If you think Metro Orlando is just about
tourist attractions, take a closer look.

Throughout Central Florida, like the multitudes of new residents who arrive each week, the accolades are steady and significant.

The newcomers? At last count, more than 1,000 people move each week to Central Florida. In fact, the region has been adding at least that many people every week for the past 60 years, according to the Orlando Economic Partnership. Just imagine.

The accolades? As only a cursory sampling, they include being ranked the No. 4 Best Market in U.S. for Development Opportunities (CBRE, 2021) and No. 1 in the country for Job Growth (U.S. Department of Labor, 2015-2018). Plus, it’s Florida — with all the lifestyle attributes for which the Sunshine State is known.

Simply put, people love to live in Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties — along with Brevard, Lake, Polk and Volusia counties — for many reasons. The state’s center offers something for everyone.

The counties and their neighborhoods span a broad spectrum of settings. There are urban cores and charming retreats. There are rolling hills and tree-lined canopies in both old and emerging communities.

There is rich history, ample character and continual change. And, of course, there are the internationally known theme parks and attractions, as well as the beaches and generally boundless scenic beauty.

There are thriving industries, too — including agriculture, advanced manufacturing, innovative technologies and corporate headquarters, as well as logistics and aerospace, life sciences and healthcare, aerospace and defense. That’s just for starters.

So, take your pick. Chances are very good that what you’re looking for is here — and it’s here to stay. Following is a county-by-county primer of regional highlights.pidly vanishing as dozens of muck farms, created when Lake Apopka was diked during World War II, were purchased by the state and shut down in an effort to restore the polluted body of water to a pristine state.



Apopka’s roots, literally and figuratively, are in agriculture. However, this booming city of more than 50,000 residents, located in the northwest corner of Orange County, now encompasses some of the region’s most exclusive housing addresses.

The region was settled in the 1840s and named after the Timucuan Indian word meaning “big potato,” or potato-eating place. Ironically, the farms that still surround the city grow just about everything but potatoes.

Noted as “The Indoor Foliage Capital of the World,” Apopka’s foliage industry is a multimillion-dollar business. Cut flowers, blooming plants, roses and bulbs are also grown in abundance.

Yet, agriculture is rapidly vanishing as dozens of muck farms, created when Lake Apopka was diked during World War II, were purchased by the state and shut down in an effort to restore the polluted body of water to a pristine state.

College Park

Although its residents may be getting younger, much about this beloved Orlando neighborhood, which was platted in the 1920s, remains the same.

The 80-year-old commercial district along Edgewater Drive has always been home to an array of delightful mom-and-pop shops and eclectic eateries. The streets have always been quiet and the homes well-kept and charming.

Much of the talk of College Park these days continues to be about maintaining the Mayberryesque character of the area versus the further development of large-scale condominium and retail projects. In recent years, that’s been a seesaw battle because of its prime location adjacent to downtown Orlando.


If you’re not a horticulturist, perhaps you’ve never heard of Gotha, a tiny rural enclave located inconspicuously north of upscale Windermere.

But if plants are your passion, you may know Gotha as the one-time caladium capital of the world and home of Henry Nehrling, a horticulturist who specialized in growing tropical and subtropical plants.

Nehrling, who moved to Gotha in 1884, established one of the most renowned botanical gardens in the world, as well as an experimental agriculture station for the study of exotic strains of bamboo, amaryllis, bromeliad, orchid, Ficus and, of course, the caladium, which Nehrling was the first in Florida to grow and sell.

Gotha’s tree-shaded, one-block commercial district features the circa-1920 New Life at Zion Lutheran Church. And across the street is Yellow Dog Eats, a funky restaurant that occupies a circa-1879 structure that had previously been a private home and a general store. The unincorporated town borders Windermere and Winter Garden.


Since the 1960s, Maitland (population 17,000), has been a quintessential bedroom community. Some of the area’s first suburbs were built there to attract young families looking for large lawns and good schools.

In the late 1970s, a sprawling office park called Maitland Center was built near the Interstate 4 interchange, also giving the city a distinctive business identity.

In recent decades, other large mixed-use projects were developed throughout the city, giving Maitland’s somewhat nebulous downtown district a more cohesive look. Also in Maitland is Enzian Theater, the region’s only art-house cinema.

The arts scene is further strengthened by the Art Center at Maitland, founded in 1937 by sculptor André Smith. The center was originally intended to be a compound where artists could live and work. The center, now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, features an open-air chapel that has become a popular place for weddings.

Maitland has plenty of other history. It was established in 1838 as Fort Maitland, named in honor of Capt. William S. Maitland, a hero of the Second Seminole War.

Adjacent to Maitland is Eatonville (population 2,147), founded in 1887. It’s thought to be the oldest city in the country incorporated by African Americans. Folklorist Zora NealeHurston lived in Eatonville for a time and wrote about the community in books such as Their Eyes Were Watching God.


More than 100 years ago, Oakland was the industrial and social hub of Orange County. Today, the picturesque town, which lies two miles west of Winter Garden on the southern shores of Lake Apopka, is home to approximately 3,500 people.

Elected officials still refer to Oakland as a town, although it was incorporated as a city in 1959. The city designation does seem a bit incongruous for this rural enclave, where voters have rejected proposals to pave the narrow clay streets for fear that more people might want to drive on them.

Still, change is coming — with new housing communities popping up in and around the area.

Among the city’s assets is the 22-mile West Orange Trail, a mecca for hikers and bikers beginning in Oakland and stretching northeast to Apopka along the original Orange Belt and Florida Midland rail beds.

Oakland is also home to the 93-acre Oakland Nature Preserve, where wildlife abounds and paths and boardwalks line the shores of Lake Apopka.


Ocoee remained an isolated citrus town clustered around Starke Lake until the 1980s. Now, with roughly 48,000 residents, it’s neck-and-neck with Winter Garden for the third most populous city in Orange County, behind Orlando and Apopka.

The transformation began three decades ago, when devastating freezes destroyed thousands of acres of citrus trees and opened west Orange and south Lake counties for development.

Today, Ocoee boasts a one-million-square-foot regional mall and at least three dozen subdivisions with homes in all price ranges.

Ocoee’s beginnings were inauspicious. In the mid-1850s a physician named J.D. Starke led a group of enslaved people into the area and established a camp along the western shores of the lake that now bears his name.

Captain Bluford Sims, who hailed from Ocoee, Tennessee, arrived in 1861 and bought 50 acres from Starke. He then platted what would become downtown Ocoee.

Through the years, Ocoee developed into a thriving citrus-producing center. Today, however, housing is the city’s hottest commodity. Florida’s Turnpike, State Road 408 (formerly known as the East-West Expressway) and State Road 429 (the Western Beltway) all pass through the city, meaning once-remote downtown Orlando is a much shorter commute.

At the same time, Ocoee retains vestiges of days gone by. For example, there’s the circa-1890 Ocoee Christian Church, with its gothic architecture and Belgian-made stained-glass windows, and a quaint downtown district boasting several vintage buildings.

Downtown Orlando

Downtown continues to bustle. During the building frenzy of the early 2000s, scarcely a week passed without a new major condominium development being announced for the once-sleepy district. Then, with the economic downturn of 2007, growth slowed before roaring back.

In recent years, with construction of an arena (Amway Center), a performing arts center (Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts) and a soccer stadium (Exploria Stadium), plus the renovation of a football stadium (Camping World), downtown is booming with residential and commercial activity, while the expansion of Interstate 4 (the I-4 Ultimate Project) promises even more growth.

Orlando’s history dates to 1838 and the height of the Seminole Wars. The U.S. Army built Fort Gatlin south of the present-day Orlando city limits to protect settlers from attacks by Indians.

By 1840, a small community had grown up around the fort. It was called Jernigan, for a pioneering family who had established the first permanent settlement in the area. Patriarch Aaron Jernigan established the settlement’s first post office in 1850.

Six years later, the community officially changed its name to Orlando. The Town of Orlando was incorporated in 1875 with 85 inhabitants, 22 of whom were qualified voters. It’s unclear where the name came from, although some historians believe that a local judge named it for a character in Shakespeare’s As You Like It.

Orlando proper, somewhat surprisingly, is not a particularly large city with 300,700 residents. The Orlando Metro Area, defined as encompassing Orange, Osceola, Lake, Seminole and Volusia counties, contains more than 2.7 million people, making it the third-largest metropolitan area in Florida and the seventh-largest in the Southeast.

Southeast Orlando

At roughly 100 square miles, the region generally referred to as southeast Orlando encompasses the University of Central Florida, Orlando International Airport and an array of master-planned communities, as well as stretches of pastureland, piney forests and wetlands abutting the Econlockhatchee River.

The remaining rural areas are rapidly vanishing as the pace of growth accelerates, particularly in the form of those large master-planned communities that contain a mixture of single-family and multifamily homes clustered around retail and commercial development.

Most notable is sprawling Lake Nona, consisting of residential, commercial, education and healthcare development, making it a prototypical modern metropolis.

Lake Nona is among the top-selling master-planned communities in the U.S. with more than 17,000 residents. Measuring 17 square miles, the 11,000-acre community is one-fourth the size of Washington, D.C., and three-fourths the size of Manhattan.

One of the fastest-growing master-planned communities in the U.S., Lake Nona — which is being developed by Tavistock Development Company in south Orlando — is recognized for its thoughtfully designed neighborhoods, top-rated education facilities, leading-edge business and research clusters, and diverse retail and entertainment centers.

Bisected by State Road 417, Lake Nona sits southeast of the Orlando International Airport and just north of Osceola County. While thousands of residents call Lake Nona home, there also are many nonresidential projects in the community — and many more on the way.

When Lake Nona began to emerge about 15 years ago, the idea of investing in a community 25 miles from downtown Orlando may have seemed like a gamble. But the once-remote area has since filled with more new residents and businesses of every variety.

At the intersection of Lake Nona Boulevard and Tavistock Lakes Boulevard, the Lake Nona Town Center encompasses hotels, offices, restaurants and apartment buildings. Plans call for the open-air, urban district to eventually contain 4 million square feet of entertainment, shopping and dining space.

Boxi Park Lake Nona is in the Town Center just south of State Road 417 on Lake Nona Boulevard. It offers a mix of restaurants and bars, beach volleyball courts and a live entertainment venue to create an outdoor entertainment destination built using 14 repurposed shipping containers arranged in one- and two-story configurations.

Among the first of its kind on the East Coast, the 30,000-square-foot park is family- and dog-friendly. Customers can find food and beverage options showcasing different cuisines, along with two full-service bars serving a selection of cocktails. A beer garden features its own craft beer line.

Visitors have several hotel choices with Marriott: Courtyard for short-term guests and Residence Inn for long-term stays. The Town Center buildings are adjacent and share a lobby. Each hotel offers more than 100 rooms and fitness centers.

Nearing completion is the Lake Nona Wave Hotel, which will be the Town Center’s crown jewel. With its curvilinear glass edges jutting 17 stories skyward, the hotel has 239 guest rooms and the brings the community new entertainment options with a restaurant, lounge and a pool that may be visited by locals.

Phase II of the Town Center will feature the 110,000-square-foot Lake Nona Wellness Center. The facility will feature a medically based fitness program, sports performance training, physician offices and community education spaces for Lake Nona residents, families and employees as well as elite athletes.

The center will also feature first-class equipment and on-demand fitness programs from Lake Nona partner Technogym. Amenities will include childcare facilities with outdoor play, a daylighted public concourse and an indoor/outdoor demonstration kitchen.

In addition, there’ll be an indoor climbing wall, indoor and outdoor pools, an outdoor classroom, outdoor training turf, a wellness plaza, a zen garden and a sports performance area with a 40-yard sprint track.

Lake Nona’s health and life sciences cluster, also known as Medical City, is home to top medical and research facilities, including the University of Central Florida Health Sciences Campus and the Lake Nona Cancer Center as well as Nemours Children’s Hospital, the University of Florida Research & Academic Center and the Orlando Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

Together they provide a unique collection of research, education and medical care options — all state-of-the-art. So let’s have a look at what, exactly, Medical City has to offer.

The UCF Health Sciences campus includes several facilities. Established in 2006, the UCF College of Medicine is one of the first U.S. medical schools in decades to be built from the ground up.

Included is a 170,000-square-foot medical education facility, which features the latest in lab and classroom technology, as well as the 198,000-square-foot Burnett Biomedical Sciences building.

The college is unique nationally because of the large undergraduate and graduate programs in biomedicine offered through the Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences. The Burnett School boasts almost 3,000 undergraduates — making biomedical sciences the third most popular major at UCF.

In addition, the 204,709-square-foot UCF Lake Nona Medical Center — a partnership hospital between HCA Healthcare’s North Florida Division and UCF Academic Health — has opened adjacent to the medical school.

The 100-bed teaching hospital provides healing for patients throughout Central Florida and beyond. It also educates healthcare providers of the future and supports the work of brilliant medical researchers that will lead to lifesaving care.

Near the hospital is the 175,000-square-foot UCF Lake Nona Cancer Center, which houses cancer researchers, clinical trials and treatment for patients. And there are other key components of Medical City.

The 1.2 million-square-foot Orlando VA Medical Center serves the region’s 400,000 veterans by providing acute care, complex specialty care, advanced diagnostic services, and a large multispecialty outpatient clinic as well as administrative and support services.

The VA facility is also home to the SimLEARN National Simulation Center, which is dedicated to improving the quality of healthcare services for veterans through the application of simulation-based learning strategies to clinical workforce development.

The University of Florida Research and Academic Center at Lake Nona is a 110,000-square-foot facility where basic, clinical and translational research in drug discovery and development takes place. UF’s center also houses a nationally ranked Doctorate in Pharmacy program.

The 92,000-square-foot GuideWell Innovation Center, located near the UF facility, is a medical innovation hub for startups and healthcare entrepreneurs. The three-story building includes co-working space for startups on the first floor and houses clinical and research companies on the upper floors.

Designed to promote collaboration and acceleration of groundbreaking ideas, the center provides the resources and collaborative environment innovators need to develop new solutions — and the connections to take concepts to market.

The 30,000-square-foot, first-floor collaboration space offers leaders from around the globe access to the best thinking in health innovation. Also in the building: exhibit space for new medical technology, a presentation venue, a video production studio, a nutrition lab and meeting space.

The Johnson & Johnson Human Performance Institute is a 35,000-square-foot global training center for the company’s employees. Also available through the institute are services to help everyone from athletes to executives be more productive and perform at their personal best in high-stress situations.

The institute’s campus includes the Corporate Athlete Course, a conference center, comprehensive testing and diagnostic facilities, a state-of-the-art fitness center and a world-class tennis center.

The 630,000-square-foot Nemours Children’s Hospital is part of a state-of-the-art health campus that also includes Nemours Children’s Clinic, an ambulatory diagnostic center and extensive research and education facilities.

Healing gardens, nature trails, pet therapy areas and water features help create a peaceful environment that fosters both mental and physical healing.

Big Four professional services firm KPMG selected Lake Nona for its national training center from a competitive field of 50 prospective cities nationwide.

The high-tech campus opened in early 2020 and focuses on enhancing the skills and services of KPMG professionals through immersive training in cutting-edge classroom and field environments. About 50,000 employees worldwide will train each year in various accounting disciplines.

Opened last summer, the Lake Nona Performance Club is 130,000 square feet — big enough to hold several grocery stores.

The concept is a 360-degree approach to health for everyone from infants to seniors, with specialized equipment for rehabbing injured athletes. Aquatics include a leisure pool, lap pool and whirlpool. The studio space for yoga, barre and Pilates is larger than most houses.

The gymnasium features basketball and volleyball courts. And Lake Nona has partnered with Chopra Global, a leading whole-health company founded by wellness guru and bestselling author Deepak Chopra, to create the Chopra Mind-Body Zone and Spa.

On Adventure Lake adjacent to the City of Orlando’s Heroes City Park, the Nona Adventure Park is a watersports park that features a two-track Rixen Cable System for water-skiers and wakeboarders.

It also offers an aqua park with a series of floating pathways, climbing obstacles, slides and trampolines. There’s even a summer camp, which pretty much always sells out.

In addition, the park has a pro shop as well as a 60-foot climbing tower with a ropes course and climbing walls. The Wi-Fi-enabled main entrance houses an upscale café with food and beverages, and a dry seating area for spectators.

The largest tennis facility in the country, the USTA National Campus features 100 courts and innovative developmental programs that make it a training destination for professional, collegiate and amateur players.

Home to thousands of training players and teams and to hundreds of tournaments each year, the 64-acre campus is open to the public and serves all levels of play for all ages. The campus has hosted 675,000 visitors and attendees since opening in 2017.

Current and former professionals who have visited, trained, coached and played at the facility include James Blake, CiCi Bellis, the Bryan Brothers, Jim Courier, Chris Evert, Ivan Lendl, Bethanie Mattek-Sands, Madison Keys, Billie Jean King, Jack Sock, Frances Tiafoe and David Young.

The facility was selected as the host site of the NCAA Division I Men’s and Women’s Tennis Championships in 2019 and 2021, as well as the NCAA Division III Men’s and Women’s Tennis Championships in 2022.

XL Soccer World plans to open a new 50,000-square-foot indoor athletic complex off Narcoossee Road, near Valencia College’s Lake Nona campus. The facility will feature two, six-versus-six 4G boarded turf fields and two multisurface fields.

There’ll be camps, adult leagues, a mini sports academy for youngsters (soccer, basketball, baseball and flag football). In addition, there’ll be Youth Soccer programs and even an XL National Team consisting of selected players who’ll have an opportunity to compete in Europe.

Construction is underway on a Brooks Rehabilitation Hospital with 60 beds and a potential for double that number. The new hospital will focus on “medically complex” rehabilitation solutions in concert with Lake Nona’s Medical City.


Nestled among the spring-fed Butler Chain of Lakes, the cozy town of Windermere has emerged as one of the hottest housing markets in Florida and the Southeast.

With Lake Butler on the west, Lake Down on the east and Lake Bessie on the southeast, Windermere is a verdant peninsula where many of the homes are on the shoreline. Not coincidentally, Windermere and the area surrounding it encompasses some of Central Florida’s most upscale new communities, home to businesspeople, entrepreneurs and athletes.

The lakes, in fact, attracted one of Windermere’s first investors, Joseph Hill Scott. Scott’s son, Stanley, homesteaded the property and supposedly named it after Lake Windermere in England.

Little changed until 1910, when a pair of Ohio investors named D.H. Johnson and J. Calvin Palmer bought all the land they could piece together and formed the Windermere Improvement Company for the purpose of developing it.

Some old homes and buildings have been preserved and add to the charm of this small town — yes, it’s a town, not a city — nestled among the ancient oaks on an isthmus between lakes Down and Butler.

Although the main drag is paved, most of the residential streets in Windermere proper aren’t — which is just the way the residents like it. But, of course, that’s “Old Windermere.”

The ritzy gated communities, such as Isleworth, known for its profusion of professional athletes, are in unincorporated Orange County despite their Windermere mailing address.

Winter Garden

It was 1857 when W.C. Roper was riding through the backwoods of west Orange County on horseback, seeking a place to build a home for his family waiting back in Georgia.

Roper bought 600 acres along the shore, between present-day Winter Garden and Oakland, and returned a year later with his wife and 10 children.

The ambitious settler operated a sawmill, a gristmill, a sugar mill and a cotton gin. Later, he built a tannery for making shoes and served as Orange County’s superintendent of schools from 1873 to 1877.

Fast-forward to the 1920s, when Roper’s son Frank planted the area’s first orange trees, marking the humble beginnings of an industry that would sustain and define Winter Garden, which had been incorporated in 1903, for the next six decades.

Fast-forward again to the 1980s, when devastating freezes destroyed thousands of acres of citrus. Developers began buying up decimated groves for new homes, creating new subdivisions seemingly overnight. Then came a brilliant project called Rails to Trails, through which abandoned rail beds across the country were converted into hiking and biking trails.

The popular West Orange Trail passes directly through Winter Garden, thus converting the all-but-forgotten city into an oasis for thousands of ready-to-spend strollers. And most are charmed by what they see. As a result, Winter Garden is blossoming anew — this time as a scenic place to live in literally dozens of new communities.

Today the rustic-chic city of 48,000 is a destination for visitors, residents and businesses. Incorporated in 1908, Winter Garden sits on the southern shore of Lake Apopka and is 20 minutes west of Orlando.

One of the most picturesque of any in the region, Winter Garden’s downtown district was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1996. It covers about 100 acres in the general area of Woodland, Tremaine, Henderson and Lakeview streets.

West Plant Street, which runs east and west through the district, is home to several dining and shopping choices. In addition, the popular Winter Garden Farmers Market sets up downtown each Saturday. It has been recognized as one of the country’s best farmers’ markets by the American Farmland Trust.

Plant Street Market, housing more than 20 merchants including the popular Crooked Can microbrewery, opened in 2014 on the site of a demolished apartment complex. The market houses farm-to-table restaurants, a bakery, a butcher, a chocolatier, a wine bar and various sellers of artisanal food items.

The $2 million project extended downtown’s footprint beyond City Hall and further solidified Winter Garden’s reputation as a foodie’s dream and as a reminder of the city’s long history with agriculture. In addition, the New York Beer Project, a New York-based brewery, last year broke ground for its new 24,000-square-foot facility.

The project, located on the corner of Seidel Road and Seton Creek Boulevard, will feature a gastropub, an indoor beer garden, a tap room, a sidewalk bistro and three Big Apple-themed event spaces.

An icon of downtown Winter Garden is the restored Garden Theatre, a circa-1930s movie house. Now a performing-arts center, it hosts live theater, dance and musical programs as well as the annual Starlight Film Festival.

In addition, the city partnered with the Winter Garden Arts Association to convert the old Boyd Street Fire Station into a hub for visual art that now houses a gallery and a teaching facility. It’s the first step toward creation of an Art and Design District, which will offer artists both living space and studio space.

The city’s Heritage Foundation operates two museums: The Winter Garden Heritage Museum, located in the old Atlantic Coast Line Depot, and the Central Florida Railroad Museum, located in the old Tavares & Gulf Railroad Depot. Both museums offer free admission.

Residents and visitors looking for a special night out can visit the critically acclaimed Chef’s Table at the Edgewater Hotel on Plant Street.

Diners and shoppers have even more choices in the Winter Garden Village, located off Daniels Road and just northwest of State Road 429. Winter Garden and Ocoee, its neighbor to the east, are developing an economic corridor that connects their downtowns.

Their goal is to turn a six-mile roadway, called East Plant Street in Winter Garden and West Franklin Street in Ocoee and populated by warehouses and auto repair shops, into inviting city gateways at the State Road 429 interchange.

West Orange County

While Orlando’s sunrise side burgeons with fast-growing Lake Nona and seam-busting UCF, the region’s sunset side has emerged as just as much of a hot spot.

Horizon West is home to five unique villages and a town center situated on the center of 28,000 acres — that’s just under 32 square miles, which is nearly the size of neighboring Walt Disney World.

The village-centric design means that homes will be nearby a commercial village center, walkable schools and public parks, where wide pathways connect everything. Green spaces and nature preserves are found along pathways and throughout each village. Split-rail fences and orange-crate relief art distinguish community thoroughfares.

That wasn’t the case decades ago, when Horizon West was home mostly to thousands of acres of orange groves. Repeated freezes in the late 1980s set into motion a plan by landowners to develop the vast acreage, where citrus farming was no longer viable.

The landowners, mostly growers, presented an intelligent and comprehensive plan to Orange County that was unprecedented in its sheer scope. Horizon West began to take form when the plan was adopted in 1995.

Six villages were proposed, which are now known as Lakeside, Bridgewater, Town Center, the Seidel area (Village F), Hickory Nut (Village H) and Ovation (Village I).

Later came Hamlin, which included a town center with more than 2 million square feet of mixed-use commercial space and up to 4,870 residential units at buildout. The town center is already ringed with residential communities.

Development of a 3,624-acre central area, which spans all four quadrants of the State Road 429 exchange, will take up to a decade to fully complete and will act as a destination for the entire region with components that encompass dining, entertainment, offices, hotels, medical, wellness, shopping, housing and education.

Horizon West’s villages have been approved for 40,282 residential units, making the projected population at buildout 100,705. Because of faster than anticipated growth, it’s already more than halfway complete, according to county officials, and is currently home to about 25,000 people. Clearly, there are plenty of reasons why West Orange County is attracting buyers in droves. One of those reasons might be the lingering social impact of COVID-19.

Workers who are no longer tied to the daily demands of commuting have opted for larger homes and more manageable mortgages than they might get in more established areas closer to office parks and central business districts.

Schools are also starting to keep pace with growth. An ambitious building program backed largely by a half-penny sales tax has helped ease the overcrowding. And Horizon West on its own has driven a major expansion of public schools.

Winter Park

Once a haven for artists, writers and some of the most influential families in the country, Winter Park was promoted in the late 1800s as a refuge for “the cultured and wealthy.” Those early boosters would almost certainly be pleased to see how it all turned out.

Today, the city is home to 70-plus parks and nearly as many oak trees (20,000) as residents (approximately 31,000).

Its eight square miles encompass lovely old homes, an upscale shopping district, a prestigious liberal arts college, a plethora of galleries and museums and street signs that admonish motorists to “drive with extraordinary care.”

The heart of Winter Park is Park Avenue, stretching 10 blocks and boasting more than 100 shops, from upscale national retailers to one-of-a-kind boutiques. In addition, the downtown shopping district has spread west on New England Avenue as posh apartments and retail stores have sprung up.

On the north end of Park Avenue is the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art, showcasing the world’s largest collection of Tiffany glass. Several blocks farther west is Winter Park Village, a retail and entertainment complex on U.S. Highway 17-92.

Year-round the city is alive with festivals and special events, highlighted by the renowned Winter Park Sidewalk Art Festival.

On the shores of Lake Virginia is beautiful Rollins College, one of the highest rated liberal arts colleges in the country.

Recent big projects in Winter Park have included a new Library & Events Center designed by celebrity architect David Adjaye. Soon to come, on downtown property dubbed “Innovation Triangle” by Rollins College, is a new facility for the Rollins Museum of Art and the Crummer Graduate School of Business.

The other edge of the triangle is the college-owned Alfond Inn, a highly rated boutique hotel.

Seminole County

Altamonte Springs

Although Altamonte Springs was incorporated in 1920, its population totaled only 5,000 as recently as 1970. But that was before developers turned this erstwhile whistle-stop into a thriving suburb.

Today, Altamonte Springs, population 45,300, is known both for the Altamonte Mall, built in 1974 as the area’s first regional mall, and the newer Uptown Altamonte, as well as for the presence of virtually every franchised eatery in the world.

Uptown Altamonte, spanning more than 25 acres on the shores of a 40-acre manmade lake, now has established itself as the pulse of Altamonte Springs and serves as an economic and aesthetic focal point.

Many of the city’s subdivisions can be found along Palm Springs Drive, Maitland Avenue and Montgomery Road, not far from the mall. Some of the older developments are nestled around hidden lakes that seem far removed from the hustle and bustle.

Multifamily housing also is plentiful, with approximately three-dozen apartment developments located within the city limits, primarily along Semoran Boulevard, also known as State Road 436. Apartment living, plus the convenience of shopping and entertainment venues, has made Altamonte Springs popular among young adults..


Founded by World War I veteran Hibbard Casselberry, who in 1926 bought 3,000 acres to grow ferns, Casselberry emerged as a suburban residential community after World War II.

By the time it was incorporated in 1965, Casselberry encompassed numerous family-oriented subdivisions and a budding business district near the intersection of State Road 436 and U.S. Highway 17-92.

In the decades that followed, the city continued to grow, and its population today stands at more than 30,000 people. As such, Casselberry is a quintessential bedroom community, also boasting more than 15 parks, two-dozen lakes and a municipal golf course.

Adjacent to Casselberry is unincorporated Fern Park, which, as the name suggests, also traces its beginnings to the fern-growing industry. Like Casselberry, it developed into a bedroom community for Orlando, starting in the 1950s.

Lake Mary

ake Mary became one of Central Florida’s hottest growth areas, thanks in large part to the dogged persistence of Jeno Paulucci, a self-made millionaire who made his first fortune selling frozen Chinese food and a second one selling frozen pizza.

The city today continues to sit at the epicenter of Florida’s High-Tech Corridor, which follows Interstate 4 from Tampa through Seminole County and northeast to Daytona Beach. Along the route, government and industry have joined forces to attract leading-edge companies in such fields as telecommunications, medical technology and microelectronics.

In Lake Mary, with a population of about 18,000, dozens of such companies have set up shop in several sprawling business centers that have combined to create a Central Florida version of Silicon Valley.

But it all started as an isolated railroad station known as Bents, the surname of a local grove owner. In 1900, industry arrived in Bents when Planters Manufacturing Co. built a factory to produce starches, dextrins, farina and tapioca. The facility closed in 1910, however, and Bents — later renamed Lake Mary for the wife of a local pastor — seemed destined to remain an out-of-the-way country town.

That was the case for another half-century, until the construction of Interstate 4 and a successful campaign by community boosters to get a Lake Mary interchange tacked onto the project.

The resulting tracts of easily accessible land caught the eye of Paulucci. In the late 1970s, he announced plans to build a luxurious residential development and business hub called Heathrow.

Today, such developments — both pricey and more moderate — are plentiful, along with an array of complementary mixed-use developments featuring shops, restaurants and apartment complexes.


Of all Seminole County’s municipalities, Longwood, population roughly 17,500, has the most history to preserve, and has done the best job of preserving it. But it’s still a modern place, with a plethora of exclusive country club communities, office parks and shopping centers.

In 1873 a New Englander named Edward Henck homesteaded a tract of land that he named Longwood, after a Boston suburb he had helped plan. Henck was also the town’s first postmaster and its first mayor.

And in what may have been his spare time, Henck co-founded the South Florida Railroad and built a line connecting Sanford and Orlando, which enabled Longwood to boom as a citrus- and lumber-shipping center as well as a winter resort destination.

But as crucial as Henck was to Longwood’s development, it was a carpenter named Josiah Clouser, a Henck employee, whose legacy is most visible.

Clouser, a Pennsylvanian, constructed most of the buildings still standing in Longwood’s remarkable historic district, a two-block area on Warren and Church avenues near the intersection of County Road 427 and State Road 434.

There are plenty of events to keep residents occupied. The annual Arts and Crafts Festival, held in November, features more than 200 artists and handcraft exhibitors selling unique items, fine jewelry and seasonal décor. Also, the Founders Day Spring Arts and Crafts Festival is held each March.


While Oviedo might be one of Central Florida’s oldest communities, first settled some 140 years ago, this boomtown knows how to embrace newcomers.

Indeed, few Central Florida municipalities witnessed the kind of growth Oviedo saw beginning in the early 2000s and continued for much of the past 15 years. The town’s population is about 45,000, more than a tenfold increase since 1980. Oviedo has a mall, too — called, appropriately, the Oviedo Mall.

Oviedo’s growth was a long time coming. The area’s first settlers, who put down stakes near Lake Jesup in the 1860s, called it Solary’s Wharf. In 1883, postmaster Andrew Aulin dubbed it Oviedo, supposedly after seeing a Spanish town of the same name on a map.

Longtime locals point to 1964 as perhaps the most significant year in Oviedo’s history. That’s when a desolate 1,145-acre tract in rural northeast Orange County, about seven miles east of the city, was selected as the site for Florida Technological University (now the University of Central Florida).

Since that time, Oviedo’s history has been rewritten, to a large extent, with orange groves and celery fields giving way to housing communities and a new downtown to accommodate the university’s surrounding growth.


Located on the shores of Lake Monroe, Sanford once rivaled Orlando as the region’s largest city. A major distribution center for vegetables and citrus, it was known as “The Celery Capital of the World.”

But agriculture is no longer king in Sanford (population 62,000). Today, it’s the Seminole County seat, making county government the leading employer.

And, after years of stagnation, Sanford also is a city on the rise, thanks to a burgeoning airport, Orlando-Sanford International Airport — one of the fastest-growing in the country — and a downtown redevelopment initiative that has given life to a new entertainment district, highlighted by the scenic Sanford Riverwalk. Sanford is the county’s most populous city.

Relocators to Sanford can choose from an array of new subdivisions on the city’s outskirts, they can latch on to Victorian fixer-uppers in the city center or they can enjoy emerging apartment living as part of downtown’s rebirth.

Leading that rebirth is San Leon, a, new mixed-use development that hearkens back to the founding of the city and consists of ground-level retail with residential uses on top floors. The hope, according to city officials, is that the project will spark a resurgence of new projects in the downtown area.

Sanford’s downtown has become a Central Florida destination, bolstered by the Sanford Main Street initiative. Its mission is to “preserve and enhance the historic charm” while “encouraging local spending, tourism and a sense of community.”

Winter Springs

Until the mid-1950s, Winter Springs was nothing more than several square miles of scrub pine and palmettos. That’s when developers Raymond Moss and William Edgemon bought the land, subdivided it and introduced the Village of North Orlando.

At the start of the 1970s, a time of rampant growth throughout Central Florida, the area contained one small grocery store and roughly 300 homes straddling State Road 434.

Tuscawilla, eastern Seminole County’s first upscale golf course community, changed all that, along with a new city charter getting adopted in 1972, which gave the city the new name of Winter Springs. In the past two decades, the city’s growth has rivaled that of adjacent Oviedo.

The population is now 38,500 and growing, bolstered by projects such as the sprawling Town Center at the corner of State Road 434 and Tuskawilla Road.



As a whole, Osceola County had Florida’s second-largest growth in population from 2010 to 2020, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That growth has been especially evident in Kissimmee, its largest city at approximately 75,000 people.

At the same time, by virtue of the vibe that continues to permeate the community, the one-time slogan for Kissimmee of “Big-time attractions, small-town hospitality” still fits.

A friendly, down-to-earth place, Kissimmee is still recognized for its biannual Silver Spurs Rodeo and its genuine cowboy panache. It just happens to exist alongside Walt Disney World, the world’s No. 1 tourist attraction.

Formerly called Allendale, the city began as a tiny trading post on the northern bank of Lake Tohopekaliga. It was incorporated in 1887 as Kissimmee ­­— a Native American term meaning “long water.” It later became the Osceola County seat and, by the 1930s, cattle rivaled citrus as its main industry.

But housing now powers the economy. With developable land becoming scarce in Orange and Seminole counties, much of the region’s residential growth for the next decade is expected to take place in and around Kissimmee, according to a study by the Urban Land Institute.

To make certain that at least some of Kissimmee’s heritage is preserved, the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency continues to actively improve the historic downtown district near Main Street and U.S. 192 with appealing mixed-use projects.

One example: City Centre Kissimmee, which consists of luxury residential units plus parking garages as well as retail, restaurants, financial institutions and professional offices.

Also spurring growth around Kissimmee is NeoCity, a mixed use “smart city” and technology incubator that will eventually contain, in addition to its research and manufacturing facilities, a 1.4 million-square-foot retail and entertainment hub and 1,150 condominiums with nearly 400,000 square feet of amenities and common space.

In addition, Kissimmee remains a sporting paradise, with numerous boat ramps on the shores of Lake Toho, which is known for excellent bass fishing.

Southport Park, for example, offers covered pavilions, grills and campgrounds, while picnic areas abound at Partin Triangle Park and Whaley’s Landing. Hunters can enjoy the wide-open Osceola Plain, home to turkey, white-tailed deer and fox squirrels.

Kissimmee is also culturally diverse. About 68 percent of its population identifies as Hispanic, and many arts and entertainment venues reflect that burgeoning international flair.

St. Cloud

St. Cloud has been called “A Soldier’s Colony,” “The Friendly Soldier City,” “The Wonder City” and “The City of Schools.”

Also, it was known as an inexpensive place for tourists to stay while visiting Walt Disney World. In the 1970s, St. Cloud teamed with much-larger Kissimmee to market itself internationally as an affordable alternative for vacationers wishing to explore the theme parks without paying resort hotel prices.

Yet, these days, city officials are working to downplay that tourism connection while promoting the charms of St. Cloud as a great place to live.

The military references hearken back to 1909, when the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization for Union soldiers who had served in the Civil War, bought 35,000 acres for development as a community for veterans.

More than a century later, St. Cloud boasts one of Central Florida’s most charming downtown districts. It’s replete with antique shops occupying vintage storefronts, several excellent restaurants, a historical museum and Veteran’s Memorial Park.

Meanwhile, growth continues, with St. Cloud’s population now exceeding 57,000. And there are some exciting community amenities on the way for them to enjoy. For example, the city’s first-ever splash pad, inspired by Puerto Rico’s El Yunque National Forest, is soon to open.

Ground was broken last year for the one-acre project at the 65th Infantry Veterans Park in the expansive community of Buenaventura Lakes near Kissimmee. When complete, there’ll be 34 water features, including a water dump platform, spraying palms, animals and plants.

The park, which already includes a highly acclaimed disk golf course, serves as a tribute the 65th Infantry Regiment, which was nicknamed “The Borinqueneers.” The storied Puerto Rican regiment of the U.S. Army distinguished itself during the Korean War.


Clermont and South Lake County

The Citrus Tower, built in 1956, was once an awesome attraction that invited picnickers and tourists to its observation deck for panoramic views of Lake County’s sprawling citrus groves.

The tower — now considered a kitschy relic of a bygone era — is still there, but the landscape has starkly changed. Now you’ll see thousands of new homes on the rolling hills that have always distinguished burgeoning Lake County from its geographically challenged neighbors.

That isn’t to say sprawl has destroyed Lake County’s charm. There are still groves, woods, barns and more than 1,400 lakes scattered across 221 square miles. The county’s unpretentious municipalities still boast quaint business districts with mom-and-pop shops.

Yet, like other previously rural areas in Central Florida, Lake County is growing fast — particularly in south Lake County, which has increasingly become an attractive suburban alternative for people who work in more populous Orange and Seminole counties.

The city of Clermont, population of more than 44,000 and steadily rising, is ground zero for the county’s housing boom. The stage was set with construction of metro Orlando’s Western Beltway, which has made a once-daunting commute quite manageable.

Clermont is truly at the crossroads of Florida, located at the intersection of State Road 50, which runs east and west, and U.S. 27, which runs north and south. Bordered by Lake Minnehaha on the south and Lake Minneola on the north, Clermont is on a chain of 16 lakes connected by the Palatlakaha River in the Ocklawaha Basin of tributaries of the St. Johns River.

“The Gem of the Hills,” as Clermont is sometimes called, also is popular among triathlon enthusiasts. Orlando Health South Lake Hospital’s all-in-one campus is home to the USA Triathlon National Training Center, which is designed to meet the needs of all ages and fitness levels.

Growth, then, is both literally and figuratively healthy in and around Clermont. And it’s about to get even more so with Wellness Way.

The southeast portion of the county, formerly known as the South Lake Sector Planning Area, encompasses nearly 15,500 acres east of U.S. 27 and south of State Road 50. The mostly rural expanse has been poised for major development as a sort of expansion — or even a duplication — of booming Horizon West in bordering west Orange County.

Comparable to Horizon West, multiuse Wellness Way is divided into smaller sectors, including a town center. It will eventually include about 16,500 residential units, but that number remains somewhat fluid for now. Suffice it to say, it’ll be big.

Infrastructure is being planned or is underway with multiple new roads designed to literally connect into the future. This includes several new connector roads that will connect Horizon West to neighboring communities in Lake County.

Clearly, there are big visions for this rustic setting, which today is marked primarily by citrus groves, bumpy dirt roads, lakes and hills, and pastures where cows contentedly graze. All the while, homebuilders (and developers) have been watching and taking notice — and already have gotten busy with what surely will accelerate stark changes to the landscape.

At the center of the initial activity is master-planned Olympus, a 243-acre community in Clermont bordered to the west by U.S. 27 and 4,372-acre Lake Louisa State Park. Proximity of a development like Olympus to Clermont makes a lot of sense, if you know anything about Clermont.

While some cities tout the names of corporations they land or public lands they acquire, Clermont lists the names of Olympians who train in their town.

Last year, Triathlete magazine named the city one of the nation’s top 10 for triathletes — putting the Lake County hamlet in the same league as San Diego, California; Austin, Texas; and Charlotte, North Carolina. “This suburb of Orlando is quickly building a reputation as one of the country’s true tri meccas,” magazine editors wrote.

Athletes come to the rolling, lake-dotted area to train year-round on some of Florida’s rare hills. Nowhere else in Central Florida — or perhaps the state — do road signs declare “Caution: High Cyclist Activity” and “Cyclists May Take the Full Lane.”

Essentially marking the start of Wellness Way, Olympus features uncommon elevations and vistas, a natural lake and full entitlement for more than 1,000 residential units to accompany 1 million-plus square feet of office, medical, retail, restaurant and industrial space.

The planned centerpiece of this initial community will be the Olympus Athlete Center. It comes with all the right buzzwords: “sports performance,” “athlete nutritional services” and “media and broadcast facilities.”

As planned, the sports campus would include a tennis center, an ice sports arena, an aquatics center, an area for beach volleyball and a field sports complex for lacrosse, soccer and rugby. You can kind of imagine svelte bodies sporting the Olympus logo on T- shirts: “Epic Every Day.” The arena, by the way, might accommodate concerts and other events.

Activity has come in stages, beginning in 2018, when master plans were first outlined to the Lake County Commission by Winter Park-based Olympus Sports and Entertainment Group, the community’s developer. Although the infrastructure phase of Olympus didn’t begin until last summer, during the next decade — if all goes as planned — Olympus is expected to create more than 5,000 jobs and generate more than $1.4 billion in local economic impact.

As part of the approved plan, the development will contain 48 acres of nonresidential land focused on agribusiness and community recreational facilities, along with a 200-foot buffer of trees and five miles of interconnected community trails for walking, hiking, biking and horseback riding.

Mount Dora

To the north, Mount Dora, population 15,200, continues to be a center of development, with Eustis and Umatilla also attracting significant development attention.

Mount Dora, the aptly named “New England of the South,” was founded in 1874, when homesteaders first discovered the gently sloping lakeside hills that rise to 184 feet — hardly a mountain, but a formidable height by Central Florida standards.

The city hugs the shores of 3,600-acre Lake Dora, named for Dora Ann Drawdy, who homesteaded two miles south with her husband in 1846.

Today, downtown Mount Dora contains dozens of historic buildings housing antique shops, art galleries, boutiques and restaurants. Tree-shaded Donnelly Park occupies a full block in the center of town, inviting picnickers and tennis players to enjoy the lush surroundings.

Within walking distance is Palm Island Park, adjacent to Gilbert Park, which boasts one of the most beautiful nature trails in the state.

The downtown area also hosts an annual art festival, as well as numerous antique and craft fairs, specialty auto shows and historic home tours. The city has a respected community theater, too, along with an art center and a historical museum.


Sandwiched between Orlando and Tampa Bay, Polk County has been a bit overlooked, at least historically.


Geographically, Volusia County sits 50 miles northeast of Orlando, between the St. Johns River and the Atlantic Ocean. But these days, in a region where the growth is pushing outward in all four directions, geography doesn’t mean as much as it once did. Indeed, as metro Orlando spreads north and east along Interstate 4 through Seminole County, west Volusia is directly in growth’s path.

Today the area, once identified almost exclusively with Daytona Beach (population 72,600), is emerging as a suburb of Orlando. For example, with 96,000 residents, Deltona has long since surpassed Daytona Beach as the largest municipality in the county. It has seen monumental growth since 1980.

Much of the activity is spurred by commercial development along the High-Tech Corridor, which runs the length of Interstate 4 between Tampa and Daytona Beach.

In addition, the widening of the Interstate 4/St. Johns River Bridge alleviated one of the region’s most annoying traffic bottlenecks, making the western portion of Volusia an easy 30-minute commute to downtown Orlando.

Lured by that enhanced access, as well as by the region’s abundance of lakes, springs and the nearby beach, families began flocking to the new-home communities near Interstate 4.

Buyers also have discovered the impressive stock of historic homes west of downtown DeLand (population 37,700), which is clearly one of the coolest small towns in Florida.

The quaint downtown district, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, is thick with eateries and antique shops. And stately Stetson University, which has been located here since 1883, adds an air of permanence.

Meanwhile, tiny Lake Helen (population 2,800) is holding its breath as Victoria Park adds 4,000 homes and 10,000 residents right near the city’s border. The rural enclave is expected to grow nearly 20 percent by 2025.

Those interested in more natural settings, plus an unusual lunch, may head north on U.S. 17 to De León Springs State Park, where you can cook your own pancakes at the Old Spanish Sugar Mill and then paddle a canoe through the wilderness.

In the winter, manatees seeking warmer water can be seen lolling around at Blue Springs State Park. In the summer, humans, seeking relief from the heat, plunge into the same bubbling blue oasis.

Many of the changes in Volusia County involve Daytona Beach, especially around Interstate 95 and LPGA Boulevard.

Five or six years ago, big stories included the arrival of a Trader Joe’s distribution center, the opening of Tanger Outlets Mall and the Tomoka Town Center, and the completion of a new headquarters site for TopBuild Corp., a Fortune 1000 company. Then came more retail, restaurant apartment complexes and the massive live/work/play communities of Mosaic and Latitude Margaritaville.


While some people might remember the popular late-1960s TV show I Dream of Jeannie, which featured a “a mythical town” named Cocoa Beach and referenced nearby space activities, Cocoa Beach is very real and thriving, right along with the rest of Brevard County.

The county, which extends 72 miles north and south off the Atlantic Coast, has a population of approximately 606,000 people. That makes it the 10th most populated county in Florida.

There are a total of 16 cities and towns along the aptly named Space Coast, the largest of which is Palm Bay (population 120,000), where the historic district sits on the mouth of Turkey Creek and Palm Bay — very picturesque.

The next-biggest city is Melbourne (population 85,000), which hugs the Indian River Lagoon. The northernmost city is Titusville (population 47,000). In the center are Cocoa (population 19,000), Cocoa Beach (population 12,000) and Cape Canaveral (population 10,400). To the south, along with Palm Bay, is Melbourne (population 83,600).

The history of Brevard County dates back thousands of years before Europeans arrived in the 16th century. The Windover Archeological Site, found in 1982, has the world’s largest collection of human remains and artifacts of the early Archaic Period — 6,000-5,000 BCE, or more than 8,000 years ago. It’s designated as a National Historic Landmark.

The area that’s today’s Brevard County began to be settled when the U.S. Army and Florida Militia established supply posts and routes during the Second Seminole War in 1835.

Previously, early Spanish explorers had sailed along the Brevard coastline, and the primary inhabitants were Seminole Indians. The county was established in 1854.

Brevard’s modern-day emergence came by virtue of a literal leap of faith when the nation invested in a major launch complex on Merritt Island — now known as the Kennedy Space Center — to meet the challenge of sending astronauts to the moon.

That, plus nearby Cape Canaveral’s continuing role in the country’s missile development and testing program, spawned a tech-industry boom that continues today. (Cape Canaveral is now home to the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station).

Manufacturing is also a leading economic driver, with more than 500 manufacturers in key industries including aviation, aerospace, medical equipment, communications, transportation and emerging technology.

More growth is on the way. Last year the world’s largest satellite manufacturing facility, Terran Orbital Corp., announced that Merritt Island will be the site for its Commercial Spacecraft and Constellation Facility.

The 660,000-square-foot project — which represents an investment of more than $300 million in new construction and equipment — is expected to create approximately 2,100 new jobs with an estimated annual average wage of $84,000 by late 2025.

Transportation in the county is excellent, thanks to the continual growth of both Interstate 95 and Melbourne Orlando International Airport. Meanwhile, tourism is strong, anchored by the county’s numerous waterways, general beauty, and robust arts and recreation scenes.