Now that you can take the SunRail to Sanford (at least during the week), our northern neighbor and its enticing historic district has become even more attractive as a little Orlando escape – or even as a place to which we wouldn't mind relocating. The fast-growing strip in downtown Sanford has nabbed some of Orlando's best spots (Christo's Café, Tony's Deli, the Imperial), but it's the truly distinct treasures that keep us coming back.
From magical places like Hollerbach's Willow Tree Café, a German beer hall where you can knock back das boot and sing oom-pah-pah, or the Alley blues bar, which an eerily spot-on John Waters lookalike is known to frequent, to newly memorable destinations like the impressive Sanford suds factory WopsHops and an entire shop dedicated to serving the marvelously inventive sugary morsels of Wondermade (find exclusive marshmallow flavors at the café that nobody else in the world gets to try), Sanford is rich in curiosities.
GRAB A BITE
406 S. Sanford Ave., Sanford, 407-732-7728, facebook.com/shantellcafe
Restaurateur Shantell Williams greets her diners warmly at this soul-food joint, where fried foods like chicken and waffles and fish and chips rule and bellies rumble for homemade chocolate cake.
Hollerbach's Willow Tree Café
205 E. First St., Sanford, 407-321-2204, willowtreecafe.com
What with the rousing shouts from huge parties, the giant beer mugs and the pretzels bigger than your head, there's big fun to be found at this German favorite, which is why it's a popular destination for celebrations or just to say "Prost!" and brighten any day.
214 E. First St., Sanford, 407-205-9569, wondermade.com
Savor a range of flavored treats at this new marshmallow café that's certain to stick around, serving up plump sweets in creative flavors like bourbon or carrot cake in s'mores, hot chocolate or Lineage coffee.
HAVE A DRINK
412 S. Sanford Ave., Sanford, 407-732-6880, bustersbistro.com
At Buster's, expect to find a casual spot for dinner and drinks with dependably laid-back service and a Belgian beer menu.
Celery City Craft
114 S. Palmetto Road, Sanford, 407-915-5541, celerycitycraft.com
Stocking tons of craft beer and wine (more than 100 varieties!), Celery City Craft plays games with your heart by challenging visitors to darts, shuffleboard and other games to fully embrace competitive spirits.
Little Fish Huge Pond
401 S. Sanford Ave., Sanford, 407-221-1499, littlefish-hugepond.com
The eccentric Irish-American pub known as Little Fish Huge Pond throws wicked theme parties, features creative draft beers and serves homey pub grub like Guinness stew.
CHECK THIS OUT
427 S. French Ave., Sanford, pawparksanford.org
Unleash your beast at Sanford's nationally renowned historic dog park, where you'll find obstacle courses and other pets for your best friend to pal around with.
Rabbitfoot Records Coffee Lounge
309 E. First St., Sanford, 321-926-3417, rabbitfootrecords.com
Since moving to Sanford, Rabbitfoot Records grows more each year. Recent news is that they will once again offer affordable walk-in record-cutting services, in addition to coffee and sweets, in a low-key environment where any record in the place can be played on demand.
West End Trading Co.
202 S. Sanford Ave., Sanford, 407-322-7475, drinkatwestend.com
It's half raucous bar, half live music venue, and while never the twain shall meet, it's always a trip bouncing between both sides and taking in great local bands while downing draft beer and comfort food.