Kristen Manieri is travel and lifestyle writer living in Orlando, FL with her husband and two little girls. Her work has appeared in such publications as Air Tran’s GO Magazine, Dreamscapes, Florida Guides, Costco Connection and Orlando Magazine. Living in the Sunshine State has given Kristen endless adventures and writing material as she’s explored Florida from Amelia Island all the way down to Key West.

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A Lake Eola Day

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The view from a swan paddle boat.

Lake Eola Park is one of those Orlando landmarks that’s hard to miss but easy to forget. Located right in the middle of downtown, this 43-acre green space surrounding a 29-acre lake (um… retention pond) is certainly an urban gem. For for those lacking a 32801 zip code, it’s unquestionably underutilized.

That’s sad because Lake Eola has a lot to offer beyond its meticulously manicured horticulture and .9-mile walking path.

First, it’s home to one of the city’s most iconic landmarks, the Linton E. Allen Memorial Fountain. You may remember that in 2009 the fountain was struck by lightening, a calamity that rendered it inoperable for two years. But thanks to a $1.6-million dollar refurb the fountain is now operation and retrofitted with LED lights and dancing water jets that put on a colorful six-minute show once or twice each night depending on the season. You can check the Lake Eola Park Facebook page for daily show times.

While the fountain can be seen from almost anywhere inside Lake Eola Park, I prefer the view from a paddle-powered swan boat, which are available for rent daily from 10 a.m. for $15 per half hour from the dock adjacent Relax Grill. Consider a visit Wednesday through Saturday when the swan boats are permitted on the lake until 10 p.m.

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The Sunday farmer’s market.

Of course there are the live swans too, most notably the black ones that proudly and gracefully glide across the lake. Last year the city installed vending machines with swan food so park visitors would stop feeding them things like popcorn and hot dogs. Be sure to have a quarter or two with you when you come.

On Sundays Lake Eola hosts the Orlando Farmer’s Market from 10 a.m. to 4p.m. at the corner of E. Central Blvd and N. Eola Drive. Besides produce stands and gourmet food products, the market overflows with ready-to-eat treats like freshly made kettle corn, BLTs, and baked goods. Street parking is free, the beer & wine garden opens at noon, and there’s usually live music, too. Plus, you’ll find a great little playground a stone’s throw away where kids run, swing and slide while their parents sip coffee and soak up the sun.

There are a plenty of shady places to spread out a blanket and enjoy a family picnic. Definitely snag your provisions from the farmer’s market on Sundays, but the rest of the week you can either DIY it or grab take-out from any number of restaurants in neighboring Thornton Park.

Besides during annual events, such as the 4th of July Fireworks, Lake Eola Park typically feels like a best-kept secret. Yes, you’ll see the odd homeless person (it is a city after all) and the walking trail sees its fair share of pooches, but Lake Eola Park remains one of the city’s best parks and, to me at least, the perfect place for quality family time.

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