POWERED BY FORD VIP BLOGGER PROGRAM: This is the third piece in a brand new series of columns that we will be sharing in partnership with our friends at Sun State Ford and Ford Corporate to share some of our new favorite day trips in the Orlando area.
The Downtown “bungalow” neighborhoods are undoubtedly the best places to live in The City Beautiful, but sometimes you need to get away. We straight trippin’, boo.
This week’s Ford-fueled trip took us to Lake Nona. Downtowners will probably have two separate reactions to this; one, that Nona shouldn’t count because it’s still in the city limits, or two, what the hell is there to do in Nona that could take up a whole day?
Lake Nona is a quick 30-minute drive via the 408 and the 417. You could certainly skip the tolls if you’re looking for a scenic drive through sprawling box stores and shitty traffic around the airport, but we’re going to recommend that you spend the five or so dollars to remove those obstacles and arrive happy at your destination.
It is a master-planned community to the southeast of Orlando proper, created by Tavistock Development Company, and features its own neighborhoods, cradle to doctorate education system, recreational facilties, health and life sciences cluster, world-class sports district, retail, and more.
So, once you cut through all that branding hullabaloo, we’re happy to say that there are some real and authentic experiences to have in Nona that you can’t get anywhere else in Central Florida.
NONA ADVENTURE PARK
The Lake Nona Adventure Park (Website) is one of the newest, and flashiest, additions to the planned community, that features a sprawling complex of aerial ropes, cable park, and a floating obstacle course, all on the shores of a manmade lake just outside the town center.
Contrary to what we thought when we were headed there, the Cable Park is for wakeboarders and not for couch potatoes to saddle up and watch crappy infomercials. It’s designed for all levels of riders with two tracks that tow riders around the perimeter of the lake and allow them to interact with jumps and rails and things if they’re feeling frisky. Rental equipment is available on-site, including life jackets and helmets.
The park also has over 1000-feet of inflatable obstacle course with climbing floats, tire runs, and more where you can race in a series of safe, but super-fun challenges. If you fall, you’ll be landing on the inflatable or in the lake so it’s all good in the hood.
There are multiple re-entry points all around the aqua park as well so you can just pull yourself back up without having to walk all the way back in defeat along the shore. No walk of shame here!
Helpful hint though, the park is really for kids aged 5 and above.
The park also has a shop and a bistro/snack bar too if you would rather just toss your kids into the lake while you go have a cold beer on the sidelines.
I loved Boxi Park (Website) so much that I couldn’t stop wishing it was in Downtown Orlando so I could be there every day. Alas, it’ll just have to be a day trip treat instead.
This is a 30,000 SF outdoor event venue that features a number of counter-serve restaurants in retrofitted shipping containers, stacked on top of each other like a bad game of Tetris. But it totally works.
The food served up from the box kitchens is actually being tested by Tavistock’s Michelin-rated food and beverage team before being rolled out at their other properties and more formal restaurant entities. It’s a giant test kitchen, and we are the fat little guinea pigs.
There is a play area for kids, with a bigger playground addition in development, it’s dog-friendly and has a dog run built in, and there’s a sand volleyball court to boot.
USTA NATIONAL CAMPUS
The USTA (Website) opened their National Campus in Lake Nona in 2017. It’s over 64-acres with 100 lighted tennis courts on-site, a retail pro shop, a full-service restaurant and cafe, concessions, pavilions, and more. They have 20 courts including eight DecoTurf acrylic cushion courts, six European Terre Davis red clay courts, and six indoor Rebound Ace acrylic cushion courts. So many courts.
The Nemours Family Zone is an area for young players and adults who are learning the game that features eight smaller courts to ease into the sport. And they’re free to visit!
Wheel chair-bound athletes can also sign up for free tennis equipment, including a specialized chair, to practice as well. They’ve kind of thought of everything.
Nona has some great restaurants that aren’t confined to boxes that you should check out as well including Chroma Modern Bar and Kitchen (Website), Canvas Restaurant and Market (Website), Bolay – Lake Nona (Website), Park Pizza and Brewing Company (Website), and Nona Social (Website).
You can’t really mess up here. They’re all good.
Part of Tavistock’s plan to make Lake Nona a place where people want to work, play, and thrive is their public art strategy. It’s everywhere; from the wraps around their parking garages to full-scale projections and interactive murals. Here are some of the must-selfie stops in Lake Nona.
The Beacon, created by world-famous artist Jefre, is a six-story video projection installation in the center of Lake Nona Town Center that jumps to life as soon as the sun sets. It sets the tone for the whole art experience in Lake Nona.