I’ve written briefly in the past about my desire to branch out and get to know the world in my own backyard. It’s all too easy to get caught up in the soul-crushing humidity and throngs of neon-wearing tourists, and to forget what a beautiful place Florida can be. I’ve been actively trying to not just see the beauty of this state, but to truly appreciate it. I know I won’t be in Florida forever, so I’d better enjoy it while I can! To get started, here are nine spots that I hope to visit within the next year or so. Some of my favorite places to visit, such as Clearwater Beach and historic St. Augustine, are not included in this list, but don’t worry! I’m sure I’ll cover those as well, when the time comes!
Florida Caverns State Park
As a someone who was born and bred in lush Washington State, I love the idea of a cool, damp hideaway from the constant Florida heat. Enter Florida Caverns State Park, located in North Florida. I couldn’t believe anything this awesome could exist in Florida, with its quintessential palm trees, blazing sunsets, and sandy white beaches. This discovery made a little more sense when I looked it up on a map and realized it might as well be in Alabama. It’s that far north! This is the only park in the state that offers guided cave tours to the general public. Sign me up!
Image Credit: EverywhereOnce.com
This is a bit of a surprise, even to me. Up until a few weeks ago, all I knew about Tarpon is that one of my good friends grew up there. It’s located within a couple hours of Orlando, and I never had any desire to check it out for myself. That all changed a couple of weeks ago, when I learned that the city has an enormous Greek population. The city is known for its sponge diving, and while I have every intention of checking out these fancy sponges for myself, what I really can’t wait for is a healthy dose of Greek culture. I adore Greek food, and I would happily while away an afternoon pretending to be in another country entirely. Image Credit: Pinterest
De Leon Springs State Park
Dan gets all the credit for this one. He is forever winning me over with romantic little date ideas, and this one is no exception. About an hour north of our home in Orlando is De Leon Springs State Park, home to hiking, canoeing, swimming, and…pancakes? The Old Spanish Sugar Mill, a historic restaurant housed within the park, specializes in one thing: pancake batter, served up alongside the hot griddles built into each tabletop. Diners can customize their pancakes with an assortment of toppings, and cook them right there at the table! Now, a day of hiking and kayaking followed up with homemade pancakes sounds great to me, but if you still need convincing, the park is also said to have been the home of Juan Ponce de Leon’s famed Fountain of Youth. I don’t know about all that, but it would make a fun day trip! Image Credit: www.scenicusa.net
Have you ever stopped while browsing Pinterest, dazzled by an image of what seems to be fiber optic lights washing up on exotic shores? I always figured those images were modified in some way. No way could anything ever happen like this in nature. When I mentioned this to one of my coworkers, she immediately spouted off the word to describe the phenomenon: bio-luminescence. Fancy, eh? I won’t pretend I understand how it works (something about light being produced by the movement of a living organism?), but when she told me I could see it for myself, right here in Florida, I was stunned. What’s more, it’s only one hour away. I’m told the lights are best seen once the weather cools down, so it may be many months before I can gawk at this particular mystery of nature. But what’s a few extra months when I never thought I would see something like this in my life? Image Credit: http://peaceofmindkayaktours.com
The Florida Keys
When I first moved to Orlando eight years ago, Key West was one of the first places I wanted to visit, and it remains number one on my Florida bucket list! Idyllic views, relaxed beach vibes, and plenty of drinks to go around sounds like a pretty great weekend to me. There are plenty of things to do in Key West aside from lounging on the beach, and the one that intrigues me most is a visit to the home of Ernest Hemingway…and his six-toed cats! Image Credit: Florida Keys Best Buys
I’ve never really understood the appeal of Miami. Sure, the architecture is stunning, and just thinking about all that Cuban food is making my stomach grumble. But my (admittedly narrow) view of Miami is mostly comprised of overexposed bodies, grating music, and plenty of crime. Can you tell I’m a big Dexter fan? While the majority of that TV show was actually filmed in California, I relish the idea of spending some time in Dexter’s hometown. Plus, I’m curious to see what all the hype is about. What is it about Miami that draws visitors from all over the world? Image Credit: Layover Guide
I’ve been wanting to float down the cool water of the Ichetucknee Springs ever since my roommate, a native Floridian herself, suggested many years ago that we take a summer day trip to escape the heat. Between scheduling conflicts and lack of reliable transportation, we never made that trip a reality. That roommate now has her first kid on the way, so I’d love to have a girl’s weekend and drive up to the springs with our third roommate before the baby arrives. In addition to tubing, the springs offer great diving opportunities as well as the chance to spot and swim with manatees. Image Credit: JimBrekke.com
This may seem like a random choice, but I have one very good reason to visit Fort Myers: The Edison & Ford Winter Estates. Once the winter homes of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, the estates have been transformed into a fascinating look back at the lives of two of the century’s greatest inventors. In addition to an impressive museum and walkthrough of the homes, the estates feature a stunning botanical garden and plenty of history for everyone! Image Credit: www.edisonfordwinterestatesblog.com
This gorgeous island is just a short drive away from Fort Myers (I sense a weekend trip coming up!), and features some of the best shelling in the country. If seashells aren’t your thing, the island also has excellent wildlife viewing, and is supposedly devoid of modern eyesores like fast food restaurants, and even stop signs! Sign me up for a relaxing afternoon on the beach! Image Credit: http://www.annemckinnell.com
AND A BONUS TENTH DESTINATION!
Weeki Wachee Springs State Park
Ever since reading about this on Alex in Wanderland a few months ago, I’ve been nagging my boyfriend to take a trip down to this little slice of old Florida kitsch. In addition to the regular state park fare of kayaking, wildlife-spotting, and picnicking, Weeki Wachee Springs has real live mermaids. Yes, you read that right. The performers in the park’s daily mermaid show are mostly Florida locals, many of whom actually dreamed of being mermaids when they were children. As if mermaids weren’t enough, the park also offers a river boat cruise, live animal shows, scuba diving, and a small spring-fed water park and play area. Did I mention that the shows, water park and boat ride are all included in the $13 ticket? Image Credit: The Atomic Grog Blog
That’s it for now! I know I have several readers currently living in or around Orlando, so please tell me: what else do you recommend?