Walker’s Orlando

Photographs of Orlando by David Burnett, from the March 2007 story, “Beyond Disney” in National Geographic Magazine.

To mark the release of our March issue, we’re celebrating cities over the next few weeks, and we’ve asked our readers to share what they love most about the places they call home. Today’s city-dweller is Walker Starling

from Orlando, Florida, and we were taken with his tough-love approach to his town.

Still haven’t submitted? Here’s your chance. We’ve put together a list of fill-in-the-blank questions that should help get you started and we’d love it if you would copy and paste the list into an email, fill in your answers (as many as you like) and send your responses to IntelligentTravel@ngs.org. Declare your love for that special city in your heart!

Orlando is My City

The first place I take a visitor from out of town is usually the last place I want go

, but the main reason they’re here.

When I crave peace I always go to any of our hundreds of beautiful


with my dog and decompress.

To escape everything I head to any of the countless incredible beaches that are only



Orlando, or to REALLY get away from it all you owe it to yourself to head down to Boca Grande

which is probably one of the best towns and beaches in America.

If I want to instantaneously add stress to my life I get on I-4.

For complete quiet, I can hide away at Leu Gardens

, which has some of the nicest grounds and gardens of anyplace in Florida, if not the South.

If you come to my city, get your picture taken with anything other than MM


If you have to order one thing off the menu from The Ravenous Pig

it has to be whatever James and his wife Julie, the owners and operators, want to give you, and whatever it is, you will love it.

Park Ave CDs

(even though they’re no longer on Park Ave.) is my one-stop shop for great music, not to mention incredibly intimate appearances

and mini concerts


Locals know to skip Daytona and head to New Smyrna instead.

When I’m feeling cash-strapped I go to my parents :)

For a huge splurge I go Normans

at the Ritz-Carlton, and one day I will go to that hotel’s spa and get a massage, but as of yet I haven’t been able to pull off such a huge splurge.

If my city were a celebrity it’d be the equivalent of Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler.  Busted, beat down, not too pretty to look at at first glance, but over time it’ll grow on you and if you give it a chance you’ll see that there is a soul in there.

The most random thing about my city is that it is allegedly the lightning strike capital of the world


In my city, an active day outdoors involves wake boarding, biking, water skiing, swimming, or just about anything else you want to do.  Although in the summer time it’s safe to say that an “active” day outdoors can involve simply walking from your house/office to your car.  It’s hard to overstate how miserably hot and humid this place gets in the summer.

My city’s best museum is The Morse Museum


My favorite jogging/walking route is a dead heat between Park Avenue

and the Winter Park Lakes and neighborhoods or the Lake Eola

and Thornton Park area.  In terms of riding, Orlando and Central Florida have some great trails – the best place to get the lowdown is on Orange Cycle’s

website.  Full disclosure:  the only bad thing about walking/jogging/riding in Orlando is that we do have one of the highest traffic/pedestrian fatality rates in the entire country, so be careful out there…

For a night of dancing, go to Firestone


Or, for live music, check out The Social


Steak ‘n Shake is the spot for late-night eats.  Ugh.

To find out what’s going on at night and on the weekends, read Orlando Weekly


You can (not) tell a lot about my city from you’ve heard.  Is it sprawled all the way to hell?  Probably.  Is it an example for how not to develop a city and metropolis?  Absolutely.  But does that mean that all there is to this place are theme parks?  Hells no.  The best analysis I’ve ever read on Orlando was actually in National Geographic

a few years ago, and it’s worth a read.  But give the place a shot, and do yourself a favor – come actually see Orlando – it’s not called the City Beautiful for nothing.

You can tell if someone is from my city if…?  There is actually no way to tell if someone is from Orlando – even people who live here aren’t from here.  I’ve lived here most of my life with the exception of college and graduate school, and I could probably count on one hand people who are “from” here.  Hopefully one day this will change…

In the spring you should go see the Astros

or the Braves

spring training, both of which are here in town, or go and watch Dwight Howard

dominate the Eastern Conference.  Or if professional sports aren’t your thing you could head to Palmers

or Appenberry

‘s (two of our best nurseries) and buy just about anything and go plant it.

It’s no coincidence that Florida has one of the most forgiving climes on the planet, and there’s nothing better than fresh picked oranges, lemons, and limes, so why not put one in your backyard?

In the summer you should stay inside or go to your mountain home or something.

I repeat, there is no reason to ever come here from the months of July – September.  It is too damn hot.  If you are going to stay in Orlando you should go downtown, finagle your way into one of the top floors of an office building, and watch the summer tempest unfold between 2 and 5 pm.  Every day, like clockwork, mother nature puts on the best show you can see in Orlando when the cumulus clouds envelop the skyline and the city goes from day to dark in minutes, and then monsoon rains and lightning are unleashed right before your eyes.

In the fall you should enjoy the long days and crisp air, have a drink outside and watch the sunset.  Walk around some of our neighborhoods with brick streets and hope to come across one that has put luminaries out.  There’s something great about walking around College Park or Winter Park and having luminaries glowing with candlelight along every sidewalk.  Of course, if you can score tickets one of the best things to do in the fall is drive 2 hours to Gainesville and watch a game in the Swamp.

In the winter you should be thankful that you’re here and not somewhere else.  On a bad year it’s going to get below 40 degrees two or three times, max.  And on those nights put a fire in the fireplace and enjoy it, knowing that it’ll be gone before you can even get sick of it.  Orlando is at its best in the winter, because it’s so miserable everywhere else and absolutely perfect here.

A hidden gem in my city is the Butler chain of lakes

– crystal clear, sandy bottomed, and home to some of the world’s best wake boarders, not to mention some Cribs worth houses.

For a great breakfast joint try Dexters Thornton Park

on Sunday or Christos

Book your next trip with Peace of Mind
Search Trips

any day.

Don’t miss the art festivals in Mount Dora

and Winter Park

, the Orlando Film Festival

or the Fringe Festival.  In terms of music, the one you don’t want to miss is the Anti Pop Music Festival.

Just outside my city, you can watch the Space Shuttle

on its jaw-dropping ascent into space.

The best way to see my city is to park your car and walk around Winter Park and Park Ave. on Saturday and then do the same thing the next day downtown and around Lake Eola and Thornton Park on Sunday.

If you were a pet you would be hanging out at Fleet Peeples

as much as you could – playing in the water, running amok with all the other animals, and just having a generally good canine or feline time.

If I didn’t live in a city, I’d live in New Zealand, on a farm.

The best book about my city has yet to be written, but I think Kerouac was working on it while he lived here.

When I think about my city, the song that comes to mind is “The Good Times Are Killing Me

, since it was recorded in Orlando on Valentine’s Day about five years ago.  Unfortunately, I think Pop

also comes to mind sometimes, for the obvious reasons.

If you have kids, you won’t want to miss the one thing that you always associate with Orlando, but which will not be named here.

My city should be featured on your cover or website because when it comes down to it, there’s probably not a major metropolitan city anywhere else in the country that consistently gets such a bad rap and is seen as such a one-note town.

Thanks to Walker for sharing his picks! Share your own by getting our fill-in-the-blank list and emailing it to IntelligentTravel@ngs.org!

Photos: Above David Burnett/NGS; below Walker Starling

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