What’s the first thing you think of when you hear that someone is moving to Orlando, Florida? If you’re a non-resident, chances are it has something to do with Disney World, Universal Studios, or simply the winter sun. As the top tourist destination in the country, with around 70 million visitors each year, living in Orlando is often overshadowed by theme parks and childhood memories. But a move to Orlando will offer its new residents a lot more than just attractions and shows.
In fact, there are tons of fun things to do in Orlando that have nothing to do with the parks. Depending on the neighborhood, you’ll hardly even feel like you’re in the most visited area in the country. If you move well informed, you may even be able to live in a location that can help you avoid some of that infamous Orlando traffic.
Find out why tens of thousands of new residents flock to Orlando each year. This moving guide includes thirteen tips that have been enhanced with advice from local experts. Let’s get started!
1. Get to Know Orlando in its Current State
The Metro Orlando population has grown to approximately 2.4 million residents and consists of 4 counties — Lake, Orange, Osceola, and Seminole.
Current residents of Orlando want you to know that living in Orlando is much more than meets the eye. Take it from Realtor® and Team Leader for Wemert Group Realty, Jenny Wemert, who knows a thing or two about the Orlando housing market.
“For those of us who call Orlando home, we know our city is so much more than just another tourist destination. These days as we live, work and play in Orlando, we are enjoying the growth of several new distinct neighborhoods,” Wemert explains. “And the food truck culture has seemingly exploded over this last year, complementing our wide array of brick and mortar restaurants, notably in the Mills 50 area.”
We asked Wemert what features would entice potential residents who think Orlando is nothing more than theme parks and attractions. She believes the newly constructed soccer stadium draws fans of all ages together and brings new life to the downtown area.
“Lake Nona’s continued growth brings our Medical City community to life and is home to the new USTA National Campus, a state-of-the-art facility with 100 tennis courts,” she adds. “These are just a few of the gems our city has to offer. There has never been a better time to call our beautiful city home.”
2. Pick an Orlando Neighborhood Based on Your Lifestyle
For the sake of exploring an Orlando that is much more picturesque than parks and chain hotels, we’re going to highlight some older neighborhoods. Wemert thinks the Milk District and Audubon Park District bring an artistic flare and new flavor to our communities.
Here are three more of the best historic neighborhoods in Orlando to consider:
- Thornton Park —You’ll step back in time when walking through Thornton Park. 1920’s bungalows are nestled on brick lined streets and shaded with mature oak trees. Thornton Park also has a variety of prime restaurants and high-end shopping boutiques. This neighborhood can get expensive, but is ideal for young professionals and within walking distance to downtown.
- Lake Eola Heights — Located just blocks from Lake Eola Park, this downtown neighborhood is complete with historic homes that focus on quality restoration. Before you renovate a home in this neighborhood, be sure to acquire a Certificate of Appropriateness. There are various incentives to encourage residents to restore these homes to their former glory.
- College Park — Despite its name, College Park is less about frat parties and more about being a family-centric neighborhood. The neighborhood is named after its streets that have acclaimed university names like Yale and Harvard. Located Northwest of downtown, this community is packed with more historic homes and brick lined streets, as well as many award-winning restaurants, offering the urban living experience with a small town feel.
The best Orlando suburbs offer an eclectic mix of country and lake living with distances as far away from the action as you desire. If suburban life is more your speed when moving to Orlando, check out the following areas:
Best Suburban Neighborhoods in Orlando
- Winter Park — Home to historic Rollins College and known for its quaint Park Avenue, food scene and many lakes, living in Winter Park will place you far, but within driving distance, of the attractions. With just over 30,000 inhabitants, and with median home values projected to be over $400,000 by 2021, you will love being part of this close-knit community where you’ll enjoy festivals, amazing restaurants and access to everything Orlando has to offer.
- Hunter’s Creek — This quaint suburb is located in Orange County and has a population just breaking 20,000. With a median home price just above $240,000, you’ll have to pay above the national average to buy in.
- Oviedo —Located in Eastern Seminole County, Oviedo is a suburb for well-established families looking for a close-knit community feel. The median income is $78,000, and the community makes sure they continually invest in the city through various expansion projects.
- Heathrow / Lake Mary — If you want a very small town feel (and we mean small), look no further than Heathrow and Lake Mary. With a population just shy of 6,000 and 17,000 respectively, these two communities have excellent public and private schools and a variety of annual festivals and events. With a median home price above $370,000, the privacy you’ll get living here is going to cost you.
- Lake Nona — One of Greater Orlando’s newest towns, Lake Nona is a beautiful, family-friendly community with new and modern homes. It’s located just minutes from Orlando’s international airport. In Lake Nona, you will find the Medical City, a 650-acre health and science park, as well as USTA’s new national campus with 100 fully lit courts, including two championship courts.
- Celebration — If you are in for the proximity to Disney and want to live “in the magic”, Celebration is the place! Originally planned and designed by Disney, Celebration is a picture-perfect little town with many festivals, great restaurants, schools, amenities, and resident events. With approximately 10,000 residents, it is conveniently located 30 minutes southwest of Orlando and 20 minutes from the airport.
- Windermere / Winter Garden —With an incredible amount of new builds, Windermere and Winter Garden are favorites among Disney employees. Perfectly located for access to the parks, these two towns offer amazing facilities for families with young children, with great and brand new schools, many sports clubs and brand new neighborhoods. You will also find a high density of lake-front homes and great shopping. There are also plenty of charming old towns with famous farmer’s markets. Every budget can find a home in those neighboring towns.
Other Options for Living in Orlando
If you want to live in one of the larger cities around Orlando, consider Daytona Beach or Sanford. This list barely scratches the surface because Greater Orlando covers a lot of areas. This metropolitan is ranked as the 26th largest metro area in the country. We suggest using these neighborhoods as a starting point when moving to Orlando. Then do a deeper dive as you evaluate the pros and cons of each based on your desired lifestyle.
3. No Job? Join Thousands of Other Workers in the Theme Parks
If you come to Orlando without employment, chances are you won’t be without a job for long. However, many jobs in Orlando are low-wage in the service industry.
There is no shortage of employment opportunities at companies like Disney, Universal Studios and the 120,000 hotel rooms in town. But the issue is the wage you’d earn in one of these jobs versus whether you could afford to live off of it. In fact, workers in Orlando make 22% less than the national average.
Since the cost of living is only a few percentage points less than the national average, Orlando residents have to get creative to make ends meet. Do your research, or better yet, come with a job in hand that is willing to pay well above minimum wage.
Learn how to find a job before moving to Orlando by seeking out some other popular industries. If you are a healthcare professional, Lake Nona and downtown Orlando offer many great hospitals to work for, such as Orlando Health, Florida Hospital, Nemours and more.
There are several major entertainment companies in Orlando and its vicinities:
- Merlin Entertainment Group
- NBC Universal
- Sea World Entertainment
- The Walt Disney Company
Other large companies headquartered, or with a major presence, in Metro Orlando include:
- ABC Fine Wine & Spirits
- Darden Restaurants
- Hard Rock Café
- Hilton Grand Vacation Club
- Lockheed Martin
- Marriott Vacation Club International
- Oracle Corporation
- Orange County Public Schools
- SeaWorld Entertainment
- The Golf Channel (part of NBC Universal)
- Tupperware Corp.
- Wyndham Vacation Resorts
If working in the service industry is unavoidable, think about what type of management job you could take. There are dozens of corporate jobs at Disney and other parks that might be worth your consideration. Looking for more options? Start your job search here.
4. Take Advantage of No State Income Tax
Relocating to Orlando might save you money depending on where you’re originally from. Many residents call Florida home (at least for most of the year) to avoid paying state income taxes. These savings can help residents make up for a smaller base salary.
The lack of state income tax can be attributed in part to all the hotels in Orlando and other parts of Florida. Orlando has the second most hotel rooms in the country, just falling behind Las Vegas.
In addition, property taxes fall below the national average, hovering around .97%. Sales tax for Florida will run you about 6.5% to 7%.
The cost of living is a slight 1.2% above the national average, with the biggest differences being higher housing and transportation costs.
5. Send Your Kids to High Quality Higher Education Facilities
Sending your child to college in Orlando is a breeze considering Orlando is home to the second largest university in the US, the University of Central Florida.
In Winter Park, Rollins College offers undergraduate, evening, graduate and doctorate degrees in small class settings with an average of just 17 students per class. Both Rollins College and its Crummer School of Business are rated as some of the best schools in the U.S.
North of Orlando, in DeLand, you will find Stetson University – another private school offering undergraduate, adult and graduate programs ranked top in the country.
For K-12 education, check out the Florida Department of Education for information about scholarship programs, private education and charter school systems.
6. Learn How to Embrace Orlando Tourism Traffic
Because of the theme park density and fluctuation in tourist seasons, Orlando highways can get congested. Since a lot of this congestion is due to tourists, normal rush hour guidelines don’t always apply. Tourist-related traffic means you’ll want to pay more attention to when close-by parks open and close, as well as during the high season (holidays, school vacation, etc.).
The good news for anyone moving to Orlando is the advancement of the I-4 Ultimate project — a 21-mile highway makeover aimed at transforming the region to better connect communities and improve everyone’s quality of life. Well underway and already showing signs of improvement, I-4 Ultimate should be completed by 2021. It will include two tolled express lanes in each direction.
The city of Orlando is committed to lessening the impact of transportation on its residents and the environment. Therefore, public transportation is aplenty.
Public Transportation Options
- The LYNX bus system has an array of vehicles, ranging from city busses to smaller vehicles. Bikers are welcome to board with their bicycles. You should make sure to have the exact fare ready since operators cannot make change.
- SunRail is a diesel-electric commuter train with free WiFi linking Poinciana in the south to DeBary in the north. It’s a great way to get to an Orlando Magic game downtown!
- Bike share or car share is available for easy transportation within downtown Orlando.
7. Eat Fresh Sustainable Seafood
When in Florida, you’ll be surrounded by fresh seafood, so take advantage! With the large scale of seafood constantly being drained from our oceans, it’s important to make sure the food we’re eating is sustainable.
Two Orlando restaurants have joined a new Smart Catch program designed to do just that. To be considered for the program, the establishment must serve 80% or more sustainable seafood on the menu. Craving some sustainable seafood in Orlando now? Check out The Rusty Spoon and Cress Restaurant.
8. Avoid Chain Restaurants
The Orlando dining scene is rich and offers a lot more than just seafood. In fact, eating out in Orlando has changed dramatically in recent years. We had the chance to chat with food blogger and expert Andrew Heaberlin from Tastes of Orlando to see what he had to say.
“The Orlando dining and restaurant scene has undergone massive changes in the last few years. As an Orlando native, I can tell you Orlando was always known as a tourist hot-spot, but we became pretty famous as the land of the ‘Chain Restaurant.’”
But, Heaberlin insists things have changed for the better. “We have become one of the hottest spots for new restaurant openings and have proudly put our spot on the map as a foodie destination.”
He adds, “We have many areas like Winter Park, Dr. Phillips, College Park, Downtown Orlando, Thornton Park, Baldwin Park and other areas, all with a multitude of some excellent dining options.”
Where to Eat in Orlando
Even Disney is rethinking how they serve food. Disney Springs has added some of the top chef-centric branded restaurants, like Morimoto Asia led by the famous Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto and Frontera Coccina by Rick Bayless.
Located in Disney’s Grand Floridian, Victoria and Alberts is one of the finest restaurants in the Southeast. It received AAA’s Five Diamond Award, Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star rating and glowing reviews from Zagat and others.
Don’t miss Orlando’s Magical Dining Month — a full-month program held each September where participating restaurants offer 3-course meals for the prix fixe of $35 per person. It is the season when Orlando residents go out and visit top-notch restaurants for a fraction of the price they’d pay the rest of the year!
Try these chef-driven Orlando restaurants at least once:
- Prato in Winter Park features some the best Italian cuisine from locally heralded Chef Brandon McGlamery.
- Urbain40 just hired the four-time James Beard award nominee Chef Tim Keating.
- K Restaurant and Wine Bar in College Park is run by Chef Kevin Fonzo with farm to table classic American fare.
- SOCO (SOuthern COntemporary) was put together by Chef Greg Richie and includes Southern contemporary cuisine.
- Seito Sushi has Jason Chin at the helm of one of the finest Sushi & New Japanese cuisines in Baldwin Park.
Still hungry? Here are a few other incredible Orlando dining options to consider:
- Tin & Taco is one of the hottest craft and custom taco shops in Central Florida.
- Woodlands offers fine Indian vegetarian cuisine.
- Artisan’s Table is known for great burgers and freshly brewed coffee.
- Chef Eddie’s has an eclectic mix of Soulful, Southern style cooking.
9. Enjoy the Perks of Living Close to Tourist Attractions
Disney World is located just 15 miles outside of Orlando, and living this close to the castle can have its advantages. On top of Disney World and other parks contributing to the zero state income tax, these businesses usually offer Florida residents special pricing and discounts.
Here are some of the best resident-only discounts available:
- Universal Studios offers residents a three-park annual pass for $18 a month after down payment.
- Residents can save 30% at Disney World on a 4-Day Disney Select Ticket.
- Legoland offers an Awesome Pass for residents at a special discounted rate.
- Seaworld and its other parks offer a Platinum Annual Pass for Florida residents.
- Merlin Entertainment offers $34 resident tickets for Madame Tussauds and SEA LIFE Orlando.
10. Do Other Fun Things after Moving to Orlando
We know how easy it would be to find new and exciting things to do with the family at the dozens of theme parks in the surrounding Orlando area. But, for the sake of a family (or single) relocating here with no prior experience, we wanted to see if we could find events and activities a little further off the beaten path.
Whether you’re single or have a few kids tagging along, these events might make moving to Orlando a more desirable option. Sure, you may have to brush off a few tourists, but people travel from all over the world for some of these happenings. They’ll be right in your backyard!
Take advantage of these fun destinations:
- Florida Film Festival — If you’re a film lover, be sure to attend the annual Florida Film Festival. Ten days and well over 150 films later, you’ll be sure to find one you can enjoy.
- Jungle Adventures — Ever dreamed of petting a tarantula? Here’s your chance. This activity is more than just a trip to the zoo. You’ll get to experience exotic animals in their natural jungle habitat.
- Carmine Oddities Boutique — If you like searching through vast collections of oddities, head to Carmine Oddities Boutique. You’ll find unique, one-of-a-kind items that will have you saying, “wow, I’ve never seen anything like this!”
- ICE at Gaylord Palms — Looking for absolute fun for the entire family and a great experience for anyone longing for cold days, snow and ice? Located inside the Gaylord Palms hotel in Kissimmee, ICE is a winter wonderland kept at 9 degrees Fahrenheit. Big and small kids experience tubing down ice slides, ice sculptures, a live ice carving zone and more! Just make sure everyone dresses appropriately.
- Winterclub — Located in Winter Park, skiing is now possible in Florida thanks to this high-tech indoor ski and snowboard facility. Winterclub is known as “the” Ski Resort in Orlando.
- Cirque du Soleil — A long-loved circus show at Disney Springs, Cirque du Soleil La Nouba closed in December 2017. However, a new show is coming soon! Rumor has it that the show will include Disney features.
Want to attend a sporting event? Here are some teams you can cheer on in Orlando:
- Orlando Magic — This professional NBA team plays at the Amway Center in downtown Orlando.
- Orlando Solar Bears — This ECHL team recently started playing in the 2012-13 season due in part to an influx of hockey fans from the north. The team is affiliated with the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs.
- Orlando City SC — The Orlando City Soccer Club is a professional Major League Soccer team that was added as an expansion team in 2015.
- UCF Knights — Cheer on the home college football team and tailgate like you’re back in college.
11. Learn to Embrace the Weather…
There’s no doubt that living in Orlando will feel like you’re sweltering in a tropical climate at times. Experts say that acclimatization to the heat typically takes about three weeks.
In Orlando, the temperature typically stays well above 60 degrees, and the seasons mix in with one another. Fall and spring feel much shorter than in other parts of the country. Summers are very hot and humid. Winters can be try and surprisingly cold.
There is a rainy period several months out of the year between June and September. But it’s nothing like Seattle where rainy days amount to five months a year. For the most part, temperatures hover at above 90 degrees. In fact, each year there’s an average of 105 days that are above the 90-degree threshold in Orlando. Compare that to the national average of only 37 days!
After moving to Orlando and adapting to the heat, any weather below 70 in Orlando feels extremely cold. What might feel like a perfect temperature for someone living in Sacramento can feel like you’ll need a winter jacket in Orlando. Unless you want to feel like you’re freezing, don’t get rid of all your winter clothes when relocating.
Even though Orlando is located within a couple of hours of the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, it is outside of the hurricane danger zone. There hasn’t been a large hurricane threat in the past decade. But, residents still have to take all the necessary precautions, just in case.
Tips For How to Adjust to a Warmer Climate:
- Like any tropical climate, large-scale bugs and mosquitoes can become an issue. That’s why residents should have their home and yard sprayed once or twice a year. It’s also a good idea to subscribe to a yearly pest control service.
- Use a ceiling fan in conjunction with a central A/C system to help offset cooling costs. A ceiling fan is significantly less expensive and helps make the air feel cooler. It also allows you to set your thermostat to a higher temperature. A temperature of 78 is the optimal temperature for your energy bill without putting too much strain on your wallet.
- Stay hydrated! Not drinking enough water is a surefire way to feel miserable in the humidity.
12. … And Experience the Great Outdoors
What’s not to love about having sunshine year round?
Here are some activities you’ll be able to explore outdoors in Orlando:
Parks in Orlando
- Feed Swans at Lake Eola Park — This park is home to a magnificent fountain and a wide range of swans you can feed that look like they’re out of a storybook. Have a fear of feeding birds? Rent a swan-shaped paddle boat!
- Ice Skate at Winter in the Park — You might think ice-skating is out of the question in Orlando, but think again. Winter in the Park helps you get a taste of winter outdoor activities without needing all the snow gear.
- Canoe at Shingle Creek Regional Park — Rent a canoe, kayak or SUP and enjoy the beautiful Florida outdoors on a half-day outing starting right in Kissimmee.
- Refreshing Swim at Wekiwa Springs Park — A secret very well known to locals and located in Apopka (just north of Orlando), Wekiwa Springs is a Florida state park where locals enjoy the year-round 72-degree water. Come by for a swim, an afternoon of canoeing or a picnic.
Other Fun Outdoor Activities in Orlando
- Premier Golfing — Florida has the most golf courses in the country, and Orlando is home to many of them.
- Glowing Algae Tours — Take a cruise down the Indian River and Mosquito Lagoon at night to witness the glowing algae firsthand. It’s spectacular!
- Manatee Migration in Crystal River — In the winter, be sure to take a couple hour drive to Crystal River. You’ll witness hundreds of manatees migrating for the season. There’s nothing quite like it.
- Ice Skate and Snow Falls in Celebration — Starting right after Thanksgiving and lasting through December 31st, it “snows” daily in Celebration. The ice skating rink is a big hit.
- Bok Tower Gardens — A family favorite and located right by Legoland, enjoy a day outdoors in the beautiful Bok Tower Gardens. Let the kids play on the nature playground, and enjoy a surprising carillon concert of 60 bells.
- Old Spanish Sugar Mill — Come hungry and leave stuffed. Get ready for an all-you-can-eat flip-your-own pancakes lunch and a long canoe ride down the De Leon Springs.
13. Moving to Orlando? Here’s How to Prepare
Relocating to any city requires a certain amount of preparation. Read on for some of our favorite moving tips.
- Remember to get your car registered and apply for a Florida state driver’s license.
- Don’t forget to update your insurance policy. Moving is a great opportunity to shop around for a better price.
- Stay up to date with the latest news by reading the city’s top publication, the Orlando Sentinel.
- Set your moving budget and figure out ways to save money on moving and relocation costs, which might mean forgoing professional movers or donating items, so you have less to move.
- Store excess belongings during your relocation by finding a Life Storage facility near you.
Moving to Orlando, FL is a decision tens of thousands of people have chosen to make year over year. Break that population growth down, and you’ll find roughly 138 people that move to Orlando every single day. Will you be one of them?
Update: This post was originally published in 2018, and was revised on February 6, 2019, with new information from Orlando expert, Laura Georgieff.