A collaboration project between PLAYGROUND Magazine & Carla Stanton
The Orlando area is one of the hottest real estate markets in the country, and it’s showing no signs of cooling down. While there’s plenty to love about living in a boomtown, trying to buy a home in established communities like Winter Park, College Park, Bay Hill, Windermere and Dr. Phillips can be exhausting and frustrating. So, we asked local real estate professional Carla Stanton to share her favorite up-and-coming alternatives and what she loves about them.
A Great Place to Nest
Orlando is ringed with quaint neighborhoods oozing character and charm, but this one is truly a spot to put down roots.
This leafy neighborhood lining Corrine Drive between Baldwin Park and Ivanhoe Village has become a favorite haunt of Orlando’s landscaping-and-lattes set. Take a stroll along Mockingbird Lane or Cardinal Road and you’ll find beautifully-restored mid-century houses dressed up with all manner of flora. With eclectic boutiques, coffee shops, bakeries and fine dining an easy walk or bike ride away, homes here are highly coveted.
- House Style: Mid-century block homes that are being renovated into Instagrammable, abodes and bungalows. Almost everything is a fixer-upper or has already been flipped.
- Neighborhood Gems: Leu Gardens, Palmer’s Garden & Goods, Kelly’s Homemade Ice Cream, Stardust Video & Coffee, East End Market
- Best Playground: Mitchell L. Nutter Park
- Community Events: Audubon Park Community Market, Zombietoberfest, Night Market
- Neighborhood Vibe: Bohemian-chic. These trendsetters are committed to sustainability, authenticity and are all about supporting local small businesses.
- Real Estate Notes: One major factor for the influx of new residents is the recently opened Audubon Park School for grades K–8. Houses zoned for the school are rarely on the market for long.
These historic cities are having a Renaissance, thanks to revitalization projects and top-notch schools.
Winter Garden thrived for over a century as a center of commerce and agriculture before falling on hard times in the 1960s. Fortunately, the city protected its historic downtown area throughout the slump, and today the shops, cafes and restaurants along Plant Street are teeming with activity. It’s a favorite stop for cyclists exploring the West Orange Bike Trail.
- House Style: Diverse housing options from fixer-uppers to newly planned communities
- Neighborhood Gems: Plant Street Market, Axum Coffee, Garden Theatre, Central Florida Railroad Museum, West Orange Trail, Bikes & Blades
- Best Playground: Chapin Station, Newton Park
- Community Events: Fridays on the Plaza, Spring Fever in the Garden, Winter Garden Farmers Market
- Neighborhood Vibe: The storybook charm of this main street gives us all the feels.
- Real Estate Notes: Winter Garden’s central location, just a 20-minute drive from downtown Orlando, Disney World and Universal Studios, has helped make it one of the region’s most sought-after communities. Home values in this golf cart friendly community have increased, and schools have improved.
People have called Apopka home for 10,000 years, but the area has changed quite a bit since Native Americans first settled there. Today, buyers are choosing Apopka for affordable homes, community events and watery fun in some of Florida’s most scenic settings. Active, outdoorsy types can camp at Kelly Park, tube down Rock Springs Run, swim and canoe in Wekiwa Springs State Park or cycle on the West Orange Trail.
- House Style: Old Florida brick homes and new construction
- Neighborhood Gems: Three Odd Guys Brewing, Aunt Gingibread’s Bakery, Topper’s Craft Creamery, Garibaldi Mexican Restaurant & Bar, Porkie’s Original BBQ, Caffé Positano, Lake Apopka North Shore Wildlife Drive
- Best Playground: Kit Land Nelson Park, Magnolia Park
- Community Events: Apopka Art & Foliage Festival, Saturday Sounds
- Neighborhood Vibe: Relaxed and laid back
- Real Estate Notes: Apopka is a more affordable part of Central Florida, and you can find some beautiful established communities on the north side and new developments on the south side, toward Winter Garden.
“We decided to buy in Apopka because we knew the expressway was going to be expanded, which would promise growth. In the five years that we’ve lived here, we’ve seen larger companies plant roots here and a lot of smaller businesses pop up. We love Apopka and its small-town feel despite being just outside of the larger cities of Orlando and Altamonte Springs.”—The McKee Family
An influx of new residents has enlivened this former steamboat port on the shore of Lake Monroe, known for its brick roads lined with moss-covered oaks and Victorian-era homes. Historic Downtown Sanford boasts breweries, indie restaurants, a performing arts center and family-friendly parks along the Sanford Riverwalk. Though the steamboats are long gone, the city remains a transportation hub, with its own airport, Amtrak and SunRail service, and easy access to major highways.
- House Style: Historic in the downtown area and affordable new construction sprawling east toward the St. John’s River
- Neighborhood Gems: Central Florida Zoo, Hollerbach’s Willow Tree Café, Wayne Densch Performing Arts Center, Wondermade, The Old Jailhouse, Gallery on First, free trolley service
- Best Playground: Fort Mellon, Park on Park
- Community Events: Alive After 5 street party, Veteran’s Day Ceremony & Parade, Sanford Porchfest, Sanford Christmas Parade
- Neighborhood Vibe: Casual, approachable and authentic. This community knows how to have a good time, and it shows.
- Real Estate Notes: This is your spot for affordable new construction in Seminole County. Check out the new neighborhoods popping up along East Lake Mary Blvd. between 417 and SR 46, or along Celery Ave.
Another area with thousands of years of human history, DeLand is dotted with mounds of pottery shards, bones and arrow heads left behind by early Native Americans. More recently, the city has welcomed an influx of people looking for more affordable land and a home-grown community in which to raise their kids. Stetson University imbues the city with a young, vibrant energy.
- House Style: Everything from historic homes to new construction
- Neighborhood Gems: Reptile Discovery Center, The Garden Shop at Select Growers, Spellbound Café, Boston Coffeehouse, Dick & Jane’s Café, Pat & Toni’s Sweet Things
- Best Playground: Freedom Playground
- Community Events: DeLand Artisan Alley Farmers Market, DeLand Christmas Parade, Mardi Gras on Main Street Dog Parade
- Neighborhood Vibe: A Southern Charmer. It has small town roots mixed with college town flair, and grounded with a strong sense of community.
- Real Estate Notes: DeLand is an hour’s drive from downtown Orlando, so the competition for houses is less intense here and the increase in home prices has been more subdued than in other communities on this list.
Embracing New Urbanism
No detail has been overlooked in the development of these modern communities.
These walkable, self-contained neighborhoods were designed to deliver an idyllic lifestyle.
Baldwin Park was built on the remnants of an enormous military base. When the base closed in the mid-90s, up sprung a master-planned community featuring an active downtown bustling with golf carts, strollers and people enjoying one another’s company. Residents join together to celebrate everything, a fact that’s especially evident on Halloween. If there was an award for the best place in Central Florida to trick-or-treat, this place would win in a landslide.
- House Style: Diverse architecture style (Craftsman, Victorian, Southern Colonial)
- Neighborhood Gems: Seito Sushi, 9Round, Café 906, Lafayette & Rushford, Frosty Fox, Dance 360 Orlando
- Best Playground: Enders Park
- Community Events: First Friday, 4th of July, Cinco de Mayo, Christmas Parade, Concert in the Park
- Neighborhood Vibe: Happy and healthy
- Real Estate Notes: Baldwin Park sits on a lake ringed with a popular walking trail, and entices with great architecture, two excellent public schools and a convenient location close to major shopping centers and downtown Orlando. Its proximity to Audubon Park and Winter Park adds to the allure of this community.
Known as THE location for state-of-the-art medical facilities (AKA Medical City), this southeast community is a hub for health, wellness and technology and is rapidly expanding still. If you like an attention to detail, everything in Lake Nona is well-designed and brand-spankin’ new.
- House Style: Recently built, modern architecture; lots of smart homes and eco-conscious construction
- Neighborhood Gems: Lake Nona Performance Club, USTA National Campus, XL Soccer World, Lake Nona Town Center, Boxi Park, Nona Adventure Park, The Naked Cupcake
- Best Playground: Laureate Park playground, Heroes Park, Boxi Park playground
- Community Events: Songs at Sunset (at Lake Nona Adventure Park), Yoga on the Lawn
- Neighborhood Vibe: Wellness-centric and techie
- Real Estate Notes: With its exponential growth and rising prices, it’s a luck of the draw to get in to some of the most coveted communities including the brightly painted homes in Laureate Park.
“ We are a tennis family so naturally Lake Nona’s United States Tennis Center was a huge draw for us. The public schools are highly rated and the community is very active at the school level. We chose Laureate Park in particular because of the walk/bike ability to eateries, playgrounds and trails. ”—The Muniz/Keefer Family
Seminole County’s Suburban Superstars
Not only does this trio have a sought-after education system, but they’re also popular among the kid set thanks to large lots and a serene suburban experience.
Spurred by the growth of nearby UCF and the Central Florida Research Park, this once-sleepy community about 25 minutes from downtown Orlando has undergone a major transformation over the last decade. Opened in 2015, the city’s new downtown, Oviedo on the Park, features an amphitheater and cultural center, a lake with swan boat rentals, a playground with splash pad, retail shops and restaurants.
- House Style: Ranch and new construction
- Neighborhood Gems: Oviedo Aquatics Center, Kelly’s Homemade Ice Cream, Mod Market & Riley Reigh, Pinspiration, Sushi Pop, Lukas Nursery & Butterfly Encounter
- Best Playground: Friendship Park, Center Lake Park
- Community Events: Oviedo Farmers Market, Great Day in the Country
- Neighborhood Vibe: Grassroots suburbia
- Real Estate Notes: There is a mix of established subdivisions, townhouses and new construction in the city. No matter what kind of home you choose, you’ll be zoned for top-rated schools and never far from a fantastic park.
Winter Springs has evolved over the past decade to feel more like a master-planned community. With a walkable town center, a mix of single-family and upscale multi-family housing, a wide variety of parks and sports complexes and tons of restaurants and shopping, there’s something for everyone. Oh, the schools are excellent too!
- House Style: Ranch and new construction
- Neighborhood Gems: The Music Box, Rock ‘N Brews, The General Public House, Spill Wine Bar
- Best Playground: Trotwood Park, Central Winds Park
- Community Events: Scottish Highland Games, Festival of the Arts, Hometown Harvest, Celebration of Freedom
- Neighborhood Vibe: Preppy country club mixed with Old Florida
- Real Estate Notes: Centrally located with established communities and easy access to major roads and highways. The Tuscawilla subdivision, with tree-lined streets, looks like a transplant from the Midwest or suburban Atlanta.
Just a quick walk from the SunRail station, downtown Lake Mary is a charming city center with independent boutiques and eateries. The recent addition of mural alley reflects work of a devoted and active community of residents dedicated to keeping Lake Mary vibrant and thriving.
- House Style: Ranch style homes on large lots and new construction
- Neighborhood Gems: Planet Obstacle, Topgolf, Mural Alley, Sophie & Trey, Bunny & Clyde Children’s Boutique
- Best Playground: Trailblazer Park, Greenwood Lakes Park
- Community Events: Lake Mary Farmers Market
- Neighborhood Vibe: Sophisticated suburbia
- Real Estate Notes: Lake Mary is best known for gated, country club communities like Heathrow, but there is a range of housing options available. As is the case with Oviedo and Winter Springs, the schools are almost universally excellent.
NEED A REALTOR?
The daughter of a longtime Central Florida real estate broker, Carla Stanton grew up learning about Orlando and the vibrant and varied communities that surround it. Now a REALTOR with Mainframe Real Estate, there’s nobody better qualified to help you find the perfect place to put down roots in Central Florida.