What’s the first thing you think of when you hear someone is moving to Orlando, Florida? If you’re a non-resident, chances are it has something to do with Disney World. As the top tourist destination in the country, living in Orlando is often overshadowed by theme parks and childhood memories. But a move to Orlando will offer its prospect a lot more than a discounted ticket on a FastPass.
In fact, there are tons of fun things to do in Orlando that have nothing to do with Mickey Mouse or Universal Studios. Depending on the neighborhood, you’ll hardly even feel like you’re in the most visited area in the country. If you’re lucky, 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 chain restaurants at every corner, 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. What’s more, Thornton Park has a variety of prime restaurants and high-end shopping boutiques. This neighborhood can get expensive, but it’s ideal for young professionals and is 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 the sunshine, you’ll need 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.
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, check out the following areas:
- 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 — If you want a very small town feel (and we mean small), look no further than Heathrow. With a population just shy of 6,000, this community has an excellent school system 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.
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 and then doing 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 at Disney
If you come to Orlando without employment, chances are you won’t be without a job for long. That is if you don’t mind a low-wage job in the service industry.
There is no shortage of employment opportunities at places like Disney and the Kennedy Center. But the issue is the wage you’d get in one of these jobs vs. 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 in Orlando by seeking out some other popular industries. Do you enjoy farming? The Orlando job market is also full of opportunities in the citrus and beef markets.
There are two Fortune 500 companies in Orlando:
- Tupperware Brands
- Darden Restaurants
Other large non-service industry employers in Metro Orlando include:
- Orange County Public Schools
- Duke Energy
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 from originally. Many residents call Florida home (at least for most of the year) to avoid paying state income taxes. These savings might 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%.
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 the 2nd Largest University in the US
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.
Also, if a large-scale university isn’t ideal, consider Valencia College or Seminole State.
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 there are multiple amusement parks located close to one another, Orlando thruways 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.
Avoid I-4 when possible and utilize one of the many public transportation options. The city of Orlando is committed to lessening the impact of transportation on its residents and the environment, so there are transportation options aplenty.
Public Transportation Options:
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, you 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
Orlando dining 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.”
Even Disney is rethinking how they serve food. 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. Even 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.”
We finished our chat with some Orlando restaurant recommendations for residents to consider. But be sure to check out Tastes of Orlando for even more in-depth reviews.
You’ll want to 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:
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 their 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 $31 a month after a 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.
10. Do Other Fun Things in 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 which will be going into its 27th year. Ten days and well over 150 films later, you’ll be sure to find one you can enjoy.
- Cirque du Soleil La Nouba — Though this spectacle is within Disney World Resorts, it’s an experience in its own right. According to the website, “La Nouba transforms the ordinary into the extraordinary and stimulates the imagination from beginning to end with daring acrobatics, dazzling choreography, vibrant music and whimsical characters.”
- 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 it!”
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 were back in college.
11. Learn to Embrace the Weather…
There’s no doubt that living in Orlando will at times feel like you’re sweltering in a tropical climate. If you’re not used to year-round heat, this could take a while to get used to. The temperature stays well above 60 degrees, and there are no defined seasons.
There is a rainy period a couple of 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.
Once you get used to the heat, any weather below 70 in Orlando can feel 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 will still have to take all the necessary precautions, just in case.
Tips on How to Adjust to a Warmer Climate:
- Like any tropical climate, large-scale bugs and mosquitos can become an issue. As a result, residents should have their home and yard sprayed once or twice a year.
- Use a ceiling fan in conjunction with a central AC system to help offset cooling costs. Running a ceiling fan is significantly less expensive and will help make the air feel cooler, allowing you to set your thermostat to a higher temperature.
- Stay hydrated! Nothing will make you feel miserable in humidity like not drinking enough water.
12. … And Experience the Great Outdoors
Let’s face it, there’s a reason so many people become snowbirds and spend their winters in Florida. Because there is so much to love about having sunshine all year round.
Here are some activities you’ll be able to explore outdoors 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!
- 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. If you have a healthy fear of feeding birds, perhaps rent a swan-shaped paddle boat for the afternoon instead.
- 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.
- Manatee Migration in Crystal River — In the winter, be sure to take a couple hour drive to Crystal River to witness hundreds of manatees migrating for the season. There’s nothing quite like it.
13. Prepare for Your Move to Orlando
Relocating to any city requires a certain amount of preparation beyond figuring out where you want to live and how you’re going to get there.
- Remember to get your car registered and apply for a Florida state driver’s license.
- While you’re at it, don’t forget to update your insurance policy and use the 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? Let us know in the comments below!