Surprising Winter Park Florida: An art-filled, food-filled charming town

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I loved Winter Park as soon as I saw its tree-lined streets, historic train station, shops and restaurants. But that wasn't the reason I visited this not-quite-suburb of Orlando. I went to see the Morse Museum with its extensive collection of Tiffany art and found so much more to love.

The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art

Fans of the art of Louis Comfort Tiffany will, of course, love the museum. But anyone who thinks Tiffany's glorious creations were some lampshades and a few mosaics will have their perceptions blown up. The Morse Museum, founded by Jeannette Genius McKean (1909 -- 1989) and named after her grandfather, is home to the world's most comprehensive collection of the works of Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848 -- 1933)

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The galleries include his lush and colorful lamps (many of which were designed and fabricated by Clara Driscoll and the women who worked with her. His detailed and three dimensional stained glass murals and panels includes works that are famous and those rarely seen outside of the museum.

But the highlight must be his chapel designed by Tiffany for the World's Columbian Expos in Chicago 1893. The chapel was salvaged by the museum and recreated within the Morse itself. It puts the visitor within the mosaic art, surrounded by beauty that invites peaceful contemplation. The other highlight is the recreation of Tiffany's Long Island estate Laurelton Hall that has its own wing of the museum.

The Morse Museum also offers special Wednesday lectures, Friday Brown Bag Matinees, and special December Holiday events.

Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Gardens

The Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Gardens is the estate of Czech-American sculptor Albin Polasek located on Lake Osceola. There are changing exhibits and special events, but the setting is lovely and visitors will be able to see some of his large scale works amid the beautiful gardens. Personal favorite -- Man Carving His Own Destiny. Guided tours are available. But do remember that the museum closes at 4 PM. If you'll be in Winter Park during the last week of April, the Museum hosts an annual Winter Park Paint Out. Twenty-five professional plein air artists roam through Winter Park painting outdoor scenes in oils, water colors and pastels. The art is then auctioned off as a fund raiser for the museum.

Rollins College

Founded in 1885 by New England Congregationalists who wanted to bring a liberal arts college to central Florida -- it is beautifully located on the shore of 244-acre Lake Virginia, and boasts gorgeous Spanish-Mediterranean architecture. Its Cornell Fine Arts Museum has over 5,000 objects from antiquity to the contemporary. Learn more about the collection before you go at Rollins CFAM

Shopping Strolling and Eating

My favorite stores to explore while traveling always involve food. And, Winter Park is home to two different spice emporiums. The Spice and Tea Exchange has a branch here offering its gourmet tea and several unique blends of spices (as well as many favorites). And Penzeys Spices also has an outpost here. But there's more, including the Ancient Olive tucked into a hidden plaza. Love cigars? Yep, cigar bar here, too.

Cultural can only take me so far before I begin to look around for some fun dining. In this town, try one of the outdoor cafes that let you enjoy the ambiance of Winter Park. My plan is usually to ask a local where they like to eat. The staff at Spice and Tea Exchange offered a favorite -- Briarpatch Restaurant (252 N Park Ave) open for breakfast and lunch. It was a great choice. Their fish sandwich -- mahi mahi -- was freshly perfect and came with a delicious side salad including micro-greens. The family next to me raved about their omelettes and other breakfast items. I walked away with way too much ice cream, but it was so good.

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If I had the time I would have tried the Scenic Boat Tour, an hour-long, guided cruises through three of the seven lakes and two of the, narrow manmade canals. These pontoon boats hold no more than 18 people and run rain or shine (there is no cover so if it's raining, you may want a slicker and hood). Cash or checks ONLY.

I had a day to spend in Winter Park, and that was woefully inadequate. Find a hotel, and enjoy some fine museums, dining, shopping, and perhaps live theater.

Learn more about visiting Winter Park

It's near Orlando yet lightyears away.

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Neala McCarten

Unless otherwise indicated, all photos by the author

Published: July 8th

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