Many people know of Orlando, including the millions of people who haven't actually been there. "It's where Disney World and EPCOT Center and all of those other theme parks are, right?" they'll probably say. Or you'll hear something along those general lines.
Or if you're talking to a sports fan, perhaps he or she will know the city as the home of the Orlando Magic, the NBA team where Shaquille O'Neal and Anthony "Penny" Hardaway first became league All-Stars but weren't able to win championships. The point being: For the uninitiated, Orlando is largely defined by its biggest tourist attractions.
However, those simply don't tell the whole story of the city. Orlando is so much more than that. While searching for cheap flights to Florida, take some time to go over some Orlando attractions that fall just off the beaten path and won't be as swarmed by tourists.
Forgotten Disney exhibits
As big as Walt Disney World already is (and seeming all that much bigger for kids, of course), it used to be considerably larger and more spread out through the Orlando metropolitan area. A number of former exhibits and features, which were either shut down or never completed, still exist and vaguely look like ruins from some forgotten civilization.
According to Atlas Obscura, one of these, Discovery Island, is completely off-limits to visitors and trespassers who set foot on it may be banned from Disney properties if caught. You can see it from the edges of the park's World's Bay Lake, though, and it's fascinating even from a distance.
Meanwhile, River Country, the only other Disney ride to be closed, was once its best-known waterpark, and is being partially renovated but largely left to deteriorate. Theme Park Tourist notes that River Country is off limits just like Discovery Island, but its ruins - and the swamp overtaking them - can be viewed from Bay Lake or from the still-operational Fort Wilderness Resort.
Finally, there's the Singing Runway: Atlas Obscura noted that this inactive runway - built circa 1970 and operational for less than three years - is designed so that the notes of "When You Wish Upon a Star," from "Pinocchio," play when wheels move across its grooves at 45 miles per hour or more. It can be tricky to access if the main Disney parking lot right by Magic Kingdom is too crowded, but turn right under the monorail and you'll reach it with no trouble.
"Beat Generation novelist and poet Jack Kerouac made Orlando his home for quite some time."
See the abode of a great writer
In 1948, Jack Kerouac, one of the premier writers of the Beat Generation, lived with his wife in a small house at 1418 Clouser Avenue in Orlando, where they'd moved in to assist Kerouac's dying mother.
There, the iconoclastic novelist would also finish a manuscript that would become his novel "The Dharma Bums." Today, a nonprofit called The Kerouac Project labors to maintain all of the house's upkeep-related costs and accepts applications from aspiring writers to spend three months living there - only accepting four from each batch of applicants. It looks like an unassuming small home with sky-blue siding from the outside, but inside it's kept not dissimilar from what it looked like when it was Kerouac's.
You will likely need to ask the writer-in-residence's permission to look inside, but as the site is on the National Register of Historic Places, they're probably used to such requests and may well accommodate yours, so long as it's a reasonable time of day.
The Leu Gardens
For those with less of a literary inclination, head over to North Forest Avenue for the Harry P. Leu Gardens. These are a known Orlando quantity but are rarely as crowded as many similar sites. Foursquare noted that this garden was created by Leu and his wife during a period of more than 30 years, bringing back at least 240 unique plant species from all over the world. It's open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day except Christmas, and admission grants visitors access to the gardens themselves as well as the Leu House Museum.
Stranger things and more at Carmine
Who's up for something a little bit - or, if we're being honest, very - unusual? If you answer that question in the affirmative, Carmine Oddities Boutique in North Orlando might be just the thing to turn your vacation into a truly unique experience. This crafts and antiques shop has everything from animal skulls and various pieces of taxidermy to items from secret societies and vintage pieces of medical equipment that look quite frightening by today's standards.
Don't let those items color your entire perception of this curiosity shop, though. As you can see on its Etsy page, Carmine Oddities Boutique also features a considerable selection of jewelry, each piece being one of a kind, as well as vintage posters, photography, and various spiritual items from a variety of different indigenous groups all over the world.