Ronda Christiansen
Coldwell Banker Realty

Winter Park – This city is known to the locals as the City of Culture and Heritage. There are not too many towns within Orlando, that can say they have a history dating back 125 years! Originally founded as a resort community, it was recognized as the first ever planned community in central Florida. The quaint and artsy “Downtown Park District”, has bustling retail stores, art galleries, museums, parks and golf courses.  The Winter Park Art Festival is the start of my Spring, The Tiffany Window display is the signal the holidays are here, Pop Corn Movie Night is just fun to share with family and friends.

Downtown Orlando – Orlando as a whole has an estimated population of 280,000 people, which ranks 77th in the United States. Between its upscale condominium’s, and single-family homes, it’s location in the center of the city clearly makes it a desirable place for many to call home! With the opening not that long ago, of the “Dr. Phillips Center for The Performing Arts”, Orlando wants to make itself a city with the arts partnership, where people from all walks of life, all over the world, feel invited to visit and be a part of its diversity and creativity.  I love the events around Lake Eola like Shakespeare in the Park, 5k walk/runs, Festivals and just walking around the lake seeing and the different kinds of Swans and ducks is a simple joy.

Maitland – Due North of Orlando a few miles, you’ll find Maitland. With its close proximity to Orlando, and the popularity of the Florida Film Festival held here annually, this is a quickly growing community that is forecasted to continue to grow by leaps and bounds for years to come. Maitland is one of my favorite cities rich in history with a mix of scenic, tree-filled parks, friendly neighborhoods, an active arts and history community, a growing downtown center and free family style Movies in the Park series. A “historical corridor” with homes dating back to the late 1800’s. For over 30 years, Enzian Theater is Central Florida’s only full-time alternative cinema and home of Eden Bar and the Florida Film Festival. Enzian exists to entertain, inspire, educate, and connect the community through film.

Longwood – Longwood is roughly about an 11-mile drive North of Downtown Orlando. Longwood has a quaint downtown area, with farmers markets and with organic shopping as well. They hold regular music concerts at “Reiter Park”, and if you’re a car buff, you’ll enjoy the leisurely and fun “Longwood Cruise in Car Show”!

Although it’s not famously known for anything in particular, but you may be surprised to know Longwood has approximately 6000 homes within its city limits. More than half of those homes are, or once were listed at a price point of $500,000 dollars or more! Most of the residents here either work for one of the larger hospital chains (South Seminole Hospital), UPS, or the Seminole County Schools.

Lake Mary – Named one of the 4th best places to live in America by Money Magazine back in 2010, Lake Mary truly can be considered having that smaller suburban town feel, yet lies just about 15 miles north, or a 25-minute drive, from Downtown Orlando. Lake Mary is also well renowned for its A+ rated school system, and its family atmosphere. With that in mind, there is a strong Tech Industry nearby and an active retirement area with plenty of shopping and a wonderful Farmer Market on Saturday mornings! During Christmas time, it hosts one of the largest holiday lighting displays, quality Wine Shops and Spa’s, and all kind of restaurants for any palette!

Saint Cloud – Known as “The Friendly Soldier City” St. Cloud is less than 30 miles from  Downtown Orlando. Between St. Cloud and Orlando, you will pass to of the area’s largest employers around – Universal Studios, and of course, Disney World. With a population of just over 45,000 residents, it's one of the smaller communities for those who want to be close, but not too close, to the hustle and bustle of the Metro Orlando area.  It consists of rural and urban areas, both of which I have lived in and enjoyed. Saint Cloud is more of an “older” city, that doesn’t have many new buildings or houses and is a city of tradition.  The Lakeshore is beautiful, and a great place to have a picnic, enjoy the sandy beach, splash pad and look at all the birds.  “The State Streets” have tons of original old homes some dating over 100 years old, and many have been updated or remodeled. It is a truly quaint area that runs on a slower pace and shopping with more mom and pop stores than any other city on this list. It truly is the perfect balance of country and city. Crime rates are also relatively low in this city as well. It offers “small town connections” and is one of those towns where everyone knows someone.

Winter Springs – Located just Northeast of Downtown Orlando, you’ll find Winter Springs. With its mix newly constructed suburban-style neighborhoods, and upscaled townhome communities, Winter Springs has made it one of Central Florida’s premier family communities. With “Central Winds Park & Playground” now open, and some of its smaller jazz and arts festivals like the Festival of the Arts Artoberfest, it’s a community that focuses itself more on family and education. It’s very close proximity to Orlando, led to the decision back in 1968, to open what was then called “Florida Technological University”, known today as the “University of Central Florida” or (UCF) for short. UCF has now grown to be the nations, third largest university!  This city is a nice mixture of both professionals and a younger generation living and working together!

Winter Garden – Located just 14 miles West of Downtown Orlando, is Winter Garden - located in Western Orange County. Northern Winter Garden, from a shopping perspective, you’d drive to the charming brick lined streets of “Winter Garden Village”. If you move further to the Southern parts of the city, shopping is likely going to be done at the Horizons West. In its charming Downtown area, you’ll find the “Historic Central Florida Railroad Museum”. The downtown area also has a huge diverse Farmers market on Saturday’s by the Grand Theatre. Even the renowned “Ted Talk” or two have been held here. There is no shortage of exquisite dinner opportunities, too.