Travel Florida 2016

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Explore! By Gina Vivinetto, Times correspondent

Welcome to Travel Florida, a new Tampa Bay Times guide for Florida residents who are eager to explore some of the Sunshine State’s exciting destinations. Each year, Florida welcomes more than 100 million out-ofstate tourists looking to spend the day with Mickey and Minnie at Walt Disney World, ride exciting roller coasters at Busch Gardens, immerse themselves in top-rated art museums all over the state, or simply kick back and relax on one of our world-famous beaches. Florida residents, too, like to take advantage of our amenities. Some enjoy “staycations” right on their own home turf, while others – more than 20 million of us, according to some reports – pack overnight bags and set off on road trips to other parts. And why not? Each of Florida’s regions has its own personality, one influenced by geography, history, immigration populations, economics and other factors. Best of all, most of them can be reached in just a few hours by car. Travel Florida wants to help you navigate your adventures. So we’ve highlighted what’s unique about each of Florida’s regions – what locals and visitors enjoy doing there, what the vibe is like, and what’s new and hip. Our state’s regional diversity is perfectly illustrated along Florida’s east coast. The northeast is home to St. Augustine, the nation’s oldest city, where life is steeped in history and historic landmarks, such as the Castillo de San Marcos, the oldest masonry fort in the nation. But further down in the southeast, residents of Fort Lauderdale and Miami’s South Beach put glittering nightlife and chic living front and center. Art, fashion, nightclubs and trendy bistros are the order of the day. In east-central Florida, Orlando’s famous theme parks attract more tourists than any other travel destination in the U.S. – more than 60 million a year. But, drive across the state to the west coast, and you’ll find laid-back sunny fun in Pensacola and Panama City, as well as other alluring beach towns, like scenic Sanibel Island, a quaint island town along the southwest famous for its lighthouses and seashells. The west coast is also home to our own beautiful Tampa Bay area. Lucky residents here are just minutes away from world-famous art museums and beaches, including Clearwater Beach, voted the nation’s No. 1 beach by travel site TripAdvisor. Naturally, we’ve got smart staycation tips for our area, too. Travel Florida also provides readers with short road trip ideas for each region, useful insider travel tips, local facts, and suggestions for shopping, dining and overnight accommodations.

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Sanibel Island seashells

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What’s New in Florida By Tom Wuckovich, Times correspondent

Florida attractions, arguably the best in the world, are continually adding new adventures in order to enhance the vacation experience. Here’s a look at a few of the new features that opened recently and what’s coming soon to a park near you.

The newest thrill ride to join the park’s incredible lineup of roller coasters is Cobra’s Curse, a one-of-a-kind family spin coaster that takes riders on a dizzying ride and exciting exploration. There are only a handful of spinning coasters in the world, and Cobra’s Curse “is almost like a new category of spinning coasters,” said Jeff Hornick, who designs rides for parent company SeaWorld Entertainment. “We are bringing a higher intensity level.” After ascending on a vertical elevatorlike lift, riders will come face-to-face with an 80-foot snake icon and trek over the park’s famed Serengeti Plain. They will eventually enter a mysterious Egyptian archeological excavation for the ride of their lives.

Based on the 2005 reboot of the classic 1933 feature film, Skull Island: Reign of Kong will take guests on a thrilling excursion into the island’s mysterious jungles where they will have to confront gargantuan dangers as they enter the lair of King Kong and finally encounter the giant beast. The 3-D attraction begins at a remote campsite on a mysterious island alive with strange and prehistoric creatures. An expedition aboard a specially designed vehicle moves deeper into the island, to the beat of distant native drums, through ancient ruins toward a temple with a towering wall. Once inside, a raging struggle ensues between massive creatures. They then turn their focus on the credulous riders until an even larger creature is revealed - Kong.

The theme park, south of Orlando, is planning the largest expansion in its history. Many new experiences for guests are on tap, including the recently opened LEGO NEXO KNIGHTS 4D: The Book of Creativity. Characters from the LEGO NEXO KNIGHTS series battle forces of evil in a new 4-D experience. Based on the new LEGO series of building sets, the 12-minute, immersive experience combines 3-D computer animation with 4-D, real-world effects that bring the high-tech action bursting off the screen and into the audience. Coming to LEGOLAND Florida early next year is a new immersive land and dark ride. LEGO NINJAGO World is where guests can live their ninja LEGO adventures. The interactive ride will include opportunities for guests to blast fire, lightning and ice with their hands. 4

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Named for one of the ocean’s fastest known sharks, Mako, surfacing this summer, will be Orlando’s tallest, longest and fastest roller coaster. This class of roller coasters is known for multiple, tall hills and high speeds, providing near weightless air time. Some coaster enthusiasts say that hyper-coasters are the essence of the extreme coaster experience. Mako is being billed as the tallest, longest and fastest coaster in Orlando. When it opens later this year, Mako will top 200 feet high and reach speeds of 73 mph on a nearly 1-mile long track. The lead car in the coaster train takes on the face of a Mako shark including five gills on each side, piercing eyes and hydrodynamic shape. “On Mako, you’ll experience what it’s like to be this apex predator, surging through the water at top speed and chasing prey throughout a massive reef,” said Brian Morrow, SeaWorld’s Senior Director, Development & Design. “It will be a wild mix of fear, thrills and fun.”

Jungle Island has announced a master plan to elevate the popular attraction into an iconic landmark for eco-adventure and events. The conceptual plan includes new attractions and subdestinations that tie in the diverse culture of the 18-acre park’s South Florida surroundings with journeys authentic of the jungle. Plans are to add a new entry atrium, three destination restaurants, pool areas and waterfalls, zip lines, bridges, bungee swings and other aerial activities and new interactive environments for animals and much more. Already, Jungle Island has debuted Parrot Cove, a private beach and aqua park.

Walt Disney World Resort will complete a multiyear transformation of Disney Springs. Featuring an eclectic and contemporary mix from Disney and other noteworthy brands, this new expansion will double the number of shops, restaurants and other venues for guests to explore, to more than 150 establishments. On Soarin’ Around the World guests on board the popular Soarin’ attraction will journey to far-flung lands and fly above some of the world’s most unique natural landscapes and man-made wonders when the new Soarin’ Around the World makes its debut also at Epcot. The popular Kilimanjaro Safaris attraction at Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park will be extended for a new nighttime adventure. Travel aboard the Sunset

Tampa Bay Times | Sunday, June 26, 2016 |


Kilimanjaro Safaris amid the magically extended orange glow of the setting sun, and discover two species new to the attraction: African wild dogs and hyenas.

Observation tower, Shark Valley

“Rivers of Light” is an innovative experience unlike anything ever seen in a Disney park, combining live performances, floating lanterns, water screens and swirling animal imagery. The show will be performed on the Discovery River, and will be finale to a full day of adventures at Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park. Bonita Springs

roadside attractions. Wander the newly created paths, see pink flamingos, alligators, a swinging bridge and a butterfly garden. The park also includes landscape photography in John Brady’s Everglades Gallery and a picnic area. The park is located at 27180 Old U.S. 41 and is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.

The historic Everglades Wonder Gardens has reopened in Bonita Springs following a change in ownership and a renovation. Opening in 1936, the gardens offer a piece of Florida history to visitors who may tour one of Florida’s original

WonderWorks is an amazing Panama City Beach attraction where scientific principles and fun come together to provide an unrivaled educational experience. The laws of nature and probability interact with human skills and perceptions in creating some of the most mind boggling and head scratching virtual challenges, mental challenges and physical challenges. Take your adventure to a new reality in the virtual Army Blackhawk simulator. Fly through obstacles to carry out high priority missions in an intense battle zone.

Rapids Water Park is South Florida’s premier family water park, featuring a full day of fun for the entire family. This spring the Rapids expanded its lineup with the new Brain Drain slide, where adventure seekers enter a launch tube and wait for the bottom to drop out beneath them for a more than 300-footlong tube slide. The starting platform is 72 feet above the ground and is the entrance to two enclosed tube slides with different configurations and rider experiences. Both slides use a Skybox Capsule launch system that drops the floor from beneath the rider as guests reach speeds up to 35 mph. This new thrill ride opened April 30.


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Park it in Florida

Florida manatee

By Marc Atchison, Times correspondent

The only thing that looks good at 100 years old is a park. And with the U.S. National Park Service celebrating its centenary in 2016, America’s parks will be getting a lot of love from nature huggers and those who truly appreciate the great outdoors this year. Interestingly, Florida is swamped with lots of one-of-a-kind national parks that are unique to the Sunshine State. I’ve visited several of Florida’s national parks over the past few years and have come away impressed and awed with each one. As part of the 100 year celebrations, the National Park Service is offering free entrance days on these upcoming dates: August 25 through 28: National Park Service Birthday; September 24: National Public Lands Day; November 11: Veterans Day. Asking to pick a favorite national park in Florida is like asking to pick a favorite child. But Florida has plenty of national parks and here’s a rundown of those you might visit this centennial year:

is one of the most delicate ecosystems in the world. This is Florida at its best. The park protects 20 percent of the state’s original Everglades and is the largest wilderness area east of the Mississippi River. Everglades National Park also contains the largest subtropical wilderness in the U.S. The Park is the most significant breeding ground for tropical wading birds in North America, contains the largest mangrove ecosystem in the western hemisphere, is home to 36 threatened or protected species including the Florida panther, the American crocodile and the West Indian manatee and supports 350 species of birds, 300 species of fresh and saltwater fish, 40 species of mammals, and 50 species of reptiles. The majority of South Florida’s fresh water, which is stored in the Biscayne Aquifer, is recharged in the park. This is a must see for everyone living or visiting Florida. $20 entrance fee.

is one of the most tranquil places in Florida and home to some amazing wildlife living in its incredible mangrove — herons,

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Tampa Bay Times | Sunday, June 26, 2016 |


Park it in Florida, page 7

egrets, ospreys, raccoons, armadillos, dolphins and manatees among them. The park is dedicated to Spanish explorer Hernando De Soto, who mapped much of Florida in the 16th century.

(part of Everglades National Park) is 730,000 acres of sheer beauty. The best way to see this vast ecosystem is along the Loop Rd. that meanders through Big Cypress Swamp — a truly great experience.

near Tallahassee, is the state’s largest forest — 570,000 acres of wilderness magic. The forest is a haven for wildlife such as Florida black bears, whitetail deer, fox squirrels, alligators and snakes, as well as protected, threatened, and sensitive species such as the American bald eagle, gopher tortoise, striped newt and flatwoods salamander. It’s also home to the largest red-cockaded woodpecker.

is one of the reasons many people love going to Sanibel Island. While actually a bird sanctuary and not a park, the


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Darling Refuge is home to 245 species of birds that pass through its mangrove each year. There are also lots of American alligators, dolphins and manatees that you can see from a canoe or kayak that can be rented by the hour or day.

Kayakers at Fort De Soto Park

which is located north of Orlando, is the true magic kingdom for wilderness lovers. This is where you’ll find the world’s largest contiguous sand pine scrub forest, which was formed 25 million years ago. Life springs eternal at Ocala where four major springs are located: Juniper Springs, Alexander Springs, Salt Springs and Silver Glen Springs are all within the park system. There also are 600 lakes, rivers and waterways in the park.

is the largest marine park in the National Park System and is within walking distance of downtown Miami. There are lots of organized tours of the park, where you can snorkel or ride a bike along the pristine shore.

is home to hundreds of wild manatees that come here, along with northern Snowbirds, to enjoy the warm winter waters. This refuge was created specifically to protect the manatees. The main area for manatee viewing is the Three Sisters Springs complex.

Photo credit: Visit St. Petersburg Clearwater

on the Gulf of Mexico is actually mostly hidden since 80 percent is underwater. There are six barrier islands that also fall within the park’s protection and they offer some of the most pristine swimming conditions in North America. There’s also 300 species of birds that can be found here and dolphins can be seen frolicking in the surf from the sugary shoreline. This is the perfect place for family vacations. This area played a big part in the U.S. Civil War and two Confederate forts — Fort Pickens and Fort Barrancas — remain on the island.

on lovely Masco Island near Naples is home to nearly 200 bird and fish species and its 35,000-acre labyrinth of mangrove islands. It’s refuge to many endangered species, including the Atlantic loggerhead turtle. There are plenty of sandy beaches and shallow bays within the park. Dolphins, egrets, manatees, river otters, green sea turtles like coming here.

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Old Pensacola buildings

By Gina Vivinetto, Times correspondent

Kick back in Pensacola and Panama City Beach, two classic beach towns on Florida’s Emerald Coast. Famous for its award-winning beaches, Pensacola is home to both Perdido Key and Pensacola Beach, where blue skies, teal water and swaying sea oats can lull visitors into sunny reveries. Pensacola is also perfect for fishing, surfing and scuba diving, just a few reasons why Southern Living magazine named it one of the top family-friendly destinations in the United States. The site of the nation’s oldest European settlement, Pensacola has a rich history, one that dates back to 1559, when Spanish explorer Tristán de Luna sailed into what is now known as Pensacola Bay. That was a full six years before Pedro Menéndez de Avilés reached Florida’s Atlantic coast, where he would found St. Augustine. Visitors learn some of the city’s history on guided walking tours through Historic Pensacola Village, a collection of the city’s historical buildings and landmarks. Fancying an expedition of your own? Find your own treasure on an Explore Pensacola GeoTour, where participants use GPS-enabled devices to find prizes throughout a location. Or rent a kayak or paddleboard from Key Sailing. As with most beach towns, outdoor dining is popular in Pensacola. Grab a seat on the open-air deck at Jaco’s Bayfront Bar & Grille, which overlooks the Palafox Pier Marina and the Plaza de Luna waterfront park. Or sample the tapas at the award-winning Global Grill. Seafood lovers should make a trip to Joe Patti’s Seafood, one of the city’s legendary establishments.

Panama City Beach after sunset


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Explore Florida! Tampa Bay Times | Sunday, June 26, 2016 |


Enjoy gulf breezes as you eat by dining right along the water at local favorites like the Barefoot Hide A Way Grill and Hook’d Pier Bar & Grill. Snorkeling

Staying overnight? The quaint Solé Inn and Suites is a located right on Palafox Street, the main artery through Pensacola’s historic downtown.

For overnight accommodations, Calypso Resort and Towers offers affordable rental condos that come with a heated pool. Travel time from Tampa to Pensacola by car is about 6.5 hours, or about two hours by air from Tampa International Airport Travel time from Tampa to Panama City Beach is about 5.5 hours by car, or about 1.5 hours by air from Tampa International Airport

Locals know: Panama City Beach, about two hours east of Pensacola, is a family-friendly beach destination where visitors swim, snorkel, surf, fish and do anything else they please in the water. Get a peek of paradise by taking a tour boat out to Shell Island, a 7-mile- long undeveloped peninsula filled with sand dunes, pine hammocks and an inland lake that attracts deer, ghost crabs and green sea turtles. Or bring the kids to Gulf World Marine Park, where guests enjoy shows featuring dolphins, sea lions and tropical birds.


In Pensacola, military buffs can see and learn about naval aircraft at the National Naval Aviation Museum. They can also catch an air show by the Blue Angels, the elite flight demonstration squadron based at Naval Air Station Pensacola.

Let Lighthouses Guide Your Way through the Panhandle Lighthouses hold an attraction for many. The solemn tower, a sentinel in the night casting its light toward the sea, has held a mesmerizing draw for centuries. Florida has about three dozen lighthouses. Active ones are managed by the U.S. Coast Guard, while decommissioned ones are supported by local lighthouse associations, counties and cities. The coast of Florida’s Panhandle has a string of five historic lighthouses well worth a road trip.

Spectacular views of the Gulf of Mexico, three forts and the historic Pensacola Navy Yard will be your reward for climbing the 177 steps to the top of this lighthouse, built in 1859. The restored Keeper’s Quarters is now a museum and gift shop. Look for the nature trail that leads to the powdery-sugar beach. If you have time, cross the street and visit the National Naval Aviation Museum. Open daily, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; adults $6, children 12 and under, seniors and military $4. 850-393-1561

For 118 years, the Crooked River Lighthouse served as a beacon through the treacherous pass between Dog Island and St. George Island. Built in 1895, this 100-foot iron-and-steel structure is just a stone’s throw off U.S. 98 and offers great views of the gulf 14

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and the Apalachicola National Forest. The Keeper’s House Museum provides interesting exhibits on lighthouses and artifacts from days gone by. The museum is open from noon to 5 p.m. Thursday through Sunday, with climbing on Saturdays and Sundays only. Admission: adults, $5; children, $3. 850-697-2732

With its fascinating history since 1832, surviving threats from wars, storms and hurricanes, the St. Marks Lighthouse is a National Historic Landmark situated within the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge and managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Stop at the refuge’s Visitor Center, about 25 miles south of Tallahassee, to see the lens and learn more about the lighthouse and the refuge. The lighthouse is closed for renovations and may not be open for another year, according to a ranger, but it’s worth the drive for the picturepostcard landscape. Refuge entry fee is $5 per car; the Visitor Center is open daily; 850-925-6121

This storybook white tower capped with a black lantern has an amazing survival story to tell. After being ravaged by Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and Hurricane Opal in 1995, the 1852 structure began tilting into the shore. Hurricane Wilma in 2005 struck another blow, and the lighthouse collapsed into the Gulf of Mexico. A massive effort by area volunteers succeeded in reconstructing the lighthouse by using the original plans from the National Archives in Washington, D.C. and as much of the original material as possible. The reconstructed 74-foot-tall lighthouse opened to the public in 2008. Days and hours vary according to season; it’s best to call ahead at 850-927-7745. Adults, $5; age 16 and under, $3; free for U.S. military and children under 6. Tampa Bay Times | Sunday, June 26, 2016 |


This 96-foot-tall steel structure and two keeper’s quarters were moved from Cape San Blas to the George Core Park in Port St. Joe in July 2014. Now under the ownership of the city, the 1885 lighthouse is less impressive than the others, but is an easier climb and offers lovely views of St. Joseph Bay. Open 1 to 6 p.m. Thursday through Saturday; hours subject to change. 850-229-8261; m/cape-san-blas-lighthouse

A fine road trip to consider is the Big Bend Scenic Byway, a two-day 220-mile loop through the eastern Panhandle. Select either the Forest Trail route, west of Tallahassee, or the Coastal Trail route, from St. Marks to Apalachicola. The Coastal Trail route along U.S. 98 features four of the five lighthouses listed here. Byway towns offer a variety of lodging, restaurants and activities, such as hiking, biking, kayaking, fishing and birding. If you have time, take the two-day Loop Drive, starting and ending in Tallahassee at the regional airport.

Family hiking

IF YOU GO • Before setting out on your Panhandle lighthouse tour, keep in mind that climbing the narrow, winding stairs can be quite strenuous. If you have strong legs and a good heart, no vertigo or fear of heights, then go for it. The views from the top are well worth the effort. • Most lighthouses rely on volunteers to staff, so hours and days open can vary from month to month. It’s a good idea to call ahead. • Many lighthouses offer free admission for military personnel with ID. • There can be height requirements for children to climb the stairs, usually a minimum of 40 to 44 inches. 16

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Tampa Bay Times | Sunday, June 26, 2016 |



Florida Capitol Building

By Gina Vivinetto, Times correspondent

Southern grandeur is still very much alive in north central Florida thanks to Tallahassee’s genteel charm and Gainesville’s natural wonders. A trip to the state’s capital in north Florida is like traveling to a bygone era, one steeped in plantation homes, stately buildings, rolling hills and huge mossy live oaks. Tallahassee blends the old and the new beautifully, fitting for a city whose history spans centuries. The first Christmas mass ever held in the United States happened in downtown in 1539 at the command of Spanish explorer Hernando De Soto. These days, the city is the home of Florida State University, Florida A&M University and, of course, the Florida Legislature. The capital city’s antebellum past comes alive at the Goodwood Museum & Gardens, the site of a furnished plantation house built in the 1840s. The Bellevue Plantation at the popular Tallahassee Museum inspires another leap back in time, as do the more than 40,000 artifacts at the Museum of Florida History. Dining options here include just about every cuisine. Politicians have had a decades-long love affair with Andrew’s Capital Grill & Bar, within walking distance of the Capitol Building. FSU students eat at funkier spots, like the Kool Beanz Café, famous for its chicken and waffles Sunday brunch option, and Voodoo Dog, a low-key joint that serves hot dogs smothered in mac and cheese, fried eggs and other decadent toppings. For overnight stays, the cozy Little English Guesthouse, a B&B six miles from downtown Tally, offers an offbeat British experience. In nearby Monticello, the Avera-Clarke House Bed & Breakfast is housed in a beautifully restored Victorian home amid tall oak and magnolia trees.

Flora and fauna – and Gators – are a way of life in Gainesville. Nature lovers who visit this college town, home of the University of Florida, can see more 18

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than 75 native and exotic species up close at the Santa Fe College Teaching Zoo. At the Butterfly Rainforest at the Florida Museum of Natural History, visitors can marvel over atlas moths and other lepidopteran lovelies. Soak up more nature at the Morningside Nature Center, Gainesville’s premier nature park, where the whole family can hike, bike or walk more than 7 miles of trails, or roam right along with the bison, horses and alligators at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park in nearby Micanopy. Art lovers visiting the area will be happy to find the university boasts topnotch cultural offerings, including the Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art, with more than 10,000 Asian, African, modern and contemporary works, and the Curtis M. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts. At night, spend downtime in one of the historic B&Bs in the Southeast Historic District. The Camellia Rose Inn, housed in a restored 1903 Victorian Queen Anne home, is one of many elegant and affordable options. Travel time from Tampa to Tallahassee by car is about 4.5 hours. Travel time from Tampa to Gainesville by car is about 2.5 hours.

Locals know:

Tallahassee is home to Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous pod-shaped Spring House, the only private Florida residence Wright designed. Reserve a private tour, or join free public tours that are available from 2 to 4 p.m. on the second Sunday of each month.

Tampa Bay Times | Sunday, June 26, 2016 |


North-Central Paddle or Float Your Way around High Springs Florida is generally known for three iconic habitats: beautiful beaches, the mysterious Everglades and, ironically, Orlando theme parks. Let the tourists make beelines to these places so we Floridians can have the astoundingly beautiful and intriguing springs all to ourselves. Even longtime Florida residents are often unaware of the magnificent power of our state’s collective springs. Florida has the largest concentration of freshwater springs in the world – an estimated 1,000 – from tiny bubblers to firstmagnitude gushers. These marvels of nature, which bubble up from the limestone karst of the Floridan aquifer, offer refreshing 72-degree water year-round, the larger ones providing warmth during cold winter months to the state’s growing population of manatees. The area surrounding the small town of High Springs, northwest of Gainesville, is home to a large number of outstanding springs. This lush region of pine forests, green pastures and rolling hills is where the Ichetucknee and Santa Fe lay claim as two of the most beautiful spring-laden rivers in the state. “There are probably 20 springs along those two rivers alone,” says Heather Culp, associate director of the Florida Springs Institute in High Springs, a non profit organization that aims to educate the public about the health of the state’s springs. The center opened this year and welcomes visitors who wish to learn more about springs and where to find them.

Ginnie Springs


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Indeed, a road trip to the High Springs area to paddle the rivers and springs could prove both fun and fascinating. The most highly regarded are Ichetucknee Springs, Ginnie Springs and Blue Springs (not to be confused with the Blue Springs north of Orlando). Perhaps the most beautiful run is found in Ichetucknee Springs State Park. A popular tubing river, the winding Ichetucknee is a favorite for families who return each summer to cool down with a scenic float beneath a canopy of live oaks. The crystalline river flows 6 miles through shaded hammocks before it joins the Santa Fe River. The headspring located at the north entrance is a perfect place to bring the family for a hike on the two nature trails and enjoy a picnic. Not far away is the Lower Santa Fe River, where paddlers will encounter a string of springs including Poe, Lilly, Rum Island, Gilchrist, Blue and Ginnie Springs, plus many smaller ones. Paddling into and swimming in the springs is allowed, but some are private and will charge admission if you go ashore. SCUBA divers from around the world are drawn to Ginnie Springs. With its sandy bottom and limestone cave formations surrounded by lovely cypress and hardwood trees, Ginnie Springs is an idyllic setting. The springs are within a privately owned park, which offers canoe and kayak rentals, picnic areas, camping and an on-site dive rental shop.

Ginnie Springs

Ginnie Springs

IF YOU GO High Springs is 23 miles northwest of Gainesville. Start with a visit to the Florida Springs Institute, located near the center of town. Hours are limited (10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday and Saturday). Here, you can gather information on your options through brochures, exhibits and friendly volunteers. High Springs is easily walkable with a smattering of antique shops and cafes and the High Springs Museum. Both Ichetucknee and Ginnie springs offer rentals of tubes, kayaks and canoes in the park, or you can look for outfitters nearby that offer rentals and shuttle service. Be aware that weekends between Memorial Day and Labor Day can be extremely crowded, and the parks will close when they reach capacity, which can be as early as 10 a.m. Try to schedule your road trip during the week or plan to arrive early. Ichetucknee Springs State Park, 12087 SW U.S. 27, Fort White, FL 386-497-4690. Ginnie Springs Outdoors Park, 5000 NE 60th Ave. in High Springs, 386-454-7188

and offers regularly scheduled group paddle trips. 386-454-0611 Santa Fe River Outpost, 21410 NW Highway 441 in High Springs, is another popular outfitter. 386-454-2050 Rum 138, 2070 SW CR 138 in Fort White, provides rentals and shuttle service along the Santa Fe River from two launch sites. The store location is worth a visit for its gallery of handmade arts and crafts by local artists. 386-454-4247

WHERE TO STAY: Both Ichetucknee Springs State Park

and Ginnie Springs offer camping facilities, as do a number of other nearby state parks. If camping is not your thing, bed down in Gainesville, less than a half-hour drive from High Springs. Check for a listing of lodging and other nearby attractions.

WHERE TO EAT: Grab a seat on the outdoor patio at the Great Outdoors, 65 N. Main St. in High Springs, or relax in the dining room for lunch, dinner or a cold beverage after a river paddle. This award-winning restaurant is filled with local springs memorabilia and the menu won’t disappoint; stick around for live music Wednesday through Saturday evenings.

Outfitters Adventure Outpost, 30 NW First Ave. just across from the High Springs Institute, can put together a half or full-day excursion

Tampa Bay Times | Sunday, June 26, 2016 |


Northeast By Gina Vivinetto, Times correspondent

St. Augustine and Jacksonville have only about an hour’s drive separating them, but they feel centuries apart — and visitors like it that way. Flagler College, St. Augustine

Jacksonville skyline

Nicknamed the River City by the Sea because of its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean, Jacksonville is a nature lover’s paradise, with more than 20 miles of beaches and the largest urban park system in the nation. But make no mistake, Jacksonville – or Jax, as locals call it – is hip. The city is enjoying an arts and culinary boom that attracts culture-obsessed travelers. Spend an afternoon with the masterpieces at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) or the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens. Smaller galleries dot the city’s downtown. On Saturdays, local artists sell their work at the Riverside Arts Market under the Fuller Warren Bridge in the bohemian Riverside neighborhood. Find great eats and locally brewed craft beer in the King Street Food & Beer District. Dine on Southern comfort food with a modern twist at Black Sheep, or trek to St. John’s Town Center for fresh American fare at Moxie Kitchen + Cocktails, named one of the state’s best new restaurants by Florida Trend. The eco-friendly Jenks House Bed & Breakfast, a two-story 1925 house with mission and art deco furnishings, is a wonderful place to stay.

St. Augustine is the nation’s oldest city, founded in 1565 by Spanish explorer Pedro Menendez de Aviles. The city’s history is rich, and its spectacular architecture and monuments tell the story of four and a half centuries of Spanish, British, Greek, Native American and African American influences.

Travel time from Tampa to both St. Augustine and Jacksonville by car is just over three hours.

Where to begin? Why not with Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park? Believe it or not, it’s tucked away in St. Augustine. For a small fee, visitors can drink paper cups of its water to retain their youthful glow. The Castillo de San Marcos, built in the 1600s, is the oldest masonry fort in the U.S., and the site of some key moments in history, including the imprisonment of Seminole tribe leader Chief Osceola. Those who’d like a guided tour of the city can join the Historic Adventure tour that departs multiple times each day from the Colonial Quarter, a 2-acre attraction in the downtown historic district. When it comes to shopping and food, locals and out-of-towners flock to St. George Street, a narrow pedestrian-only lane of boutiques, restaurants and pubs. Big sandwiches and cold brews are popular options at the Bull & Crown Publick House, while more upscale Spanish cuisine can be found at Taberna del Caballo. Staying overnight? Opt for one of the cozy Victorian-era B&Bs in the historic district. 22

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St. Augustine fort Castillo de San Marcos National Monument

Locals know:

In a city as old as St. Augustine, there are bound to be some good ghost stories. Master storyteller Dion Moore, who calls himself the American Spinner, shares his favorites on his Secrets of St. Augustine Ghost Tour. (

Tampa Bay Times | Sunday, June 26, 2016 |


Tampa Bay Times | Sunday, June 26, 2016 |



ROAD TRIP: By Marcia Biggs, Times correspondent

Don’t Miss the Ferry to Fort Matanzas Ferry to Fort Matanzas

Fort Matanzas

It’s easy to miss the sign for Fort Matanzas as you zoom along coastal State Road A1A on your way north to St. Augustine. But the city can wait. Do yourself a favor and take the time to visit this remarkably restored Spanish outpost that once guarded the Old Fort Matanzas guided tour City from British warships approaching from the south. The picturesque fort, built from 1740 to 1742, is now a park located 15 miles south of St. Augustine on Matanzas Bay. Visitors are treated to a short ferry ride to the fort, which rests amid the beauty of a natural Florida estuary, salt marsh and maritime hammock habitat harboring a diverse array of herons, egrets and other wildlife. Plan to spend a leisurely couple hours touring the fort and the park. The park is maintained by the National Park Service as a National Monument, so admission to both the park and the ferry ride are free. This, by the way, is a monumental bargain considering admission charges are the norm at nearly every historic building and site in St. Augustine. The 50-minute tour of the fort is led by a ranger guide who provides an informative history of the fort and the region. Constructed of coquina (natural shell rock found locally), the fort is actually quite small, housing crews of only seven Spanish soldiers in rotating shifts. The officers were assigned from the much larger fort, Castillo de San Marcos (also a National Monument well worth visiting), in St. Augustine. Be sure to climb to the second-story living quarters, where the watchtower cannons still stand watch for the British galleon ghost ships. 904-471-0116

Fort Matanzas living quarters


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IF YOU GO Park hours are 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. every day of the year except Thanksgiving and Christmas. The ferry departs every hour on the half hour; no reservations. Just minutes from the fort are Marineland, the Alligator Farm and the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum.

WHERE TO STAY: With St. Augustine just 15 miles away, a diverse array of lodgings can be found, from small motels and chain hotels to beach condos and historic inns. For information on lodging and other attractions in the area, check out or call the St. Augustine Ponte Vedra Visitors and Convention Bureau at 904-829-1711.

St. Augustine Lighthouse

Tampa Bay Times | Sunday, June 26, 2016 |


West-Central By Gina Vivinetto, Times correspondent

For residents of the Tampa Bayy area, the word “staycation” has no whiff of resignation. Each year, millions travel to our home to enjoy amenities we can reach in minutes. World-famous art museums? The No. 1 beach in the nation? Yes, and that’s just the start.

The Chihuly Collection

Feeling hungry? Grab a huge Cuban sandwich at the tiny Bodega in Central Avenue’s EDGE District. Or sample the house-made charcuterie board at the Mill, voted Florida’s Best New Restaurant by Florida Trend d magazine. Quench your thirst at one of the city’s many craft breweries. 26

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Take the kids to meet Winter the dolphin, star off Dolphin Tale, at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, voted the No. 1 tourist attraction in the state by USA Today. Spend the day relaxing or playing at beautiful Clearwater Beach, voted Trip Advisor’s No. 1 Best Beach in the U.S. in 2016. (Former champ St. Pete Beach took fourth place this year.) As the sun lowers into the Gulf of Mexico, the Sunsets at Pier 60 nightly festival comes alive with music and street performers.

Who doesn’t love Tampa’s famous theme parks, Busch Gardens and Adventure Island? When the rollercoaster rides wind down, stroll the shops in historic Ybor City or take a peek at the exotic animals at Lowry Park Zoo. Just don’t spoil your dinner. Travel & Leisure named Tampa’s culinary scene one of the most creative in the country. Savor the fried chicken biscuits and other “cracker cuisine” staples at the hip Fodder & Shine in Seminole Heights, or savor the New American small plates at the The Chihuly Collection rustic Rooster & the Till. Menus pop with wildly inventive upscale fare at the acclaimed Edison: Food + Drink Lab and the newcomer Ulele, both near downtown.

DalÍ Museum

Consistently voted a top arts destination, St. Pete is home to the world-famous Dalí Museum, the largest collection of surrealist Salvador Dalí’s work outside of Spain. The Chihuly Collection, the only permanent collection of glass art by internationally acclaimed glassblower Dale Chihuly, is here, too, right on waterfront Beach Drive. Cross the street and you can visit the Museum of Fine Arts, with works spanning 5,000 years of civilization. Smaller art galleries, eclectic boutiques and antique shops dot the city’s five arts districts.

Fishing Pier, Clearwater Beach

Lowry Park Zoo Staycation Paradise, page 28

Tampa Bay Times | Sunday, June 26, 2016 |



Staycation Paradise, page 26

Take a Walk on the Wild Side at Cedar Key

Adenium arabicum in Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, Sarasota

About an hour south of Tampa, Sarasota dazzles with more great beaches, Macaw at Sarasota Jungle Gardens nature and art. Siesta Key, a short drive from the city’s downtown, won TripAdvisor’s No. 1 beach honors in 2015. The Marie Selby Botanical Gardens lures nature lovers with its rare tropical plants, while the Sarasota Jungle Gardens houses more than 150 native and exotic animals, including parrots, primates, reptiles, alligators and birds of prey. Summer sunset, Cedar Key

Looking for more art? The Ringling Museum features 31 galleries of antiquities, Old Masters and contemporary art.

Locals know:

Artists have painted murals on more than 30 buildings in downtown St. Pete, and you can learn about them on a Walking Mural Tour that departs from the Florida CraftArt gallery on Central Avenue every Saturday at 10 a.m.


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If you’ve ever wanted to really get away from it all, head due north and don’t stop until you get to Otter Creek. Turn left at the post office and keep going until you think you’re lost. Don’t worry, you are almost there. Once you find yourself on a bridge heading into the Gulf of Mexico, turn off the cellphone and take a deep breath. You have arrived at your peaceful resting place: Cedar Key. Indeed, Old Florida is alive and well in this tiny island community – roughly 1 square mile with a population hovering around 700 – where one can discover a mix of eclectic art galleries, waterfront lodging, seafood restaurants and an abundance of native wildlife (take that any way you like). Generations of fishermen have called Cedar Key home since the 1800s; as a matter of fact, it’s only been a tourist destination for a few decades. Once a bustling seaport where timber and seafood were exported by rail to the Northeast, Cedar Key today is a sleepy coastal village and artists’ colony that relies

on weekend visitors who come to enjoy its many simple charms and stunning sunsets. Popular activities for most who visit Cedar Key is eating, strolling the shops and art galleries, taking a boat or paddle excursion, and eating. Duck into a waterfront restaurant for a cold beer and a plateful of steamed oysters and you’re likely to find a new friend on the next barstool. Worthy of a road trip alone is Tony’s, where the threetime world champion chowder is creamy, steamy and delicious. Steamers Clam Bar and Grill and Annie’s Cafe are also favorites.

Everyone walks everywhere in Cedar Key, although you can rent a bicycle or golf cart, if you like. Stop in at the Cedar Keyhole Artist Co-op to peruse arts and crafts by local artisans, then stroll over to the Cedar Key Historical Society Museum to learn more about the village’s history. Exhibits include Native American artifacts, the

Cormorants at a rookery

Second Seminole Indian War, John Muir’s Journey, Cedar Pencil Industry, Seafood and Clam Industry, and the Florida Railroad. Grab a bite at the marina, where multi-level shops and restaurants painted in tropical colors rest on stilts above the water. Nature lovers flock here to enjoy the Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge, composed of 13 nearby islands. It’s a mecca for paddling, fishing and bird-watching. Look for the magnificent frigate birds that spend summers on nearby Seahorse Key, a worldfamous rookery. To get up close, rent a kayak for an earlymorning wildlife encounter. Magnificent frigate bird

Don’t expect much in the way of fancy digs or chain hotels on Cedar Key, as most lodgings are friendly local operations. The variety is diverse, however, from basic waterfront rooms to vacation cabins, condos and bed and breakfast inns. Check out the historic Kayaking Island Hotel, with its waterfront balcony, or the charmingly serene Cedar Key Bed and Breakfast, both highly recommended on

IF YOU GO Do yourself a favor and skip the drive north on frenetic Interstate 75 by opting for U.S. 19 or the Veterans Expressway, which both turn into U.S. 98 N. This leisurely coastal route takes you through Homosassa and Crystal River. When you get to Otter Creek, head west on State Road 24, which takes you directly to Cedar Key. The Chamber of Commerce website,, is a valuable source of information for everything from lodging to restaurants, outdoor activities and a calendar of events. Call 352-543-5600 or stop by the chamber office at 450 Second St. in Cedar Key. For more information on the Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge, go to Several boat excursions offer dolphin-watching and sunset tours, departing from the city marina daily. Among them are Tidewater Tours (352-543-9523) and Cedar Key Boat Rentals and Island Tours (352-231-4435).

Tampa Bay Times | Sunday, June 26, 2016 |


East-Central By Gina Vivinetto, Times correspondent

Orlando’s theme parks promise a magical getaway. Nearby Kissimmee and the legendary Space Coast offer great day-trip adventures, too.

Orlando’s exciting theme parks have made the city the most popular vacation destination in the U.S., the only one that lures more than 60 million visitors annually. Within Walt Disney World alone, visitors can choose from four different parks – the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom. Outside Mickey

Staying the night? You can find big-name hotels on most every corner of the city. For quainter accommodations, reserve a room at the trendy Alfond Inn, a luxury boutique hotel in Winter Park that’s within walking distance of two museums and a sculpture garden.

Mouse’s house, Universal Studios and Universal’s Islands of Adventure, home of the popular Wizarding World of Harry Potter, allow guests to leap inside the worlds of their favorite TV and movie characters. SeaWorld and LegoLand round out the city’s top-draw attractions. Beyond theme parks, O-Town is a popular shopping destination, Pink flamingo, SeaWorld, thanks to the Florida Orlando Mall’s 1.7 million square feet of stores and the upscale Mall at Millenia, which houses Neiman Marcus and Bloomingdale’s and features high-end brands Prada, Gucci and Versace. Of course, locals know the best deals are at Orlando’s thriving outlet malls, like Orlando International Premium Outlet, on the north end of International Drive. The city’s culinary scene has also exploded, with younger chefs giving exciting new twists to old favorites. Try the modern American cuisine at downtown’s Artisan’s Table, or the fried chicken and other Dixie classics at the Coop in nearby Winter Park. For a quick meal, locals love the globally inspired tacos at hipster BBQ joint Pig Floyd’s Urban Barbakoa.


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Adventure happens in the sea and stars along the Space Coast, about an hour’s drive east of Orlando. Titusville, at the coast’s north end, is home to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, where space lovers can meet astronauts, see the space shuttle Atlantis, tour NASA’s spaceport facilities, and launch into space themselves on the Shuttle Launch Experience. Be sure to stroll through the nearby U.S. Space Walk of Fame. Meanwhile, on the ground, surfers flock to famed Cocoa Beach, home of Ron Jon Surf Shop, the world’s largest surf shop. Stroll out 800 feet into the Atlantic Ocean on the historic Cocoa Beach Pier.

Just south of Orlando, Kissimmee offers more offthe-beaten-path fun for visitors of every age. Find thrills at Fun Spot America, an amusement park with rollercoasters, go-karts and other rides, or see the Florida Everglades up close on an airboat ride courtesy of Kissimmee Swamp Tours or Wild Florida. Shop for souvenirs at Eli’s Orange World, a store actually shaped like half an enormous piece of citrus, or the even kitschier Mermaid Gift Shop, which features – you guessed it – a gigantic mermaid on the shop’s roof. Find both stores in a quirky strip of shops along U.S. 192. Travel time from Tampa to Orlando by car is 1.5 hours.

Locals know:

O-Town residents have figured out that certain spots around Orlando provide a spectacular view of the nightly fireworks displays inside Walt Disney World. One such spot is inside Capa, the upscale Spanish restaurant on the 17th floor of Four Seasons Orlando. Tampa Bay Times | Sunday, June 26, 2016 |



Treat the Family to Pancakes at De Leon Springs Pretty as a picture postcard, De Leon Springs State Park is a hidden gem for fun-loving families seeking respite from the summer heat. The crystal-blue springs pool is a constant 72 degrees year-round and is surrounded by grand live oaks perfect for spreading a picnic blanket.

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Old Spanish Sugar Mill Restaurant Photo credit:

But the main attraction at De Leon Springs is the Old Spanish Sugar Mill Restaurant inside a 100-year-old replica of the original 1830s sugar mill that once stood here. For more than 50 years, the backwoods griddle house has attracted legions of visitors who come to 32

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make their own pancakes on an electric griddle set into the middle of the tables. Servers bring pitchers of homemade pancake batter along with a choice of blueberries, bananas, pecans, chocolate chips or apples so you can create whatever sort of pancakes you choose. Order sides of sausage, bacon, ham and eggs and you’ve got a hearty Southern breakfast that can’t be beat. After fueling up with pancakes (served until 4 p.m., by the way), enjoy a stroll around the historic grounds of this 600acre state park. An excellent Visitors Center provides glimpses into the 6,000-year history of the region and the park through vintage photographs, artifact displays and exhibits. The springs area is rich in culture and history, first inhabited by the Mayaca native people; several shell mounds and middens are located in the park and the remains of a dugout canoe (carbon dated to 4050 B.C.) can be seen in the Visitors Center. Spanish missions were established here in the late

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1500s, and local legend claims that explorer Juan Ponce de Leon discovered the mythical Fountain of Youth near the springs. European settlers built a plantation which grew corn, cotton and sugar cane; hence the need for a mill to grind the corn and sugar. Union troops destroyed the property during the Civil War. In 1925, the Ponce de Leon Springs Inn and Casino was built and in 1953 the resort was developed into a major Florida tourist attraction with a hotel, tropical gardens, a jungle cruise and Sunshine Sally, a famous water-skiing elephant. Visitors can rent a canoe, kayak or paddleboat, or take a 50-minute guided river cruise. The park’s paddling trail provides access to the beautiful spring run and the 22,000acre Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge, with lakes, creeks and marshes to explore. 386-985-4212 Road Trip: De Leon Springs State Park, page 35 Tampa Bay Times | Sunday, June 26, 2016 |



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Road Trip: De Leon Springs State Park, page 33

during the fall and winter months. A word of warning: The park often reaches capacity on weekends and holidays between Memorial Day and Labor Day, when access can be denied. In addition, the wait for a table at the Old Spanish Sugar Mill can be up to several hours on weekends. Try to visit the park on a weekday or arrive early on weekends. A good plan of action would be to spend the night in Daytona Beach so you can arrive early the next morning. There is no camping at the park. Daytona Beach, with its vast array of lodgings, is only 45 minutes away. Old Spanish Sugar Mill Restaurant

IF YOU GO De Leon Springs is located about an hour north of Orlando in a beautiful rural area. Interstate 4 is the most direct route from Tampa Bay, exiting at U.S. 17 N, but you’ll be taking a chance with the traffic jams around Kissimmee. A longer but much more scenic road trip is to take Interstate 4 and exit at State Road 33 near Lakeland, continuing north on SR 19 through Howey-inthe-Hills and Mount Dora, then catching SR 44 toward Deland and the state park. This lovely drive through Florida’s heartland winds through scenic lakes and hills and past citrus groves, blueberry patches and tree farms.

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The Old Spanish Sugar Mill Restaurant: Open daily, except Thanksgiving and Christmas, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Sunday and holidays. Reservations required for groups of 10 or more. You must pay the state park entry fee to go to the restaurant. 386-985-5644 De Leon Springs State Park: Open daily year-round; picnic tables, grills and a playground are available. Entrance fee is $6 per carload (up to eight people). Park ranger programs, covering a variety of topics, are offered

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Tampa Bay Times | Sunday, June 26, 2016 |


Southwest By Gina Vivinetto, Times correspondent

A visit to Fort Myers, Sanibel Island and their neighboring towns offers a sanctuary to those who want to get off the beaten path and enjoy peaceful surroundings.

With white sandy beaches and a relaxed way of life, Fort Myers is the gateway to one of the most tranquil regions of the Sunshine State. In fact, the city has been Florida manatee luring great thinkers here to recharge since at least the early part of the 20th century, when American inventors Thomas Edison and Henry Ford owned adjacent winter estates, now combined into a joint museum. Aside from plenty of swimming, boating and fishing, the city is home to Manatee Park, a refuge for Florida manatees. Located on the warm-water discharge canal of the Florida Power & Light utility company, the park becomes especially busy in winter, when manatees flock to the canal’s warm pockets of water. When it’s time to dine, try the upscale Southern cuisine at the Veranda, a popular restaurant set inside a historic downtown home. For a cozier meal, Fancy’s Southern Café’s traditional downhome cooking is popular with locals.

Famous for its sunsets and lighthouses, serene Sanibel Island, located along the Gulf of Mexico just minutes from Fort Myers, is so picturesque it feels like a movie set. Relaxation is taken seriously on the island, where many of its 7,000 residents spend their free time shelling. Walk behind them on the shore and watch as they perform the “Sanibel Stoop,” reaching down to examine an exquisite shell. Of course, shelling is more than just a hobby here, as visitors to the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum discover. The museum showcases more than 30 exhibits of mollusks from around the world and houses a learning lab with a hands-on play area for kids. Staying overnight in the area? Sanibel Moorings offers luxury resort condos at unbeatable prices.

Sanibel Island lighthouse


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Just south of Fort Myers lies lovely Naples, hailed as one of Florida’s best small cities. With only about 20,000 residents, Naples offers more than its share of great natural attractions, museums and shopping.

Bird Garden of Naples

Locals and visitors flock to the Bird Garden of Naples, a nonprofit wild parrot sanctuary where bird experts lead guests on tours so they can see and interact with more 300 beautiful birds. Also popular is the Baker Museum, a 30,000-square-foot facility that boasts a permanent collection of works by Picasso, Rodin and Man Ray, among other luminaries. For serious shopping, head to Fifth Avenue South, in the heart of Old Naples, to browse a collection of clothing boutiques, antique stores, gourmet shops, jewelers and more. Grab a shot of espresso so you can continue on at Third Street South, located in southern Naples, another shopping center filled with 100 more stores, galleries and cafes. Travel time from Tampa to Fort Myers by car in just under 2 hours.

Bird Garden of Naples

Locals know:

On Sanibel Island, locals take sea turtle nesting season seriously. From May 1 to Oct. 31, newly hatched turtles leave their nests on the shore and follow the moonlight into the Gulf of Mexico. For six months each year, locals switch off all beachfront lights to avoid leading the babies astray.

Tampa Bay Times | Sunday, June 26, 2016 |


The Florida Keys Adventure Beckons Above and Below the Water at Big Pine Key Road trips don’t come more spectacular than the Overseas Highway through the Florida Keys. If an outdoor adventure is in your future, head south from Miami on U.S. 1 for Big Pine Key. Situated in the Lower Keys, 70 miles from Key West, Big Pine Key is home to Bahia Honda State Park, Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary and the National Key Deer Refuge.

Bahia Honda State Park

every July during the Lower Keys Underwater Music Festival. This year’s submerged concert, with music provided by local radio station WWUS-FM 104.1, will take place July 11 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The fun-filled event draws several hundred divers and snorkelers to enjoy the music piped underwater via special speakers suspended beneath boats. Participants planning to dive in are encouraged to wear costumes (attention mermaids!) and expect the unexpected.

With its attractive beaches, shaded picnic areas, offshore snorkeling and large, family-friendly campground, it’s easy to see why Bahia Honda State Park is a popular destination for Keys wanderers. The park concession offers kayak rentals and daily snorkeling tours to the Looe Key Marine Sanctuary and Looe Key Reef, with its diverse species of living coral and tropical fish.

Bahia Honda State Park

Looe Key is considered one of the best diving spots in the Keys and is a great alternative to the overcrowded dive sites in John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo. The 210-foot Adolphus Busch, a sunken freighter turned artificial reef, attracts serious wreck divers from around the world and serious schools of fish. The shallow depth of the reef, ranging from 6 inches to 30 feet, makes it especially attractive to snorkelers.

Snorkeling, Looe Key


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One of the more popular events at Looe Key Reef for the past three decades happens

Travelers throughout the Lower Keys should be on the lookout for the diminutive key deer, the smallest subspecies of the North American white-tailed deer, which are native to Pine Key. The National Key Deer Refuge, established in 1957 to protect and preserve the endangered species, is well worth a visit to look for them. From a herd of several dozen in the 1950s, the population is now close to 1,000. Start your visit at the Visitors Center, where rangers can direct you to locations that will practically be guaranteed for sightings.

White-tailed deer, National Key Deer Refuge

IF YOU GO Bahia Honda State Park is very popular, so arrive early, as Goliath grouper, Looe Key it often reaches capacity by noon on busy weekends. The entrance fee is $8 per vehicle for up to eight people. Three camping areas offer 80 campsites; reserve far in advance through Reserve America at 800-326-3521. Snorkel tours to Looe Key Reef from the park are $29.95 for adults and $24.95 for children; call 305-872-3210 for reservations. National Key Deer Refuge, Big Pine Key 305-872-2239 Looe Key Reef Snorkel Tours: Strike Zone Charters, Big Pine Key, 305-872-9863 Innerspace Dive Center, Big Pine Key 305-872-2319 Underseas Inc., Big Pine Key 305-872-2700

Diving, Looe Key

Divers also can check with: Looe Key Reef Resort and Dive Center, Ramrod Key, 877-816-3483 Lower Keys Underwater Music Festival: For event information contact the Lower Keys Chamber of Commerce at 800- 8723722 or go to info@


From campgrounds to mom-and-pop motels and luxury beach resorts, you can find whatever you like in the Keys. The Looe Key Reef Resort and Dive Center offers clean, affordable motel rooms and is popular with divers (see above). For more information on lodging and things to do in Big Pine Key and the Lower Keys, visit or call the Monroe County Tourist Development Council at 800-352-5397.

Tampa Bay Times | Sunday, June 26, 2016 |


Southeast By Gina Vivinetto, Times correspondent

Miami, Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Key West put culture, shopping and nightlife front and center.

One of the world’s top vacation spots, Miami feels like many cities in one thanks to its wildly different neighborhoods. Stroll along Calle Ocho, or Eighth Street, in the Little Havana neighborhood and take in the authentic Cuban smells – delicious food, strong coffee, and hand-rolled cigars. Be sure to grab a café con leche ice cream cone at Azucar Ice Cream Company.

Hip travelers know South Beach, within Miami Beach, is an iconic destination for art and fashion lovers. SoBe’s white sands and pastel-colored art deco buildings are stunning sights. Stroll Collins Avenue and Ocean Drive to browse the designer boutiques and art galleries, but remember, South Beach doesn’t really come alive until the sun goes down. Nightclubs here are among the world’s most famous – and exclusive – and they regularly attracting Hollywood stars, supermodels, artists and designers. Miami’s food scene is always hot. Taste the culinary creativity for yourself at super-popular KYU, which fuses Asian and barbecue flavors, or try Glass and Vine, housed in an old Coconut Grove public library. Naturally, Miami is packed with top-rated hotels. Stay in one of SoBe’s designer boutique hotels, like Dream South Beach, or the Sagamore Hotel, both on Collins Avenue. Travel time from Tampa to Miami is about four hours by car, or about one hour by air from Tampa International Airport.

Fort Lauderdale lies between Miami and Palm Beach, and like those cities, it’s a popular tourist destination for arts, culture, shopping, and nightlife. Enjoy browsing the upscale shops, art galleries, and restaurants along quaint Las Olas Boulevard in the city’s downtown. Marvel at the stately mansions and yachts that dot Millionaires Row, or take in a 40

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Riverwalk, Fort Lauderdale

show at the Broward Center for Performing Arts, along the downtown Riverwalk Arts & Entertainment District.

Perched on a long barrier island, Palm Beach, about an hour north of Miami, is the easternmost town in Florida and the perfect location for a chic weekend getaway. Home to some of the most opulent mansions and resorts in Florida, the island’s Gilded Age architecture is the scenic backdrop for the Palm Beach way of life. Days here are filled with ritzy shopping on internationally famous Worth Avenue,

Shopping street, West Palm Beach

Tampa Bay Times | Sunday, June 26, 2016 |


and evenings are for taking in arts and culture, and dining at sophisticated restaurants. Feeling hungry? Try trendy Buccan, with an innovative American cuisine menu, or Pistache French Bistro in nearby West Palm Beach.

Beach in Key West

Locals know:

In Key West, visitors to the Ernest Hemingway House meet dozens of polydactyl, or six-toed, cats, many of them descendants of the late author’s own six-toed cat, Snowball.

If you’re up for the 3 ½ hour drive from Miami, why not explore The Keys? This string of tropical islands stretches about 120 miles off the state’s southern tip. Spend a day or two in Key West - the state’s southernmost point - to experience the beachy bohemian life. Residents here embrace the offbeat, and it shows. Take the popular Conch Train tour to learn the city’s history, and later visit the famous Ernest Hemingway House, where the author lived for more than a decade. Travel time from Tampa to Key West is about 7 hours by car, or about 1 1/2 hours by air from Tampa International Airport


Ocean Drive, Miami

Color Your World with a Visit to the Art Deco District Any road trip to Miami would not be complete without spending a day (or three) in the beautiful South Beach Art Deco District. Even if you’re not an architecture aficionado, this pastel wonderland of sleek, elegant hotels dating back to the 1920s is eye candy to even the casual onlooker. Known as a playground for Hollywood movie stars, rock stars and fashionistas who can occasionally be spotted in the tony restaurants and glitzy nightclubs, South Beach beckons with its playful Art Deco District, boutique shops and outdoor cafes. Formerly a downtrodden slum, the district now claims the largest collection of art deco architecture in the world, with 800 structures of historical significance, most built between 1923 and 1943. Along Ocean Drive, you’ll find a mix of striking, white hotels trimmed in pastel pink, blue, yellow and green with porthole windows, ship-like railings, sleek curves, shiny chrome and gleaming terrazzo floors. It’s a fun and easy walk between Fifth and 17th streets to gaze upon these gems: •


Start at Fifth Street, with your first stop at Park Central. Built in 1937 and a

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hangout for Hollywood stars such as Clark Gable, Carole Lombard and Rita Hayworth, it was the first hotel to be returned to its original splendor in 1987. •

When you get to 10th Street, stop in at the Art Deco Welcome Center. It’s home to the Miami Design Preservation League (, which formed in 1976 to save the historical hotels from being razed by developers and restore them to their glory days. If you can spare $25, the 90-minute guided tours come highly recommended. The guides provide fascinating stories about the art deco period and Miami Beach history, the hotels, the culture and even juicy bits of local gossip.

Be sure to check out the popular Clevelander, a 1938 five-story hotel known for its lively poolside bar.

Look for the brain coral embedded in the railing and columns at the Cardozo Hotel, a 1939 gem at Ocean and 13th owned by Gloria and Emilio Estefan.

• Art deco architecture

Head over to Collins Avenue and peek into the restored lobby of the National Hotel. It’s part of a lineup of tall, graceful hotels that include the Delano (the tallest building in Miami Beach when it was built in 1947) and the Sagamore. The Raleigh Hotel on Collins Avenue is considered the “grand dame” of art deco style with its curvaceous pool. The district’s newest boutique hotel is the Hall, deliciously restored in a vintage tropical motif.

After you wrap up your art deco stroll, head a few blocks over to Lincoln Road, a pedestrian-only outdoor mall, where you can browse through the boutiques and shops and grab a bite to eat.

IF YOU GO Hotels on Collins Avenue

Guided walks depart from the Art Deco Welcome Center, 1001 Ocean Drive, daily at 10:30 a.m. and Thursdays at 10:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m.; $25 for adults; $20 for seniors, students and military; free for children 12 and under. Self-guided audio tours are available for $15. ( 305-763-8026) To indulge in the experience, book a stay at one of the hotels located within the Art Deco District. Most are medium-size to small hotels, and rates can start around $150, but watch out for parking and resort fees; some charge up to $40 per night for parking and $20 a day for resort fees. For a complete guide to Miami Beach, including lodgings, dining and attractions, check out

Tampa Bay Times | Sunday, June 26, 2016 |



| Sunday, June 26, 2016 | Tampa Bay Times