Florida vacations - beyond the tourist traps

 Florida Vacations - Beyond The Tourist Traps







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Florida Vacations

When on your Florida vacations it is easy to forget that there is more to the State than Walt Disney World, Kennedy Space Centre, Universal Studios, Sea World, the other tourist attractions and the golden beaches.  On your Florida vacations you may wish to put away your sun glasses, beach towels and sun tan lotion and explore the real Florida.  If so, then we hope this page provides you with a taste of the splendour of Florida and what you can enjoy beyond the tourist traps.

Beyond The Tourist Traps

If you want to see the real Florida on your Florida vacations then you need to go beyond the tourist traps.  You could be forgiven for believing that Florida is flat and totally dull.  But to the north there are lush forests and rolling hills, and the spectacular displays of bougainvillea and azaleas in the spring certainly dispel this myth entirely.  Wherever you are it is only a short trip from civilisation to the wilder areas.  In southern areas, although most live in reservations, you can see Seminole Indians by the road side selling their colourful hand-made crafts.  True 'Floridians' are the Cracker farmers - the name deriving from the cracking of corn to make grits -  whose ancestors settled in Florida in the 1800s.  Exploring the interior is the only way to see these Cracker farmers.

The Gold and Treasure Coasts

The gold and treasure coasts are more synonymous with beach holidays.  To the south of Palm Beach you will find rental condos, villas, hotels and tourists!  North of Palm Beach you will find unspoiled and a less crowded littoral.  There are coastal parks rich in bird life that provide reminders of how Florida once looked in its virgin state.  On the cultural side, do not miss West Palm Beach's superb 'Norton Museum of Art'.  Also not to be missed is the exclusive town of Palm Beach.  For the fishermen head inland to Lake Okeechobee that offers excellent fishing.  If you have a penchant for wildlife then you must go to Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge.  It is a 221 square mile refuge of the most northerly part of the Everglades.  The best time to visit is ideally in winter and visit either early or late in the day to see the migrating birds from the north that have made their temporary homes here.  On a winter's evening it's a bird-watcher's paradise with the cacophony of noise from herons, grebe, ibis, anhingas and many other birds.  There are also two memorable trails - the Cypress Swamp Boardwalk and the Marsh Trail. 

The Northeast

Far from the glitz of Orlando and Miami and just a few miles from busy interstate motorways you will find salty fishing villages, overgrown plantations and many quaint country towns that recall old-time Florida.  Herein also lies the historic town of St. Augustine, that claims to be the longest inhabited European settlement in the US.  Venturing inland you will find the wooded expanse of the Ocala National Forest - the world's largest sand pine forest that covers 366,000 acres.  With numerous hiking trails, it is the one of the last refuges of the endangered Florida black bear and home to other animals and birds such as, deer, otter, bald eagles, ospreys, barred owls, a non-native wild turkey and many wading birds.  Thinning out to reveal rolling pastures you come in to Marion County's billion-dollar thoroughbred horse industry.   Nearby there are charming country towns and villages, such as Micanopy, that have been virtually bypassed by the 20th century.  Visit too Blue Spring State Park - one of the US's largest first-magnitude artesian springs.   The park is a favourite winter refuge for manatees.

Northwest - The Panhandle

In Florida they have a saying "the farther north you go, the farther south you get".   This is because the Panhandle has a history and sensibility closer to that of the deep south than to the southern part of the State - not just historically and geographically but in climate and in time (the western Panhandle is one hour behind the rest of Florida).  Most visitors to the Panhandle head for the beach resorts that offer activities such as water sports, deep sea fishing, golf and tennis.  Leave the coastal resorts and foray into the rest of the Panhandle and you will find a hilly, pine-forested interior.  Canoeing can be enjoyed on the Suwannee and Black Water Rivers whilst near Tallahassee (the State's capital) you will find some of Florida's prettiest countryside.  Take the Cotton Trail Tour through the area around Tallahassee which, in the 1820s and 30s was the most important cotton-growing region in Florida.  With outlying plantations and old red clay roads, these old roads pass through one of the last corners of unspoiled rural Florida.  Go too to Cedar Key that lies at the foot of a chain of little bridge-linked keys jutting out into the Gulf of Mexico.  It is a picturesque Victorian fishing village.  From here you can take a boat from the docks to an offshore island beach in the Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge or take a bird-watching trip along the salt-marsh coast.

The Gulf Coast

Known for its fabulous beaches and warm calm waters, kick the sand from your shoes and visit some of Florida's most interesting cities or explore wilderness areas that have been left virtually untouched by the vagaries of time.

Crystal River in winter is the time to go and watch the manatees which gather in herds of up to 300 to bask in the local warm springs.  Manatees are only active in the very early morning hours and the clear waters make them very east to spot.

Tarpon Springs is a lively town on the Anclote River and is most famous as a centre of Greek Culture - the legacy of immigrant fisherman at the start of the 20th century lured there by the prolific sponge beds.

Some interesting cities to visit are St Petersburg (home of the Salvador Dali Museum), Sarasota (known as Florida's cultural centre) Venice and Fort Myers. 

The Everglades And The Keys

The southwest of Florida is mainly made up of the world famous Everglades - low lying wetlands of ecological importance.  In the northwest of the region is Naples and Marco Island with their spectacular beaches and golf courses.  But they also offer easy access to the expansive scenery of Big Cypress Swamp and Everglades National Park.  Big Cypress swamp is home to several hundred species of birds and animals, including the endangered Florida panther.  It is not a true swamp as it features a range of habitats determined by only slight differences in elevation.  One third of the swamp is made up of Cypress trees (hence the name).  The Everglades National Park covers over 1.5 million acres and yet still only makes up about one-fifth of the entire Everglades area.  Well worth taking a visit and walking through some of the numerous trails - particularly some of the less visited ones. 

The area is also famous for the towns and cities that pepper the keys, but the region has another natural wonder - the coral reef.  North America's only live coral reef system extends 200 miles along the length of the keys and is a haven for divers.


 Florida Vacations - Beyond The Tourist Traps







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