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An unexpected and charismatic main-street strip

Hollerbach’s Willow Tree Café
  • Hollerbach’s Willow Tree Café

You might miss it if you don’t know where to look: Pass the giant retail buzz of Sanford’s Seminole Towne Center and head toward the corner of U.S. Highway 17-92 and Sanford’s East First Street. Turn right and in a few blocks, you’ll find yourself in historic downtown Sanford, a totally unexpected, charming main street that perfectly represents the image of a picturesque Southern town.

Downtown Sanford is situated along the shore of Lake Monroe, a Central Florida haven for freshwater fishing and sailboat cruising. Visit the lakefront any day, and you’re sure to encounter anglers – serious grandpas and squealing teen girls alike – casting their lines in the water.

Have lunch at Christo’s (107 W. First St., 407-320-0799, theoriginalchristos.com), a mom-and-pop institution since 1971 that serves up breakfast classics, salads, sandwiches and hand-tossed pizzas – don’t leave without a slice of the homemade cheesecake of the week.

After lunch, stroll down First toward Maya Books & Music (201 E. First St., 407-321-6504). It’s the kind of place where you’ll likely have to do some digging, but your efforts will be rewarded with treasures in the form of those used CDs, vinyl records and books you’re just not going to find at the big-box stores. You might also do a bit of window-shopping as you pass by the shared space of Gallery on First and Jeanine Taylor Folk Art (211 E. First St., 407-323-2774, galleryonfirst.com/jtfolkart.com), both of which feature a wide variety of local and outsider art. Stick around for dinner – if you don’t, you’ll miss a chance to partake in the best in German fare and entertainment at Hollerbach’s Willow Tree Café (205 E. 1st St., 407-321-2204, willowtreecafe.com), an authentic and rollicking German beer hall. Wolf down a schnitzel, chug a 3-liter boot of beer and yodel along to live German music. It gets hoppin’ on the weekends, so if you want to be guaranteed a good seat in the “music room,” call ahead for next-day reservations.

If Hollerbach’s good clean gemütlichkeit isn’t rowdy enough for you, downtown Sanford’s bar scene might be. For vintage-inspired craft cocktails, grab a seat at furniture store-turned-bar the Imperial at Washburn Imports (116 E. First St., 407-732-6956, facebook.com/theimperialsanford). Or if you’re up for new experiences, wander over to the weird-as-hell (in a good way!) Little Fish Huge Pond (401 S. Sanford Ave., 407-221-1499, littlefish-hugepond.com), where owner-bartender Moire Wisdom treats everyone like a long-lost pal.

Live music fans get their fill at the Alley (114 S. Park Ave., 407-328-4848, thealleyblues.com), where live blues musicians play nearly seven days a week, while the beer-and-bar-food crew ends the night at the West End Trading Co. (202 S. Sanford Ave., 407-322-7475, drinkatwestend.com).

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