Quick Facts about Orlando
The Southern home of Mickey Mouse and the native habitat of panthers, rattlers and alligators, Orlando is the juicy heart of Orange County. Sea World and the Magic Kingdom may have made this central Florida city one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Sunshine State, but there’s more to life in the Theme Park Capital of the World than manta rays and roller coasters.
Orlando’s population has exploded in the last decade, growing from a city of 283,300 to 316,081 since 2010. The city’s diverse population is matched by its thriving economy, which expanded in its early days as a rail hub to become a major player in advanced manufacturing, technology, design and aerospace.
With the Atlantic Coast only an hour away and the Gulf Coast only two, Orlando residents have access to some of the most beautiful shorelines in the state, along with major attractions the Kennedy Space Station. But downtown Orlando has plenty of appeal all its own. The Orlando Science Center, the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts and dozens of engaging museums give the city an authentic vibrancy, enhanced by its growing food and restaurant scene.
If you think the City Beautiful might be your next home, take a look below at what makes this city a standout in the Southeast. If you want to learn more about the state, check out United Van Lines Guide to Moving to Florida.
Live, Work and Play in Orlando
You know the theme parks and you know the palm trees, but what’s it really like living in Orlando? The City Beautiful, as it’s known, lives up to its namesake with its lush landscape and its dazzling entertainment venues, but this is also a city that surprises. Orlando has a robust and diverse economy, a snowbird-friendly climate and lots of ways to have fun, recharge and relax. Learn more below about life in Orlando.
Orlando’s Cost of Living
Because it’s home of the nation’s biggest attractions, Orlando is not one of Florida’s more affordable major cities. While housing prices are far lower than giant coastal metropolises like New York and Los Angeles, the median home value in landlocked Orlando — which averaged $283,700 from 2017-21 — tops even some of the coastal cities in its own state. Orlando’s residential real estate prices are higher than Tampa, Tallahassee and Jacksonville, as well as the north-central city of Gainesville, and the median gross rent ($1,346) in Orlando is even higher than Miami’s.
Income levels in the city aren’t elevated accordingly, either, driving Orlando’s cost of living even higher. The median household income in Orlando is just $58,968 — nearly $3,000 below the state median and more than $10,000 below the national average. This, perhaps, is one reason the home ownership rate in Orlando is so low — only 38.2% of the population of Orlando owns their own home, compared to 66.5% of Floridians, in general. Although the poverty rate in Orlando is also higher than the U.S. average, at 15.5%, it is among the lowest of the largest cities in the state.
Like other cities in Florida, Orlando is known for its right-to-work, business-first, tax-friendly environment. Florida levies no state income taxes, and the Tax Foundation has named it #4 on its 2023 State Business Tax Climate Index.
Note: We are not tax experts and are not offering tax advice, other than you should consider obtaining additional information and advice from your legal and/or financial advisers who are fully aware of your individual circumstances.
Job Market in Orlando
Orlando’s economy benefits from robust workforce participation: 71.5% of the 16+ population of the city is employed — noticeably higher than in other major cities in the state — bringing the number of area workers above 1.4 million.
Although the tourism industry suffered major blows during the height of the pandemic, the job market in Orlando is now strong and unemployment has remained consistently low, standing at only 3.1% in September 2023.
Despite the dominance of Orlando’s theme parks, Leisure & Hospitality actually accounts for only 20% of the city’s workforce. The remaining 80% are employed in other key sectors, like Advanced Manufacturing, Aerospace & Defense, Innovative Technology, Technology, Lifesciences & Healthcare, Logistics & Distribution and Business Services.
116,000 Orlando residents work in Lifesciences & Healthcare, and the city is known as a powerhouse in the specialty pharmaceutical arena. More than 60,000 Orlandoans work in technology, from designing immersive entertainment experiences to advanced propulsion systems.
52,000 Orlando residents work in Orlando’s manufacturing industry, making everything from boats to semiconductors. Six area schools help fuel the manufacturing industry in Orlando: the University of Central Florida, Valencia College, and four technical schools provide both research and a well-trained, young workforce to keep Orlando a manufacturing leader in the state.
Orlando residents also have a diverse array of companies to work for. Orlando is the headquarters of AAA, Siemens Energy USA, Marriott Vacations Worldwide, Mitsubishi Power, and Darden Restaurants, which owns Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse and other popular dining chains.
If you’ve been to Florida’s beaches and think you’re familiar with its subtropical climate, Orlando may have a few surprises for you.
In the absence of those cool ocean breezes, this central Florida city can offer you little respite from the heat of summer and the high humidity. For seven months of the year, you’ll have the possibility of highs in the 90s F and even 100s F, and the average temperature will be in the low 80s F from June through September.
But, Orlando makes up for these hot temps with a mild winter and a fairly pleasant spring and fall. The average temperature in January — the city’s coldest month — is around 62 F, and temperatures only rarely dip below freezing here.
Thanks to all the heat and the nearby coastlines, thunderstorms are a frequent sight in this Southeastern city, but many of these storms will build up in the late afternoon and blow over by dinnertime. These storms drop around 51 inches of rain a year on Orlando, with the heaviest amounts falling from May through September. In 2022, the city was inundated with a 22-inch deluge, thanks to Hurricane Ian.
Endless Fun in City Beautiful
For nearly 90 years, the greater Orlando area has been a theme park destination for the cold weather-weary and adventure-minded tourist. From the original attractions like Cypress Gardens and Gatorland, Orlando has transformed itself into the theme park capital of the universe. The city drew 74 million annual visitors in 2022, making this former swamp and orange grove the most popular travel destination in the entire country.
Disney World now operates four theme parks and two water parks in the city, so you can continue to ride the classics of the Magic Kingdom, like Space Mountain, or speed into the future on new coasters, like the lightning-fast TRON Lightcycle. At Disney’s Hollywood Studios, experiences like the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror cater to the thrill-seeking crowd, but Toy Story Land is all fun, no fright.
The movies are big business at Universal Studios Orlando, where you can confront your inner dragons at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter or tackle prehistoric giants on the Jurassic Park River Adventure. Shows like The Bourne Stuntacular will give you a behind-the-scenes look at the superhuman fighting feats of the malfunctioning, $30,000 weapon that is Jason Bourne. The bloody tongue-in-cheek Horror Make-Up Show, on the other hand, will show you how the pros bring the monstrous and the macabre to life.
As the most site-specific of all the area parks, Sea World has long drawn schools of tourists to its animal experiences and ocean-themed rides. One of the park’s newest features is Pipeline: The Surf Coaster, where riders strap in standing up to shred the air — with feet freely dangling — feeling the rush of every barrel, break and swell in the track. Rides are only half the fun, though, at this nautical entertainment site. The animals are the real stars. The manta aquarium mesmerizes visitors with a squadron these living, underwater kites, while the alligator habitat is an awakening look at some of Florida’s most fearsome natives. It’s always good to meet the neighbors. As an antidote, you can hang out in the dolphin nursery and recalibrate your anxiety meter.
LEGOLAND Florida is designed specifically for younger visitors, promising only “pink knuckle” coasters and stacks of colorful, brick-based fun. Indoors, kids can test their engineering skills to build a seismically fortified building on the earthquake table, while Lego-themed carousels, cars, boats and waterslides will have everyone’s imagination in overdrive outdoors.
Beyond Theme Parks
Within a one day’s drive of Orlando, you can reach several pristine wilderness areas in the state. Everglades National Park is the third largest in the U.S., and you can explore this vast “river of grass” by boat, bicycle or even on an off-trail hike, if you’re intrepid enough to enter these wild waters.
Big Cypress National Preserve contains both wetlands and forested areas, where you can see ibis, manatees, black bears and even Florida panthers. The Timucuan National Preserve comprises the barrier island region around Jacksonville (about three hours northeast), and the meandering salt marsh, seaside and riverine areas are some of the most beautiful areas to hike, fish and camp in the state.
If you’re looking for a quicker getaway, the Canaveral National Seashore is just over an hour away. This protected estuary is also the longest stretch of undeveloped shoreline in the state, and thanks to that, you might see 15 different threatened or endangered species at the park, including right whales, leatherback sea turtles, roseate spoonbills and burrowing owls. Learn more about the ecological destinations in the region in our guide to National Parks of the Southeast.
Back on Earth, another of Orlando’s most popular attractions awaits —the Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens. Here you can make friends with the docile and the dangerous, from Flash, the charming harlequin sheep, to Roberta, the park’s Orinoco crocodile. Both prefer you to keep your distance. Gardens throughout the Zoo showcase unusual plant collections, including bromeliads (like orchids), medicinal plants and an elegant butterfly garden.
Orlando has dozens of interesting art, history and science museums that are especially great to visit when the weather is too hot or too rainy to enjoy being outside. The Orlando Museum of Art has impressive permanent collections, and one of the highlights are its contemporary America graphics, which feature prints from Andy Warhol to Jane Hammond. Other must-see art spots in the area include the Rollins Museum of Art (part of Rollins College), the Zora Neale Hurston Museum of National Museum of Fine Arts and the Mennello Museum of American Art.
The Central Florida Railroad Museum in Winter Garden, a historic railroad town, has a charming collection of locomotive memorabilia and a fun model railroad, too.
If you’re more into seafaring adventures, Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition will transport you to 1912 where you will embark on a fateful journey on the world’s most infamous ocean liner through galleries outfitted as areas of the ship. You can even touch an iceberg — a rare sight in steamy Florida.
Orlando’s food scene has grown by leaps and bounds over the last 20 years, and while you’ll find flavors from all over the globe, here, the Latin, Asian and Southern roots still anchor the dishes in this diverse culinary landscape.
When you want to celebrate a special occasion, The Boheme offers a luxe dining experience at the Grand Bohemian Hotel with a well-appointed rooftop pool and bar. The Tuna Crudo is a standout with smoky sesame seed and avocado, and the Roasted Seabass is memorably prepared with butternut squash and andouille hash.
If it’s comfort food you’re after, The Neighborhood Eatery brings Seoul food to the central business district downtown. Classic Korean staples like bibimbap are served alongside American faves like mac & cheese bites, and the bulgogi fries are killer.
Santiago’s Bodega may not be a corner store, but it has cornered the market on small plates. This relaxing and elegant tapas joint is funky, fun and festive and serves consistently delightful dishes like Roman meatballs, crispy potato and prosciutto croquettas, and a creamy burrata with walnut pesto.
Helmed by the indominable Wendy Lopez, Reyes Mezcaleria is a transportive experience that brings the authentic Mexican flavors of Lopez’s youth to the tables of central Florida. Endlessly inventive and satisfying, your plate will be full of wonder, with dishes like the Chilled Crab Salad with watermelon and shallots, the Smoked Duck Huarache — paired with a savory calabaza puree and balanced by bright frisée — or the aromatic eggplant relleno, with smoked cauliflower and pickled fennel.
Of course, when you need to please a crowd (and aren’t afraid of entering one), there’s International Drive, better known as I-Drive. Leave it to Orlando to turn what could have been a humdrum strip of bars into a blowout entertainment destination. Families can go on a 7D adventure ride, take in the sights 400 feet in the air on The Wheel, and see their favorite celebrities preserved for all time at Madame Tussaud’s. The 21+ crowd can hop between dance clubs, karaoke bars and axe-throwing joints. The downtown trolley can ferry you between party stops so you never have to worry about driving, either.
How to Move to Orlando
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Not sure where to move in the Sunshine State? Our Guide to Moving to Florida has a wealth of information about popular cities and attractions.