A Gem Worth Discovering in Downtown Orlando

Photo Essay: Thornton Park, Orlando’s Hidden Gem.

Far from the crowds of Orlando’s theme parks, sits an area of the city where brick streets are shaded by moss draped oak trees and swans are the main attraction. The Thornton Park neighborhood of Orlando is a hidden gem in the most visited city in the United States. 

Established in the early 1900s, the Thornton Park neighborhood is a mix of single-family craftsman style homes, many with apartments above their garages, and small apartment buildings. This mix of housing brings with it a variety of residents, from families who are drawn by the established neighborhood to younger workers who are employed at the area’s bars and restaurants. The eclectic neighborhood is an area where bungalow houses give way to small shops, which lead to Lake Eola Park and then downtown Orlando.

The neighborhood is best explored on foot. Strolling past 100-year-old houses with inviting front porches, you can imagine lazing away an afternoon while people watching or enjoying an evening cocktail. Making your way to the commercial area you’ll find boutiques and casual restaurants and bars, many with painted murals on their exterior walls.


A mural on a building in the Thornton Park neighborhood of Orlando, Florida, on May 14, 2020. (Photo: Corbett Compel)

All of this combines to create a village feel that attracts locals and their guests to experience “the real Orlando”. 

Nearby resident and frequent Thornton Park visitor Jeff Vinson said, “It has such a down home feeling. Its cozy! It’s like Cheers, everyone knows your name!”

Continuing through the neighborhood, all roads lead to Lake Eola Park and its signature swans. 

You will see the influence of the swans all over the area. Swan art is featured in wall murals, artistic planters, and even on crosswalks. In addition to seeing the swans on the lake, and maybe even one nesting, open space and a playground offer the opportunity to expend some energy. But the main draw here is strolling around the lake. Public art, city views and more food and drink options make for a leisurely walk on the nearly one-mile long path around the lake. 

Halfway around the lake, at the Walt Disney Amphitheater, you are presented with the option to leave the lakeside path and head west into downtown or continue the loop to bring you back to the relaxed pace of Thornton Park. Those continuing around the lake will see Ibis and turtles in this urban oasis.

With so much to experience, you will see why Thornton Park is a gem worth discovering in Orlando.