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Winter Park Florida: A Wealthy History
Winter Park is one of my favorite Central Florida towns. Even before I became a Florida resident 17 years ago, I was attracted to its upscale ambiance and old-world beauty. Geographically, it’s a mere 5 miles north of Orlando (the tourist capital of the world) but it feels a million miles apart.
Winter Park was founded as a resort community by wealthy northern business magnates in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The affluent “snow birds,” along with their household employees (yeah, they were filthy rich!), would spend the winters in the wonderful warm town they discovered. Today, in 2017, Winter Park remains the address of some of Florida’s wealthiest individuals. According to the Orlando Business Journal, some of our top earners reside in Winter Park zip codes. The old adage “money begets money” seems to hold true here. I guess money-makers like clustering together. Birds of a feather, I suppose. We all reap the benefits, though. Their multiplied millions have built some pretty spectacular things; art galleries, specialty boutiques, museums, civic buildings, gorgeous parks, a train station, a golf course country club, historic cemetery, and a beach and boat launch. Wealthy Winter Park is also home to Rollins College, the oldest college in Florida and the nation’s premiere liberal arts college.
No matter how you choose to spend your time in Winter Park, the residue of its rich roots seems to be everywhere. But, here’s some fantastic news: You don’t have to be wealthy to enjoy them! There are ample things to do in wealthy Winter Park, even if you’re on a budget.
6 Things To Do in Winter Park on a Budget
Whether you’re a local looking for a Floridian staycation or a visitor seeking shelter from the craziness of crowded theme parks, Winter Park is a great choice. I’ve recommended 6 of my favorite inexpensive (or free) things-to-do. Regardless if you have a few hours or a few days, there’s something here for every time schedule… and budget!
- Park Avenue
- Central Park
- Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art
- Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Gardens
- Robert Bruce Barbour House (Casa Feliz)
- Kraft Azalea Park
You can’t visit Winter Park without a leisurely stroll down posh Park Avenue. With more than 140 boutiques, sidewalk cafes and museums, it’s the signature shopping street. No doubt, you’ll encounter wealthy Winter Park residents swanking about. But even though Park Avenue is a Central Florida premier destination for chic shopping and dining, you don’t have to spend a dime to enjoy the awesome aura of this special setting. You’ll experience the same vibrant atmosphere and scenery whether you dish out thousands of dollars or simply engage in some savvy ‘window shopping.’
Prosperous Park Avenue is bordered by oak-canopied Central Park. The park was deeded to the city by one of Winter Park’s most wealthy and influential early citizens — Charles Hosmer Morse. Of the plethora of parks throughout Winter Park, this is the crown jewel. The 11-acre park is beautiful year-round but also plays host to seasonal events like concerts, art shows, exotic car shows, fashion exhibits, festivals, and even [free] movies in the park. Whether you’re rolling in the dough, or living with your adult children just to make ends meet, admission to Central Park is free!
It’s extremely clean (no dogs allowed in Central Park), and despite its downtown location, I find it quite relaxing. If you’re a fitness buff on a good run through the park or simply satisfying your people-watching passion with a birds-eye-view from a strategically placed bench, you’ll appreciate the beauty here.
On a recent visit I enjoyed the outstanding ‘sidewalk art’ presented by some very creative middle-school children. Then, as I approached my favorite area of Central Park, I witnessed a professional photo-shoot for a young couple’s upcoming wedding. How gorgeous; I couldn’t think of a better backdrop than charming Central Park. This area, the far south end of the park, is quite popular with photographers as it includes the peacock fountain and rose garden. There’s a hexagonal planter with a variety of roses and rows of benches nearby. I noticed the peacefulness of this place, even before I knew the backstory. And what a tear-jerking inspirational story it is! You can read the history of the peacock fountain here on FloridaFunAndFork.
***TIP: Don’t miss the prestigious Sidewalk Art Festival which draws over 350,000 visitors each year to Central Park to enjoy some of the best art and music in the United States.
2018 Sidewalk Art Festival Dates
Friday & Saturday March 16 – 17, 9 AM to 6 PM
Sunday, March 18th, 9 AM to 5 PM
Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art
Even on a shoestring budget, this museum is affordable. The Morse Museum (created in honor of Charles Hosmer Morse, the man who donated Central Park) houses the world’s most comprehensive collection of works by American artist, Louis Comfort Tiffany. Although there are other notable works in the museum, the displays of Tiffany glass outshines them all. Admittedly, I was not a big fan of Tiffany glass… until I visited the Morse Museum. Wow! The exhibition includes Tiffany-designed stained glass windows, lamps, glass mosaics, blown glass, ceramics, and jewelry (remember Tiffany’s in New York?). The extensive collection took me by surprise. The huge stained glass windows were out-of-this-world gorgeous, and the Tiffany Chapel was absolutely amazing and one of the highlights for me.
Hubby and I spent nearly 2 hours exploring the Morse Museum. By museum standards, it’s not large, but it has a host of interesting and rare items, and a wealth of historical information to go along with them. I cannot say enough about the friendliness of the staff and the knowledgeable docents strategically positioned throughout the museum to answer any questions. It made for a warm and welcoming environment. This is an impressive museum for the price, $6 for adults, only $1 for students! Sometimes, during special events, admission is free. (Check the Morse Museum website for Calendar of Events.)
The Morse Museum is a real gem for Central Florida, and an inexpensive attraction in the heart of Winter Park. And, it’s conveniently located not far from the SunRail train station. You can access an in-depth review of The Morse Museum right here on FloridaFunAndFork.
Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Gardens
This is a story of a wealthy artist and his lavish Winter Park home. The Albin Polasek Museum is in the historic former home and art studio of Mr. Polasek. The house showcases his artwork, but what really impressed me was the outdoor Sculpture Garden in the rear of the property, with stunning views of Lake Osceola. As you tour the historic home which includes Mr. Polasek’s personal chapel, you’ll take a step back in time and learn about the life of this incredibly talented (and affluent) man.
The Exhibition Gallery also features national and international artists and changes throughout the year. The Albin Polasek Museum has been the recipient of numerous awards and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s worth the low-cost entry fee — adults $5, seniors (60+) $4, and students w/ID $3. A visit to this 5-acre historical site is another inexpensive way to see what wealthy Winter Park was like back-in-the-day.
I spent about 90 minutes here during my April birthday weekend in Winter Park, and my review and photo tour can be accessed here on FloridaFunAndFork. (Wait until you see those sculptures!)
Robert Bruce Barbour House (Casa Feliz)
Speaking of wealthy residents, this home is a blatant reminder of Winter Park’s opulent past. Casa Feliz means “Happy House” in Spanish. This Andalusian-style masonry farmhouse is the signature residential work of famed architect James Gamble Rogers II. It was initially known as the Barbour Estate, and became the catalyst for historic preservation in Winter Park. The restored Spanish farmhouse overlooks the golf course in the heart of Winter Park. Casa Feliz is a historic home museum and popular rental location for private parties, weddings, and business events. The downside to Casa Feliz is its very limited hours. Public open house is every Sunday between 12 noon and 3 pm, and Tuesday and Thursday mornings between 10 am and 12 noon. You’ll learn the Casa Feliz story during the open house via trained docents.
If possible, go on a Sunday, to experience “Music at the Casa.” A different musical group performs each week in Casa’s main parlor representing a broad range of musical genres including jazz, classical, pops, Latin, bluegrass, and folk. You can afford this museum. Admission is free, however, there’s a suggested donation of $5 to help support the mission of Casa Feliz. Light refreshments are served and no reservations are needed. Dress code is casual, as with most Central Florida attractions. Don’t forget your camera. You’ll want a few memories from this skillfully refurbished Spanish farmhouse that evokes 19th Century Spain!
Kraft Azalea Park
If you’re doing wealthy Winter Park on a budget, this is another great stop for your itinerary. Kraft Azalea Park is a scenic public park located in the city of Winter Park. The 13+ acre property is located on the shore of Lake Maitland. Kraft Azalea is known as Winter Park’s ‘secret garden’ because of its secluded and unique location. You’ll drive through a residential neighborhood lined with spectacular homes to get there. The tree canopy is amazing. Even on the hottest of days, enormous cypress trees provide shade throughout this beautiful park. There’s really a sense of ‘Old Florida’ charm here. It’s easy to imagine Winter Park’s well-to-do money moguls of yesteryear enjoying Florida’s sub-tropical climate as they wintered here.
Kraft Azalea can be reserved for private weddings for up to 20 guests. The Exedra Monument is stunning. With Lake Maitland in the background, it’s ideal for sunset wedding ceremonies and picture-perfect photography. Pretty much, there are perpetual photo shoots happening here any time of day — from professional engagement pictures to amateur baby pics. There are no picnic tables, but don’t let that deter you from having a picnic lunch here (there are benches). Ideally, for the hopeless romantics, the best time to be here is sunset. Take a stroll, hand-in-hand with your honey, and enjoy the solitude that Kraft Azalea offers. This is a true Central Florida treasure that inspires creativity, happiness, and peaceful thoughts. Definitely a Winter Park favorite of mine that is free fun for all ages!
Even though Winter Park was originally developed as a winter resort for wealthy upper-class Northerners, it’s overflowing with inexpensive ways to see this Central Florida City with such rich roots. I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth nor do I have money to burn, but I truly enjoy Orlando’s wealthy neighbor. It’s nice to know that you can visit the land of plenty without a bountiful bank account. I highly recommend a visit to Winter Park, Florida. It can be affordable, even on a limited budget!
What’s your favorite thing to do in Winter Park on a budget? Our readers would love to know. Please share in the “reply” box below!