listening to some of my fellow passengers discuss their plans for their time in Orlando. Not surprisingly, they were all discussing the theme parks. I was born and raised in Central Florida and am here to tell you that there is so much more to the area than Mickey Mouse and Harry Potter. Therefore, I’ve decided to spend day 169 of the Nowhere To Be Project highlighting some of my favorite spots in greater Orlando.

Wekiwa Springs State Park

1- Wekiwa Springs State Park: If you’re interested in seeing what Florida was like for the Timucauns (way before Walt Disney moved in), take a drive to Wekiwa Springs (pronounced Wuh-kie-vuh). It is about 45 minutes drive from the theme parks and just twenty minutes from downtown. I grew up just a mile or so from the springs and visited regularly as an escape from the heat. Because Wekiwa is a natural spring, the water remains at 72 degrees year-round. Be careful while swimming because the rocks do get slippery and wildlife is abundant (yes, snakes and alligators)! Be sure to rent a canoe and paddle down to the island marina for a bite to eat. Feeding the raccoons there as a kid was a highlight of my youth. That was before we realized how detrimental it is to feed wildlife!

2- Cassadaga: Cassadaga’s nickname is the “psychic capital of the world” which tells you about some of what you’ll fine there. Aside from the spiritualists, it is an old artsy town filled with history and mystery. Many believe that the unique energy in this town is residual from the early Native American settlers who once inhabited the land. The town itself is anchored by an old hotel and is peppered with quirky shops, many of which have resident mediums. As teenagers, my friends and I would come to town looking for ghosts. We never found any, but always met interesting people. I still find the town, its scenery, and its residents fascinating. I recommend that visitors take a few hours to check it out for themselves.

3- New Smyrna Beach: Cocoa Beach and Daytona Beach may get all of the glory (and people) in terms of Central Florida beaches, but New Smyrna Beach is the favorite of locals. During the week, the town and beach are mostly sleepy, yet can become quite crowded on weekends and holidays. Don’t worry about hauling your stuff to the sand because you can pull your car right onto the beach here. Try to park close to the jetties for challenging swimming and surfing. Be sure to stop at Frozen Gold on your way out of town for a chilly treat.

New Smyrna Beach

Day 101: Climbing Mount Dora

I spent day 101 of the Nowhere To Be Project in Mount Dora, Florida. It sits at a whopping 184 feet above sea level which is most definitely considered high altitude in Florida. I’ve been coming to this town for years because is represents one of the last strip-mall free corridors in the state. The charming downtown district is situated adjacent to Lake Dora and was founded in the mid 1800s by Dora Ann Drawdy who arrived there from Georgia in search of the frontier life.

These days you’ll find a scenic scattering of independently owned shoppes and restaurants throughout town. My personal favorites are the Hospice Hope Chest, where all proceeds support palliative care, and Goblin Market, an adorable restaurant with a cool library treehouse vibe. Their menu is not rich with vegan options though (hint, hint to the proprietors), so I’m mostly limited to salad when dining with them since my transition to a plant-based diet. There are many options for lodging as well including several b&bs and a hotel making it a very popular weekend and wedding destination.

It was 93 degrees with full humidity during my visit this afternoon which made the open air design quite stifling, but useful for the loss of a bit of water weight, haha. Mount Dora is a wonderful stop for those who are seeking an authentic taste of old Florida, but I would recommend visiting during winter months unless you’re interested in a nonstop steam bath. Welcome to the swamp sauna that is Central Florida for the better part of nine months each year!

Day 69: Not Just Any Sandwich

On Day 69 of the Nowhere To Be Project, I happened upon an amazing new restaurant in Central Florida. Don’t you love when that happens? I was out gathering supplies for our upcoming six week voyage in our RV when my stomach came a calling. I used my Happy Cow app for the first time to find local restaurants offering vegan options. A place called “The Wildflower Co.” popped up as an option just a few miles from where I was. When I pulled into the parking lot, my first thought was, “oh, well, the place must have gone out of business”. I was so bummed! As I was about to exit the small rundown plaza, I spotted a sign that read “Vegan Cafe Around Back”. With that, I parked and headed out back hoping for a yummy feast.

Thankfully, I spotted the “Vegan Cafe Around Back” on the sign just as I was about to leave the plaza!

The facility itself is nondescript to the point that I wasn’t sure if they were open when I entered. I did see someone sitting at a table, so I approached the counter and perused the two-page photocopied menu. Just then, a staff member came from the back to take my order. I was informed that the photocopy represented their brand new menu. I was torn between the ReLoaded Tots and the Shrymp Po’ Boy. I went with the sandwich despite not knowing what soy curls were and was offered a choice between tater tots, potato salad and macaroni and cheese as a side and decided on the latter. I grabbed a seat by the window to wait for it all. While the decor at The Wildflower Co. is very utilitarian and sparse, there was a lovely view of a pond and outside dining area from my hightop table. After about ten minutes, another staff member delivered my meal.

I was shocked by the enormity of the sandwich. It looked and smelled amazing and I couldn’t wait to bite into it. The soft Cuban bread was overflowing with warm crispy chunks of the fried soy curls. The sandwich was dressed with apple slaw, tartar sauce and cranberry sauce. It may sound like a bit of an odd combination, but it was honestly love at first bite. I’m sure I sound hyperbolic, but this was, without any doubt, the best sandwich I have ever eaten in my life. Let me qualify this by saying that this includes all the sandwiches I’ve ever had, both as a vegan and a non-vegan. I was so enamored by the sandwich that I almost forgot the mac ‘n cheese. Unfortunately, it wasn’t as memorable as the sandwich anyway. It could have been a bit warmer and it generally lacked flavor despite the heavy seasoning (paprika?).

I decided to take half of my sandwich home to share it with my son who ended up absolutely loving it. He is not vegan and usually survives solely on cheeseburgers from Burgerfi. When asked, he said it was “really good” and rated the sandwich as an eight out of ten! I gave it a perfect ten and plan on taking my husband to The Wildflower Co. for dinner tomorrow so that I can try more of their offerings! The only recommendations I might offer to the proprietors would be to get a large chalk board to present their menu (instead of the single photocopied paper one) and to offer freshly made iced teas as an additional beverage option. This place was a lucky find (thanks Happy Cow) that has been placed on my list of favorites in Central Florida!

My son also loved the Shrymp Po’ Boy sandwich!