Orlando is often top of mind when planning an LGBTQ Florida vacation. After all, we’ve never met a gay person who doesn’t love to don rainbow Mickey ears. But if you’re seeking greener pastures with fewer kids and tourists, head to Orlando North to enjoy a taste of Florida in its more natural state. There is a lot to do in the Orlando region beyond the theme parks.
Orland North is comprised of seven unique communities: Sanford, Lake Mary, Longwood, Altamonte Springs, Winter Springs, Casselberry, and Oviedo. While none of these towns are densely LGBTQ populated, you’ll still feel right at home. There are plenty of LGBTQ-welcoming outdoor activities, shopping destinations, and entertainment venues if you know where to look!
Not sure what to put on your itinerary? Don’t worry – we’ve put together a list of gay-friendly activities for your trip! Read on for tips on where to stay, where to eat, and what to do in Orlando North (AKA Seminole County).
How LGBTQ-Friendly is Orlando North?
As mentioned, Orlando North isn’t traditionally marketed as an LGBTQ destination. Outside of Pride month, you won’t see rainbow flags on every corner as you might closer to the city center. Still, Orlando North is making strides to welcome LGBTQ travelers and residents to explore all it has to offer.
Sanford, Florida is home to Sanford Pride – not to be confused with Sanford Pride Elementary School. Sanford Pride was formed in 2017 as an event organization for local LGBTQ community members. Sanford celebrates Pride in November, but there are celebrations all year long in places like Buster’s Bistro and the Savoy, Orlando. Past events include RuPaws Dogs On The Catwalk and The Gay 90’s Musical. Follow their Facebook page to stay updated on all upcoming fun!
Where To Stay
If you want to save money, stay away from hotels near theme parks, as they will be more expensive. Downtown Orlando can also get pricey around peak season. If you’re looking for comfortable and affordable accommodations outside of downtown Orlando, head to Orlando North. Here are a few of our top suggestions:
SpringHill Suites By Marriott Altamonte Springs/Maitland
205 W State Rd 436, Altamonte Springs, FL 32714
Altamonte Springs offers the convenience of highway access with a smaller town feel. The SpringHill Suites by Marriott Altamonte Springs offers many of the amenities you expect at a full services hotel for a more affordable price including an indoor pool, hot tub, and fitness center. The comfortable beds, flavorful coffee, and hot breakfast will make you feel at home.
The hotel is within walking distance to Longhorn Steakhouse, Perkins, and Something Fishy, a popular seafood restaurant loved by locals. Plus, you’re closer to many of the attractions that Seminole Country has to offer.
Embassy Suites Orlando North
225 Shorecrest Dr, Altamonte Springs, FL 32701
This place is comfortable and familiar, with relaxing beds and a location that’s close to most attractions. It’s attached to Uptown Altamonte, which means there are several options nearby for dining and shopping. It’s also right next to the Crane’s Roost Amphitheater, so you have convenient access to entertainment as well.
Orlando Marriott Lake Mary
1501 International Pkwy, Lake Mary, FL 32746
If you are looking to stay somewhere a little less hectic and a little more restful, then ditch the downtown area and stay in Lake Mary! You’ll still be close to all the action, but then you can come home to a quieter section of greater Orlando. You also have the entire Lake Mary area to explore which is quainter and less flashy than the rest of Orlando.
What To Do
Orlando North offers endless activities for every age and personality. From the senior adventurer to the laid-back millennial, the Seminole County region will assure that every visitor goes home satiated, smiling and satisfied.
If you are interested in the great outdoors, there are beautiful parks and wildlife reserves throughout Seminole County. Don’t want to venture into the great outdoors? Check out some of these awesome options for shopping and staying cool.
Explore 1st St in Downtown Sanford
Sanford is a town that takes pride in supporting local retail businesses. First Street is the main street, filled with retailers, galleries and restaurants, but you should wander around every corner to see what you can find!
Stop by Magpie’s Modern General for unique gifts or spend some time in Maya’s Books and Music. They even have an LGBTQ book section.
If you are into loose leaf teas, there is a wonderful shop called The Rosie Lee Co. that you shouldn’t miss. And make sure to sample German and Belgian beers at the many ethic influences markets and restaurants around town. Our favorites are Hollenbach’s and Buster’s Bistro. And by all means, stop at Hollerbach’s Outfitters to try on authentic lederhosen and dirdls.
Then end your visit on a sweet note at Wondermade. This marshmallow and ice cream shop is famous for their pillowy sweet treats. They also make S’mores right on site. Pick from over a dozen marshmallow flavors to create the perfect treat. Fun fact: Wondermade is the primary marshmallow supplier to Disney World.
Central Florida Zoo And Botanical Gardens
If you love wildlife, then check out the Central Florida Zoo and Botanical Gardens. It has an excellent array of snakes and birds, including a bald eagle. At the Central Florida Zoo, you even can go on an adventure through the trees in a series of ziplines and unique obstacles. Take note that this course requires shoes!
Lukas Nursery And Butterfly Encounter
If you love gardening and flower gardens, then this is the experience for you. Come see the beautiful butterflies and the singing Finches in the Lukas Nursery and Butterfly Garden. You can even feed the butterflies.
Are you a gardener? Lukas Nursery sells flowers to help you start your very own butterfly garden.
The Black Hammock Airboat Tours
The Black Hammock outdoor adventure airboat tours are perfect for birders and outdoor enthusiasts alike! You might even see some alligators if you look hard enough. Book a 30-minute or 60-minute beautiful yet exhilarating ride on Lake Jesup. And make sure to visit with and feed the Macaws and alligators prior to launch.
After the tour, you can unwind in the Lazy Gator Bar or have a meal at the nearby restaurant that specializes in – what else? – gator tails! WE also recommend the grilled cheese, ribs and fish!
Catch Sunset at Cranes Roost Park
Bring your partner, friends or pup and take a stroll around Cranes Roost Park. This large pond with its surrounding walking trails is the perfect place to enjoy the sunset.
Wekiva Island means fun in the sun for the whole family. Enjoy endless water-sports or rent a cabana and spend the whole day barbecuing or hanging out with friends and family. Wekiva Island provides grills for guests who rent cabanas.
Get some ice-cold brews or wine at the Tooting Otter. You can also head to the Without a Paddle Cafe food truck for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Our suggestions: the gator tacos, fish sandwiches, and basil pesto fries!
Note: Wekiva Island does not allow outside alcohol, so only bring snacks or food you are going to cook.
The Ritz At Wayne Densch Performing Arts Center
201 Magnolia Ave, Sanford, FL 32771
Take in a comedy show or an illusionist at the Wayne Densch Performing Arts Center. Check out its theatricals line-up for more information.
Topgolf Lake Mary
For golf pros and golf pro wannabees, Topgolf Lake Mary is a fun indoor/outdoor venue for all skillsets and crowd sizes. Enjoy a night out with friends or host your next networking event at this popular and LGBTQ-inclusive venue with 33 golf bays and dozens of games from which to choose.
Not only is the facility impressive in size but the food at Topgolf is impressive in flavor. We loved the mac n cheese bites as well as the chicken nachos. For dessert go with the donut holes. You literally inject your donut hole with a filling of choice (chocolate syrup, vanilla pudding, or strawberry jam) using a syringe. We’ve all been told not to play with our food, but Topgolf gives you full permission to play as much as you want!
The Topgolf Lake Mary is also home to 49 trees planted recently planted to honor the victims of the Pulse Club Massacre. On March 31, 2022, Topgolf Lake Mary will host a fundraiser to raise money for 49 Legacy Scholarships. Proceeds will go to the onePULSE Foundation scholarship programs and memorial & museum. The organization provides financial assistance to youth all over the US in honor of the 49 victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting. Each ticket buys beer, wine, food, and entertainment. You don’t need to be an expert golfer to come hit a few balls for a good cause!
There are so many options for shopping experiences in North Florida. Here are a few of our favorites:
Sanford Marketplace at Magnolia
Head back to Sanford and stop at the Sanford’s farmer’s market, known as the Sandord Marketplace at Magnolia Square, for some fancy soaps, healthy teas, and unique gifts. You can also get farm-fresh produce or indulge in some of the delectable baked goods that it has to offer.
Walk around Lake Mary, a quaint town outside of Orlando, where you’ll be far from the crowds and can indulge in a little retail therapy on your own. Have a drink at Roots Raw Juice Bar and shop in one of the local stores, like the Bunny & Clyde Children’s Boutique or Sophie & Trey.
The Old Red Barn
If you are looking for unique gifts, then the Old Red Barn is a great place to check out. It is a rustic barn filled with 25 vendors selling a variety of items, from antiques to local jams and delicacies.
Oviedo Antiques Mall
Those who want to go antiquing have several excellent choices, but if you only have time for one, then go to the Oviedo Antiques Mall. It has over 100 dealers all selling quality vintage items and antique one-of-a-kind treasures.
Another great spot to find hidden treasures is the Adjectives Market. It’s a carefully curated boutique that sells home decor, vintage clothing, records, and unique gifts. If you are looking for something a little more local than a mall, then don’t miss this hidden gem!
Where to Eat
Seminole county might seem sleepier than downtown Orlando, but there are many local restaurants that you shouldn’t miss while you’re here!
Cafe Murano Inspired Italian Cuisine
309 Cranes Roost Blvd, Altamonte Springs, FL 32701
Italian food lovers will swoon over the oven roasted pizzas, meatballs, and ravioli at Cafe Murano. The wine list is also one of the best in the region. With sunset views over neighboring Cranes Roost Park lake, this is also a perfect place for a romantic dinner followed by a nighttime stroll.
The Tennessee Truffle
125 West 1st Street Sanford, FL 32771
This little gem in downtown Sanford serves delightful southern food. The Tennessee Truffle has unique dishes that take classic staples of southern cuisine in new directions. A few dishes that you shouldn’t miss out on are the shrimp and grits, plus the popcorn trifecta for dessert.
4th Street Bar and Grill
132 North 4th Street, Suite 1200, Lake Mary, FL 32746
The 4th Street Bar and Grill in Lake Mary is a great spot to get some grub after a day of shopping and walking around. It offers good service and American fusion cuisine – start with the Buffalo Chicken Eggrolls and follow it up with the Stuffalo. Also, try its prickly pear lemonade!
1145 Townpark Avenue, Suite 1201, Lake Mary, FL 32746
Instead of having the hotel breakfast, treat yourself to a local favorite on your last day! Head to Lake Mary to have brunch at Dexter’s.
Dexter’s is a popular spot with a delicious brunch menu. Get Dexter’s eggs benedict or the country-style chicken and biscuits. This spot also has excellent cocktails – yes, even at brunch! Bottomless mimosas run for just $15.
Enzo’s On the Lake
1130 South Hwy. 17-92, Longwood, Florida 32750
Enzo’s On The Lake provides upscale Italian food in a gorgeous setting. One of the owner’s mothers is an artist, and her paintings grace the walls to a charming effect. Enzo’s is the kind of place where you should treat yourself! Some definite must-tries are the Bucatini alla Enzo, the Beef Short Rib, or if you prefer seafood, the Fettuccine al’Aragosta e Gamberi.
300 Sanford Ave, Sanford, FL 32771
Have dinner at Buster’s Bistro just a few blocks away from 1st street. Buster’s is a Belgian restaurant with Belgian beers on tap and hand-cut fries. It is a popular place to have a cold beer and excellent food – its truffle fries are especially to die for! And make sure to enjoy the Belgian waffle for dessert. It’s o-so-amazing!
Most nights Buster’s entertains patrons with music and entertainment. And once a month, the popular restaurant hosts Drag Bingo with the Sandford Pride group. Popular drag queen, Ashley Satine, is the “hostess with the mostest.” Check the Buster’s Bistro entertainment calendar before planning your visit.
There is so much more to Orlando than just theme parks. While they are a major draw and fun to visit, there are hidden gems all over the region to explore – especially if you’re queer. So Do Orlando North during your next visit to Central Florida to check out the LGBTQ+ hotspots mentioned above!
***Disclaimer: There is a good chance that this post contains affiliate or sponsor links. If you make a purchase through them, we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you (for which we are extremely grateful).
Also, while we do our best to highlight LGBTQ-friendly destinations and businesses, info provided is based solely on personal experience and recommendations by community partners. We hope that nobody experiences discrimination or homophobia while visiting Florida, but we make no guarantees. Please inform us if you experience discrimination or homophobia while visiting any destination so we can make updates to our recommendations.